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The Soul of Nature:
The Meaning of Ecological Spirituality
Copyright 1996 by Lynna Landstreet. See contents
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2: Enviromentalism and the sacred
environmentalism itself has occasionally been accused of being a religion.
One manner in which this occurs can be seen in John McPhee's 1971 profile
of longtime environmental activist David Brower, in which American resort
developer Charles Fraser refers to environmentalists as "druids":
A conservationist too
often is just a preservationist, and a preservationist is a druid. I
think of land use in terms of people. Ancient druids used to sacrifice
human beings under oak trees. Modern druids worship trees and sacrifice
people to those trees.
Similar feelings have been echoed in many quarters,
most recently in the town of Temagami, where a public official once
accused the Wildlands League of being a religious cult.
In a less hysterical and more sophisticated argument, Linda H. Graber
discusses the wilderness preservation movement as a religion, outlining
its iconic use of nature imagery, its treatment of wilderness areas
as sacred space, the ways in which its public education campaigns resemble
religious evangelism, and the fact that its core consists not of economic,
ecological or political rationales for preserving wild spaces, but a
mode of perceiving the world that is fundamentally different from that
of mainstream society. The key purpose behind most
nature writing, art and photography, she suggest, from the works of
Thoreau to the Sierra Club's glossy nature calendars, is to train potential
new "initiates" in the correct modes of perception and experience
of the "religion" of wilderness preservation.
But there is more to the image of environmentalism-as-religion than
merely an attempt to smear activists, or an explanatory paradigm. One
does hear and see frequently, in the speech and writing of many environmental
activists, references to nature as sacred. No matter what scientific,
economic, or other rationalistic arguments are used to justify the protection
of some wild creature or place, the underlying motivation -- at least
among the most committed activists -- very often seems to be that sense
of a sacred space threatened with desecration by unbelievers.
And it may be that very concept -- the sacred -- that has the most potential
to motivate people to act. Economic or scientific arguments may be useful
in swaying the authorities, but they are unlikely to be the sole, or
even primary, motivation of passionate, committed activists. Such motivation
is almost always rooted in the realm of the moral or spiritual. It is
difficult to imagine the Earth First! slogan "No Compromise in
Defence of Mother Earth" being reworded as "No Compromise
in Defence of Sustainable Development," or biological diversity,
or any other such buzzword. It is the image of the Earth as mother,
as source and foundation of life, as sacred, that gives the slogan
its strength and its motivating power.
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