Dark Green Religion


Chapter 7. Globalization in Arts, Sciences, and Letters

(Listed In Order of Page and Paragraph Number In Dark Green Religion)

Richard Dawkins is one of the so-called New Atheists who I analyzed in this chapter of Dark Green Religion. In this chapter, I focused on the ironies of Richard Dawkins' stridency in denouncing all forms of religious sentiment, since he also expressed feelings and perceptions that were strongly religion-resembling, including regarding a feeling of awe and reverence for nature.

In a recent interview, Christopher Hitchens, another of the so-called New Atheists, made a number of statements pertinent to the themes in Dark Green Religion, some of which were strongly religion resembling:

I don't have whatever it takes to say things like "the grace of God." All that's white noise to me, not because I'm an intellectual. For many people, it's gibberish. Likewise, the idea that the Koran was dictated by an archaic illiterate is a fantasy. As so far the most highly evolved of the primates, we do seem in the majority to have a tendency to worship, and to look for patterns that lead to supernatural conclusions. Whereas, I think that there is no supernatural dimension whatever. The natural world is quite wonderful enough. The more we know about it, the much more wonderful it is than any supernatural proposition.

It's innate in us to be overawed by certain moments, say, at evening on a mountaintop or sunset on the boundaries of the ocean. Or, in my case, looking through the Hubble telescope at those extraordinary pictures. We have a sense of awe and wonder at something beyond ourselves, and so we should, because our own lives are very transient and insignificant. That's the numinous, and there's enough wonder in the natural world without any resort to the supernatural being required.

I don't want you to go away with the impression that I'm just a vulgar materialist. I do know that humans are also so made even though we are an evolved species whose closest cousins are chimpanzees. I know it's not enough for us to to eat and so forth. We know how to think. We know how to laugh. We know we're going to die, which gives us a lot to think about, and we have a need for, what I would call, "the transcendent" or "the numinous" or even "the ecstatic" that comes out in love and music, poetry, and landscape. I wouldn't trust anyone who didn't respond to things of that sort. But I think the cultural task is to separate those impulses and those needs and desires from the supernatural and, above all, from the superstitious.

The interview has other, intriguing, religion-resembling reflections by Hitchens, who nevertheless remains firm in his disavowal of anything supernatural. For the entire interview see:The Hitchens Transcript, By Marilyn Sewell, Portland Monthly, 4 February 2010.

I learned about this interview through another article drawing on it that argued, essentially, that Hitchens was more religious than he avers: Christopher Hitchens, Religious in Spite of Himself? By Eric Reitan, Religion Dispatches, February 4, 2010

Eric Idle's Galaxy Song (the lyrics and further information appear below in the sound section:

Mission Antarctica is about an initiative by the polar explorer (the first man to walk to both north and south poles), Robert Swan, to inspire corporate leaders and young people to clean up the pollution there left by a generation of scientists and explorers. This youtube video shown was at the World Summit on Sustainable Development at a large exhibit (funded largely by the Coca Cola corporation) that even included a huge boat used in the cleanup. This mission had a dual objective, "to clean up the Antarctica and help preserve the last great wilderness for future generations," and to change hearts and minds about the value of this remote region of the planet. Note that in this video the pollution is called a "desecration." Swan told me, as the last visitor during the 2002 summit, that he had an epiphany when at the South Pole and found carbon, illustrating to him that life is everywhere and worthy of protection. I will post slides from this exhibit as soon as possible in the section, below. Swan is now working on a moratorium on mining in Antarctica, see his {2041 project website http://www.2041.com/}; the videos there also convey a sense of the sublime that is to be found in this remote wilderness. Swan is a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Youth and has also receive the British Order of the Empire.


Galaxy Song / Expanding Universe

In 1983 Eric Idle of the BritMonty Python fame wrote Galaxy Song lyrics for the the motion picture, The Meaning of Life(1983); John seed added two choruses and a new ending and retitled it “Expanding Universe.” The revisions turned the song into a reverent celebration of the universe and planet earth.

The original, Eric Idle version, began with a spoken lead in:


Whenever life gets you down, Mrs. Brown,

and things seem hard or tough

and people are stupid,

obnoxious or daft, and you

feel that you’ve had quite

enough. . .


followed by these lyrics

Just, remember that you’re standing on a planet that's evolving

Revolving at 900 miles an hour

It's orbiting at 19 miles a second, so it's reckoned

A sun that is the source of all our power

The sun and you and me and all the stars that you can see

Are moving at a million miles a day

In an outer spiral arm at 40,000 miles an hour

In a galaxy they call the Milky Way

Here, John Seed added a chorus celebrating the Milky Way.


