Tom Baugh

Sociologist Peter Berger[1] contends that religion is a socially constructed reality, a ‘sacred canopy’ of symbols, objects, and meanings that we come to accept as objective reality. Thus constructed, religion then becomes the unifying principles for society[2] through which cultures legitimize themselves. Religions have also been instrumental in forming cultural views on relationships between humanity and other nature,[3] and we will look at that here.

Where might the Greens be in all of this? Do Greens also huddle under the spiritual protection of this canopy? Do they occupy a possibly separate canopy or have Greens avoided spiritual canopies? I suspect that many, if not most Greens gather under essentially the same canopy as do others. In fact, I have suggested elsewhere[4] that Greens have actually helped create a part of the canopy (the green part), and that they have done this in many ways including work in ecofeminism and the adoption, adaptation, and application of Arne Naess’ concept of ‘ecological wisdom.’ I have further suggested that the Green promulgation of ecofeminism and ecological wisdom had something essential to do with the ‘greening’ of religion in the West.

In order to compare Greens with other sociopolitical groups, in terms of religion, we need some standard or scale of comparison. I use a simple scale for the purposes of discussion. [5] In terms of ecotheological issues, on the far right are the ultraconservative Christians, next to them the conservatives, toward the center would be the mainline denominations and, on the left the postmodern thought and movements. In this scale we move from a fixed cosmos and a fixed nature and a utilitarian response to other nature on the right to a coevolving universe and nature and a co-responsibility with the deity for the care of nature on the left. From Right to Left, we move from exclusiveness to inclusiveness with Greens on the inclusive end of the scale. There is quite a span between the two poles of this continuum.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a good handle on the specifics of Green religious preferences. In my own experience, I have known and worked with Greens who were Unitarian Universalist, Episcopal, Catholic, Wicca, Baha’i, liberal Quaker, Goddess, and Unity. I’m sure a number of other denominations, sects, and cults are also represented among the Green ranks. A significant number of Greens are well informed on the ecofeminist project and may be involved in what Fisher [6] refers to as ‘ Nature Spirituality’ in which she includes Deep Ecology and New Age movements and the revival of ‘old models’ such as neo-paganism and, as already mentioned, Wicca. Many Greens claim no affiliation with religion but say that they are deeply spiritual.[7]

I have been asked how can Green religious preferences be consistent with the key value of ecological wisdom? I strongly suspect that ecological wisdom must be central to all that the Greens do.[8] To have it otherwise would cause the Green movements to run the risk of ‘sameness’ with other sociopolitical groups. A few decades back, however, that would have been a question of greater import and concern than it is today. Regardless of the choice of religion (or no religion), the important point is that religion and theology, across the spectrum and throughout the world, is ‘greening,’ is growing in ecological wisdom and will continue to do so. I believe we can say, as many have, that a religious focus on the environment is an irreversible theme of theological inquiry and praxis.
In reference to ecological wisdom, it would seem to me that a Green could be comfortable as a member of any of the numerous expressions of Christianity (or any of the World’s other religions) with the exception of those that fall into the ultraconservative Christian camps where resistance to ‘greening’ remains quite strong. [9] The conservative Christians, however, maintain strong resistance to issues, such as abortion, to which most Greens would take exception, making that a questionable fit.[10]

That would lead us to pose yet another question, “What would a Green Party presidency offer the American people on religious issues, such as the vital issue of separation of church and state?” I suspect that religious pluralism would be an essential element in a Green government just as it has been in the Green movements. Greens would treat equally with all of those gathered together under that legitimizing sacred canopy, as well as those who stand outside. It is more than likely that a Green Administration would adhere to an historical pattern holding the federal executive somewhat distant from the infringement or enhancement of religious institutions, unlike the Bush Presidency. As stated above, if religious at all, Greens are members of a number of different religious expressions. Greens work each day in pluralistic community with each other and with non-Greens. [11] The White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, established in 2001, and other actions of the Bush Administration, have been criticized, even by ex-Presidents, as breaching the historical approach to the separation of church and state. I suspect that following the end, might I say ‘collapse,’ of the Bush Presidency we will, most likely, see a return to what we perceive as a more historical and generally acceptable approach to these issues. I would suspect a Green President would adhere to those perceptions.

It is possible that environmental crisis will, by its very nature, bring about a Green presidency. What might a Green President face in addition to all of the usual? By 2016 the environmental crisis will have worsened. There is no way that anything else can happen. It will be warmer with increased impacts on all species including agricultural crops. Greater numbers of increasingly violent storms will continue to sweep parts of the US, and other countries. Species extinction, ‘ecocide,’ will continue at an accelerated rate. The predicted dust bowl in the US Southwest will be developing. The water supply situation will have worsened worldwide. Health problems related to warming and warmer climates may be approaching epidemic proportions. National and international security concerns, due to climate change, will become more and more critical, not the least among these concerns will be dealing with increasing numbers of environmental refugees.

There will be tremendous pressure on the United States to take actions to stem its own environmental impacts. These actions may well be draconian and could impact heavily on the populace. Agricultural assistance programs will be necessary as will environmental stabilization and restoration programs. If a national health care program is not already in place, a Green President would have to provide the leadership to put one in place. All of this will take place during a time when national and international financial stability may continue to decline, rapidly.[12]

Let’s assume that the US is able to side-step what appears to be a disturbing current leaning toward a political and theocratic fascist republic[13]. If that happens, that situation might allow for a third party President and Administration. We could see a Green President in the White House in, possibly, 2016 or 2020. This might be a very good time to elect a Green President, a woman or man schooled in the Ten Values, guided by ecological wisdom, and working in collaborative partnership with all of the others gathered under the sacred canopy.

[1] Berger, P.L. 1990. The sacred canopy: Elements of a sociology of religion. New York . Anchor Books.

[2] Marsden, G.M. 2001. Religion and American culture, 2ed. Harcourt College Publishers. Fort Worth, TX, USA 2001. p. 3.

[3] Tucker, M.E. and J.A. Grimm. 1994. Worldviews and ecology: Religion, Philosophy and the environment. Orbis Books. p.11.

[4] Baugh, T. 2007 c. Green influences on the ‘greening’ of religion in the West. The Green Institute.

[5] Baugh, T. 2007 a. The greening of religion and theology in the west. The Green Institute.

[6] Fisher, M.P. 2002. Living religions., 5th ed. New Jersey. Prentice-Hall.

[7] This question of affiliation would make an interesting subject for some graduate student. Perhaps the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life could be interested in doing one of their very reliable surveys on this question?

[8] Baugh, T. 2006. Ecological wisdom and science. Green Pages 10(1):10

[9] Baugh, T. 2007 b. Baugh, T. 2007 b. Reflection. The Green Institute.

[10] Luo, M. and L. Goodstein. 2007. Emphasis shifts for new breed of Evangelicals. New York Times. May 21.

[11] One has to wonder, however, how any President and administration, Green or otherwise, would relate to an increasingly angry and militaristic ultraconservative Christian minority.

[12] The Green President of 2016 might spend some time with carefully written biographies of other US presidents leading under severe crisis, for example Kennedy, D.M. 2005. Freedom from fear: The American people in Depression and war, 1929-1945. Oxford. Oxford University

[13] Hedges, C. 2006. American Fascists: The Christian Right and the war on America .
New York, Free Press.