Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Is the Green Movement a Religion?

One of the Ethical Man's points in his provocative piece entitled "Are environmentalists bad for the planet" is the assertion that the green movement is a religion.

Now I know all about this. Well, no that's stupid, because nobody knows all about anything. I have knowledge of it. I had a traumatic childhood in the Darbyite-Taylorite branch of the Exclusive (Plymouth) Brethren, from whence I migrated in adolescence to the relative liberty of evangelicalism, from there to the more intellectually interesting realms of Dooyeweerdian Christian philosophy, which is still an integrative influence on my thinking.

Before the sceptics start throwing brickbats, I must say that I am now happy to be a dogma-free zone, a Quaker, though not a very good attender.

It was a tenet of Dooyeweerdian philosophy that faith underpins any intellectual position, whether religious or secular. Maybe D. did not invent the idea himself, but it was certainly implicit in his work, and it seems to have gained currency at least in the USA. In fact my good friend Dr Glenn Friesen traces Gooyeweerd's influences back to a mystic by the name of Franz Xavier von Baader (1765-1841) . Unsurprisingly, this has not made Glenn popular among the tightly buttoned up Calvinistic Christians who cluster around Dooyeweerd's philosophy of the Cosmonomic Law Idea.

But I digress. The point is that there is a view of man that says that everyone has a religion, even if it's not a religion. Communism is a religion, Capitalism (worship of money) is a religion, consumerism is a religion. Green is a religion.

Bob Dylan, in his brief evangelical Slow Train Comin phase, put it like this:

"But you're gonna have to serve somebody

Yes you're gonna have to serve somebody

Well it may be the Devil, it may be the Lord

But you're gonna have to serve somebody"

So Rowlatt's point about green being a religion is just a truism. Greens are humans, humans are religious, therefore greens are religious, just as free market fundamentalists have a religion, and shoppers have a religion and football fans have a religion. Religion in these terms is what you hold most dear.

Big deal. It means nothing to anyone outside of the American Right Wing Aggressive Christian tradition, where is means that all greens are going to spend eternity roasting screaming in hell because we believe that it is important to protect our life-giving planetary environment, rather than believing in the Bible.

That, is of course, a matter for them. It has no bearing on whether the ecological ideology is true or not.

As far as I am concerned, the green political ideology is soundly based on the knowledge of where our bread comes from, as opposed to alternative abstract political philosophies which are based on the idea of mankind as a self-existent individual or social being.


Now to look at the valid part of Rowlatt's criticism. There is a cultic tendency in the Green movement, as there is in free marketism, or footballism, or consumerism. I find it within the Green Party, because that is where my life experience takes place, but it probably happens within all other strands of the green movement, and indeed any other political movement.

There is a regrettable exclusivity to some Greens' thinking. To be really Green, you have to be in the Green Party. Zac Goldsmith is not really a Green, because he is in the Tory Party. &c.
This is wrong.

The Quaker-style view of it is more accurate. There is a green light within everyone, a spark of attachment to Nature, that is experienced most intensely as a child.

Thomas Traherne said it best:
"The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me, their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things" It is well worth reading the whole passage.
He concludes
"So that with much ado I was corrupted, and made to learn the dirty devices of this world".

Everyone has the impulse to love Nature, but that the impulse is covered over with "education" and with learned behaviour, for instance the patently absurd notion that perpetual economic growth is necessary and sustainable. Of course there are real greens in other political parties, no question. The difference is that the green party is seeking political ways to make implement sustainability at the outset, not as a bolt-on added extra. Note "is seeking". We are in process, not at our destination. The written record of this endeavor to develop policies that can produce a sustainable society and economy, one that works with, and not against the grain of nature, is called the Manifesto for a Sustainable Society. (MfSS).

Which gives rise to another cultic manifestation within the beloved Green Party - MfSS fundamentalism. In this view, no green party person is supposed to say anything that is not contained within the MfSS. No going beyond what is written therein.

I think that the underlying cognitive psychology for some members is this : "The world is in a horrible mess. The Green Party is a little sub-creation where we will perfect an idea of how the world should be, and that perfection, the Manifesto, will save us".

It is a strange paradox, a quirk of psychology, that the very people who has the most strict and particular emphasis on this doctrine, may also be the most vehement in attacking MfSS policies that they disagree with.

Having written this, I am a bit worried that it will cause a storm for displaying some of the inner workings of our party just before a general election. However, the subject has been brought up, by Rowlatt. Spin doctors would meet his accusations with simple denial. Since transparency is one of our core values, we should show his argument for the truism that it is, but also examine our internal religious tendencies in order to get beyond them.

So, in summary, Justin "Ethical Man" Rowlatt's provocative claim that environmentalists are bad for the planet was a typical piece of light weight angled journalism. The oft-quoted claim that green is a religion is a trivial bit of truism. But we in the Green Party do have to look to the danger of exclusivism and fundamentalism, because they will only hold us back. Our ecological political ideology is the soundest political ideology around; it is a rock on which the wave of free-market fundamentalism will break itself.


Bill Rigby said...

Thanks Richard. I heard this 'hit piece', and it is certainly profitable to discuss it. But my reaction to the 'religion' gibe is less respectful than yours. I'm going to have a go at the problem on the way home - your blog was a great diversion on my train journey to the metrolopse.

Simon said...

To me the religion attack is basically saying greenies are blinkered fundamentalist extremists and we can ignore what they have to say. Classic straw man fallacy. Having said that I doubt there would be any group that don’t have their own extremists or those that don’t think for themselves and just parrot the party line.

It’s a pity that this is turning into culture war, as it will probably kill of what little chance we had to deal with a complex issue in a calm and rational way.

Tod said...

Do weird wot?

Thought you were having us on for a minute there Richard ...

DocRichard said...

Hi Tod
Yeah, weird name. Dooyeweerd mean "Orchard of the dead". I am told that when the Spanish invaded and dominated the Nederlands, they took a census. "What's our name?" "Jan" "Jan what?" "Just Jan". So the Spanish gave them surnames: "You are Jan Orchard-of-the-dead".

This may or may not be true. If it is not true, it proves that everything that this blog says is wrong.

Tod said...

Don't see what's wrong with being religious myself anyway, but clearly the market lib fundies mean it as a grave insult.

And they can talk! Hardly a day goes by without I hear some liberal piously intoning "We must leave it all to the market".

Such faith.