You are here: Wild Ideas > Forest > Library >
The Soul of Nature:
The Meaning of Ecological Spirituality
Copyright 1996 by Lynna Landstreet. See contents
page for full permissions.
11: The resurgence of spirituality in the West
many people even within Western industrial society are confronting the
questions raised here. Many people are not content with the mechanistic
worldview of scientific atheism, or with mainstream monotheistic religion.
As outlined at the beginning of this paper, many are searching for a
form of spiritual meaning rooted in the world, not outside or
above it. Others are led to explore new or non-mainstream forms of spirituality
by a discontent with mediated experience. They want to know divine ecstasy,
to experience direct, personal revelation rather than predigested revelations
someone else experienced a thousand years ago. They want to meet God,
or Gaia, face to face. And still others cannot bring themselves to accept
on blind faith that Western science, or Western models of reality, are
sufficient to explain everything. They may have had experiences for
which they can find no rational explanation. Like the student mentioned
above, they may have encountered ghosts or spirits, or simply felt presences
in the world that mainstream science or even mainstream religion could
Obviously, not every manifestation of this growing interest in spirituality
is going to be relevant from an environmentalist point of view. It is
not simply an interest in spirituality per se that motivates
the activists I described earlier in this paper, nor is an interest
or involvement in spirituality in itself going to automatically alter
anyone's perception of or interaction with nature. The effect is entirely
dependent upon exactly what type of spirituality we are dealing with.
The most visible sign of this growing interest in
things of the spirit is the burgeoning new age movement, or industry
as it could perhaps better be termed. But from an environmental point
of view, there are numerous problems with this. Although this topic
has been dealt with in considerably more depth elsewhere,
I will briefly enumerate some of what I see as the movement's major
failings. Foremost among them is its intensely commercialized character.
The emphasis is frequently on buying your way to enlightenment -- an
approach that fits all too well with our society's already out-of-control
mania for overconsumption.
Then there is its incessant shallowness. As compared to science, where
it has been said that one comes to know more and more about less and
less until one eventually knows everything about nothing, new agers
tend to know virtually nothing about virtually everything. Searching
for easy answers to complex problems, they mix and match materials from
a mind-boggling variety of cultures with no regard for the contexts
in which the symbols, beliefs or practices evolved.
They have come in for particularly harsh criticism
from First Nations activists for appropriating Native beliefs and practices.
I think this may be rooted in the fact that many North American white
people feeling rootless, living in one land while having ancestry from
another, which they may have never seen. Finding mainstream North American
culture lacking in answers, they clutch at other cultures, seeking answers
in Eastern mysticism or Native shamanism, whether those cultures want
the participation of outsiders or not.
There are also deeper philosophical problems with
the movement, as George Sessions and Dolores LaChappelle recount.
So while it is true that the new age movement occasionally speaks of
reverence for nature, and may thus be responsible to some degree for
raising at least a few of its followers' level of environmental awareness,
I do not think it can ultimately can be considered a form of ecological
spirituality. Too many of its tenets and practices work against the
aims of environmentalists, either by encouraging overconsumption, emphasizing
instant gratification rather than in-depth effort (via $300 weekend
"shamanism" workshops and the like), or through endangering
cultural diversity by erasing the distinctions between cultures and
falsely appropriating the identities of other peoples.
All content copyright 1999-2006 by the
individual authors, where cited, or by
where not specifically credited.
Except where otherwise noted, this site is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs
Site design: Spider Silk Design - Toronto web designers
This page last modified: January 29, 2006