Is Environmentalism a Religion? Part I

The top result from a Google search of the title of this post yields the article, Is Environmentalism a Religion?[1], written by Sheryl Eisenberg, long-time advisor to the National Resources Defense Council, which the New York Times calls “one of the most powerful environmental groups.”

In this series of posts I will examine the same question (Is Environmentalism a Religion?).  I will point out some of the difficulties inherent in this question along with the difficulty of defining religion.  I will then review Sheryl’s arguments for concluding that environmentalism is not a religion.

She begins her article with a cheap shot at the Cornwall Alliance and its DVD Series Resisting the Green Dragon:

“Its attack on the environmental movement is so over the top that it is hardly worth mention, but its claim that environmentalism is a kind of religion interests me.”

(As a side note I would highly recommend this DVD series.  It exposes the false worldview of environmentalism, and presents a Christian response.)

Sheryl goes on to write (regarding the claim that environmentalism is a religion):

The argument is not a new one and typically takes one of two forms.  Either it demonizes environmentalism as a false religion—and a menace to the speaker’s own true religion—or it ridicules environmentalism as “just” a religion, unfounded in science or fact.  All nastiness aside, could the central assertion be true? Is environmentalism the new religion of our times?”

Throughout the rest of the article she compares environmentalism to “religion”, and concludes that environmentalism is not a religion.  Yet nowhere does she provide her definition of religion.  She, to some extent, recognizes the impossibility of defining religion, and relies on its familiarity to satisfy the reader.[2]

In the sidebar to the article is a section “What is religion anyway?”, where Sheryl admits she could not find anything but useless definitions of religion.  Sadly, this doesn’t prevent her from writing her column.  As with many writers on the topic of religion, she does not know what she is writing about.[3]

“The first thing I did when I began working on this column was to look online for a good definition of religion that I could compare environmentalism to.  What I wanted wasn’t a dictionary definition, but a substantive one that would explain what religions as diverse as animism, Christianity and Buddhism have in common.  What I found were definitions as varied as the religions themselves and, therefore, useless for my purpose.”

Notice that based on her preconceived notion of religion she has already classified animism, Christianity, and Buddhism as religions, and is looking for a definition of religion that would explain what they have in common. 

But is it really possible to gather these together under one definition, so that they can be discussed as one subject?[4]  As I will show, and as Sheryl may have discovered when searching online, this method of attempting to define religion results in a complete failure.

Below this she writes:

“Oddly enough, one of my favorites came from About.com’s Atheism/Agnosticism section. It lists several traits typical of religions and says the more traits a belief system has, the more like a religion it is.  For what it’s worth, environmentalism doesn’t have many.”

So About.com provides one of her favorites of the useless definitions.  I do agree with her that the definition is useless, and in my next post in this series I will explain why this is, as I begin examining the two chief methods used by philosophers who have attempted to form a definition of religion.


[1]  Eisenberg, Sheryl. “Is Environmentalism a Religion? – An Environmentalist’s View.” This Green Life. National Resources Defense Council, Feb. 2011. Web. 14 Aug. 2015. Retrieved from http://www.nrdc.org/thisgreenlife/1102.asp

[2]  Clark, Gordon H. “Is Christianity a Religion.” Religion, Reason and Revelation. 2nd ed. Jefferson: Trinity Foundation, 1986. 5. Print.

[3]  Ibid, 4.

[4]  Ibid, 2.