“Dear Mrs. Wood, I have read a few posts on your blog and found it to be very interesting. But I am curious: what you mean by saying religion is killing the planet? This is a very important question for me because I’m a Christian and sometimes I have to make a choice whether to follow my religion’s beliefs or be green (-S).”
One of the primary premises of killing Mother is that contemporary patriarchal monotheisms are a leading cause of planetary ecological demise. While, I inherently know this to be true, at times I have struggled with developing correlations based on precise data. Much of the supporting evidence is thousands of years old and subject to interpretation. The argument also depends on the personal attitudes of religious adherents. Not being a particularly reverent person, I cannot speak for the truly faithful, so I really love it when someone contacts me with questions like S.
Over the past week or so, I have been enjoying an ongoing conversation with S. Although I do not know her personally, I can tell from our communications that she is a conscientious individual who is clearly torn between her instinctive desire to do right by the planet and the dogma with which she has been raised. Some of her concerns are as follows:
• Christians must first think about salvation, not about nature.
• People who arrange protests against other people or government are violating Jesus’ commandments.
• We need to be fruitful and multiply. Choosing to restrict the number of children a person has violates God’s laws.
• If we do not follow God’s laws in this life, we will suffer.
• Environmentalism is becoming a religion, and God says we should have no other gods but Him.
I am thankful to S. for enunciating in such concise terms the struggles that modern Christians are grappling with. These concerns are particularly relevant, as a Gallup poll found that a full one-third of Americans accept the Bible as literal truth. Another half of Americans believe the Bible is inspired by God, leaving a mere 20% who think the Bible is “an ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man (1).”
The problem in refuting some of S’s fears is that in order for religion to survive at all, it demands blind faith. S’s concerns are based on a belief that the Bible is literal truth. The fact that this same 3,000 year old document has some aspects that are historically and scientifically questionable is of no concern to fundamentalists. Their faith demands they do not examine the inconsistencies of scripture and that to do so is blasphemy. Consequently, having a strictly rational debate with a fundamentalist is a somewhat tall order. Predictably, the religious follower will cite the infallibility of an obviously flawed document, the Bible, as the basis for all argument. Inconsistencies are dismissed as the inability of mere mortals to understand the intentions of God.
Nevertheless, and while I know words will probably be wasted on those who cite a single document to prove its own the validity, I will address each of S’s concerns below:
Christians must first think about salvation and not nature
The above sentiment is precisely why religion is killing the planet. On a global scale, one-third of the Earth’s population professes to be Christian with a further 22% claiming the faith of Islam, another monotheism that strives for an other-world salvation (2). A full half of the world’s population is looking to a mythical life and habitat after this one, believing that this reality (certainly the only one for which we have any proof) is of no consequence.
The people who eschew the living world for a mythical one have been duped by their religious leaders. In fact, this is not a sentiment that the Bible expresses at all. Jesus - a man for whom I have great admiration in the vein of MLK, Buddha and Gandhi – spent his lifetime presenting an example of exemplary living on this Earth. He cared for the poor, sick and socially-rejected in his Earthly lifetime and even contended that “the kingdom of God is among you (Luke 17:21).” Even the often-brutish patriarch of the Old Testament contends “The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on Earth below (Joshua 2:11).” If the Earth is in fact also God's kingdom, then seemingly it would be the ultimate blasphemy to defile it.
In reality, political and economic elites have discovered a captive audience. A population that is willing to accept just about anything on faith is primed for manipulation. In order to gain control of the religious population, first conservatives claim they are the only true political party of God. By standing by a few “moral” issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, which they contend have a Biblical basis (that same old use the document to prove the document fallacy), they are able to cement this delusion. The corporate sponsors of the GOP have a vested interest in being allowed to run riot across the planet without pesky regulations or environmental protections. Ultimately, and through a clever crafting of the minds of the faithful, the religious, economic and political messages become blurred. The scientific fact of global climate change is now a religious issue, and capitalism is as chaste a dogma as scripture. Don’t worry about the planet, your salvation lies in heaven is a mantra that serves the economic power elite and their paid-for Republican lap dogs very well. In fact, so the theory goes, if you hasten the demise of the planet, you will accelerate “the rapture,” and your heavenly reward will come that much sooner.
Adding further insult to injury, Christians that are raising up their arms as they stampede the planet looking forward to a rapturous climax should be aware that the entire concept of the rapture does not appear anywhere in Biblical scripture. The rapture was invented by a young Scottish woman in 1830, caught fire in the revival tents of North America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and then was popularized by the fictitious “Left Behind” series authored by evangelicals Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins (3). The tragedy of the rapture is twofold. Millions of people are betting their whole lives on a fictitious fabrication, while simultaneously and eagerly hastening the demise of the only home they have in the process.
