This semester I am taking a class on why people care about the environment. People on all levels from the individual to social movements have tendencies to either destroy, dismiss, or support the environment.
Our most recent reading is about the discrepancy in religious environmental values and pro-environmental behaviors. Basically, starting in the 1970s, many scholars hypothesized that western sentiment against environmental protection was rooted in the Judeo-Christian value that humans are more important than nature. The claim was easy enough to believe, and became quite common among particularly liberal, non-religious environmentalists. However, following this hypothesis, several theologians and environmental scientists decided to question the other side of things. What if western sentiment against environmental protection was not linked to Judeo-Christian values, but political alignment, demographic, or other factors?
I find this period of research fascinating. As a christian and sustainability geek, I have had my experience with skeptics. In high school someone told me I couldn’t be a scientist because I was a christian and therefore could never understand evolution. I had another conversation about how christians hated the environment, and therefore I was not a real christian because I liked it. Granted, these strange comments were coming from 15 year olds still wrestling with their personal identities and world view. But I always wondered how people could make such huge judgments about others’ attitudes and behaviors based on a shallow understanding of the institution with which they aligned themselves.
My reading for this class concludes that there is no true consensus on whether Judeo-Christian values are pro-environmental or not, or if they encourage pro-environmental behaviors. And yet, because so many of these values are buried and frequently morphed in a tense political climate and extremism, people tend to believe that American christians can’t and won’t care about the environment.
I personally believe that anyone of any background can and should care about the environment. So many factors besides religion influence how we treat our surroundings, and no single religion can change the actions that we take towards caring for the land, ocean, and sky that lives around us. Although religion can serve as a basis for pro-environmental values, it is not what physically makes the change.
I guess what I am trying to say is that diversity of beliefs is a good thing, because those beliefs can inspire different environmental actions. As a christian, when I think about protecting the environment, I also think about having faith in the natural cycles ordained by the God I believe in. For someone of a different religion, they might protect the environment in a way that honors their religion. However, these actions are not done by the religion, and therefore need a wide group of people with a wide group of talents to carry them out.
Perhaps I am just writing to fully understand my opinion on the discussion of religion as an environmental motivator. But I also think that these thoughts are the foundation for embracing diversity in both under and over represented communities in order to further environmentalism. Historically, environmentalism has been a white, liberal social movement. And because of this history, the environmental movement has discounted the voices of far too many people who have the capacity for significant contribution to sustainability. We need to stop labelling people by the voices of the select and extreme, especially in the context of environmentalism, if we want the movement to permeate throughout the world, not just in affluent communities.