THE NEW AMERICAN RELIGIONS OF NATURE: Part 1 – DOING ECO-THEOLOGY IN THE ANTHROPOCENE,  by Wayne Martin Mellinger, Ph.D. [The Dionysian Naturalist]

INTRODUCTION

Nature Religions, by which I mean those religions which hold nature as sacred, are thriving across the North American continent, growing at such a rate that there are now more Pagans in the US than Presbyterians. These Nature Religions come in many diverse forms, including multiple forms of Paganism, Druidry, Native American religions, shamanism, Deep Ecology, versions of radical environmentalism, Taoism, some forms of Religious Naturalism and some “New Age” spiritualities.

Some adherents of these diverse traditions have supernaturalistic cosmologies unsupported by modern science.  For example, “Hard Polytheists” are Pagans who insist that their Gods are living, breathing anthropomorphic entities with whom they have personal relationships.  In contrast, Religious Naturalists, as part of an emerging religion of Nature ground in a modern scientific worldview, largely reject supernaturalist thinking and typically do away with God-talk.

Naturalistic Paganism, the website on which these essays are originally published, is dedicated to a hybrid of Religious Naturalism and Paganism. This new religion of nature draws upon a modern scientific cosmology while importing many Pagan religious features, including “the Wheel of the Year” (the Pagan liturgical calendar), ritual practices such as “casting the circle”, the five elements, etc.

Most Nature Religions focus on celebrating the rhythms and cycles of life and promote “the Earth Path”—an ecological way of living designed to alleviate our alienation from the our environments through deep immersion in nature, close observation= of the rhythms and cycles of the flora and fauna in our local bioregion, through the study of that bioregion’s natural history, and through changes in daily routines and committed eco-activism.  The Earth Path puts into practice an embodiment of the sacralization of nature in our mundane lives.

My specific concern in this series of essays is to explore those “new religious movements” that are the most prominent, theologically developed, and environmentally relevant. The first essay explores ecotheology and the religion we need to reach a sustainable society.  Part II of the first essay outlines the common characteristics of Nature Religions. Later essays in this series explore the various forms of contemporary Paganism, Religious Naturalism, contemporary shamanism and Druidry.

Essay 1, Part 1

DOING ECO-THEOLOGY IN THE ANTHROPOCENE

As I look out upon the world today the most pressing problem I see confronting humanity is climate change.  Living in southern California we now have massive wild fires burning around us all year round and any notion of “fire season” seems like a quaint and antiquated anachronism from a much cooler time.  When I first moved to Santa Barbara in 1983 there were very few days each above 85 degrees; now we have many days over 100.  If we do not significantly curb our emissions of carbon into the atmosphere soon and there is a 4° C rise in the global average temperature, most coral reefs would be killed, the Amazon rainforest would dry up and at least 40% of the world’s species would be doomed to extinction.

Our species and our planet have never confronted such an enormous human-made crisis. Modern industrial civilization, fueled as it is by petrochemicals, has drastically damaged the fragile biosphere that supports all life on this planet.  Many of us feel that it is not yet too late to avert a total environmental catastrophe, but it could be very soon.  Indeed, this is a very frightening time to be alive.  This is the global context in which I am exploring the nature of my spirituality and building my own theology.

Theology is no longer bound by earlier thinking about God, and contemporary theologies are increasingly diverse, and include approaches that are theist, atheist, polytheist, duotheist, pantheist and panentheist.  The personal search for truth and meaning is at the heart of the theological enterprise and each of us longs for an intellectually honest and credible way to make sense of the loving mystery that encompasses all things.  For good or for bad, my thinking is founded on a deep skepticism that leads me to look for evidence to support the things I believe.

When someone wants me to accept portions of their perceptions of reality that go against what I have thus far experienced or otherwise know to be true, I simply say “Show me!”. Because no one has yet provided me with empirical evidence proving the existence of supernatural entities or disembodied agents I am naturalist believing sacredness must be found in this world.  Because I believe all of nature is sacred I am a pantheist.  Ultimately because of that persistent mystery that encompasses all things I could say I am agnostic knowing that humans must live with uncertainty when it comes to understanding the origin and nature of ultimate reality.

