Is Environmentalism a Religion?

Examining nature's cathedralIf you come across something with this question in the title, it’s probably put out by anti-environmentalists and the answer is yes. Either yes, environmentalism is a false religion threatening the “true” religion, whatever that may be, or yes, it is “just” a religion, unfounded in science or fact.

The last assertion — that environmentalism is not rooted in science — is the very opposite of the truth, one of those “big lies” propagandists sometimes resort to.

But even an environmentalist like me can see there are certain uncanny similarities between environmentalism and religion. And so I thought it would be interesting to examine the claim in an open-minded way, which I’ve done in a column for NRDC embedded below. Please read it and share your thoughts.

Is Environmentalism a Religion

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52 Responses to Is Environmentalism a Religion?

  1. Bob A. February 7, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    An environmentalist is “any person who advocates or works to protect the air, water, animals, plants, and other natural resources from pollution or its effects.”

    So I ask anyone: if you’re not an environmentalist, what are you?

    • Issy February 18, 2011 at 5:18 pm #

      Most people care about the earth. It’s a shame we can’t’ get more of the big global companies to care since they make a big difference. Population is still the No. 1 reason that we are running out of everything, however. Pollution is more rampant because of that, but also can be put squarely in the big boys corner!

  2. Bruce Whitehart February 7, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    I find this not troubling at all. Environmentalism can certainly be a religion if one wants to make it so. It is in all likelihood the only “true religion.” Deity-based religions are afraid of their own shadows and well they should be as there is no “truth” in any of them. If there’s a divine spirit it lives equally in all of us and it is reflected by how we care for our planet. So if the right wants to abuse the ecosystem they are defiling their “god” as well as our planet.

    • Don February 8, 2011 at 5:45 am #

      When the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, was asked if he believed in God, he responded, “Yes, but I call him Nature”. It is clear to me that the God of organized religion is an invention of man. An invention that has been used for centuries to oppress the poor and uneducated masses.

  3. quince quaintance February 7, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    To put it simply … the church of non believers have 4 walls – believers in conservation’s church have NO walls !!

    • Cheryl December 6, 2012 at 7:22 am #

      I Don’t See: That I fit the mold as “Whole”; To go so far and say that “ENVIORNMENTALISM” is a religion….. However; I Do Believe it To Be “My Life-Style” Of Choice !Because , I Have Chosen To Be “Accountable” >>>>
      It Does Fulfill Me With A Deep Sense Of “Spirituality & Completeness”… I do Feel My/Our Responsibility To Our Planet Is >>>To Remain: “HARMLESS, DUTYFUL and RESPECTFUL (to & of) all things…….. I Know That Is Difficult For Many People Today; But In Truth: I’m Not Sure (@ This Point ) They Ever Made A Conscious Effort To Consider Any Consequences Or Affect, Beyound They’re interest’s Alone. …I Am Of The Opinion , That You & I Come Here,To Shed And Give A Little Light ! Not just “TAKER’S” And Leave>>>> The Mess/Spoils. It’s a matter of “ETHICS As Well. B.S.W..

  4. Randy Henniger February 7, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    Thanks, Sheryl, for your insigtfull posting.

    I don’t fully understand the reason underlying the religious right’s efforts to contest the science of climate change. I was speaking with a man recently who claimed that the green movement was a way to unite the world under a single religion of environmentalism funded by the world bank under the direction of NATO. And that this would lead to the “end times” in Revelations. A little paranoid, I think.

    Certainly there is BIG money behind the anti-climate change effort. Could it be that some of that money is going into the “offer plates” of some of the fundamentalist’s movements? I suspect so, and whoa to thee when judgement time comes for using God to further your own agenda. Oh, that’s right…that’s been happening for centuries now.

  5. Katherine L February 7, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    It’s a movement. I wouldn’t want such a selfless, peaceful & progressive movement in the same sentence as religion. I see where religion has gotten us and no, absolutely not a religion.

    • Carla Compton February 9, 2011 at 6:38 am #

      I totally agree. Environmentalism has nothing to do with religion. Being an Environmental Activist/Advocate is a choice, like religion I suppose, in a sense. I am not into any “religion” per say. But if I was, my religion would be being a world Activist for Peace, Humanitarianism, Our Environment, and any other issues facing this world & our own country: To help right all the wrongs in this world.

