This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Environmental ethicists have been accused of worshiping nature over God, or of substituting religious precepts or sacred tenets with a devotion to environmental doctrine instead, as though they are dirt-worshipping pagans.
Whether someone believes that the earth was created by God in six days, or over billions of years by a random cosmic event, it is the only earth we have, and it deserves our respect.
Sadly, there is an attitude of indifference among many religious people who balk at the concept of revering nature as God's handiwork, of protecting a fragile planet from the degradations of human habitation, or denying that humanity is to blame for the climate crisis and other environmental carnage.
The politically obtuse on the conservative right tend to distance themselves from the root concept of resource conservation, which should be at the very heart of conservative politics, but instead is reviled as liberal propaganda.
From a doctrinal perspective, Christianity should cite the Bible as the reason for a collaborative stewardship of the earth, not as an excuse to plunder the earth's bounty without regard for the future, a la "Drill, baby, drill."
Recently, the LDS Church urged resource conservation by declaring that humans have a responsibility to be "….stewards – not owners – over this earth and its bounty…." (Mormon church makes new push for environmental stewardship, Nov. 15, 2013).
It was a welcome pronouncement, and a timely one, considering the contentious issues of land management and energy development right here in Utah, and it will be interesting to see if this admonition is embraced by our drill-happy, mostly Mormon legislature.
In an act of collective heresy, our congressional delegation, Mormons all, have already decried the recent removal of parcels in the San Rafael Swell from energy development as a capitulation to "radical environmentalists." These Rush Limbaugh conservatives believe in the immediate consumption of energy resources, and that climate change is a crisis manufactured by Democrats.
As a movement, environmentalism doesn't "worship" nature as a divine entity, although many individuals may feel a deep reverence for the planet that sustains us and makes life possible. Certainly there are those for whom being "green" is an all-encompassing philosophy, which may or may not include a supreme being, be it God or Gaia, and that's OK.
If someone was to exercise their right to deny the existence of a higher power altogether, then worshipping nature would certainly be an acceptable and worthwhile alternative. After all, human beings have a need to make a spiritual investment in something beyond ourselves – something toward which we can direct our time, energy and passion – and in return, nature will always reward her own with dividends that are virtually unattainable anywhere else, except perhaps in a spiritual relationship with their deity of choice.
Humans need the earth but the earth doesn't need us, so it's disappointing to see the hypocrisy that compels otherwise good people to condemn an environmental stewardship on the basis that "the earth was made for man, not man for the earth," which essentially negates any other moral imperative; or the naive abdication of responsibility that dismisses our role as stewards of the earth based on the attitude of some Christians that it doesn't matter what we do to the planet because Christ will come back and fix it. The earth is our home – the only one we have. It does not exist for us to conquer or destroy.
Environmentalism is not a religion – it is an ethical conviction, one that that should be embraced by all of humanity – because neither politics nor religion should advocate abuse of the planet.
David E. Jensen is a freelance writer, environmental advocate and political agitator. He lives in Holladay.