Gaia Principle

Gaia Principle

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The 1962 publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was a dramatic wake-up call to environmentalists and the general public. Its detailed research regarding the consequences of pesticides, particularly DDT, had a profound effect on even the average American household. People began to question their attitude toward nature and wondered how it had come about. This book greatly influenced the modern environmental movement.

It wasn't long before theologians began to theorize that the problems Carson detailed so graphically stemmed from biblical monotheism. The early chapters of Genesis picture a unified creation in which humans dwell in harmony with their environment and all is declared by the Creator to be "very good." But the third chapter of Genesis clearly places humans and their environment at odds. Immediately following the first sin came God's declaration that "man" is to "rule over the earth and subdue it." Ever since that time, concurrent with the beginning of the historical Agricultural Revolution, the prevailing monotheistic worldview, especially as expressed in Western cultures, has been that the function of the created earth is to provide "natural resources" for humans, often at the expense of other species.

It has been argued, most influentially in Shepard Krech's The Ecological Indian, that indigenous Americans manipulated the landscape as well, long before they ever heard of Christianity, lacking only European technology to really complete the job. Indians used fire extensively, perhaps hunted mammoths to extinction, and were quite willing to stampede whole herds of bison over a cliff to obtain what they needed for consumption. But when Europeans arrived, bearing both the tools and a biblical mandate, the disaster so eloquently depicted in Silent Spring was only a few centuries away.

Clearly a new set of both physical and spiritual metaphors were needed to visualize the future. They were not long in coming. The environmental and ecological movements, the "second wave" of the feminist movement, animal rights groups, the "greening" of businesses and communities—all began the switch from mechanistic metaphors to organic ones. The rediscovery of native and indigenous spirituality helped as well.

But when Buckminster Fuller, the "scientist's scientist," coined the term "spaceship Earth," the stage was set for a metaphor that could be treated with respect by science while synthesizing both material and religious worldviews.

The spark was provided by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis when they coined the term Gaia hypothesis, or principle. Invoking the ancient, pre-Indo-European, Neolithic name of the goddess "Mother Earth," they envisioned a living, breathing planet that was one interdependent organism, wherein all the separate systems, including humans, relied on one another. What happened to the oceans affected the climate. What happened to the climate affected crops. What happened to crops affected people. What people did to the oceans affected climate. And on and on the circle continues.

What was important was not the physical process the Gaia principle described. That was well known. But by employing the name of the goddess, both the religious and materialistic worldviews were united in common cause. It was a term all could embrace, the first universal religious metaphor at home in both church and science laboratory. Sidestepping the idea of "my God" or "my tribe" versus "your God" and "your tribe," it pointed to the entire human race as a single tribe, dependent on Mother Earth for survival. It was not a new religious outlook attempting to carve out a place from the competition. Instead, like a good mother, it embraced all of her warring children and said, in essence, "We're one family. We have to get along. Science and faith. East and West. Political left and right. Buddhist and Christian. Us and them. It makes no difference. We're in this together."