  6. Lil February 7, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

    *Sigh.* From the perspective of a business writer, one of the difficulties, I find, in marketing environmentalists is emotional resistance to the idea of religion – even when religious – and a sense of there being a divide between religion and science. Religion and science are siamese twins. They are both disciplines of study, grappling with epistemology and signifying a body of conclusions which students are expected to simply accept. Yes, just accept. Even with science, questioning validity is not allowed until your reach the frontier edge of the collected knowledge. How many of us have gone out, done the measurements and the math, to see for ourselves the earth revolves around the sun? Not many, that’s for sure. That’s a fact the more-than-vast majority take on faith. Environmentalism is a religion because its representatives show up like this, full of emotion and with little evidence in their possession. Not that there isn’t evidence; it’s just that they don’t have it. That environmentalism is narrow in focus doesn’t make it not religion; rather, it only makes it impoverished religion. And THAT, I think, is what makes “religious people” worry: intensely myopic focus.

    In any case, I think it would help environmentalists to connect and communicate, if they got in touch with how much we all have to take on faith as individuals. Start the process from there.

    • photojack53 February 18, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

      I would have to intensely disagree with your statement about myopic focus. Environmentalism, like science in general has the most broad, all-inclusive focus possible! They look at the evidence from a variety of disciplines and fields of science and from a huge variety of nations and sources. Like the I.P.C.C. report, with its 700+ articles from widely diverging sources, organizations and countries, consensus can be easily reached, as it was nearly unanimously in that report. If there is any class of people with myopic focus, it is the religious camp, especially those Christian Coalition, Republican, bought-out politicians who are trying desperately to bring doubt to the established science.
      I’ve blogged for years on the Evolution / Creationism topic and I’ve seen the same false claims that Evolutionists are following the “religion of Darwin.” Just as there is completely overwhelming evidence PROVING evolution to have occurred and to be the MAJOR explaining principle behind all organic life processes on our planet, so are the FACTS of anthropogenic climate change established clearly by the scientists who compiled the I.P.C.C. Report and other studies. This planet and its peoples need a clear focus to confront the challenges brought on by our industrial output and to find SUSTAINABLE ways to maintain our cultures. It is a disservice to mankind to bring doubt where none exists. Believe the scientists, the environmentalists, the evolutionary scientists and others. Our very future depends on it!

  7. Robin Y. February 7, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    It’s my religion! I don’t identify soley with any structured religion (ie. Christianity or Budism), but I feel that I live my life by Mother Nature’s code. Miracles happen everyday through Nature. What more of a “religious” experience can you have than to witness babies being born, or a pasque flower powering through the snow on a cold spring morning? To me, there isn’t more proof of a higher being than what Mother Nature shows us everyday.

    • Debbie February 19, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

      Very well stated. So many have lost the simple miracles that are out in nature and can be seen on a daily basis.

  8. Valerie R. February 7, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    I wondered when this sort of thing would come up. This Cornwall group or any other similar religious organization sees anything that could take away from it’s own BRAINWASHING efforts as a serious threat to controlling the people.
    But what I find amusing is that people who make efforts to be environmental are not pushed by a big mouthed group of zealots to do the right thing,,they are motivated by what they see around them and that they personally need to make an effort to help save the planet and its’ beings so that we can all live in a better world.
    I would think God or whomever you happen to believe in would find this a very selfless act. And be pleased with our efforts to try to make things right even though we are to blame.
    No – this group just reminds me why religion is evil when organized thru something like them. They just want to control people and tell them what they can and cannot do quoting the bible word for word.
    I find it disgusting when religious groups like this try to exert mind control on people by telling them lies and using the wrath of God to scare good people.
    I hope God or whomever gives them exactly what they deserve for THEIR deception of mankind.

  9. Martha February 7, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    I don’t know if environmentalism is a religion, but I certainly feel a connection with nature, that I can only describe as spiritual. I feel reverence in the presence of other life forms and heart broken when I see destruction and degradation. Those who believe in the creation, should also be the ones defending nature.

    • Carol February 18, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

      I feel the same spiritual connection to nature. To see any aspect of it destroyed or neglected, whether landscapes, wilderness, wild creatures, or habitats, not to mention people’s health and welfare, breaks my heart.