THE RELIGION OF THE FUTURE

What type of religion do we need for a wounded planet?  What type of religion do we need for our immediate future that could help us to transition through a sustainability revolution? What types of spiritual practices are required to protect, heal and restore our planet’s fragile ecosystems? Here I offer seven features that any viable religion must have to lead us through a sustainability revolution:[1]

  1. Any theology emerging in the Anthropocene must be an eco-theology. Eco-theologies regard our planet as a sacred living system and cherish and celebrate life. We must acknowledge the tragedy of past human behavior in destroying ecosystems, causing the mass extinction of species, and potentially leading to our planet’s total environmental collapse.  The foundational institutions of Western civilization—capitalism, the church, the state, religion, science — have anthropocentric (or human-centered) ideologies which lessen the value of other species. The “greening of religion” through adding recycling programs and solar panels to existing churches, temples and synagogues is not nearly enough. The religion of the future must be “dark green” (Taylor 2010), developing a radical ecological consciousness in which all life is respected.  This will amount to a spiritual revolution.
  2. Any theology emerging in the Anthropocene must be a prophetic theology, clearly naming and addressing our world’s gravest social problems. Prophetic religions envision the world we need to get to (i.e., the “Beloved Earth Community”) and articulate the spiritual practices we need to get from here to there.  Our central problems include unacceptable wealth inequality and oppressions based on race and ethnicity, gender and sexual identity, disability, age, education, etc.  Moreover, a “mass psychology of misery” (Zerzan 1994) envelopes the planet in which cynicism, apathy and indifference feed the nihilistic imagination.  The religion of the future must be able to provide an intersectional analysis of oppression and be based on collective liberation and social and environmental justice.
  3. Any theology emerging in the Anthropocene must be revolutionary, as the time remaining before it is too late to make the needed changes in our infrastructure is indeed very short (if it is not already too late). It is not a preference for violence that makes us revolutionary (quite the opposite, I am a non-violent pacifist), it is awareness of how little time we have to change our circumstances. The religion of the future must be radically change oriented, providing spiritual practices that assist us in rapidly transitioning to a more just and sustainable society.
  4. Any theology emerging in the Anthropocene must be ground in the best understandings of our world possible as articulated by modern science. Therefore it must be a “liberal theology”, if by that we mean a theology that comes to grips with what James Luthers Adams called “the new facts” of modernity”.  The insights of the world’s scientific communities must guide the construction of our cosmologies and world-views.  While science is not perfect, and scientists can be as blind to ideologies and dogmas as the rest of us, the empirical methodologies of science and the incessant critique, replication and refutal of tentative findings by communities of skeptical and impassioned seekers, does create a worthy approach to understanding our world.  The religion of the future must be based on the most accurate understanding of reality possible.
  5. Any theology emerging in the Anthropocene must develop an approach to nature that is also ground in religious and spiritual inspiration.  By regarding the world as sacred and alive and filled with mystery we cultivate the potential for enchantment.  Experiences of enchantment can cure our alienation from nature, ward off the existential resentment so common in our world and help to develop a sense of kinship with all the life around us.  The resulting enhanced bonds of intimacy with the natural world are essential for the ethic of caring we need to cultivate in order to achieve a sustainable way of living.  At the heart of this “enchanted naturalism”[2] is the Epic of Evolution, a rich cosmology of the universe’s development and of the evolution of life and of humans that is filled with reverence and particularly open to religious interpretation.   The religion of the future must reject both superstitions and scientism.
  6. Any theology emerging in the Anthropocene must be ground in a philosophy of affirmation that celebrates life in all its diversity and promotes respectful actions and a compassionate ethics of care. It must be able to address our mass psychology of misery, in which alienation, apathy, and indifference prevail. We must counter the nihilistic malaise which cripples modernity by saying “Yes to life!”  Our liturgies and rituals must put into practice the importance we place on all life and be radically celebratory. The religion of the future must be an antidote to our alienation from nature, from other human beings and from ourselves.
  7. Any theology emerging in the Anthropocene must deal with the two great religious impulses that lie beneath our spiritual hunger. First, the “mystical impulse” is that which leads us to ecstatic encounters with the sacred, which I refer to as “dancing with Dionysus”. These are highly transformational moments in which our consciousness is altered by direct experiences of ultimate reality.  This glimpse of the deeper, more accurate view of the mind, of the cosmos and of reality allows individuals to become released from ruling mythologies and ideological perspectives. The second great religious impulse is the “contemplative impulse” which is analytical and reflective. It is responsive and recuperative to the mystical impulse, which can overwhelm the human.  Meditation and prayer are just two of the most common forms of contemplative practices. In these moments humans seeks to integrate the mystical experience into our lives.  We churn through the often bizarre and mysterious mystical experience evaluating its profound insights with skepticism and reason.   These moments ground our being in the practical and empirical and allow homoeostasis to emerge.  The religion of the future must accept the two great religious impulses—the Dionysian pursuit of ecstatic encounters  and Apollonian reflection on such moments.

