Sometime last night, while I was reading Mike Berners-Lee’s fabulous book How Bad Are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything, I had a religious epiphany. That is to say, I had an epiphany, and it went like this: “I’ve gone and got myself religion!”
Under scrutiny, my epiphany shows some serious flaws, but before we get to that phase of the discussion, let’s have a brief review of my religious views.
I am a very-pagan-influenced Christian. I don’t mention this much with people, because I don’t like to mention my religion without launching into a full discussion of my beliefs, complete with caveats and notable dissensions from mainstream theologies. This sort of thing normally takes all night.
A thorough discussion of what I do and do not believe is not on the agenda for this evening. You may all breathe a collective sigh of relief. I will however mention that I get absolutely rankled by people who perceive religious faith as some sort of character flaw. My beliefs do not indicate a lack of intelligence, nor the inability to reason critically, nor a skepticism of science. (But this is not really germane to the larger discussion. This is me picking a bone.)
Suffice it to say that I do have religious and spiritual inclinations. I go light on the dogma, but I do hold some beliefs that fly absolutely counter to normal logic. I am totally cool with that. The bigger picture here is that I have a religious identity–and, as of last night, I have an additional religious identity, or at least something that smacks of religious identity.
Ecology. That’s my new god.
The evidence is overwhelming. Practically all the nonfiction books I’ve been reading this past year have been about the environment. My recent browser history is littered with links to websites that deal with agriculture, sustainability, climate change, global warming, local foods, and green living. I’ve been daydreaming about careers in farming or wildlife preservation. In my personal suite of important social issues, climate change is a bigger concern than all of the following:
- Fair wages
- Affordable health care
- Sexual orientation and equal rights
- The separation of church and state
- Female genital mutilation
- The fucking Tea Party
I spend a lot of time thinking about environmental concerns. When I spend money on food, transportation, and consumer goods, I think about the ecological impact. My leisure time is tempered by carbon awareness (“I could drive over to the park and walk around for a bit, only… Nah, not worth the carbon footprint, I’ll just walk around the asphalt parking lot of the apartment complex instead. Ah. Yes. This is fun. Sure is. Yes indeedy. And if I walk a few blocks thataway I’ll… get to the DMV! Good times. Yesiree.”)
Long story short, I’ve turned into an environmental nutjob. Question is, does my fanaticism for the God of Green count as a real religion (or approximation thereof)? Or is it merely an auxiliary set of beliefs?
Let’s explore this with a fun thought exercise!
Life has six defining characteristics, as I recall from middle school science class. Living things reproduce; living things grow; living things respond to their environments; and something and something and something. And possibility there was a seventh something. And viruses were really weird.
Religion, I suspect, has its own set of defining characteristics, and I am beginning to wonder whether I should have taken Religion 101 in college. Bet they discuss that sort of thing. Or probably I could just look it up in wikipedia, but honestly I’d rather see what I can come up with on my own.
What follows are some (perhaps completely inaccurate) characteristics of religion. Does my ecomania meet these definitions?
1. Religion prescribes an ethical way of living for its adherents.
Well, got that in one. My lifestyle choices are thoroughly colored by an awareness of green ethics. And then I feel all kinds of guilty if I deviate from those ethics. Feeling guilty is very religious.
2. Religion has a God or Gods or gods or some kind of supernatural deity at play.
Hmm. I think this one fails the test. My greenishness has a keen belief in science, but science by definition is natural, not supernatural.
3. Religion promises an afterlife.
Unchecked climate change promises that the world will turn into a living hell, with floods and fires and famines and so forth. Does that count?
4. Religion attempts to give its adherents hope.
Definite fail. Mere sustainability is no longer even an option, not even if we all start riding bicycles tomorrow. (See Bill McKibben’s Eaarth for more information.) We’re screwed and screwing ourselves further and there’s no turning back. La.
5. Religion is based on faith, not logic.
I suppose there could be a version of green-based religion that promised hope– “if we all reduce our carbon footprint, we can save the polar ice caps!”– and, if so, it would be based on faith. Unfortunately for my psyche, my understanding of the science of climate change leaves me no hope whatsoever.
With these five proposed definitions, I believe I have adequately described the nature of religion. (Interpretation: I am sleepy and want to go to bed now.) I think it safe to conclude that I have not embraced a new religion, despite my belief in, and devotion to, ecological health. Which is nice, in a way– I’m too old for religious initiation rites and I really don’t want to go door-to-door handing out pamphlets.
But I reserve the right to proselytize. More on that in the next post.