Environmentalism – a religion?

An ex-employee at an Oxfordshire-based firm is planning to take his former employer to a tribunal because he feels he was unfairly dismissed from his job because of his views on climate change, which a judge has ruled comes under the category of “religion, religious belief or philosophical belief”. (BBC report here)

Surprising, isn’t it? I’m not sure that many climate change campaigners would be entirely happy to have their views described as a religion. I’m not entirely convinced myself that it is a religious or philosophical belief, though I think there are several points of similarity.

Michael Crichton gave a speech a few years ago where he addressed the question of whether (some) environmentalism was religious in character:

Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it’s a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.

There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.

There’s also the apocalypticism (using the word loosely!) of much climate change rhetoric. Jesus’ words in Luke 21 could, with slight modification, easily be used in an Al Gore video: “there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken


"The sky is falling!"

So there are a couple of similarities. Some environmentalism is obviously religious – I’m thinking of the James Lovelock Gaia-theory-esque stuff here. But I don’t think all of it necessarily is. Christians can obviously be involved in exercising responsible stewardship of the earth’s natural resources without thereby becoming syncretistic. But it does at least invite the question… how easy is it for Christians to be (unwittingly) syncretistic with the new religion of environmentalism when they make statements about climate change? Do we need to outline our theological position (God made the creation; humanity is to exercise stewardship; God is sovereign and is in control of whether and when and how the world will end… for a start) a bit more clearly so as to differentiate between Christian takes on climate change and ecology and competing religious positions?


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6 Responses to “Environmentalism – a religion?”

  1. Phil Jackson Says:

    It is and I’d love something useful to say into the environmental conversation, a debate so often circular, cloudy, emotive and judgemental. I want Christianity to be sustainable without need for extra biblical imperatives, to contain within itself such self-limiting principles as would moderate population, carbon, water, energy by it own understanding of ecology, economy and ecclesiology. I want something useful and sufficient to say about what doing and being Christian means and why i am not an environmentalist, not a vegetarian nor any other ism too small. There is so much law and so little life in the environmental movement, it is an easy target for graceless stones:

  2. Phil Jackson Says:

    extra-biblical should by hyphenated perhaps.

  3. Phil Jackson Says:


    bedtime. x

  4. agyapw Says:

    That’s helpful, Phil. I think the idea of “Stewardship” of creation, developed from Genesis 1:26-28 can go a long way in developing a Christian attitude to sustainability. I think also that Luther’s idea of the “New Heavens and New Earth” being a creation out of this creation, rather than a completely new thing unconnected with this world, might also be helpful in combating the attitude that some Christians have that “everything is going to be destroyed [soon], so use it or lose it”.

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