In the book of Genesis, the Lord commands Adam and Eve, with respect to the Garden of Eden, to “dress it and to keep it”. After the Fall, the Lord tells Adam that he is to “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it”. To subdue, in the English language, is normally understood to have reference to violent conquest, or subjugation. Other meanings, however, attach to this term, including “to quiet or bring under control by physical force or persuasion; make tractable,” “To make less intense or prominent; tone down”, and simply to “bring under cultivation”.
The contrast between the paradisaical, or Terrestrial state of our planet before the fall, and the temporal, fallen state arriving after Adam and Eve’s eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, is apparent: in the paradisaical state, nature was benign and in a harmonious relationship with our first parents. Animals and other forms of life did not hunt and kill each other, nor did they procreate. There were no dangerous microbes, viruses, or bacteria. There were no extremes of weather or dangerous geological processes.
There was food for Adam and Eve in the garden, though eating, as a Terrestrial being, is an aesthetic pleasure, and not, apparently, a matter of biological survival. The earth’s condition after the Fall, however, is quite a different matter. Then, Adam and Eve found themselves in what we now term the “natural world”; the world of oppressive heat and bitter cold, of driving rain and shifting sands; a world of dangerous animals, poisonous plants and insects, cuts and scrapes that could become terribly and even lethatlly infected, and an environment resistant to attempts to control, channel, and manipulate it for the survival, security, comfort, and ultimately, prosperity of Adam and his posterity.
The Great and Abominable Church: A Few Foundations
The term “environment” has, over the last forty years of so, become an ever present, and indeed, omnipresent focus of concern within our culture, and within the advanced, affluent western societies generally. Within those institutions populated to an overwhelming degree by members of the adversary culture (or those influenced by it), including most notably the mainstream print and electronic media, the entertainment industry, the foundations, public education, and much of higher education (primarily within the humanities and social sciences), this concern has become, for all intents and purposes, what might be called with no particular exaggeration a secular fundamentalist religion that provides for the faithful what traditional religious belief once provided for other generations in other times: something to fulfill the innate desire in human beings to worship, a belief in a cause and purpose larger then themselves and their own narrow personal interests, and a sense of meaning to existence that much of the philosophy they have otherwise accepted has told them is illusory.
Indeed, modern environmentalism has grown and matured in the soil prepared by Nietzsche and the later disciples of the “Postmodern” world view as much as in that prepared by Marx, the influential cultural Marxists, and the derivative “Dionysian” culture of value relativism and moral inversion that characterized a major phase of the cultural revolution that gripped American from the late sixties through the late seventies.
It would probably be more accurate to say that philosophies and movements such as environmentalism, the animal rights movement, the resurgence of the noble savage myth, and nature worship, are both symptoms of the ascendancy of certain philosophies and attitudes in the western world as well as convenient boxcars upon which other philosophical hobos can hitch a ride. Marxian utopian socialism, in its various forms, has found in environmentalism a useful and effective host, just as the attachment of “rights” to non-human creatures and long standing claims of moral ambiguity, and in some cases, moral equivalence, between human beings and non-human forms of life, have, in process of time created the animal rights movement and the bioethics of Peter Singer.
What’s in a Name?
What is the environmental movement? A comprehensive definition is always difficult because the movement itself combines different elements that can be hard to tease out in a nutshell form in a manner that makes sound definitions useful. For me, the best tentative characterization of this movement would be found in two somewhat differing definitions. The first would be that the modern environmental movement can be understood as a kind of militant gnostic pantheism, or neo-earth worship, deeply hostile to modernity, technology, liberal democracy, and free market economic relations, especially the institution of private property rights. This is the “deep ecology” aspect of environmentalism that has been with us for almost forty years or so and comprises much of what might be termed cultural environmentalism; the environmentalism of Earth Day and idealized notions of the splendors of living in primitive, “traditional” cultural settings “close to the rhythms of the earth” etc., that have been lost due to man’s separating himself from nature through technology and modern, industrial society and modes of life.
