Janie B. Cheaney: Climate activism’s neo-pagan religion

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, November 27th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Some aspects of the environmental movement are decidedly anti-Christian. But WORLD commentator Janie B. Cheaney gets to the root of the matter.

JANIE B. CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: Two hours among the giant sequoias of Yosemite, drinking in reams of information from a Park Ranger, will re-define anyone’s idea of “a walk in the woods.”

Any deep dive into nature impresses me with the marvelous variety and particularity of every living species. Each is itself, yet feeds and is fed by every other. Is nature locked in an unending struggle for limited resources, or does it participate in Creation’s great dance? The Bible says both.

The day before my walk in the Mariposa Grove, teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg addressed the U.N. Special Session on Climate Change. Thunberg has become the conscience of the elite, speaking to humanity’s desecration of Earth.

Her emotional speech to the U.N., laced with threats like, “We are watching you,” made no clear prescription about exactly what to do, besides cut global emissions by more than 65 percent. That, incidentally, would send the third world spiraling back to a subsistence economy.

The rejection of reason, the outright hysteria of climate activism often sounds like a neo-pagan religion. And in fact, one of the founding documents of radical environmentalism calls for just that.

“The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” by Lynn White, was published in the journal Science all the way back in 1967. As a historian, Professor White blamed Christianity, “the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen,” for its supposed view that, quote, “nature has no reason for existence save to serve man.” 

According to White, ancient cultures saw every stream, tree, and hill protected by guardian spirits, but, quote, “by destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects.”

Having established the Christian roots of clear-cutting, surface-mining, and industrial pollution, White issued a startling call. Quoting now: “Since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious, whether we call it that or not.” End quote.

The adoration of Greta, the apocalyptic predictions, the self-flagellation, all indicate religious fervor running wild. Take the Union Theological Seminary chapel service in September, in which students were encouraged to confess their ecological sins to an array of potted plants. Forgive us, Aloe Vera!

Professor Lynn wasn’t wrong about the religious roots of ecological sin, but he should have consulted his Bible for the full picture. Nature rejoices in declaring God’s glory and power. Exploitation, like so much else, stems from the great human sin of refusing to participate in that glorification project and instead wresting glory for ourselves. Creation does indeed groan for our sins (see Romans 8:19), but it also anticipates our full redemption.

Redemption won’t come from 65 percent fewer carbon emissions, or 35 percent fewer people, or any program that diminishes humans in order to elevate houseplants. We are linked together, humanity and nature. And God has bigger, better plans for both of us.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Janie B. Cheaney.

(Photo/Creative Commons)

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