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Religious Environmentalism: Doing More Harm Than Good?

by Christine DeSadeleer Sep 2, 2009
Religion can be, and is, used to help save the environment. Apparently, it can also be used to kill it.

Is there a common thread between different religions throughout the world?

Of course there is. And there is certainly more than one.

But the one that Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener, author of the new book, Claiming Earth As Common Ground: The Ecological Crisis Through the Lens of Faith, takes a look at is environmental activism.

I have to admit, I’m intrigued about the prospect of religion, science, and environment coming together. Cohen-Kiener, along with being a spiritual leader and author, also heads the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network. In a recent article on the Mother News Network, she claims that:

…The major faith traditions offer not only clear instructions [for taking care of the environment] but also an urgent mandate to do something about them.

She claims that religious leaders the likes of Pope Benedict are on board and are openly discussing the need for conservation. But, she adds, there is also a “trickling up” from the masses to these leaders in the need to be open and honest about environmental degradation.

In 2007, published a list of 15 Green Religious Leaders, which included obvious ones such as the Dalai Lama, and maybe the not-so-obvious, like Richard Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. According to the article, Cizik “travels the U.S. spreading the doctrine of ‘creation care,’ a Bible-based understanding of why Christians have a duty to be environmental stewards.”

The Other Side

But, as usual, there are some out there that disagree. Gerald Zandstra, in his piece Religious Leaders and Social Activism: Prophets or Captives? on the Acton Institute website, argues that at least some environmental groups and causes are simply bringing in religious leaders to “inject religious language into a non- (or even anti-) religious agenda.”

The example Zandstra specifies has to do with a project that is attempting to ban PVC-based products in healthcare. He believes this greening project is both secular and based on “an irrational bias against all things ‘artificial’.”

In an even more convoluted take on environmentalism found on the same site, a blog post by Jordan J. Ballor, a Ph.D. candidate in historical theology, entitled, Pro-Consumption and Pro-Environment, states:

Fossil fuels would thus have the created purpose of providing relatively cheap and pervasive sources of energy. These limited and finite resources help raise the standard of living and economic situation of societies to the point where technological research is capable of finding even cheaper, more efficient, renewable, and cleaner sources of energy.

He adds a statement from the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship that says, “A clean environment is a costly good…the tendency among some to oppose economic progress in the name of environmental stewardship is often sadly self-defeating.”

Um, ok. So they are saying we have to essentially wreck the environment in order to save it? That environmental agenda goes along perfectly with the idea that we have to kill people in order to save them in all those “freedom” wars.

Too bad we could have chosen ethanol for our autos back in the early 20th century rather than oil. But, it seems as if most established religious leaders get it…

What do you think about religious leaders taking a stance on the environment? Share your thoughts below.

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