      Where did this connection come from? I know that not everyone acts as if he or she has it. What I can say is that as long as I remember, I have felt this way, even from early childhood.

      Is it God-given? I believe so. My environmentalism is a direct result of this innate quality.

  10. Carolyn Straub February 7, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

    I like this column, and I have to doubt the critics. Environmentalism is not “a false religion” nor is it “just a religion.” These are phrases used by opponents. To those who think that environmentalism is “a false religion,” I would question their own religion. A religious person would acknowledge God in the world, who is the maker of all things.

    If this religious person believes that a butterfly is not a reflection of God – with its technical beauty and ability and intricate patterning – the work of God, then that critic has a problem – with God.

    The world was made for us to know this marvelous Creator and if environmentalism “is a false religion.” then I guess that supporters of those beliefs don’t know or admire God or appreciate this in the world.

    As for “just a religion,” that is for those who think that environmentalism is unimportant and that preserving a clean and healthy environment isn’t needed. But it is.

  11. Kristi February 7, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

    As a Christian, I believe that God created the earth and left it in our care. So I will do everything in my power to preserve this gift; both to enjoy it fully in my lifetime and to pass this beautiful gift onto my children and their descendants. How can I do any less?
    I don’t understand the controversy that follows this subject, no matter what “religion” you are.

  12. Rev. Dr. Paul Hull February 7, 2011 at 8:03 pm #

    Sheryl Eisenberg’s article “Is Environmentalism a Religion” touches lifelong interests from me because I had a 25-year career as an environmental engineer and scientist and now a 15-year career as an ordained minister. Is environmentalism a religion? “Definitely no” is my answer. As Ms. Eisenberg discovered, distinguishing what is religion from what is not religion can be difficult. The late Ninian Smart, Professor of Comparative Religions at the University of California, delineated seven dimensions of religions—ritual, doctrinal, mythic, experiential, ethical, social, and artistic. To demonstrate how complex defining religion truly is, he showed how one can argue that US Nationalism is a religion. Clearly US Nationalism is no more a religion than environmentalism—although one can list aspects of all the seven religions dimensions for both.
    For me the best perspective on what constitutes a religion, I heard given by John Domonic Crossan, the New Testament scholar, in a lecture. He said all religions have three components: (1) the belief in a transcendent other, (2) an incarnation into the world of our daily lives of that transcendent other, and (3) a group of people who believe that the incarnation represents the transcendent other. The transcendent other can be a Supreme Being and creator as with the God of Christianity and Judaism and the Allah of Islam. The transcendent other can also be a state of being as with the Buddhist transcendent state of nirvana. The incarnation of the transcendent other can be a person, scripture, or an object. Examples of the incarnation of the transcendent other from the world religions are Jesus Christ, Mohammad, Buddha, the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita. Thus, for example, what makes Christianity a religion is that there are a group of people who believe in a transcendent God, who believe that Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God in history and the Bible is the faithful, incarnated word of God.
    Given this practical working definition of what makes a religion, environmentalism is by no means a religion. Environmentalism does not recognize a transcendent other. If it did, it would not be environmentalism, rather something else needing another name. Environmentalism is totally based on what happens on Earth, and its fundamental grounding is in Earth science. There is no religion in that—although it can be a significant source of religious inspiration.
    Why then are some vocal politically conservative Christians trying to cast environmentalism as a religion? My take on it is that now that communism no longer has a strong global influence, there is no broad global movement to demonize as anti-Christian and anti-free-market Captialism. So environmentalism is demonized as an evil religious movement to be opposed. This launches all kinds of wild conspiracy theories as Randy Henniger related, for the purpose, it seems, of rallying the troops to preserve the status quo.

    Paul

    [As an aside, I was linked to this discussion through NRDC. in the early 1980s, I served as an environmental consultant to NRDC in its evaluation of the US EPA’s proposed water discharge regulations for the US iron and steel industry.]

