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Religious Environmentalism: Green Faith

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Dissident Heart

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Religious Environmentalism: Green Faith

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My copy of A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planet's Future by Roger S. Gottlieb finally arrived at the library day before last and I've been steadily enjoying the read. In it he argues for a new assessment of Relgion in the struggle for ecological sustianability and survival of the biosphere. He is quite clear of the favorable attitudes of institutional religions towards the rise of industrial civilization and its damage to the natural environment. Wherever conflict did arise the focus has been upon largely insignificant quarrels with theories of evolution. But, for the most part institutional religion has either remained silent about the steady devastation of our biosphere, or actually supported it as necessary and acceptable. The earth and its creatures are for man's use, is the dominant narrative (with few exceptions, St. Francis most noteworthy) and, besides, all of this will be wiped away with the new Heaven and Earth in the end times......Gottlieb's book offers an alternative view. Religion is now a leading voice in telling us to respect the earth, love our non-human as well as human neighbors and think deeply about our social policies and and economic priorities. This thread is not primarily about Gottlieb's very important book, but about the newly emerging role of Religion in diverse movements to turn the tide of ecological disaster.Here are some suggestions to fuel further discussion that Gottlieb offers regarding some of the ways that Religion can, and does, help us face the emotional and moral demands and the human meaning of our shared environmental crisis.1. Facing the Crisis: Virtually all religious traditions demand and train the ability to attend, focus the mind and concentrate; either through prayer, meditation, reflection on scriptures, our own faults, our commited intention is an essential ingredient. Serious religious life demands we turn this intentional focus onto difficult, dark and painful realities we would most often choose to ignore, deny or minimize. It says, "Look at this...and don't look away even if what you see is very disturbing."2. Giving voice to our Grief: Religion can help us articulate the full measure of our pain, perhaps moreso than the language of secular politics. The ecological crisis is more than a political, economic, or technological problem: it is also profoundly spiritual- it involves our deepest concerns about what is of truly lasting importance in our lives. The extent of devastation is mind boggling, sensitive consideration of the suffering unleashed and the dismal possibilities ahead give rise to deep sorrow and profound anguish. Religion can help us express and communicate how this grief impacts our lives.3. Giving voice to our Guilt: Religion can help us articulate the full-measure of our responsibility and help us attain accountability in the crisis. Religious mechanisms of self-examination, public acknowledgement of personal and communal moral error, the will to contrition, and the language of sin and sacriledge can help us confess our mistakes and get honest about our destructive behaviors.4. Giving voice to Grace: Many religious teachings reassure us that though we should face up to our moral failings, we need not be paralyzed by the scope of what lies before us. The extent and progress of ecological devastation is overwhelming, and if we take it completely seriously free of denial and complicity, we could very well be crushed with despair and simply submit to the onslaught. We will never be able to fix everything, for the only one responsible for everything is God. Nevertheless, it is up to us to do our part.Gottlieb recommends Harvard's The Forum on Religion and Ecology as an invaluable resource for the discussion.Quote:The Forum on Religion and Ecology is the largest international multireligious project of its kind. With its conferences, publications, and website it is engaged in exploring religious worldviews, texts, and ethics in order to broaden understanding of the complex nature of current environmental concerns. The Forum recognizes that religions need to be in dialogue with other disciplines (e.g., science, ethics, economics, education, public policy, gender) in seeking comprehensive solutions to both global and local environmental problems.
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Dissident Heart

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5 Central Problems

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An important part of Gottlieb's book is addressing those secular leftists who feel (often with good reasons) there is nothing environmentalists need from religion, though people of faith are certainly welcome if they leave their religious identitites at home. A Greener Faith reflects a confidence that secular culture, including politics and science, can learn a great deal from religious traditions and temperament. There is much in common between the secular goals of freedom, democracy and human rights and religious aspirations toward justice and compassion. Yet, widespread tensions do exist. Gottlieb faces these head-on in what he summarizes as five central problems: 1. Religion, in essence, is undemocratic and oppressive. 2. Religious beliefs are irrational or at best non-rational, and thus have no place in the organization of society. 3. Religious values are, at best, peripheral to environmentalism, which should be shaped by science, not faith. 4. Involvement in politics is bad for religion. 5. Religion has become increasingly irrelevant to modern life, so a religious environmentalism is not needed and will make no real contribution.
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