The second would be termed “political environmentalism”. This environmentalism shares much with Cultural Environmentalism in the use of terms, concerns, desires for political action, and general world view. This form of the movement, however, is much more concerned with using environmental concerns (and especially fear based hysteria), as a cultural and political Trojan Horse for the imposition, through legislative action and government command, of the kind of socialist economic and political systems that otherwise are widely understood to have been thoroughly discredited with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the U.S.S.R.
Wolves in Green Clothing
It is now no longer possible (except perhaps within the once hallowed halls of many of our colleges and universities) to call for “revolution” of a Marxian kind in the unambiguous economic and social terms that were once thought to be compelling. The “revolution” as the Frankfurt School cultural Marxists understood, would have to come, at least among the prosperous western nations, through a “long march” through the institutions of society, in which members of the adversary culture gradually colonized and came to dominate those institutions. The “false consciousness” of the masses could then in principle—at least among the rising generations—be overcome through the endless drumbeat of propaganda, sloganeering, the politicization of the media and educational institutions, and issue advocacy distilled throughout the media, entertainment industries, and public education.
What we have here is not a conspiracy theory in which a cabal of elites plot the conquest of society in smoke-filled chambers . What we are talking about here is not a systematic cultural shift but a systemic developmental trajectory in which certain professions and institutions of society: law, public education, social work, the humanities and social sciences, the entertainment industry, book and magazine publishing generally; and the mainstream media, took on over time, and continue to develop, very similar internal cultural and ideological characteristics.
Indeed, those institutions and professions whose work and influence is within the realm of the creation, dissemination, and manipulation of information, and of the signs and symbols of that information, language, are the very institutions within which our cultural revolution took place. These institutions, populated overwhelming by persons of similar philosophical, political, and social views, as well as by people from similar cultural and economic backgrounds, support and defend each other within the context of the “culture wars” against dissent from orthodoxy.
Again, no one placed them there. As with most of our mainstream news media, certain kinds of people are attracted to certain kinds of professions or institutions within which their own beliefs and agendas are given support and the power to influence public opinion and political decision making though the manipulation of information ( by withholding it in some cases and emphasizing and amplifying it in others). Our media, K—12 public education system, and the educational concerns of much of modern academia can marginalize or make invisible some positions on an issue or subject while giving continual and conspicuous coverage or emphasis to another, creating hard to dislodge psychological impressions or assumptions in the minds of those who consume such information regarding the relative merits of the various positions, even though those relative merits may rarely, if at all, be seriously explored) is made available.
While political environmentalism may not share the neo-primitivist and pantheistic attributes of deep ecology or “green” eco-religion, it does very much share its animosity towards representative democracy, property rights, economic liberty, and, broadly speaking, Judeo-Christian/liberal democratic civilization. Indeed, much of the environmental movement today can be understood as little more than traditional leftist anti-capitalism wrapped in the folds of a lofty concern for “saving the planet” in the name of humanity and of all life on earth. We must give up our high living standards, prosperity, economic competitiveness, individual political, social, and economic liberties, and property rights and completely restructure (a “wrenching transformation” to use Al Gore’s terminology) society along the lines of wealth redistribution and egalitarian collectivism. Why? Not because workers of the world should unite for some abstract theoretical doctrine of universal brotherhood and equality of outcome, but because the earth is physically doomed if we do not.
Many modern environmentalists do, however, combine the idea that Socialism is necessary to save mankind from ecological catastrophe with the idea that it is still necessary to save him from economic freedom. They combine environmental concerns with more traditional leftist criticisms of free market society, such as that all wealth that is created is created at the expense of someone else (the zero sum concept of economics) and the idea that wage labor in a market in which the prices of that which is produced are a function of the decisions of the buying public themselves is a form of exploitation.
Both the deep ecology aspect of environmentalism and its more secularist, neo-Marxist sibling have made common cause along a range of policy initiatives and causes, the most important and potentially disastrous for both the prosperous west and the poor Third World, is the theory and ideology of anthropogenic, or human caused global warming.
Environmentalism makes, in a broad sense, the following propositions:
1. Man is separate from nature, and is best understood as disease pathology or cancer upon the earth that distorts, unbalances, and upsets natural biological processes and systems. The effects of his existence and presence upon the earth are almost wholly negative.