    • Dave Love February 19, 2011 at 3:23 am #

      Rev. Paul,
      I really liked your response. For some reason I have always had a heart of compassion for animals and the environment in general. I was “saved” in 1971 at a Baptist church and attended a variety of churches over the years besides taking courses at Moody Bible School in Chicago. But, over a year ago I stopped going to church because, in 35 years of attendence, not once did I ever hear one word exhorting one to be compassionate towards animals. It is a non-issue for the mainstream churches. This despite the fact that perhaps the chief attribute of our Lord is compassion for us sinners. Yet showing mercy to creatures that suffer pain, fear, thirst, hunger, boredom, etc..is at best considered almost a heresy. I know there are many reasons for this but my feeling is that Christianity in America has been subtly corrupted by consumerism, corporate greed, expediency; maybe in a word, Capitalism. At worst, I get the word “Dominion” thrown back at me.
      Anyway, as I apprediated your response, I also thought that Ms. Eisenberg’s comments were well thought out.

    • Marlene February 20, 2011 at 7:39 am #

      If you use the Webster dictionary definition of “religion” then you will define religion as “concern over what exists beyond the visible world” and finding answers through trust and faith. This does not seem to fit environmentalism in that there is a concern for the world we see and touch every day. However, if you include the world beyond which we can see and touch (the solar system), then maybe it begins to fit in with religion. There however, in the environmentalism world does not seem to be a blind trust and faith, but more an action to make sure all is taken care of and stays “real.” There are some who “believe” nature will right itself; survival of the most adaptable and all that, so then maybe it does become a religion per Webster’s definition. Ah, an interesting question that I would rather lay to rest and get on with saving that which I want my children to enjoy.

  13. Carole Cimarron February 7, 2011 at 8:14 pm #

    Environmentalism is fact based opinion utilizing hard scientific data and has nothing to do with beliefs, faith, or religion.

    • Robin Y. February 8, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

      Sorry Carole, I disagree. I believe in the power the Earth has to heal itself, even after we have left our “footprint”. I have faith that even in the hardest times of drought, floods, or any other natural occurrence, that the Earth will provide for us again, So when you say that environmentalism has nothing to do with religion, I say to you we have very different opinions.

  14. George Leon February 7, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

    I think Lil hit the nail on the head. I would add two points: First, to the extent that we become dogmatic in our “scientific” beliefs and intolerant of alternative viewpoints, we ourselves engage in what we find most objectionable among so-called fundamentalists. “We have met the enemy and they are us.” Second, much of the “evidence” in the climate change debate is less than strictly scientific – it cannot be replicated and relies heavily on statistical projection. That doesn’t mean that it is wrong, but it means we need to recognize its limitations. Perhaps we should try better to embrace two virtues that strengthen any religion or science – open-mindedness and humility.

  15. Sunny Jim February 7, 2011 at 9:21 pm #

    The love of nature is innate……we have forgotten that…..perhaps we would be better off if it were a “religion”. At least nature is tangible and wasn’t created by man.

  16. Laurie Slade February 7, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    Thanks Sheryl for a thoughtful article. I agree with Katherine L. Concern for the environment is NOT a religion – far from it and thank goodness! It’s such a typical reaction from religion to fear progress or change or any point of view that might expand one’s idea of what is sacred, or even, what is good. The fundamentalist wing of religion creates “dragons” to unite the faithful, keep them afraid, and keep them from asking questions that may shake the status quo. Let’s remember that religious people by the millions supported slavery and abolitionists were of the devil. Here we go again.

    • Bruce Whitehart February 7, 2011 at 10:30 pm #

      Very well said.

  17. Kay Gates February 7, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

    Thanks for an interesting, thought provoking article, and the many comments. I have long found both science and religion a stretch of faith, deciding there must be some truth to the earth is round theory when the astronauts posted pictures from outer space. Since then I have listened carefully to scientists sometimes comparing their data and weighing for myself what seems to me to be the most likely scenario, all the time keeping my faith in a higher power.

    Now I’m a committed environmentalists doing what I can to sustain earth’s natural resources, educating the younger generation and working hard at not getting upset with the earth is flat folks. This works for me.

  18. Patrick February 7, 2011 at 11:12 pm #

    I think selfish consumerism needs to be taken into account. I think both environmentalists and some religions would advocate renouncing worldly things. We should recognize how our material lifestyle and consumer culture destroys the planet.

    It seems to me there are two possible reasons to adopt a green attitude toward the non-human natural world. To protect ourselves OR because we accept that it has an inalienable right to exist. I really think the stronger argument is the latter.