Therefore summing up my thinking about theology in the Anthropocene I have been searching for an insurgent, prophetic, liberationist, science-based eco-theology. It is this search for the religion of the future that led me to Nature Religions,[3] or what Bron Taylor calls “dark green” religion— “religion that considers nature to be sacred, imbued with intrinsic value, and worthy of reverent care” (Bron Taylor 2010 Dark Green Religion).

THE HUMAN / NATURE RELATIONSHIP

All humans have spiritual needs that can only be met in Nature[4]. When our spiritual needs for Nature are satisfied and people have a deepening awareness of their oneness with other living beings and with the natural world, a sense of connection permeates our relationship with the world. That sense of unity with the world is our birth right and supposedly our natural state, found, for \xample, among our ancestors in archaic foraging societies for over 100,000 years.  When this ecological consciousness is fully felt we feel kinship with all other living beings, feel at home on this planet, and walk humbly upon these hallowed grounds,

Today our relationship with the natural world is broken and fragmented.  Modern people largely do not regard Nature as sacred.  We no longer feel a unity with other living beings or with the natural world, but instead feel separate from the natural world.  Many of us feel that our alienation from Nature[5] and the desacralization of Nature are the ultimate roots of our ecological crises. Surely no people who hold the Earth as most sacred object would allow the destruction of so many ecosystems, the extinction of so many species, the polluting of land, sea and air, and the very real threat of environmental collapse brought on by climate change.

To understand the relationship between humans and the natural world we can explore our  shifting conceptualizations of “Nature”.  How do we understand our world? In Western Civilization the natural world is typically understood as distinct and opposed to humanity or to human culture.  Nature is those things relatively unaffected by people.  This form of thinking puts humans outside of nature.  We are so accustomed to this mental framework that it seems like, well, “natural’, like common sense, as a given. This cognitive schema is at the heart of the “nature / culture” dualism.

A dualism is a conceptual division of something into two distinct parts.  The nature / culture dualism is the outcome of a particular western cultural history, and it is not a part of many other cultures.  Many other societies with different mental frameworks see humans as a part of nature.  In western civilization there are several other dualisms that are related and mutually reinforcing, including mind / body, civilized / primitive, human / animal, male / female, master / slave, colonizer / colonized.  Notice the power relations between the paired terms in these dualisms.  Val Plumwood sees these as “gendered dualisms” and incorporates these power relations in her definition of dualism: “Dualism is the process by which contrasting concepts (for example, masculine and feminine gender identities) are formed by domination and subordination and constructed as oppositional and exclusive” (Val Plumwood 1993 Feminism and the Mastery of Nature: p. 31).

While this alienation from nature has been with us for a long time it was not built into the human situation.  Humans in the (pre-agricultural) Pleistocene were supposedly not alienated from nature, but had bonds with other species and with nature that were rich, meaningful and bountiful[6].  Our species was shaped by 200,000 years as nomadic foragers. Written into our genes is a map to good living sculpted by natural selection and the lifestyles of tribal societies hold the clue to the normal functioning of our species.  The deep evolutionary past of humanity is our biological heritage.

Our ancestors lived well in these pre-agricultural societies.  Rather than the Hobbesian image of brute savages whose lives were “nasty, brutish and short”, many anthropologists now describe an almost stone-age utopia with bountiful food supplies, ample leisure time, strong and healthy bodies, balanced intimacy, a mass psychology of happiness and deep spiritual connections with the natural world.

While many modern people still believe the myth of progress and assume that civilization must be a much advanced mode of being over the earlier forager mode, Social Darwinian notions of the unilinear evolution of societies from primitive to civilized have been challenged by many and there exists a substantial literature on “the critique of civilization”. While anarcho-primitivists, like independent scholar John Zerzan, are an important source of this critique of civilization, many other more mainstream thinkers echo these same sentiments declaring the benefits of forager life ways [7](Zerzan 1994; 2018; Heinberg 1995: Ryan 2019).

