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Humanistic environmentalism. .

What should Humanists and religious naturalists say in response to Gary Gardner's article, Religious Organizations and Environmental Groups: Together for a Greener Earth, in the March/April 2003 issue of the Humanist?

Let me speak from personal experience. I remember the first Earth Day celebrations during the 1970s. Back in those days, the environmental organizations didn't care if their supporters were Buddhists, Southern Baptists, feminist goddess worshippers, or atheists and agnostics. There was an understanding, widely shared among environmentalists, that "deeds not creeds" mattered most in environmental protection work.

During the 1970s I managed the Sierra Club's office in Boston, Massachusetts. The New England chapter was often swamped by requests and offers for assistance, but for some reason we seldom heard from religious leaders. During the 1990s, after working for community health organizations and labor unions, I entered the Harvard University Divinity School. Plans for the Harvard Forum on Religion and Ecology were starting to develop. Al Gore, who was making his first run for national office, met with Harvard people to promote his book Earth in the Balance. Suddenly ecology was a hot topic on campus.

Still, the environmental concerns discussed at the Harvard Divinity School seldom connected to the environmental issues that were then being discussed at the Kennedy School of Government, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the Arnold Arboretum. During the 1990s the new ecology theology people spent much of their time trying to repackage the Book of Genesis and the scholasticism of thirteenth-century Europe.

The message of ecology theology during the 1990s was captured by Bill Moyers in his television report Spirit and Nature. Moyers focused attention on the big gathering of so-called green deans at Middlebury College in 1990. This public television film is readily available, and it is highly recommended for Humanists and religious naturalists who want to see clergy preaching to environmentalists. Moyers shows theologians in Vermont who talk for hours about environmental problems--but who never include scientists or environmental activities in their conversation. Theologians told college students to blame the Humanists and the Age of Enlightenment for crimes committed against nature, and people in the audience raised their voices in protest.

Yet the environmental movement in the United States is still headed by religious skeptics and naturalists in the tradition of John Burroughs, Rachel Carson, Charles Darwin, Aldo Leopold, the Sierra Club's John Muir, and Henry Thoreau. Organizations like the national Religious Partnership for the Environment seldom mention these spiritual and intellectual leaders and, quite likely, the green deans would like to sweep the religious naturalists under the Astroturf. Yes, new discussions about religion, philosophy, and the environment are needed. Let us hope that organizations like the American Humanist Association will be honored and included.

Robert Francis Murphy

Cataumet, Massachusetts
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Author:Murphy, Robert F.
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Jul 1, 2003
Words:460
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