  19. Roberta Badger-Cain February 8, 2011 at 1:52 am #

    Thanks, Sheryl, for a very thought-provoking article. While I agree with the “letter” of your article, I would respond to the “spirit” of your view thus:

    Religious progressives and many spiritual progressives incorporate environmentalism in their religious ethic. God, the creative spirit, etc. is simultaneoudly both transcendent, the prime mover and/or above the creation per the three Abrahmanic religions as Sheryl stated, but also immanent, within every facet of the creation per the Eastern religions and many indiginous religions. As a species with awesome and awful powers, it behooves us human beings to care for all creation as we are called upon at the core of religious traditions to care for all our brothers and sisters. Caring for the earth as a moral imperative in no way precludes using the scientific method to discover how things work as well as to find ways to preserve, conserve, enhance, and help sustain natural systems upon which we depend and within which we live and move and have our being.

    We may, therefore, choose to be environmentalists only, people of fatih only, religious anti-environmentalists, or religious environmentalists. The latter is undoubtedly a viewpoint held by many and articulated by too few because dualism is more prevalent and easier to understand. However, I believe that if environmentalism is to prevail, being grounded as a moral imperative is perhaps just the impetus that is needed.

  20. Dawn Knowles February 8, 2011 at 1:59 am #

    I loved this article! I walked out of a church resently and never went back after listening to the pastor talk about environmentalists with great discust saying that we “were not true Christians” and calling us sinners because we “Worshipped the Earth over God”. I felt like he was talking to my soul and I couldn’t believe that he was saying this to his congregation…and they were believing him! Being a good steward of the Earth IS being a true Christian!

  21. Leigh Dionne February 8, 2011 at 5:04 am #

    More wars have been fought in the name of religion than any other cause. Will the war on the environment be any different? Will the earth be destroyed in the name of religion?
    The earth is our home that sustains us and nurtures us. Respecting it through environmentalism is not a religion it is the intelligent path to the survival and the future of our species.

  22. Sandra February 8, 2011 at 5:46 am #

    I think the most important link between religion and environmentalism is that God create the Earth for us to live in, it is our home, and environmentalism teach us to protect the Earth.

  23. Larry Lawton February 8, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    I think Rev Dr. Paul Hull has a fairly good definition of religion (though it leaves out my religious beliefs — I am a Mystic, and have no social group with beliefs in common, though there are other Mystics). Environmentalism is not a religion.

    However, I have some problem with equating environmentalism with Science or rational response, as Sheryl described in her essay. Environmentalism is more of a movement (as described in one comment) or a political position.

    What is a rational response depends on one’s individual perspective, and is not an absolute. For me, and most of us reading this story, environmentalism is a rational response — it is good according to how we see ourselves and the world. It supports our values and interests. But clearly, that is not true of everyone. For oil company executives, logging company executives, industrialists, military men, and even many workers in these industries, environmentalism is a threat to their way of life, their values, and their economic prosperity or even survival. It is easy to dismiss these people (who are numerous) as “wrong” or “selfish” — and they can dismiss us in the same way. The error is to fail to understand that different perspectives lead to different values and different perceptions of what is good and what is bad.

    Science can not distinguish between different perspectives. Science can only describe what is, how it works, and what might happen if certain actions are taken. Science can not supply moral or ethical choices. Science does not care if human civilization fails (though most scientists probably do!). Science does not care if species go extinct. Or if sacred natural environments are trashed for profit. Science can predict that if we continue to do these things, too often and on too large a scale, we will suffer predictable consequences — consequences most of us consider bad. But Science can not make that value judgment.

    For this reason, though I would say that environmentalism is not a religion, it has something in common with religions. Unlike Science, environmentalism makes a moral judgment based on certain perspectives — which is one of the main things religions also do. Our opponents may be dabbling in lies and distortions, but they do have a point, and if we want to persuade people to join us, we should understand our opponents, and address their concerns from their perspectives.

  24. Steve February 8, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    The picture caption “ENVIRONMENTAL TRUTHS are based in science not revelation” misses the point that truth uncovered by science IS revelation – just a different kind than what is assumed here. For further development of this idea, read “Thank God for Evolution” by Michael Dowd. Thanks for a great article -

  25. George Leon February 8, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

    I love reading some of the comments about “more wars have been fought over religion,” “religious people supporting slavery” and “science based on fact but religion on belief.”

