Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun offers some cogent criticism of the effort to market environmentalism as a contemporary religion.
“Modern environmentalism, by itself, is not comprehensive enough to capture the complexity of the world,” Todd states in this March 28 column. “I’ll summarize four complaints I have about treating environmentalism as a closed faith system.”
Todd’s four criticisms of nature religion:
“The first is that some environmentalists act as if a walk in the forest or a stroll on a beach is the ultimate transcendent experience. While I would not dismiss those who have mystical feelings among the trees or near the ocean, those experiences for many constitute only private moments, which at their worst can lead to self-satisfaction.
“A second criticism is that many environmentalists equate the wilderness with God. Without articulating it, they are acting like pantheists. If pressed, they would say a tree, for instance, is the same as the Supreme Being.
“This leads to my third concern: Many environmentalists view nature as equal to humans. They act as if there is no difference in value between a human and a Douglas fir tree. This doesn’t hold up. At the least, humans are more biologically complex than a tree. They also have consciousness. As such, I think humans have higher intrinsic value than plants, or even animals.
“My fourth criticism of those who see nature as God is that many do not recognize the cruelty of Mother Nature. While adoring a flower or mountain peak, they forget that nature includes rats and storms and earthquakes, which can, in their own blind way, be quite vicious.”
As regular readers of the Vancouver Sun columnist are aware, Todd is not known as an especially strong proponent of religious orthodoxy on doctrinal matters. In fact, his article goes on to imply that “panentheism,” which proposes the created university should be regarded as “the body of God,” might represent a satisfactory way to integrate environmental consciousness into the orthodox understanding of the relationship between God and creation.
However, this “panentheistic” conception of God inevitably would seem to draw its adherents towards the same deification of nature that’s held by believers in the less sophisticated forms of nature worship that Todd rightly criticizes.
But notwithstanding this necessary caveat, Todd’s article provides a useful summary of some of the major flaws that beset the environmentalism-as-religion movement.