People who arrange protests against other people or government are violating Jesus’ commandments.
The above statement is another example of the faithful not reading or understanding their own gospel and relying on ministers or other power elites who benefit from a warped interpretation of scripture. Jesus was the ultimate rebel. He threw the moneylenders out of the temple, rose up against the established power hierarchy as a voice for the disenfranchised and was ultimately executed as a political prisoner. If Jesus were alive today, what would He do? Would he side with the wealthy corporate interests that are actively destroying Creation in the pursuit of capital gain? I have a feeling he would protest against them.
We need to be fruitful and multiply. Choosing to restrict the number of children a person has violates God’s laws.
In Genesis 1:28, the Old Testament patriarch instructs humans to “fill up the earth and subdue it.” Written from a compilation of texts dating to approximately the 10th, 8th and 6th centuries B.C.E. (4), the view from the deserts of the Middle East, where the authors of the text were located as many as 3,000 years ago, was quite different from the world we live in today.
To say that life was difficult for the early Hebrews would be an understatement. The desert landscape in which they attempted to carve out a meager pastoral existence was unforgiving. The Hebrews lived intermittently in exile or under the suppression of powerful Egyptian elites. Infant mortality rates were around 50%. The small tribes struggled to maintain their numbers. Population growth was not a concern, since the opposite reality, extinction, was a far more likely scenario. Furthermore, nature was a fearsome adversary. Her predatory allies annihilated flocks in the fields and her insect pestilences wiped out harvests. Subduing nature to some extent was imperative for survival.
We have been good sheep. We have filled up the Earth and subdued it. Any natural habitat the human race has set its sights on has been rapidly dispatched in the modern era. Our species has been so fruitful, that the Earth is having trouble providing adequate shelter, nutrition and access to clean water for many of our numbers.
The Bible does not offer any instruction as to what to do once the commandment has been fulfilled, but nowhere in the Bible does God suggest that people engage in behavior that is counter-intuitive to survival. One can but assume that He, in his literally infinite wisdom, would not have given us the ability to make rational, reasonable choices only to insist that we defy that same reason and precipitate our own extinction, which is what we are doing with continuing to populate a planet that is already overpopulated.
If we do not follow God’s laws in this life, we will suffer.
Of the half of the world’s population that subscribes to the dictates of Yahweh, Allah, Elohim, or whatever name they are giving the one patriarchal God, hundreds of millions are living in poverty and/or dying of starvation. Many of the faithful sufferers of poverty are here in the United States. To this, believers insist that their reward will be in the afterlife, which is an easy, unprovable answer. Why not take care of the faithful today? Why make them suffer? The religious respond, we cannot know the ways of God. It seems the faithful are all too willing to let God off the hook for his false promises. Our suffering has nothing to do with God’s condemnation of our Earthly activities. The sufferings of humanity are inflicted exclusively by our collective societal failings and nothing else.
Environmentalism is becoming a religion, and God says we should have no other gods but Him.
Many people, both religious and non-religious, construe taking care of the planet with witchcraft and the new age Wiccan revival. In fact, many religious groups advocate the care of nature. Hinduism, Buddhism and the myriad religions of indigenous cultures across the globe recognize Earth as a divine entity to be respected and cared for. One could argue that only the patriarchal monotheisms are antagonistic to environmental protection; hence, the subject matter of this posting.
If one’s religious orientation inclines them towards environmentalism, I say “bravo,” but environmentalism is not synonymous with witchcraft or any other religious doctrine. The realities of what we are doing to our planet are indisputable scientific facts. We are impairing Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, biotic systems and land bases at a rate that far exceeds the natural capacity to regenerate. This reality has nothing to do with God or Goddess or anything else other than human abuse and neglect.
God should not be the heavenly answer or the Earthy excuse for our inaction, but for any Christians out there who still may have doubts about protecting our precious planet, I submit the following quotations:
“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land (Leviticus 25:23-25).”
“Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not the shepherds feed the sheep (Ezekiel 34:2)?”
“Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet (Ezekiel 34:18-20).”
“The nations raged, but your wrath has come, and the time for judging the dead, for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saings and all who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying those who destroy the earth (Revelation 11:18).”
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord is the life of every living thing… (Job 12:7-10).”
1- Statistics are from Gallup on the World Wide Web at http://www.gallup.com/poll/27682/OneThird-Americans-Believe-Bible-Literally-True.aspx
2- Statistics on world wide religious practice on the World Wide Web at
3- An interesting summary of the origins of “the rapture.” Those interested in more information should follow the links and sources mentioned in the document. http://www.askthepriest.org/askthepriest/2005/08/the_rapture.html
4- All Biblical quotations and information in this post are taken from The Harper Collins Study Bible – New Revised Standard Version (1993).