    Has anyone studied history? Was World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, the Russian, Chinese, French or American revolutions – or the American Civi War – fought over religion? And do we dare to say that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are about religion?

    Were not the abolition movement, the civil rights movement and many other human rights movements initiated by religious leaders – including Rev. Martin Luther King? Are not Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief services among the largest charitable organizations in the world and the first responders in every disaster?

    Was not Blaise Pascal deeply religious and Georges LaMaitre – who introduced the “big bang” theory – A Catholic priest, and was not the church the keeper of science and philosophy throughout the so-called “dark ages?”

    If science is based on fact, and we adhere so closely to science, perhaps we should more closely examine the facts about religion and science.

  26. Jayne February 8, 2011 at 8:10 pm #

    Well stated, Sheryl.

  27. Steve February 9, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    I think what this is about is fear of change. The world is changing too fast and in frightening ways for many people. Underlying all of these attacks on what we call rational thought or what should be obvious self-interest, is deeply rooted in fear the familiar and comforting certainty of life has been replaced by uncertainty and new systems of belief. This is seen by some as a direct threat to their own belief systems that are the foundations of their understanding of existence. To counter this, we must have compassion and understanding for those who are having great difficulty with the world that is coming. It will not be easy of course, and some who are fighting environmentalist principles do so for personal interest or to maintain political power. Others are just frightened and do not know where to turn. On the positive side, there are evangelicals who are fully committed to environmental principles seeing in them care for the creation. Alliances from all perspectives are needed going forward as it is clear we will not only have to reduce pollution, but also mitigate its effects and find ways to adapt to a hotter planet.

  28. Richard Wayne February 9, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

    Thought provoking article and comments. A theme that works through many of the comments is the idea of including diverse ideas instead of ‘shouting them down.’ I would agree that we need to find a middle ground in order to achieve the sort of momentum that the environmental movement will eventually need to be successful. On a parallel plane, the Obama Administration itself is a living experiment whether this strategy (inclusion, compromise) can be successful. So far, it looks dubious…

  29. Elizabeth Mandell February 10, 2011 at 2:09 am #

    I agree with you Sheryl, thank you. Environmentalism based in the love of nature and this world can be a spiritual experience but it is not a religion. Religion is, as already stated, a structure built by men.It is sad that our highest goals and finest efforts are demonized by the politics of religion. B.Mandell

  30. CG February 11, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

    Dark Green Religion by Bron Taylor has a lot to say on this topic.

  31. Arran Edmonstone February 12, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    I enjoyed reading this article, Sheryl. I think about the religious elements of environmentalism quite a bit, along with the religious elements of corporatism, politics, and military. After a fair amount of research into the topic of the origin of religion itself I conclude that there are indeed religious elements to all of the above.

    This is so because they all share one inevitable thing in common: natural resources. This is also true because religion – a belief in divine power under a organized, ordained, institutional system – evolved from a pantheistic belief in the connection to a spirit world through natural world around us (which is not the same as religion). This pantheistic belief is not unlike the idea embraced by many environmentalists that Earth acts as a self-regulating superorganism, with all of its biological components functioning together as one (Lovelock’s “Gaia Hypothesis”)

    Throughout human history religions have taken these pantheistic ideas and made them their own and, in a sense, further separated humans from the natural world (i.e. the assimilation of Native American cultures into mainstream, Christian society). These ideas still present themselves in the form of religious elements such as hierarchy, order, love for God, sense of connection to one’s own community, giving to others, and “the Golden Rule”. However, these elements are, more generally, a part of being human.

    So, if environmentalism shares these elements in common with religion, then it makes both environmentalism and religion a part of something much bigger: what it means to be human and our evolutionary trajectory on this planet. Environmentalism serves many purposes and one important one is a collective atavistic tendency to embrace more peaceful, selfless ways of thinking about our connection to the Earth which have been filtered out by institutional entities and consumer culture, including many organized religious institutions.

    Much in the same way people relate to their God, part of what makes us human is the way in which we relate to the natural world, so if anti environmentalists are to accuse the environmental movement of being a veiled religious movement, perhaps instead they might look within themselves at their own sense of what it means to be human and how that plays into the role we play with the rest of the earth. Likewise, perhaps those of us in the environmental movement who attack religion might instead look at the role connection to a God or some other higher power plays in being human.

