The conjunction of Earth Day with Good Friday reminds me of Michael Crichton’s 2003 essay, Environmentalism as Religion:
Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it’s a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.
There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.
I wonder how many of those ‘urban atheists’ started out as Christians? If they did, they’ll have a whole belief system – heaven, hell, fall, redemption – which has become detached from its Christian origins, and has floated away, and which is likely to latch onto something else. Gaia replaces God, and it all makes sense again, sort of.
Sinful man is now called upon to even confess his environmental sins on television.
Again, in The Surrogate Religion of Environmentalism:
Environmentalism likewise provides ethical guidance, but its followers generally recoil from the suggestion that it’s a religion. The traditional buildings and rituals are absent; moreover, many adherents come from a background of explicitly rejecting “institutional” religions. Nevertheless, a careful examination of the basic assumptions shows that environmentalism indeed meets the criteria of a secular religion.
A cornerstone belief of environmentalism is that mankind is just one species among many. This view opposes the Judeo-Christian belief that God considers mankind to be very special. “Mother earth” replaces God as the object of special devotion, causing some of environmentalism’s subsequent assertions to be in direct opposition to the teachings of Christianity and Judaism…
In his excellent book, “The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America,” Professor Robert H. Nelson likens the contemporary struggle between those two secular religions to John Calvin’s struggle against the establishment of Catholicism 500 years ago.Nelson’s book concludes: “It is time to take secular religion seriously. It is real religion. In the twentieth century, it showed greater energy, won more converts, and had more impact on the western world than the traditional institutional forms of Christianity.”
For the believing environmentalist, there is a certain “Garden of Eden” narrative: the beginning of evil came with the development of agriculture, when mankind rose above hunter-gatherer status and began to control and improve on nature to meet his needs. Thereafter came civilization and all its negative environmental associations. The whole story hangs together within a religious framework.
But is it a workable religion? In Christianity, God loves mankind. But Gaia does not. For Gaia, mankind is a kind of plague or cancer which has disturbed the delicate balance of nature, and needs to be suppressed or even exterminated. Environmentalists hate human life. They think the planet would be better off without humans. And the devotees of Gaia must hate not only all humanity, but themselves as well. And this makes environmentalism an extremely self-destructive religion, and one which is unlikely to last very long.
And does environmentalism provide any ‘ethical guidance’? Ethical guidance must include advice about how people should behave towards each other, and not simply towards Nature. Is there an an environmentalist decalogue? I don’t know of one. But without one, environmentalism is completely amoral.
Environmentalism is really just an incoherent collection of vague aspirations – for a green world, devoid of industry and cars and jets and smoke of any sort (including tobacco smoke, of course) – that has bubbled up over the past century or so largely in revulsion at industrial society and economic growth and its accompanying disturbances. It’s a yearning for a simpler world, for an idealised arcadian past. It has no formal doctrines. It has no internal rationality. All it has is a shared mood of disenchantment with modernity.
20 years ago, perhaps, environmentalism all seemed warm and fuzzy and well-meaning. Now it has become a monster. And it now rivals Communism as a threat to freedom and prosperity, as Vaclav Klaus often points out. And he says quite clearly (towards the end of the video):
Environmentalism is a religion.
More and more people seem to be noticing this.