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Environmentalism - A New Religion

Yesterday we received notice that the town of Oakville is changing the trash collection strategy. Currently we have our trash picked up every week and have “blue boxes” or recycling bins picked up every other week. Beginning in April, we’ve recently learned, we’ll have garbage pickup every other week and recycling pickup every week. We’ll all be given a “GreenCart” into which we can toss all manner of wet and compostable garbage. Though the layout of our home poses some challenges for us, we are largely in favor of this strategy; we’re glad to see the town taking seriously their responsibility for environmental stewardship. If we can keep garbage out of the local landfills, we would all agree this is a good thing.

There was one thing in the notice that caught my eye. It was a short story about a local woman who is a local environmental “champion.” She is pictured sitting with her young children and the article describes her efforts to reduce their environmental impact. “I only use reusable cloth bags when grocery shopping.” “When I’ve put away the groceries, I leave the bags on the front door knob so I’ll remember to bring them back out to the car.” “She never buys single serving containers.” “I engaged a diaper service to collect and recycle disposable diapers.” “They hang the annual Waste Management Calendar in their kitchen to that everyone can see it.” “Her twins help compost by putting their fruit peels in the Kitchen Catcher for backyard composting.” “We talk a lot about our earth and how we can help make it a healthier place.” “Our family of four only has a half bag of garbage or less, as most waste is either recyclable or compostable.” And so on.

What struck me about this article was just how much it sounded like a woman who serves the environment with religious fervor. It sounded like religion, not like taking out the trash. And it reinforced in my mind something I’ve thought about often—environmentalism is fast becoming the default religion of our age and of our society. It is a religion that is politically correct and which creates few enemies. It is a religion everyone respects and a religion that is bound to garner attention. It is a religion that is creating its own brand of Pharisees, people who stand on the street corners, so to speak, declaring their religious accomplishments.

I believe the first time I began to think of environmentalism as a religion was after reading a speech Michael Crichton delivered back in 2003. Though he was not the first person to make this connection, his speech was widely quoted and widely discussed. And well it should have been. Though it is in many ways anti-religious and though it proceeds from an unbiblical worldview, it is, nevertheless, very interesting. Crichton begins by saying “The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda. Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance.” As a Christian I can agree, to some extent, with this statement. Certainly few things are as important to humans as distinguishing was is true (and Who is Truth). From that starting point, Crichton begins to show how environmentalism is spreading untruths and how it is built upon a shaky, unstable foundation.

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.

Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday–these are deeply held mythic structures. They are profoundly conservative beliefs. They may even be hard-wired in the brain, for all I know. I certainly don’t want to talk anybody out of them, as I don’t want to talk anybody out of a belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God who rose from the dead. But the reason I don’t want to talk anybody out of these beliefs is that I know that I can’t talk anybody out of them. These are not facts that can be argued. These are issues of faith.

And so it is, sadly, with environmentalism. Increasingly it seems facts aren’t necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief. It’s about whether you are going to be a sinner, or saved. Whether you are going to be one of the people on the side of salvation, or on the side of doom. Whether you are going to be one of us, or one of them.

As Christians we understand that certain truths are imprinted into the human mind. Among these truths is the knowledge that something in this world is not right. We know that we are sinners but that this is an unnatural state for us. And somehow we seem to know that we need redemption. Every religion offers its own understanding of how we can be made right. Environmentalism offers sustainability and offsets, the path to a return to the idyllic state from whence we came.

Crichton denies the existence of an Eden—he denies that humanity once experienced perfection. But his point still stands. Environmentalists have created in their own minds a kind of idealistic world that has never existed since the fall into sin and one that can never exist until the Lord returns. They fall into the myth of the noble savage, somehow believing that technology and industrialization are inherently evil. But history bears out just how wrong and absurd and irrational this is. “What was that Eden of the wonderful mythic past? Is it the time when infant mortality was 80%, when four children in five died of disease before the age of five? When one woman in six died in childbirth? When the average lifespan was 40, as it was in America a century ago. When plagues swept across the planet, killing millions in a stroke. Was it when millions starved to death? Is that when it was Eden? “

Death and sin have reigned since Adam defied God. Death and sin will continue to mark this world until the day the Lord returns and eradicates them once and for all. Without the Lord we cannot return to the state of perfection, regardless of how well we treat this earth. But the environmentalists would have us believe otherwise. They are calling for us to place our faith in them and in their understanding of what’s happening in the world. They ask us to place our faith in their solution; in their salvation. Al Gore, undoubtedly the world’s foremost environmentalist spokesperson, has gone on record several times saying that we need to have a blind faith—that anyone who would doubt climate change is like a person who still believes in a flat earth. Environmentalism is a religion that is increasingly demanding adherence at the expense of reason. And this despite environmentalism’s long record of getting it all dead wrong (remember acid rain and global cooling and DDT and…?).

In find it interesting that the term “global warming” has now been largely supplanted by “climate change.” This offers at least two advantages to environmentalists: first, it allows scientists to claim either warming or cooling as evidence of their theories and second it makes their theories far easier to prove because the climate is always changing. The climate is never static, but always changing in one direction or another (which is why we speak of historical average temperatures drawn from a long sample). Today any unusual weather patterns—warm weather in January, unusually cold weather in January, a large number of hurricanes, the absence of hurricanes—are all used to prove that climate change is happening. And we are supposed to blindly accept all of this. This does look like a religion—not the religion of the Bible which offers evidence and calls for faith—but the religion of the world which demands faith despite evidence. It is a religion that mimics truth, offering its own concepts of deity, sin, salvation and redemption. It is a religion that masks truth, blinding people to problems of the heart that are far deeper than the environment. It is a religion that creates its own version of truth. It is yet another false religion—another kind of works righteousness in which humans can make themselves right before their god through their own efforts.

Let me conclude with sentiment I’ve expressed here before. I am all for tending to the earth and hence I’m all for Oakville’s new waste disposal strategy. I know that God entrusted it to us and did not give us a world that is merely habitable, but a world that is stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful and one that was absolutely perfect for us. Sadly, we ruined the perfection and continue to do so. As Christians we should have the highest view of the earth, seeing it as a gracious and generous gift of God. We should be first in line to protect it, to tend to it, and to attempt to reverse whatever damage we have done to it. Yet we must not fool ourselves into believing that we can save it in and of ourselves. The earth is not neutral or inherently good. Not anymore. We ruined it and have to be prepared for it to continue to decay, just as you and I will do. As our bodies rot and decay, so too does the earth. So while we tend to it, we do so from a perspective that realizes that this earth is only our temporary home. When the Lord returns He will redeem it, He will rebuild it, and restore it to its original perfection.