  32. Katherine L February 18, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    Calling ECO a religion is a cheap shot at trying to dirty the whole environmental movement. Its called respect for our living, breathing planet that we’ve so much abused and now are seeing that its hurting and acting out and we need to roll with the changes.

  33. Shermin February 18, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    The topic of environmental-’ism’ as religion has been explored in many forums, You may be aware of the “Green Guilt” article by Stephen Asma:

    http://chronicle.com/article/Green-Guilt/63447/

    I think there’s some interesting psychology buried in there. One could say that it’s religious to the extent that any ideology is religious and (at least in the minds of those who follow it) endeavors for something Good. Perhaps there is more fact to base it on, and a greater vested interest in pursuing it in terms of our survival as your post points out.

  34. jmuhj February 18, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

    While eschewing the debate or polemic regarding this complex issue, I would offer the thoughts that every major spiritual movement and/or religion has been rooted in the belief of the sacredness of life, and as such, the planet on which we all live, as well as all the living beings who share it with us, are every bit as valuable and sacred as we are. Since we need to keep our only home viable in order to survive, and since our survival is inextricably linked to that of other living beings, science and spiritual teachings are never in conflict. What is called “religion” has been so corrupted and co-opted by the greedy and the powerful as means to their ends, that it is the minority of adherents to any doctrine who actually practice what the originators of these faiths preached; that is, that since we are all brought into being by a Supreme Being, all living beings must be and in fact are loved and valued by that Supreme Being and therefore, we have a spiritual duty of “stewardship” involving compassion, protection, individual and shared responsibility toward ourselves, our families, our species and all other living beings. And it goes without saying that those of us who wish to live are deeply concerned with, and involved in, trying to save our home. It’s the only one we have, after all!

  35. Maggie February 19, 2011 at 1:27 am #

    Sheryl,
    Thanks for a thoughtful article on an important subject. I agree that environmentalism is not, strictly speaking, a religion, but as one of the commentators pointed out, environmentalism does involve making value judgements. Environmentalists (I count myself as an environmentalist) believe that biodiversity is a benefit to all life on the planet, and that quality of life for humans depends on a healthy environment with clean air, water and soil. I myself believe that actions that damage other species also damage our species. I do think some environmentalists find the sacred in nature, I certainly do. So there is a religious element to it for me.

    I have often wondered if the only way to get the majority of humans to value the ecosystems that we depend on is to create a religion that makes taking care of the environment a sacred act. Religions certainly have been powerful forces in our history, and I think are usually set up to provide a framework for ethical living. But every religion that I know anything about has some sects that have twisted the original faith into a travesty of the founder’s intentions.

    For people who want to cherish the sense of the sacred that they find in nature, you could investigate Unitarian Universalism, a religion that does not have a dogma or creed. UU’s have a set of principles, and the seventh principle is “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”

  36. Sheryl March 4, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    Thank you for all these well-considered and interesting comments, which I wish I had the time to answer individually.

    I do want to recommend a wonderful little book — beautifully written — that tries to bridge the gap between environmentalism and Christian fundamentalism. The book is The Creation: An appeal to save life on earth by the the prize-winning author and biologist, E.O. Wilson (who coined the term “biodiversity”). Worth a read..

  37. celestial elf April 25, 2011 at 6:18 pm #

    Great Post, folks do seem to think that Love of Our Environment, our home, is treated by some as a ‘new’ Religion ((??)), but i really think that the term Religion needs to be re examined in the popular culture :D
    thought you might like my machinima film the butterfly’s tale~
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1fO8SxQs-E
    Bright Blessings
    elf ~

  38. Applewine July 25, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    Yes, environmentalism is a religion. It is not based on science. Just google “environmentalism is a religion” and read and watch videos and think about it. I don’t consider there to be any true religion, I don’t get involved in religion. If you want to have a religion, fine, but keep it out of the government and don’t go forcing me to do things.