Our galaxy itself contains a hundred million stars

It's a hundred thousand light years side to side

It bulges in the middle 16,000 light years thick

But out by us it's just 3,000 light years wide

We're 30,000 light years from the galactic central point

We go 'round every 200 million years

And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions

In this amazing and expanding universe,

Seed added a reverential chorus about this Expanding Universe

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding

in all of the directions it can whiz

As fast as it can go, at the speed of light you know

12 million miles a minute and that's the fastest speed there is

So remember when you're feeling very small and insecure

How amazingly unlikely is your birth

And prey that there is intelligent life somewhere up in space

Cause there is bugger all down here on earth

Seed, turning the song in a more spiritual direction, replaced the last two lines with a new coda:

And sink your roots deep into the galaxy,

dance of life, Planet Earth,

Sink your roots deep into reality,

dance your life for Planet Earth.

Ricardo Rozzi on Wikipedia (DGR, 155-157); see also Tourism with a Hand Lens
Par. 2, Paul Ehrlich has been one of the most widely read of the scientists warning that human population and material consumption growth was precipitating an ecological catastrophe; see Paul Ehrlich, The End of Affluence (New York: Ballentine, 1974), Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (New York: Ballentine, 1968), Paul Ehrlich, "Eco-Catastrophe," in The Environmental Handbook, ed. Garrett De Bell (New York: Ballentine, 1970).

Par. 1, for more on Steiner and Anthroposophy: I have found examples in casual conversations with a green party member in Trondheim, Norway, and Forestry professionals in Freiburg Germany, where environmentalist vocations and passions are traced to Steiner and his ongoing influence is mentioned. For a contemporary website based on his biodynamic agriculture, which well describes the “spirituality of agriculture,” see http://www.biodynamics.com. For an influential figure in Slovenia that was influenced by Steiner, see Cathrein de Pater, "Pogačnik, Marko," in Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, and also there, "Steiner, Rudolf--and Anthroposophy.”

Par. 1, another note on bioregionalism: The practical book by Robert L. Thayer, Lifeplace: Bioregional Thought and Practice(Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003), demonstrates the close affinities between dark green religion and bioregionalism, drawing inspiration from Muir, Gary Snyder, Peter Berg, Freeman House, Michael McGinnis, William Jordan, and Thomas Berry, and promoting a sense and practice of “belonging” to place.

Par. 3, more on the second conservation biology conference: The late Dolores LaChapelle, another deep ecology pioneer, also documented the importance of the Los Angeles conference in facilitating connections between a number of other prominent Buddhists (such as Roshi Robert Aitkin and Gary Snyder) and deep ecology proponents such as Naess, George Sessions, and herself. See Dolores LaChapelle, Sacred Land, Sacred Sex: Rapture of the Deep (Silverton, Colorado: Finn Hill Arts, 1988), 13. For her connection to Mountains, and thus to the mounting climbing early deep ecologists, see also Dolores LaChapelle, "Our Mutual Love of Mountains," The Trumpeter 9, no. 2 (1992), LaChapelle, Sacred Land, Sacred Sex.

For more information on influence of conservation biology upon the first generation of radical environmental activists, see Bron Taylor, "The Tributaries of Radical Environmentalism," Journal of Radicalism 2, no. 1 (2008).

Par. 3, more on conservation biology, bioregionalism, and restoration ecology:

A close cousin of conservation biology, in addition to the bioregional movement in general, is “restoration ecology,” which in the words of Bill Jordan, one its practitioner-intellectuals, “is the active attempt to return a landscape or ecosystem. . . to a previous condition, usually regarded as more ‘natural.’

[William R. Jordan, III, "Ecological Restoration and Ritual," in Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, and William R. Jordan, III, The Sunflower Forest: Ecological Restoration and the New Communion with Nature (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2003).]

These are inevitably local projects demanding community involvement. Jordan, Freeman House (whose work has been with watershed and salmon restoration in Northern California), and many others involved in ecological restoration projects, have beliefs and practices commonly found in dark green religion. Quite a number of them understand the restoration practices themselves, and the community events that surround them, as forms of earth-venerating ritual.

[This is certainly the case with Jordan and House (see Freeman House, Totem Salmon: Life Lessons from Another Species(Boston: Beacon, 1999)].

Jordan is interesting with regard to dark green religion for he discusses anthropological literature at length and clearly considers restoration work a form of earth-venerating ritual. Before his retirement, Jordan worked as a biologist at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum and was involved in local prairie restoration efforts and in shaping the Society for Ecological Restoration, which was founded in 1988 (see http://www.ser.org/). As a one time participant in prairie restoration projects while living in Wisconsin and talking with many of those involved, I know many of them fit well one or more of the subtypes of dark green religion, and most of them are otherwise religiously unaffiliated.