2. That which is “natural” is good. That which is ‘unnatural” (by definition, anything done by, or created by humans) is bad or inherently suspect. In this sense, human’s input of CO2 (the most important and primary natural fertilizer of earth’s vegetation) is bad because it is unnatural (it was placed in the atmosphere by human activity), while a single volcanic eruption that spews as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere in a single day as all of industrial North America might in many months, or in weeks or months as man may create in many years, receives no moral or political criticism because it is natural.
3. Where there is one blade of grass, there can never be two, and vice versa. Nature is static, unchanging, and perennial. There is a perfect “natural” state, any deviation from which is understood as “upsetting the natural balance” of that state. There is a set temperature from which the earth does not vary much, anything deviating from that being a sign of destructive human interference. Deserts, forests, oceans, wetlands, and other ecosystems have always been as they are and, if untouched or modified by human influence, will always remain the same. Parts of nature (such as “rainforests) are “pristine” ; they have always been in the state in which we find them, and any alteration of them destroys forever something that was and would be forever in that ideal and perpetual state were in not for our altering of that environment.
Virtually all human activity then, which alters “nature” in any way, is evil and must be resisted, including everything from the building of homes to the damning of rivers to provide power to those homes to the extraction of precious metals from the earth to the genetic modification of crops to provide pest and drought resistant (and more nutritious) grains and vegetables Any change whatsoever, provided it is change wrought by humans, is to be opposed.
4. The earth and its ecosystems are “fragile” This philosophical, quasi-religious claim has been promoted for several generations by television science documentaries and popular magazine articles as scientific fact, when in fact it is nothing more than one of the doctrines of militant neo-Pantheism. Natural phenomena such as forests, deserts, and the oceans are construed as “fragile” and “delicate” systems that face systematic collapse through even the slightest contact with man and his technological ability to alter nature for his safety, comfort, and material prosperity.
5. Nature and animal life share a moral equivalence with human beings and their safety, security, and welfare is of similar or equal importance. Many may consider the idea of human/animal moral equivalence to be the final and inexorable outrage of modern environmentalism, as it ascribes to animals contractual rights and abstract concepts they cannot comprehend or ascribe to each other, and reduces man to nothing more than another animal himself, having no specific or privileged position above any other form of organic life.
Roots in the Great and Spacious Building
What does the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ tell us regarding such a movement? While environmentalism itself is never mentioned in the scriptures in an obvious way, many of its salient features are dealt with as parts of other philosophies that arose at different times among the Lord’s people. The Book of Mormon, precisely because of its concrete forays into politics and law and the intersection of these and the Gospel (and the fact that this book was written, to a substantial extent, with the gentile nations of the last days in mind) will be the primary source for our comparison and contrast of environmentalism and Zion.
The Great and Abominable Church mentioned in the Book of Mormon and less conspicuously in the Book of Revelation, does not appear to be any particular church or organization, but any organization, group, movement, ideology, or philosophy whatever that fights against truth, righteousness, and light. Let me then use a few of my own terms to clarify the situation before moving on.
One major component of the Great and Abominable Church would be what I would term the philosophy of Korihorism (after its proponent in the Book of Alma). The salient features of Korihorism are the following:
1. What we would today term secular humanism or what I will here call Metaphysical Naturalism. Korihor’s basic tenants were that human beings are alone in the universe without any means of ascertaining a concrete knowledge of the purpose or meaning of their existence or of the nature of values and moral choice (Alma 30:17).
2. Coinciding with this was the teaching that no God exists and therefore no overarching moral order to which we are accountable. Following many modern secularists and militant atheists, Korihor described the thoughts and mental processes of those who had a hope in Christ as “frenzied” and the product of mental “derangement”. (Alma 30:16).
