Tuesday, May 15, 2007


I saw Paul Hawken last night. He led a revival meeting for those of us who believe in social justice and environmental sanity. He gave us a gently rousing sermon about the multitudes of the righteous across the globe who share our belief. He gave us hope that we, the meek and righteous, shall inherit the earth from the evil powers of oil, endless consumption, and Wall Street concentrations of wealth. He confirmed for us that our love for each other and for the planet is the way, the truth, and the life. He inspired us to keep the faith in our good works. We are legion; together, we shall overcome.

My mocking tone, here, fails to protect me from the truth of this insight: The many movements worldwide to save the planet and its people from the apocalypse amount to a religious movement. It springs from the same human spirit that inspires all the great religions: our purpose and salvation in a world going to hell is love, faith, hope, and community. We have new stories for our age, stories based in science and reason rather than myth and mysticism; we have replaced faith in an all-knowing god with our faith in the collective human knowledge and wisdom of science and reason. But our emotional and spiritual experience is, perhaps, much the same as with a religion.

In other words, we respond emotionally and spiritually to these stories in a variety of what could be called religious ways. We have the old-testament style fire and brimstone prophets of global and globalized doom, who inspire righteous indignation against the oil-loving infidels. We have the prophets of piety, who counsel that individual adherence to a set of environmental and social commandments (mostly amounting to ascetic practices of organic, solar-powered, and free trade consumption) will counter the momentum of oil-fueled globalized misery. And we have prophets of hope like Hawken and Bill McKibben, whose gospels spread the word of goodness in the world and its people.

Perhaps we shouldn't be scared of this characterization of the movements of social justice and environmentalism as religious in nature. We can give up archaic superstition in favor of reason, the Law of the Father in favor of reasoned debates, and concentrations of power in hierarchical institutions of established religion in favor of the diverse and decentralized practices of millions of people. But why should we give up the emotional and spiritual stuff of religion--the faith, the hope, the fear, the indignation, and, above all, the love? Humans do not live by reason alone. Indeed, faith, hope, fear, indignation, and love are far more powerful than reason, certainly historically, certainly personally, and certainly politically. Why abandon such power? Why cede it to those who believe in superstition, the laws of a long dead god, and blind obedience to centralized authority?

The name of Hawken's book is Blessed Unrest. Hallelujah! Amen.


Queen Whackamole said...

Great post, Patrick... thought provoking...But why should we give up the emotional and spiritual stuff of religion--the faith, the hope, the fear, the indignation, and, above all, the love?

There was a great piece on NPR yesterday about the way Falwell linked religion (specifically Christianity) and conservativism, to the detriment of both. So much of the important progressive work in this country has been accomplished through church communities: I'm thinking of abolition, civil rights, and the work of activists like Dorothy Day and even Helen Prejean...
Maybe now that Falwell is dead and the Bush administration is calling for hospice care, more folks on the left will challenge the religious right's claim to faith/hope/fear/indignation/love.
This is a It seems to me that a lot of people on the left distance themselves from the term "virtue" because it has been corrupted by the religious right to mean something closer to "intolerance," but the idea of shared virtue and the freedom to gather to do good works has a long history. I was happy to hear Hawken reclaiming some of this power.

Bruce Ledewitz said...

There is a way into this complex question of religion for the non-religious. My I modestly suggest people look at hallowedsecularism.org, a blog on which I am developing a book precisely along this line.

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