CAUSES OF OUR ALIENATION FROM THE NATURE

While Paleolithic foragers are assumed to exist in an un-alienated relationship with the natural world, we should not assume that their cultural mindsets and social practices were uniform, fixed or static. Across the globe and over the span of 200,000 years, foragers lived in varied landscapes, had diverse cultural mindsets ,and adapted to many circumstances. The relationship between foragers and nature must therefore have taken diverse forms and shifted over time.

Scholars locate the causes of our human alienation from Nature in many diverse historical events, including some events that occurred globally and some events that are particular to the`  history of western civilization. For each of the historical events suggested as causative of our estrangement from nature, one can find positive contributions the event made to the advance of the human condition.  For example, while certain forms of modern science employed modes of thinking which strengthened the nature / culture dualism, that doesn’t invalidate the advances made by modern science in, for example, treating many diseases.

It is generally accepted that agriculture, pastoralism and the urban civilization they enabled, laid the groundwork for our alienation from nature. Nomadic foragers live off the wild areas of their bioregions often traversing large areas of the landscape.  They acquire a highly attuned consciousness in which a vast traditional ecological knowledge of the uses of various plants and animals accumulates over generations.  With the rise of agriculture humans become sedentary tenders of domesticated species of flora and fauna, often working significantly longer hours, doing more boring and repetitive work, and with far less exposure to wild areas.

The anarcho-primitivist philosopher John Zerzan sees the “virus of alienation” as emerging with the agricultural imperative to reform and subordinate nature.  As the land becomes an instrument of production and the planet’s species its objects, humans become increasingly displaced from nature.  The land itself becomes something to be worked.  The logic of agriculture is to level off and standardize the landscape, “to efface its irregularities and banish its surprises (Zerzan 2018, A People’s History of Civilization). In domesticating animals and plants, humans domesticated themselves.

Beginning with agriculture, humans have sought to massively control nature.  Large irrigation systems allow for the control of flood zones and the management of water resources.  Control over access to water and irrigation system leads to the development of hydraulic empires, which were most of the first civilizations.

Agriculture increases food supplies and not all people are needed to be involved in food production.  These people not involved in food production allow the emergence of cities and the development of complex specialized roles. While most forager societies are non-hierarchical and egalitarian these newly urban people institutionalize social practices which create inequality through hierarchical social relations.[8]  Patriarchy and racial domination are also ,products of the civilizing process.  The ecofeminist philosopher Val Plumwood see the link between the suppression of woman and nature in western societies:

“Reason in the western tradition has been constructed as the privileged domain of the master, who has conceived nature as a wife or subordinate other encompassing and representing the sphere of materiality, subsistence and the feminine which the master has split off and constructed as beneath him” (Plumwood 2002, Environmental Culture, The Ecological Crisis of Reason, p.3)

In The Spell of the Sensuous (1996) David Abram blames the invention of the phonetic alphabet, which only comes after agriculture, for triggering a trend toward increasing abstraction and alienation from nature.

Many feel that our environmental crisis is in part due to the religious views of nature found in western civilization, views in which humans see themselves as separate from Nature, see themselves as having “dominion” over other life forms, and hold anthropocentric views that highly value themselves while discounting and even negating the value of other life forms.  This perspective was significantly bolstered by Lynn White’s 1967 publication in Science, ”The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis”, although similar ideas can be found in earlier authors such as Paul Shepard

White argues that Christianity was at fault for the rapid destruction of nature worldwide.  Christianity rejected the idea that nature was sacred, seeing that as a Pagan belief.  It also rejected the idea found in most nature-based religions that all things have “spirit” or “soul” in them, instead insisting on human superiority.  This idea became enshrined in the Judeo-Christian concept of the Great Chain of Being, a hierarchical chain with God on top, followed by his angels, followed by humans, who were made in God’s image, followed by non-human animals, and then the non-animate objects. Christianity also tends to discount the Earth’s importance in favor of a heavenly afterlife.

It is also common for scholars to place blame for our alienation from nature on the forms of anthropocentric thinking that started to during the Enlightenment.  Cultural historian Thomas Berry observes that “with the rise of the modern sciences we began to think of the universe as a collection of objects rather than as a communion of subjects (The Great Work 1999, p. 16).  Here we are talking about certain forms of reason and rationality that lay the foundations for modern western institutions, such as science and capitalism. When these forms of thinking employ categorical schemas that separate humans from nature, they can strengthen the nature / culture dualism and thus contribute to the estrangement of our species from its natural environment.  These forms of thinking are human-centered, or anthropocentric, and assume that the only entities of moral value on this planet are us humans.

