Earth Day

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  April 22, 2011 — 7 Comments

“Most people are on the world, not in it—have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them—undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate.” — John Muir

“Mother Earth is the living dynamic system comprised of the inter-related, interdependent and complementary indivisible community of all life systems and living beings that share a common destiny. Mother Earth is considered to be sacred, as per the cosmologies of the nations of rural indigenous peoples.”The Law of Mother Earth, Bolivia

Today is Earth Day (and International Mother Earth Day). Originally spearheaded in 1970 by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson as a national“teach-in” on urgent environmental issues, it has since become an internationally recognized holiday in192 countries. Earth Day is partially credited with jump-starting the modern environmentalist movement, and helping to pass legislation like the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. Earth Day also had a profound affect on modern Paganism in the United States.

“The spirit of Earth Day 1970 did not just happen; its roots could include the gradual stirring of environmental consciousness that accelerated in the 1960s, but that stirring itself had deeper roots in an American consciousness of a special relationship with the land, even if that relationship was often abusive. Still, if there was a year when Wicca (in the broad sense) became “nature religion,” as opposed to the “mystery religion” or “metaphorical fertility religion” labels that it had brought from England, that year was 1970.” – Chas Clifton, Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America

Modern Pagan and Heathen faiths, whether they identify as “nature religions” or not, have a special sacral relationship with the natural world. Our gods and goddesses can be found in oceans, rivers, forests, and mountains (indeed, in many cultures, Earth is the primal mother of most acknowledged gods and powers), some pre-Christian cultures envision a World Tree that binds reality together. Our rites often mark the changing seasons, and once tracked the progress of crops essential to our survival. Deity is not merely a transcendent force separate from creation, deity is everywhere and within every thing. Each of us holds the potential to be like the gods, and we acknowledge that the gods and powers walk and exist among us still. So it isn’t surprising that many Pagans feel a special urging to advocate for the environment and the protection of the natural world.

The Pagan notion of a sacred and interconnected Earth still persists today, and continues to make some people, both Christian and secular, uncomfortable. Despite these qualms, elements of immanence, pantheism, and various indigenous perspectives have become increasingly popular and “mainstream” in our modern culture. Bron Taylor, author of “Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future”, notes that this development is as “American as apple pie.”

“The remarkable language in the Ecuadorian constitution and in Boliva’s new Mother Earth law did not, however, result from indigenous Andean spirituality alone. They were also influenced by a generation of thinking and debate around the world about human responsibilities toward nature. In the U.S., much of this has taken place among philosophers and legal theorists, including in the landmark argument by Christopher Stone, Should Trees Have Standing?: Law, Morality, and the Environment, which was first published in theSouthern California Law Review in 1972. Indeed, I contend that the recent developments in Ecuador, Bolivia, and within the United Nations are as American as apple pie: they are to some extent in the spirit of a diverse range of American voices that led to the pioneering Endangered Species Act of 1973 signed into law by Richard Nixon. Yet today, those who call themselves conservative are generally hostile to environmentalists, often considering them to be politically or spiritually dangerous socialists or pagans.”

As the effects of climate change start to seriously endanger the lives and lively-hood of people in countries like Bolivia, an ethos of “wild law” is being formalized in hopes that “a new relationship between man and nature” can occur. As “green living” stops being an ethical lifestyle choice and starts becoming a fiscal and environmental necessity, I think ideas of immanence and interconnectedness will naturally develop alongside them. We require a positive narrative for the changes we make in our culture and lives, even if they are changes made because we have run out of other options. As this gradual shift happens, modern Pagans can become the philosophical, spiritual, and ethical leaders we have often supposed we could (or should) be. I’m very pleased that the Pagan Newswire Collective was able to host and launch a new nature and environmental-focused group blog in the weeks leading up to Earth Day, so that the conversations our family of faiths should be having are sparked and facilitated.

“When faced with natural disasters that wreak havoc on human communities, we often respond valiantly by pledging our time, money, energy and support. Are we as willing and able to do the same when confronted with man-made disasters that put ecosystems, landscapes and other nonhuman communities at risk? Do we engage in the difficult, daily work of establishing the cultural infrastructures and social organizations necessary to respond to environmental crises with swiftness and efficacy? Do we act on and live out our love for the earth that creates and sustains us through advocacy and engagement? Or do we continue to treat nature as a luxury? A regrettable loss, perhaps, but not worth the uproar or the effort?”

Today, with immense environmental challenges facing us, from climate change and the destruction of natural ecosystems to the impending fresh water shortages, the ideals and message of Earth Day are more vital than they have ever been.

Watch the full episode. See more American Experience.

Want to get active? Find out where you’re at, reduce your carbon footprint (and your water footprint), support small farms and eat ethically, teach on global climate change as a moral issue, invest green, vote green, and go green.

“I will sing of well-founded Earth, mother of all, eldest of all beings. She feeds all creatures that are in the world, all that go upon the goodly land, and all that are in the paths of the seas, and all that fly: all these are fed of her store.” – Homer

Let’s make every day Earth Day.

Jason Pitzl-Waters

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