When I was at the Pagan Spirit Gathering in Missouri, the ongoing oil disaster in the Gulf Coast region was right on the surface of many of our minds. Throughout the week there were calls for a healed earth, for a re-dedication to the earth-centered and environmental principles many of us shared, culminating in a ritual where Gulf Coast residents became a focal point of our collective will towards a solution to this crisis. For me, and the other participants, this wasn’t surprising. Modern Pagan religions and environmentalism, particularly in North America, have largely walked hand-in-hand since the first Earth Day in 1970. Embracing, in the words of Chas Clifton, not simply the “Cosmic Nature” of attuning oneself with the cosmos, but the “Gaian Nature” that positioned us as an environmentally concerned grouping of faiths.
Modern Pagan faiths are not alone in these environmental attitudes. Hindu monk Ramdas Lamb recently put forward a forceful call towards living in balance and harmony with nature, and that we all shared culpability in the disasters that result from our needs.
“When there is harmony in the world, there is peace. Disharmony leads imbalance, disease, and destruction. The BP oil spill is a product of an approach to nature that reeks of an attitude of destruction and has little or no sense of respect or harmony for nature. This does not mean that we cannot use things in nature for our benefit, and sometimes this includes animals, but that we should do so in a respectful way. As citizens of a country that uses more energy than any other country, we have to share with BP a moral, if not financial, responsibility for what has recently happened. How many of us who complain about the ongoing environmental degradation have altered our lives to use alternate energy instead? How many of us drive only alternate energy vehicles, have solar panels on our homes, recycle all our waste, plant trees wherever we can, and stop adding to the massive pollution caused by the livestock industry? Not many. There is an environmental crisis that is apparent today and has therefore gotten most of our attentions, but there is a morality crisis that has been going on for a long time in the way we treat Mother Earth and her residents, and very few of us even think about it. While many individual Christians, Jews, and Muslims act in environmentally conscious ways, it is time that Western religions themselves start including in their teachings a genuine and proactive concern for nature and for the other beings that share the Earth with us. They claim to believe that all of creation is from God. It is time they begin to treat these divine creations with the respect they deserve.”
Nor is Lamb the sole Hindu voice on that matter, as Hindu American Foundation (HAF) co-founder Aseem Shukla reminds us that Hinduism, like modern Pagan faiths, sees divinity within every part of nature.
“For panentheistic Hindus, who with many Dharma faiths and Pagan traditions worship Earth as a manifestation of the Mother Goddess, divinity is found within every part of nature just as it transcends an earthly realm.”
These Pagan and Hindu voices are joined by indigenous communities and several other minority faiths; yet when AP environmental writer John Flesher decided to look at the “Green religion movement” within the context of the Gulf spill, you would think that “eco-theology” was a concept dreamt of solely by liberal (and not-so-liberal) Christians.
“Religious leaders who consider environmental protection a godly mission are making the Gulf of Mexico oil spill a rallying cry, hoping it inspires people of faith to support cleaner energy while changing their personal lives to consume less and contemplate more. “This is one of those rare moments when you can really focus people’s attention on what’s happening to God’s creation,” said Walt Grazer, head of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment.”
To be sure, I welcome those Christian and Jewish voices calling for a new balance, a new ethos, in how we approach the environment Their involvement is needed if we are truly to change the way we live. But this piece renders millions of “green” religionists invisible in order to give Jim Wallis yet another press clipping. A “green religion” movement without indigenous leaders, without Pagans, without Hindus, is one missing vital information on how to move beyond theology and into practice. A concern voiced by Yale historian Mary Evelyn Tucker in the article.
“Very few of the world’s religions were making any statements about the environment 20 years ago, and now virtually all of them have,” said Mary Evelyn Tucker, a historian of religion and founder of Yale University’s Forum on Religion and Ecology. “The challenge is to put them into practice.”
How to practice “green religion”? Let’s start by recognizing that there are religious traditions that have been working on this very issue for decades, and some that have been living that seemingly elusive practice for generations. When journalists focus almost solely on Christians who are for and against embracing environmentalism and an “eco-theology”, they can miss the bigger story of how many of us are approaching Green Religion entirely out of that context.