With the Enlightenment and the emergence of modern science mechanistic and reductionist ways of thinking spread across the European and North America continents. Each of these intellectual breakthroughs brought significant advances to the scientific enterprise.  For example, a cornerstone of mechanical philosophy is the assumption of a “clockwork universe”.  If the cosmos is a perfect machine composed of matter and following the laws of nature, then everything is predictable.  By assuming that all phenomenon are completely determined the mechanistic model of the universe stimulated significant empirical research.  But this emphasis on the machine-like aspects of Nature replaced the early Pagan views of nature as a sacred and living entity.

Scientific reductionism provided a methodological approach to studying complex interactions and entities through study of their constituent parts.  This has allowed for detailed explication of numerous complex phenomenon.  But, it has its drawbacks.  By examining two inert chemicals kept apart we cannot explain the complex interaction effect when the two chemicals are brought together.    Reductionism has encouraged us to see ourselves as separate from nature and to view the world around us as something to be analyzed for our own wants and needs, with scant regard for the consequences.

The recent development of complexity science through the study of nonlinear dynamical systems has highlighted the importance of seeing wholes as much more than the sum of their parts. Much of our world is made up of “complex adaptive systems”—systems composed of parts following simple rules whose behavior is unpredictable and with emergent properties unimaginable through observation of their constituent parts.

Ecofeminism links the domination of women with the domination of nature.

The subjugation of nature as female was integral to the scientific method as power over nature, accord to Carolyn Merchant. She advocates questioning the grand narratives of the scientific revolution as progress and the valorization of Frances Bacon, Rene Descartes and Issac Newton. In her eyes seventeenth-century mechanistic science contributed to the problems of the day.  Merchant’s masterpiece, The Death of Nature (1980) invoked mechanistic science in the destruction of nature and suggested that the “scientific method as power over nature, exemplified in the rhetoric of Francis Bacon, implied the constraint and even torture of nature.

During the transition to early modern capitalism Frances Bacon advocating “extracting nature’s secrets from “her”bosom through science and technology” (p. 515.).  Merchant argued  that the subjugation of nature as female “was integral to the scientific method as power over nature”. For Merchant, Bacon’s goal was to use constraint and force to extract truths from nature.  His choice of words was part of a larger project to create a new method that would allow humanity to control and dominate the natural world[9].

At about the same time the French philosopher Rene Descartes created a worldview based on dualistic logic (Mind / Body, Human / Nature) which led humans to regard ourselves as separate from Nature. Cultural rationalization and the devaluation of religion in modernity has led to a sense of disenchantment. These forms of thinking may strengthen the nature / culture dualism.

With the rise of capitalism, the enclosure of common land forced rural people off the lands into the cities to sell their labor. Capitalism strengthens notions of private property and the idea of the earth as a mere resource for human exploitation. Today our planet supports 8 billion people and the amount of land which has become the built environment or is used for human food production has drastically reduced the wilderness areas on our planet.

While there is little agreement in the scholarly literatures about the causes of our alienation form nature, and I see some truth to most of the above arguments.  It seems that tendencies begun with agriculture, got reinforced in western civilization by Christianity, Enlightenment science and modern capitalism. There is no way to prove these matters anyway.

CLOSING WORDS

To heal our world and restore the holy to the land many people are turning to religions centered on the earth, on Nature, on the cosmos.  Significant cultural effort is being put into re-building the religions of Nature[10] and on developing eco-theologies—those studies of the interrelationship between nature and religion, especially as concerning environmental issues.

Most traditional religions have advanced a weak version of eco-theology in which nature is seen as having intrinsic value and worth. This weak version is often referred to as the “greening of religion”. In my assessment this approach has been a terrible failure and there is little evidence that most mainstream religion is motivating people to be better caretakers of the earth.  Even progressive Christian churches that have robust recycling programs and state-of-the-art solar panels on their roofs in the end preach a tradition-bound, dominion-oriented theology.

The strong version of eco-theology holds nature as most sacred, which brings us into the realm of Nature Religions.  For these religious orientations Nature is the ultimate concern, the most cherished religious object and subject of devotion.  My focus in this series is on new religious movements holding the strong version of ecotheology. Specifically, I will be concerned with Religious Naturalism, contemporary Paganism, contemporary shamanism, Druidry, and Naturalistic Paganism.