  39. Gary W. Cook October 9, 2012 at 10:06 pm #

    The article fails immensely to define religion. All religions are mythology and have no basis in truth. They are created by humans to define how people should act in their defined culture. They create penalties and rewards to assure conformity. The common thread of all mythologies is their inability to be proven. As such, they are all false creations. The worse mythologies are the most modern developed in one place that define a supreme being, or creator, and completely separates humans from the earth, universe, and all life. And they create the most selfish, self centered, and truly self rightist group of humans. So self rightist that they think that they are above everyone and everything, and have a right to force conformation to their views, at all costs. Even the better of the worse see themselves as above nature, as they think they are natures stewards. What a joke. Humans are insignificant creatures in the universe.
    A primary example is their definition that only humans have “souls” that in reality do not exist. The fact that plant, animal, and microscopic life lack souls puts these big headed people above reality. And it prevents them from being truly human. For humans have hearts, minds, an electrical system, and a remarkably functioning body with millions of smaller life forms, that is clearly part of, not separate from, the earth. For when humans die, they think this soul thing goes to either heaven, or hell. How can they tell? Without a body there are no feelings, thoughts, sight, smell, taste, love, or anything good or bad that we face on earth. A “soul” couldn’t tell if it was in heaven or hell because it couldn’t feel the heat, pain, or pleasure of either. Humans do have spirits along with all life, which is everything. The spirit is projected when humans are alive, and continues after they change form. For if you are a wonderful person and treat people with kindness, that will be passed on forever. If you are an abusive and violent person, that will be passed on forever. Your thoughts and actions define your spirit.
    Humans are strictly the earth. Not part of, but the earth. The earth is a warm body organism. Humans are not separate from the earth, and the earth is not separate from the universe, which is infinite. Always has existed, always will. Though us meager humans can’t prove or disprove this. For example, it is not us defined by our skin, surrounded by something separate called air. For without air and gravity, we would explode. We are one. We wouldn’t last longer than a minute or two if vegetation wasn’t producing the oxygen that we need. We in turn provide carbon dioxide for vegetation. The earth is all one lung. We wouldn’t last long without water which we are about 97% made of. We wouldn’t last without the food we consume. We are not alone or individual. Every cell in our body was provided by other parts of the earth. We are the earth that we breath, drink, and eat. When we “die” which we really don’t do, we just change form and turn into earth. First we evaporate and lose most of our form. And instantly become water vapor and air which is consumed by everything. Some escapes the earth’s gravity field and atmosphere, and enters the rest of the universe. Then the chemicals that is left becomes other elements of the earth. We are thus home. Pity those poor life forms trapped in a concrete box for way too long.
    I can prove scientifically what I stated above. There is absolutely no proof of any mythology. Though the earlier mythologies that tied their well being to the earth, sun, moon, and stars are far superior to the modern “God” and “creation” mythologies.
    It is an insult to call environmentalism a mythology (religion). It is real. provable, and in good spirit.

  40. AUNTIEG December 5, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

    Is “Environmentalism” a religion? No, it’s a philosophy, not a theology; unless we start building churches to “Mother Earth;” in which case sign me up!!! I always wanted to be a Priestess!!!

  41. Rashid Patch December 6, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    As-Salaamo Aleykum – Peace upon you,

    While wise and compassionate care for the environment is in fact commanded by all the scriptures of the major religious traditions, and acting as an environmentalist would act is therefore enjoined by all of them, that is simply righteous behavior – not religion per se. Therefore, from the viewpoint of traditional believers in most religious traditions (except perhaps Buddhism, which insists it is not a religion, but a philosophy/practice), environmentalism is not (and cannot) be a religion. In the view of traditional religions, the earth’s environment is important, and must be cared for – but religion deals with far, far larger realms – the environment(s) of the spiritual worlds. Those concerns can never justify damage to earth’s environment, but they are concerns with other things, and those other things constitute a reality of more importance than just this earth – in fact, of more importance than all the physical universe.

    I’m Muslim, an imam, and a shaykh in a traditional sufi order. I’ve lectured and taught courses in Islam, sufism, and history of religion at the graduate level. I don’t claim to be enlightened, but I do think I know what I’m talking about here.

    This is not a put-down of environmentalism; nor is it an argument for environmentalists to subscribe to any religion. I simply think that they are different categories of activity. Religious people should be environmentalists – I’ve preached on that myself – because it is one of the aspects of a righteous life. However, that, by itself, is not religion.

    Peace!