Korihor was in one strong sense a nihilist (believing that no knowledge of spiritual things, or phenomena not discernible empirically, was possible for human beings), and a moral relativist, claiming that “whatsoever a man did was no crime”. (Alma 30:17). He claimed that there was no such thing as “sin” for which Christ could atone and hence, no need for a Christ. (Alma 30:17-18)
The next, we’ll just call Gaddiantonism, after the famous Book of Mormon organized crime leader. The Gaddianton Robbers were not particularly ideological, at least according to the Book of Mormon accounts we have. There concern was always about power and its benefits: wealth, control, domination, and moral license. As they became ever more powerful over time (to a substantial degree because of the Nephite’s failure to check their advancement), they moved from simple pillage and plunder into open, armed conflict with the Nephites and finally into the Nephite political and legal system. From this position they altered Nephite society from within and became a pervasive influence to the degree they became part of the mainstream of that society, very much in the manner that pornography, even in its most extreme forms, has become domesticated, accepted, and normative (as is also the case with a plethora of powerful consciousness-altering substances) within our own culture and its media by the same kinds of organizations and individuals.
I am here going to place the environmental movement as one of the primary branches, or sects, of the Great and Abominable Church. In doing so, I in no way implicate anyone who takes a stewardship approach to his understanding of natural resources, or who is concerned about environmental quality in an ethically and scientifically sound way. Environmentalism, however, as a main derivative of the broader philosophy of the adversary culture, has little concern with either sound ethics or sound science.
Indeed, environmentalism is an aggressive resurgence of essentially pagan concepts of nature and human’s place within it married to radical leftist politics and social theories and is hence deeply hostile to the Judeo/Christian ethical tradition, liberal democracy in the political realm, and Gospel concepts of the nature and purpose of human life and of our presence on this planet.
The Apis Bull Goes Green
Our culture seems to have followed a strange and yet, from a Gospel perspective, perhaps predictable course since the sixties when a confluence of cultural and generational factors combined to produce a massive shift in values with which we are still grappling. Much of western culture went, it seems, from the worship of the self, in an overt sense, to the worship of the self in a more displaced, surreptitious way, through the worship of nature. Man is still “the measure of all things”, and the new golden calf may be a Whale, a Dolphin, or a Spotted Owl, but the tendency within environmentalism is still upon man as the center and focus of all that occurs.
Man has the power to destroy the earth (there is no God, in any traditional sense, to intervene in mankind’s or the earth’s behalf). He also has the power to save it. He can change the global climate at will, making it either warmer or cooler. He can collapse entire global ecosystems. We, mortal human beings, which the Book of Mormon says cannot be considered, in an eternal, cosmic sense “even as much as the dust of the earth” (Mosiah 2: 25-26), can cause or prevent hurricanes, snowstorms, and droughts, can strip the earth bare of all its natural resources, and overpopulate it to the point that the ability of the environment to sustain us is destroyed altogether. Powers over nature and the elements once reserved only for God are now attributed to the little gods who reside here among those elements.
We are, in this view, alone in the universe, just as Korihor supposed. If we destroy our planet, there is no one to save us. There is no plan and no providence in our existence here, only biology and the forces of nature. According to one view, if we are to save our world, we must do it alone, through politics and technology; that which “their own fingers have made” (2 Nephi 12:8). According to another, we must abandon our modern living standards and return to a primitive, agrarian lifestyle devoid of most modern technologies and forms of industry. Here, we may run across the new pantheism, or romantic neo-primitivism, in which the earth is seen as a living being or spirit, and other forces of nature as being imbued with spiritual power or significance. Nature now becomes God, and, like the hungry Hindu who cannot kill a cow for food, though he himself may be starving, we must forsake any attempt to alter the earth to any substantial degree. The resources or the earth are now forbidden to us. We cannot extract them or use them save in the most limited and unmodified forms (“living lightly on the planet”) Prosperity and abundance, just as in the most secular and materialist forms of socialism, become the most serious of “sins” of which humans are capable.
Every breath I take, every light bulb I turn on, every mile I drive in my car, the energy I use to heat my home in the winter and keep it cool and dry in the summer (without which my wife could not physically survive within the dwelling) and the energy I’m using to write this essay at this moment, are all “footprints” upon the fragile earth, and one more footprint closer to a “tipping point” of no return for our planet.
In another essay, we will look at the gospel alternatives.