A sustainability or green revolution is beginning across the globe in which the old carbon-based industrial forms of capitalism are being set aside and new sustainable practices fueled by alternative energy sources are emerging. The sustainability revolution includes changes in production, consumption, lifestyles, governance and practical ethics.The new paradigm shift  is organically unfolding with new knowledge, values, and practices. For any of this to really work there must be an accompanying spiritual revolution in which our values and ethics are carefully scrutinized.  Human consciousness must awaken to our spiritual connection to one another, to all forms of life and to the living body of the Earth.  Nature Religions can be antidotes to our alienation from nature by helping us to develop a radical ecological consciousness that nurtures and supports a growing awareness of and connectivity to the living planet which we are mysteriously bound.

A Note on Part II “DOING NATURE RELIGION”

We live in a world of religious hypocrites, where far too many people do not practice what they preach.  Religious scholars are turning away from an exclusive focus on beliefs, especially the institutional catechisms pronounced from above and supposedly accepted from below.  Instead there is a “practical turn” in religious studies in which increasingly the focus in on “lived religion”.  Praxis is putting thoughts into action, living our values, and translating abstract principles into the concrete moments of everyday life.

Therefore to me the defining characteristics of Nature Religions should not located in some list of beliefs adherents supposedly possess.  Rather the defining characteristics of Nature Religions should be evident in how their adherents live their religion.  Belief in the absolute sacredness of Nature transforms people’s everyday actions and their relationship with their natural environments. I call this new way of life “the Earth Path”.  Initially it is a journey of discovery and transformation in which one develops a radical ecological consciousness, loosing the estrangement from nature so prevalent in our modern lives.

Footnotes

[1] My thinking here on the religion of the future was prompted by Lloyd Geering and radical theologists Jeffrey W Robbins & Clayton Crockett, although our conclusion are very different.

[2] For more on “enchanted naturalism” see my essay ”Enchanting Naturalism” on this blog.

[3] Despite its clunky name, Unitarian Universalism (UU) has the potential to develop most of the needed features to be the religion of the future.  It is a home for 200,000 spiritual activists addressing our social problems (although often more reformist than insurgent).  Despite being like most mainstream institutions on the North American continent in having a history of both racial insensitivity and practices promoting white supremacy, it is now working hard to address these problems.  As an heir to the American Transcendental movement and the thinking of Emerson and Thoreau, Nature has historically been central to Unitarians.  With the addition of a sixth Source and seventh Principle,  UUs have moved even closer to Nature Religions and more welcoming to Pagans, Wiccans and Druids. Moreover, one of the other dominant theological orientations among UUs is Religious Naturalism, a theological orientation discussed later in this series, that is science-based and nature-centered.  Much of the work of constructing the theology of Religious Naturalism has been done by UU theologians, such as Jerome Stone, Michel Hogue, Robert Corrington and Demian Wheeler.  While the Unitarian Universalist Association has officially adopted “pluralism” as the guiding theology, leading the world to imagine the faith of UUs as “anything goes”, I see a decided trend toward it becoming a religion of Nature, given that two of its central theological clusters regard Nature as sacred.

[4] Based on 30 years of counseling and pastoral care, Howard Clinebell, a United Methodist  minister and professor of pastoral care, believed humans have seven spiritual needs in common,, including: “All people need a deepening awareness of oneness with other people and with the natural world, the wonderful web of all living things.” Clinebell, H.J. (1992). Well Being: A Personal Plan for Exploring and Enriching the Seven Dimensions of Life: Mind, Body, Spirit, Love, Work, Play, the World. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

[5]Simon Hailwood offers the best definition of the philosophical and ecological concept “alienation from nature”: “I am suggesting then that estrangement from overall nature can be understood as inadequate participation in the primordial more than human fleshy world. Inadequate participation is marked by a relative lack of openness to the reciprocity of the flesh exemplified by various interrelated kinds of ‘distortion’, including: the overwriting of

primordial kinship with the more limited kinship of rational agency exercised upon mere

things; an obsessive focus on the abstract; excessively self-regarding agency;

misrecognition of the nonhuman (not just the human). A more adequate participation

within nature as flesh, one more open to its reciprocity, is a praxis of ‘working with’ and

accommodation to surroundings, rather than mastery of them. “(Simon Hailwood 2014 Alienation and Nature in Environmental Philosophy).

