Our Dark Green Religious Future?

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Religion Dispatches interviews Bron Taylor, a specialist in environmental and social ethics, core faculty member in the Graduate Program in Religion and Nature at the University of Florida, and author of the new book “Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future”. According to Taylor, the future of religion is nature religion.

“…traditional religions with their beliefs in non-material divine beings are in decline. The desire for a spiritually meaningful understanding of the cosmos, however, did not wither away, and new forms of spirituality have been filling the cultural niches previously occupied by conventional religions. I argue that the forms I document in Dark Green Religion are much more likely to survive than longstanding religions, which involved beliefs in invisible, non-material beings. This is because most contemporary nature spiritualities are sensory (based on what we perceive with our senses, sometimes enhanced by clever gadgets), and thus sensible. They also tend to promote ecologically adaptive behaviors, which enhances the survival prospects of their carriers, and thus their own long-term survival prospects.”

On his web site, Taylor even envisions the possible emergence of a global “earth religion”.

“Dark green religion—religion that considers nature to be sacred, imbued with intrinsic value, and worthy of reverent care—has been spreading rapidly around the world … such religion is becoming increasingly important in global environmental politics. It motivates a wide array of individuals and movements that are engaged in some of the most trenchant environment- related struggles of our time. It increasingly shapes the worldviews and practices of grassroots social activists and the world’s intelligentsia. It is already important in global environmental politics. It may even inspire the emergence of a global, civic, earth religion.

Taylor’s book seems to primarily focus on radical environmentalists, “surfer-spirituality”, and mainstream political and cultural “green” discourse in framing his “Dark Green Religion”, though modern Paganism does get mentioned in his chapter on Globalization in Arts, Sciences, and Letters.

“Starhawk, [Margot] Adler, and [Alice] Walker show that Paganism, by emphasizing Mother Earth as sacred and sometimes equating her with the body of the goddess, is fertile ground for enviornmentalism. Both Walker and Starhawk, who live in Northern California, have supported campaigns against logging in the redwood biome. Given the earthly ground of contemporary Paganism, it is unsurprising that when Paganism does lead to political action it would have a strong ecofeminist dimension.”

In addition, he also briefly mentions Gaian tendencies within the New Age movement. So it seems (at least some) Pagans are included in his “Dark Green” religious future. Though I’m a bit disappointed that he didn’t spend a bit more time on the topic, especially considering the growth of Pagan studies in recent years.

So how pervasive is this rising civic “earth religion” that Taylor posits? Christian scholar John Morehead wonders if the massive success of “Avatar”, with its pantheistic and environmental themes, may be connected to this phenomenon.

“…in terms of popular culture, such sentiments may also be seen underlying the science fiction/fantasy film Avatar. which has resonated with audiences for this and other reasons.”

Whether the future of religion is indeed nature religion, replacing the now-dominant monotheisms, remains to be seen, but the book looks like a fascinating exploration of the topic. You can download and read the entire first chapter of the book at the publisher’s web site. Taylor also promises more related content and a soon-to-be-launched blog on his personal web site.