If you’ve read some of my previous work, you might know that I define religion as a system of thought designed to answer two questions: what’s wrong with us and how do we fix it. Now obviously this is an extremely simplified definition. The fact is, all religions are going to have beliefs, teachings, traditions, and practices in addition to their answers to these two questions. However, you would be hard pressed to find any of the world religions that don’t, at their very core, grapple with these two elements of the human condition.
If we accept this definition of religion, then we find that the word “religion” can be applied in many areas we wouldn’t have previously thought. One such area is the modern-day environmentalist movement.
Yes, environmentalism is, or at least it can be, a 21st century religion.
That’s not to say that everyone who cares about the environment follows this religion. In fact, just the opposite, it is fully possible to care about the environment without being an environmentalist just as it is possible to believe in a higher power without being a Christian.
The question is whether or not a person uses their environmental beliefs to answer the two fundamental questions of religion. For many people, the fundamental problem with humanity is the deteriorating state of the environment through human industrialization. We’re all familiar with the terms “Global Warming” and “Climate Change.” These ideas, even if used under different terms, have been around for at least a generation. The source of this problem, among other things, is the release of greenhouse gasses into the environment through the industrialized consumption of fossil fuels by humanity.
The solution to this fundamental problem, to many of these same people, is to switch to an economic model that is environmentally sustainable. This is to be accomplished through transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable recourses such as wind, solar, and other such power sources. This can be done either voluntarily or (the preferred method of many) through government coercion.
Like other religions, Environmentalism even has a cadre of leaders, or priests, who are leading the way, shaping the beliefs, and representing it in the larger world. Many of these names are recognizable: Al Gore, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Greta Thunberg are just a few.
Like other religions, Environmentalism has some established practices by which they implement their traditions. As already mentioned, transitioning to renewable energy is one. The most obvious, bowever, is recycling. Again, recycling is fine and engaging in this doesn’t make you a member of the Environmentalist religion. However, for many, recycling is carried out with religious fever and is seen as an important part of Environmentalism’s answer to the second question of religion. Recycling is seen as an important part of solving the human condition.
Like other religions, Environmentalism seeks to propagate their religion. It is their goal to spread these beliefs to others and thereby create a better world. One method is proselytizing to others through persuasion. This has been done on a wide scale through the public schools. Additionally, Environmentalist messages are frequently seen on television through commercials and even imbedded into television shows themselves. Radio advertising, internet advertising, and even roadside billboards have likewise been utilized. Their target has clearly been the next generation and, by most measurements, they have been successful in this endeavor. Environmentalist outreach messages have been so well coordinated, saturating, and commonplace that Christian missionaries and ministries would do well to take lessons from them.
Another method whereby Environmentalists seek to propagate themselves is through procreation. That’s right, the current generation of Environmentalists seeks to spread their religion by, literally, giving birth to the next generation of Environmentalists.
According to a recent survey by Decluttr, an online marketplace for selling unwanted tech items, nearly half of young Americans (ages 18-29) wouldn’t consider dating someone who didn’t recycle. A similar number said that a person using an excessive amount of single use plastic would be a deal breaker. These numbers are clearly a subset of a larger number, 69%, who said that man-made global warming is real and a threat to our planet. Additionally, it was found that almost 90% of millennials and Gen-Z’ers recycle on a regular basis. A sizable portion also choose to compost and shop zero plastic as well.
While these numbers are interesting from the standpoint of generational differences, and what’s important among young Americans today, it is also interesting from the religious standpoint. Apparently, from these numbers, young Americans have been so thoroughly indoctrinated in Environmentalist beliefs that they won’t even consider a romantic partner who doesn’t share those beliefs. Compare this to a Muslim who tries to marry outside of the faith, or a Hindu, or, yes, even someone of an extreme Christian sect. The fact is, many won’t. And if they did, they would face judgement and even excommunication from their larger religious community. Presumably, for the Environmentalist, like those of the more traditional religions, this is for the reason of propagating, or giving birth to the next generation of those who will carry the religion forward.
None of this is wrong in and of itself. People are welcome (at least for now) to believe what they want to believe in America. This includes those who want to practice the new religion of Environmentalism. People in America are welcome to date and marry who they want. This includes those who practice Environmentalism. The problem comes in when we fail to recognize this religion for what it is. It is, for many people, a system of belief that answers what’s wrong with us and how we should fix it. It is a religion that they practice as devoutly as any Christian or Muslim or Buddhist practices theirs. The problem comes when they drape their beliefs in the guise of science and try to force said beliefs on others based on that pretense.