House is equally interesting as he chronicles an innovative bioregional restoration effort in the Mattole River Watershed in Northern California, where since the early 1970s “new settlers” and long-term ranchers have been learning to restore forest habit and salmon runs.


Par. 1, more on ‘religion’ and the term ‘sacred’:David Chidester once suggested that it makes sense to view religion simply as “that dimension of human experience engaged with sacred norms.” He continued that any problems that result from such vagueness are worth the price of admission in the study of religion. As he put it “a descriptive approach to the study of religion requires a circular definition of the sacred: Whatever someone holds to be sacred is sacred. Our task is to describe and interpret the sacred norms that are actually held by individuals, communities, and historical traditions.” I have always liked such vagueness, which of course, is reflected Chapter One of Dark Green Religion. But here I want to note also Chidester’s next insight, “What people hold to be sacred tends to have two important characteristics: ultimate meaning and transcendent power . . . Religion is not simply a concern with the meaning of human life, but also an engagement with the transcendent powers, forces, and processes that human beings have perceived to impinge on their lives.” To many, nature is such a force, which is one reason nature is so often considered sacred. [All of the above quotes from David Chidester,Patterns of Action: Religion and Ethics in a Comparative Perspective (Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1987), 4.]

Par. 2, additional sources on nature-inspired wonder:Gary Trompf, "Wonder toward Nature," in Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature. For a relevant children’s book, see Joseph Bruchac, Rachel Carson: Preserving a Sense of Wonder (New York, Fulcrum, 2009).

Par. 2, more on Carl Sagan’s spirituality of belonging to nature:

The title of Pale Blue Dot referred to a time when Sagan was able to direct a satellite at the edge of our solar system to look back and take a final photograph of the earth before it disappeared forever. All that the satellite could see of Earth was this pale blue dot, which reinforced for Sagan the preciousness of life on the blue planet, as well as “the unity and fragility of the Earth,” a recognition that should help people to heal the divisions among them, Sagan said. See Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 215, 228, and also the introduction to Carl Sagan's the Cosmic Connection (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974, second edition 2000), 8, a posthumously published book that included an introduction from his wife, Ann Druyan, titled and reflecting on Sagan’s “New Sense of the Sacred” (xvii-xviii), which makes clear Sagan’s a non-supernaturalistic nature spirituality.

Sagan (1934-1996) was a respected astronomer who became famous worldwide after writing a bestselling book entitled The Cosmic Connection (1973), and then hosted a wildly popular television series, Cosmos, which first aired in the United States in 1980 and was distributed worldwide. Carl Sagan, The Cosmic Connection; an Extraterrestrial Perspective, [1st] ed. (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, 1973). He also appeared regularly in the United States on various, popular, interview programs and wrote popular science books. His novel, Contact (1985), became a popular movie in 1997; both book and movie wrestled with religion and science and expressed a naturalistic reverence for the universe; see Carl Sagan, Contact: A Novel (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985); the 1997 film is well described by Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contact_%28film%29. Sagan envisioned humans occupying other planets in the solar system, a goal not generally shared by those engaged in dark green religion. For and excellent short biography, see Lisle Dalton, "Sagan, Carl," in Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, and for more on his sense of the sacred in the cosmos, see Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God (New York & London: Penguin, 2006).

Sagan’s nature spirituality resonated strongly with many; for one example see the video links for this chapter.


Par. 1, on Dawkin’s frustration with scientists using religious terminology to express their wonder in nature: Dawkins would, presumably, also be frustrated with fellow atheist writer Sam Harris, who wrote, “There is clearly a sacred dimension to our existence, and coming to terms with it could well be the highest purpose of human life.” And “It is nowhere written, however, that human beings must be irrational . . . to enjoy an abiding sense of the sacred.  On the contrary, I hope to show that spirituality can be – indeed, must be – deeply rational.” Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: Norton, 2004), 16 and 43. After pointing out these passages to me, Bernard Zaleha noted wryly, that Harris “is an odd sort of atheist.”

Par. 2, writings from the leader of the World Pantheist Movement: Paul Harrison, The Elements of Pantheism: Understanding the Divinity in Nature and the Universe (Shaftesbury, UK: Element, 1999), and "World Pantheist Movement," in Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature. See also www.pantheism.net.

Par. 5, Suzuki quote about the religious aspects of working to protect and restore nature:

There is joy in the companionship of others working to make a difference for future generations, and there is hope. Each of us has the ability to act powerfully for change; together we can regain that ancient and sustaining harmony, in which human needs and the needs of all our companions on the planet are held in balance with the sacred, self-renewing processes of Earth. [Suzuki, Sacred Balance , 239-40.]

