Thoughts on Eco-Spirituality


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post, Earth911

Native Americans have a tradition of dancing to bring forth rain. Whether their ceremony results in their thirst being quenched depends on which anecdotal story one chooses to believe. But the Rain Dance in its various incarnations or rather its more conventional equivalent -- the expression of prayer by the devout for a higher power to intervene and for the faithful to do their part to bring about resolution-- has been making a reappearance around the globe as the visual and visceral evidence of climate change presents itself in stark and unforgiving ways.

Examples include the Pope's speech at an eco-youth rally, where he said: “A decisive ’yes’ is needed in decisions to safeguard creation as well as a strong commitment to reverse tendencies that risk leading to irreversible situations of degradation."

This prayer for desperately needed rain by Imam Fikret Latifoglu at Ankara's Hacibayram Mosque: "We stand before you, we beg you to answer our prayers, don't leave innocent children and the old, animals who cannot speak for themselves, the trees, the ants and the birds without water. We helplessly beg for Your mercy."

The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, which has been working since the mid-1980's to raise awareness that "our home planet Earth is undergoing rapid and sustained destruction of its eco-systems."

Christian evangelist, Rev. Richard Cizik, whose Creation Care movement represents 45,000 churches, stated that "global warming and global hunger are inescapably linked," (which put him at odds with Ted Haggard’s objections to environmentalism. Cizik's work continues. Haggard's, not so much...).

COEJL, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, which cites the Midrash as its motivation: "See my works, how fine and excellent they are! All that I created, I created for you. Reflect on this and do not corrupt or desecrate my world; for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you," for its work with the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (the COEJL, the National Council of Churches, the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, and the Evangelical Environmental Network) to advocate on global climate change and energy conservation.

There's Eastern Orthodoxy, whose first day of their ecclesiastical calendar (September 1st) has been a declared annual day of prayer for the protection of the environment for 300 million parishioners worldwide since 1989.

And Zoroastrianism, which has as its precept the obligation “to protect nature in all its glory” and celebrates its new year on the spring equinox (called Newroz, it’s evolved into a legend about the overthrow of an ancient tyrant, but is still observed as a spring festival in Iran, by the Parsee of India and by millions of Kurds worldwide).

None of that has stopped global warming skeptics, minimizers and deniers from insisting that environmentalism itself has become a religion and to cite Hollywood as its central church.

It was 109 F degrees in Los Angeles last weekend.

They should visit.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the one-time leader of the Soviet Union (not a religious position) who is now the leader of Global Green, USA, did visit and is working with Brad Pitt, one of those Hollywood 'environmental evangelists', to help rebuild New Orleans.

And then there's Leonardo DiCaprio, another Hollywood environmentalist, whose new film, The 11th Hour, has been receiving positive reviews across the nation.

Oh, and An Inconvenient Truth, of course.

But environmentalism is not a Hollywood intellectual property. While the environment may have become topic du jour for some and a near religious calling for others, it is a religious issue for this Grist list of 15 "green" religious leaders that includes: the Patriarch of Eastern Orthodoxy, the Dalai Lama, an Episcopal Reverend, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Vice President of the National Association of Evangelicals, the Pope, the leader of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology, an Australian theologian, the head of the American Rabbis' Committee on the Environment, a Dominican Nun, a member of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, a Unitarian reverend, a Methodist theologian, and Father Thomas Berry, a Catholic priest who refers to himself as a 'Geologian.'

The comments on the Grist article are worthy of note, as well. They include suggestions for the list from other countries/world religions that are making a significant contribution.

And there's the robust environmental movement of South Asia (India, Nepal...), Harvard's FORE (Forum on Religion and Ecology) research into the environmental traditions of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, Shinto, Indigenous American Indians, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and the eco-spiritualism of so many other indigenous cultures on every continent.

Which doesn’t negate the considerations from the other side of the argument. This includes those who interpret the science differently, who focus on which greenhouse gas is more impactful (I’ll trade you twenty carbon credits for a methane credit on Tuesday if you’ll buy me a methane-emitting hamburger today…), the support services who genuinely worry about the impact of environmental regulation on the third-world and more than a few who seem more worried about their corporate bottom line than their impact on planet earth.

But anyone who labels environmentalism as a religion in the hope that it will invalidate the movement is as out of touch with reality as those who cite religion as an obstacle to environmentalism. While there are religious groups who eschew environmentalism, the overall environmental movement is as diverse as humanity itself. It includes the deeply religious, those for whom the environment has become a religion, professionals who keep their religion to themselves as they seek to validate the science and a growing number of ordinary citizens who are beginning to sense that something has gone terribly wrong.

It is a global epiphany.