Deep Ecology

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Deep Ecology

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Is Deep Ecology a religion? Some people think so. As the new millennium dawned, a group of loggers from Minnesota brought a case before a federal district court judge in Minneapolis claiming a coalition of environmental groups were wrongly imposing the "religion" of deep ecology upon the U.S. Forest Service, thereby slowing down, and even bringing to a halt, logging in national forests. The loggers, it seems, were guilty of imposing on the ecologist's religious beliefs.

It was an interesting case. Is ecology a passion or a religion? And when does a passion become a religion?

The judge was not very impressed. Poking fun at the ecologists, he asked them what their religion consisted of. "Woody Allen said he first checked how many holidays they had before he picked a religion," he told them.

The ecologists were not amused. And they were not the first to believe the earth was alive and worthy of worship. Monotheists often pride themselves on "worshiping the Creator, not the creation." But for thousands of years of human history, the creation was the Creator, the womb of the goddess, the source of our being. Creation, viewed as the Earth Mother, gave birth to her children.

A story is told of Chief Seattle who, when told the Indians must learn to farm and plow like whites, replied, "What? Shall I drive a knife into my mother's womb?" Whether or not he actually said these words is relatively unimportant. What is important is understanding the sentiment behind them. Earth is alive. Earth is our creator and mother, the giver of life. If this is true, it follows that Earth is the goddess, the source of our being, and is to be considered both alive and divine. Ecology, then, when seen in this light, is a religion.

The term "Deep Ecology" was coined by Arne Naess, a Norwegian philosopher. In 1937 he built a small cabin on Hallingskarvet Mountain in central Norway. In this isolated region, he thought, meditated, and wrote. The results of his labor have influenced virtually everyone involved in ecological study and activism today.

The beginnings of the movement are usually credited to Rachel Carson and her 1962 book Silent Spring. But the ecological awakening of the 1960s was really a reawakening of religious movements that can be traced at least as far back as the Druids. Scientific types have even recognized the concept of "Mother Earth." In their attempt to describe Earth as a living, interrelated ecological system, they have recently invoked the name Gaia Principle, resurrecting an old name for the goddess (see Gaia Principle).

The problem, at least in America, is that the culture has for so long used the word "God" to represent a monotheistic, distant father figure that many cannot seem to understand that people from other traditions, including a few ecologists, use the term in quite a different fashion. Neo-pagans represented by Wiccans, Druids, and recently, more than a few Unitarians picture God in terms more like the "Power of Creation," not unlike the Star Wars concept of "the Force." Although no one knows how it got here or where it's going, they explain, the universe itself is the source of our being and worthy of our respect, if not our worship.

This principle is in direct opposition to the Judeo-Christian Bible, which tells us to "fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28). Seen in these terms, the struggle between the philosophy of Deep Ecology and traditional monotheism is a holy war. Christians would never stand still if pagans moved heavy trucks into their cathedrals to demolish their altars. And neo-pagans are not about to watch from the sidelines when loggers cut down living trees considered to be sacred miracles of creation.

Pliny the Younger, way back in 111 CE, was faced with a similar problem, but the shoe was on the other foot. Christians were threatening his beloved paganism. The sacred groves were empty. No one was attending the festivals anymore. Recalling the "golden days" of his youth, he remarked, "The woods were formerly temples of the deities, and even now simple country folk dedicate a tall tree to a God with the ritual of olden times; and we adorn sacred groves and the very silence that reigns in them no less devoutly than images that gleam in gold and ivory."

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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