Connecting through Nature Writing (new section). Key sources on nature writing include Roderick Frazier Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, 4th ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001 [1967]), Donald Worster, The Wealth of Nature: Environmental History and the Ecological Imagination, second ed. (Cambridge, UK & New York, NY: Cambridge University Press 1993 [1977]), John Elder, Imagining the Earth : Poetry and the Vision of Nature (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), Roderick Frazier Nash, The Rights of Nature: A History of Environmental Ethics (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), Robert Finch and John Elder, The Norton Book of Nature Writing, 1st ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1990), Lawrence Buell, The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture(Belknap/Harvard University Press, 1996), John Elder, American Nature Writers (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1996), Daniel G. Payne, Voices in the Wilderness : American Nature Writing and Environmental Politics (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1996), David Landis Barnhill, At Home on Earth: Becoming Native to Our Place (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1999), Lawrence Buell, Writing for an Endangered World : Literature, Culture, and Environment in the U.S. And Beyond (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001), Lilace Mellin Guignard, A Field Guide to the Norton Book of Nature Writing, College Edition (New York: Norton, 2002), John Gatta, Making Nature Sacred: Literature, Religion, and Environment in America from the Puritans to the Present (Oxford & Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 2004).

For more information on the massive amount of nature writing and writing about it, see the bibliography provided by The Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment. Too little of this scholarship, however, has spotlighted the religious dimensions of nature writing, casting the experiences and perceptions expressed by these writers as aesthetic or spiritual, without adequately considering these writers and the genre itself as religious. Entries in The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature that focus on nature writing and writers represent a step toward redressing the anemic attention to the religious dimensions of such writing, although much more could be done. For a few, widespread examples see (from the United States) Kathryn Miles, "Whitman, Walt," Linda Sexon, "Dillard, Annie," David Landis Barnhill, "Mattiessen, Peter," (including Native American writers), Ellen L. Arnold, "Silko, Leslie Marmon," Patrick D. Murphy, "Harjo, Joy," Ellen L. Arnold, "Hogan, Linda," (from Canada) William Closson James, "Canadian Nature Writing," (from Africa) Rosalind Hackett, "Somé, Malidoma Patrice," and elsewhere, Malidoma Patrice Somé, The Healing Wisdom of Africa: Finding Life Purpose through Nature, Ritual, and Community (New York: Tarcher (Penguine Putnam), 1998.


Par. 3, sources on nature spirituality through outdoor activities include foci on those engaged in whitewater adventure sports and fly fishing, for example, Whitney Sanford, "Pinned on Karma Rock: Whitewater Kayaking as Religious Experience,"Journal of the American Academy of Religion 75, no. 4 (2007), Samuel S. Snyder, "New Streams of Religion: Fly Fishing as a Lived, Religion of Nature," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 75, no. 4 (2007).

Par 4, more sources on ecotopian and pagan writings:

For Callenbach’s influential novels see Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia (New York: Bantam, 1975) and the “prequel” Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia Emerging (Berkeley: Banyan Tree, 1981). For his reflections about his work and influence see Ernest Callenbach, "Ecotopian Reflections” and Jim Dwyer, "Ecotopia" and "Callenbach, Ernest," and Mags Liddy, "Ecotopia--the European Experience," in Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature.

For more on Starhawk and her influence, see Jone Salomonsen, "Starhawk," "Reclaiming," in Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, and Enchanted Feminism: Ritual, Gender and Divinity among the Reclaiming Witches of San FranciscoReligion and Gender (London & New York: Routledge, 2002). Starhawks novels include The Fifth Sacred Thing (New York: Doubleday, 1993), and mirroring Callenbach in another way, her own prequel, Walking to Mercury (New York: Bantam Books, 1997).

Par 2., more on Alice Walker: For her "habit as a born-again pagan to lie on the earth in worship" see Alice Walker, The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult: A Meditation on Life, Spirit, Art, and the Making of the Film, the Color Purple, Ten Years Later (New York: Scribner, 1996), 25. For how getting Lyme disease as a result led to a crisis in her earthen spirituality (42) and her eventual conclusion, “I must love the earth and Nature and the Universe, my own Trinity. Trusting only that it will be however it is, and accepting that some parts of it may hurt” (43).
Par. 2, for deeper analysis on James Redfield’s nature spirituality, see Bron Taylor, "Celestine Prophecy," in Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, and for more about plot details (in his various books) and about the more than 20 million copies sold ofThe Celestine Prophecy, as well as for discussion about how far Redfield strayed from what is known about ancient Peruvian and Mayan civilizations, see the Wikipedia entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Celestine_Prophecy.
Par. 3, animistic and earth-revering Zimbabwean art, can be viewed in the slide show from this chapter.