[6] Of course, all statements about the mental states, dispositions and patterns of thinking of pre-historic humans are speculations based on the weakest forms of evidence.  Mental processes leave no direct archeological artifacts.

[7] John Zerzan (1994 Future Primitive; 2018 A People’s History of Civilization;  Richard Heinberg, 1995, “The Primitivist Critique of Civilization” http://www.theanarchistlibrary.org; Christopher Ryan, 2020, Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress.

[8] In The Dawn of Everything (2021), David Graeber and David Wengrow challenge this long-accepted anthropological truth and demonstrate that some early forager societies had huge amounts of social inequality as revealed, for example, through divergent burial practices in which elites have graves containing very valuable objects while the masses did not.

[9] Carolyn Merchant 2006 “The Scientific Revolution and the Death of Nature” Isis 97(3): 513-533

Continued…….

 

About the Author

lSslgGSWayne Martin Mellinger, Ph.D. is a Santa Barbara-based social justice activist, writer, and educator who uses spiritual practices to create a better world.  Specifically, Wayne is very active in helping our neighbors of the streets transition into permanent housing and environmental issues.  He has taught at the Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Berkeley campus of the University of California, Ventura College, the Fielding Graduate University and Antioch University Santa Barbara.

4 Comments on “THE NEW AMERICAN RELIGIONS OF NATURE: Part 1 – DOING ECO-THEOLOGY IN THE ANTHROPOCENE,  by Wayne Martin Mellinger, Ph.D. [The Dionysian Naturalist]

  1. Some very interesting insights in here. Looking forward to more articles in the series

  2. Thanks for this, Wayne! I only today learned about you and your writing from Amy Haddy.

    As you may already know, I’m a religious naturalist eco-theologian. My long-standing websites are http://michaeldowd.org/ and http://thegreatstory.org/ and my main project the past few years is this “post-doom” project: https://www.postdoom.com/

    Just yesterday I uploaded to youtube my most up-to-date expression of religious naturalism and eco-theology in the context of abrupt climate change and civilizational collapse. If you take time to watch it, I would love to know what you think…

    G🌎D: Owning Our Error, Accepting Our Fate

    YOUTUBE DESCRIPTION: This 85 minute post-doom, science-based, religious naturalist video (alternate subtitle: Eco-Theology, Earth Spirituality, and Collapse 101) is the most complete program I have created to-date that outlines the following: A) Why our relationship to our living (biophysical) creator, sustainer, and end is an existential (life or death) issue. B) The nature of our global predicament (ecological overshoot, abrupt climate mayhem, resource depletion, biospheric collapse, etc). C) The social, historical, ecological, technological, and religious factors that have caused dozens of previous civilizations to collapse and how they are doing the same today, just faster. D) The fundamental differences between genuinely sustainable, pro-future cultures and utterly unsustainable, anti-future civilizations. And E) What is possible, impossible, urgent, and inspiring going forward.

    SUGGESTION: This is a VERY visual presentation and I encourage folk to watch, rather than merely listen, and to do so at normal speed and without multi-tasking. (It will be obvious why 🙂 I also encourage viewers to take a few minutes to pause between the main sections.

    • HI Michael, Thank you for your message. I am a Unitarian Universalist and long ago learned of your “evolutionary evangelicalism” and your preaching of the “Gospel of Evolution” throughout America with your wife and science writer Connie Barlow. Like you, I am passionate about the marriage of science and religion. I recall you were associated with UCC. I was raised a Congregationalist (as we called it back then and my grandfather, Rev. Asa Wright Mellinger, was minister at the First Congregational Church of Chicopee, Mass for over 40 years. I left the UCC at the age of 13 when I discovered science and ecology.
      I am planning on eventually writing about “The Epic of Evolution” and I do not doubt that your work will be an important resource. Thank you for sharing your newly updated video “God: Owning Our Error, Accepting Our Fate”. I very much look forward to viewing it. While I now identify as pantheist and understand how using “God-language” allows us to more easily engage in interfaith dialogue, for much of my life I was a firm atheist rejecting “God” as a supernatural fantasy of racist homophobes and self-righteous bigots. Please thank Amy Haddy for introducing you to my work. I also have a website where I have accumulated some of my eco-theological writings. It is called “The Dionysian Naturalist” and is located at https://thedionysiannaturalist.blogspot.com/

  3. Please delete the first comment. Not sure how or why I thought your first name was “John” 🙂

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