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Scapegoat or Lame Duck? Religion and the Environment

Scapegoat or Lame Duck? Religion and the Environment

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In my last post, I talked about the first part of my conversation with environmentalist Bill Hartnett, in which we talked about the definition of religion.  The broader discussion was about how religious belief and environmentally friendly lifestyles interact.

earthBill thought I was saying that the reason people make poor choices about the environment is because they are religious devotees.  He told me that I should stop using religion as a “scapegoat.” But really what we are trying to propose here is that religion is a very positive institution in many ways.  It has the power to change minds and motivate behavior.  We would like to duplicate those effects, but redirect that motivation towards more positive goals.

There are quite a few religious people who are environmentalists.  The Bible in fact exhorts followers to care for the land and the animals.

"You shall not pollute the land in which you live.... You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I also dwell; for I the LORD dwell among the Israelites." (Numbers 35:33-34)

But there are also religionists who have personally told me things like “We don’t need to worry about pollution because the rapture is coming.”   These people may or may not be in the minority, but the fact is that some sects and adherents believe that caretakership of the Earth is essential to being a good Christian (or Muslim or Jew, etc.)  Some believe that it really doesn’t matter because God will provide in the end.

So deistic religion is not our scapegoat.  It’s a just a lame duck – it’s ineffectual at motivating followers because there is another alternative, namely salvation by faith, and/or God’s magical cleanup power.  The religious need not worry too much because no matter how much we pollute here on Terra Firma, heaven will always be clean.  If you believe you can get into the Big Club in the Sky without cleaning up Earth-side, why bother?

A worldview that places humans at the top of an evolutionary chain gives us sole responsibility for caretakership.  It simply isn’t possible to abdicate responsibility to some other entity, because we are the supreme beings.  We also can’t rely on a spotless afterlife, because if we are currently in paradise, we'd certainly better not spoil it.

If these kinds of realizations can be combined with the incredible contagiousness of the religious worldviews, we might have a real shot at making a cleaner future happen.  That’s not to say that this dream cannot be realized if religion continues to dominate our societies.  There are too many political interests at stake to predict the outcome either way.  But we believe that our kind of institution is a powerful tool that can help protect the future of our planet.

 

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