Par. 1, for more on art, perception, and activism, see Bron Taylor, "Evoking the Ecological Self: Art as Resistance to the War on Nature," Peace Review 5, no. 2 (1993).

Par. 3, for more indications that scholars and conservationists are taking religion seriously when it comes to conservation and protected areas, see Darrell Posey, ed., Values of Biodiversity, especially the contributions by Topfer and Golliher. For a sense of how complicated this can be, see “Indigenous Religions and Environments: Intersections of Animism and Nature Conservation,” Jeffrey Snodgrass and Kristina Tiedje (guest editors), The Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 2/1 (2008): 5-158.

Par. 2, for more on David Brower’s understandings: Commenting on a statement by Thoreau to the effect that an alert person can hear the mountains talk, Brower indicated that when he sought to cultivate this kind of perception, “Soon I would hear the talk directly. Not too sonorously from the thunder, cascading water, or falling stone, but musically enough from the jay’s complaint, the kookaburra’s laugh, the coyote’s howl, pines answering the wind, fallen leaves answering your shuffling feel, and the lilting notes of a stream, hermit thrush, or canyon wren completing the symphony.” He added that this takes effort and that all of one’s senses, “I believe we should listen eloquently. Try still harder and you may find that all your senses talk to you. You handicap yourself if you don’t let them.” [Quotes from David Ross Brower and Steve Chapple, Let the Mountains Talk, Let the Rivers Run: A Call to Save the Earth (Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society Publishers, 2000), 139]. Brower also expressed a spirituality of belonging grounded in the evolutionary story. He ended this book in this way: after quoting a couplet from Goethe – “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. / Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” – Brower asked his readers rhetorically, then answering afterward, “Do you have magic in you? You bet. Magic is that little genetic genius that has been evolving for three billion years: It connects us all to each other and to everything that has come before and that still lives on the planet. That is some magic, and it was formed in wilderness.” He then urged his readers, “Let us begin. Let us restore the Earth. Let the mountains talk, and the rivers run. Once more, and forever” (196).


Par. 1, the Sistine Chapel advertisementwas reflected the kind of humility prevalent in dark green religion by underscoring that humans were latecomers on earth, and it urged readers to “to help fight the notion that Man no longer needs nature.” See also Fox, American Conservation, 281-90, and Michael P. Cohen, The History of the Sierra Club (1892-70) (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1984), 154-60.

Brower developed the ad with the assistance of Jerry Mander, an advertising executive who later became a trenchant critic of globalization, as, for example, in a book he co-authored with the publisher/editor of the The Ecologist; see Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith, eds., The Case against the Global Economy, and for a Turn toward the Local (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1996).
Par. 1, on biocultural conservation see also Ricardo Rozzi and others, "Ten Principles for Biocultural Conservation at the Southern Tip of the Americas: The Approach of the Omora Ethnobotanical Park," Ecology and Society 11, no. 1 (1006), online at http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol11/iss1/art43/.
Par. 2, more interesting facts on biocentric ethics under the United Nations umbrella, as described by Steven Rockefeller in his email message to me, “In her Foreword to ‘An Introduction to the World Conservation Strategy’ published in 1984, Indira Gandhi made the following statement: ‘Our ancients believed in the unity of all living things, and even of life and non-life. We must rediscover this sense of identity with and responsibility for fellow humans, other species and future generations.’” [He cited the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources et al., World Conservation Strategy: Living Resource Conservation for Sustainable Development (Gland, Switzerland: IUCN, 1980); I cannot locate a 1984 edition]. Rockefeller continued, that the World Conservation Strategy includes similar language: “A new ethic, embracing plants and animals as well as people, is required for human societies to live in harmony with the natural world on which they depend for survival and wellbeing.” He added that the second version of this strategy was published in Caring for the Earth in 1991, and in this book, the first principle of the proposed “Strategy for Sustainable Living” was “Respect and care for the community of life.” Rockefeller said this principle expanded upon the first principle in the World Charter for Nature.

Par. 3, for more on conservative Christian opposition to the Earth Charter, see Bill Jacobs, "The Earth Charter: Declaration of a Global Super-State," at the conservative catholic website Conservation.catholic.org, at http://conservation.catholic.org/Earth%20Charter.htm. The article attacks what Jacobs considered to be the pantheistic heresy and global government hopes underlying the Earth Charter initiative.