Ecofeminism, deep ecology, and dark green religion: PBP week 10

Week 10 of PBP second E post.  E is for Environmentalism and Ecology.  The first few drafts of this post were really science centered and while that’s awesome this blog focuses on Paganism. I do not think science and religion are incompatible, as this post will illustrate. However, I’m going to try to steer away from the politics of Environmentalism for the most part and stick to why Environmentalism is a part of my spirituality. Maybe another day I’ll talk about the science of climate change and why you ought to care, climate-gate, G8 or anything else like that.  And also to note: I refrained from making this post about Evolution and Darwin Fish vs. Jesus Fish. I can’t promise you I won’t go off on that tangent some day – just not today.  

Hi, my name is Pixie and I’m a crunchy, granola hippie.  I have a problem: I care about the environment. Deeply. I’m broke, but I buy organic – and I don’t care if organic food is “healthier” for me to eat. I buy organic when possible because it’s proven to be better for the earth. (I think it tastes better too.) I recycle, and I don’t care if you tell me it uses more energy. I won’t deny it, but I think you’re missing the opportunity cost of killing more trees to wipe your ass or clean up a kitchen mess.  That tree farm could have been a beautiful forest or something useful like a farm that feeds you.  Buy recycled paper products. Yes, sometimes it costs more that’s the downside of capitalism: there’s no incentive to do what is best for long-term success or sustainability. I feel guilty for not composting when I live out in deep suburbia with a big yard. I turn off lights. I don’t litter. Clearly, I have a problem: I CARE about this stuff.  Frankly, I think everyone else should too for a host of reasons – the disappearance of the Maldives being just one of them.

I care about the Earth because I see it as a living, “breathing” being. Ecology seems to support the notion that the Earth is not a static lump of dirt, molten matter, and stones but more a delicate balance of interdependent systems full of microorganisms, plants, animals, and now junk. That last one makes me sad that “junk” or “stuff” has to be included in that but it’s true: those plastic milk cartons and soda-can rings aren’t going away any time soon they are now a part of the Earth’s systems.  Just like we, people are a part of the Earth’s systems – and every time we have another one, we are adding something. Now, really what I’m getting at here is called deep ecology.  Deep ecology holds that all living things hold value (including microorganisms) and that the “Earth” as a living being has a right to be protected and its health preserved.  Deep ecology is the backbone of the Green Movement and Environmentalism. In some respects I think, the Environmental movement has been a deeply spiritual movement in the way people talk about the Earth. While, I thought about this for a long time and never could put it into words. Bron Taylor‘s book Dark Green Religion (2009) is an excellent illustration of how deep ecology is becoming its own religion. I think some would say that deep ecology has always been a religion, or at least a spiritual choice. However, I think science is leading us closer to this deep ecology with more knowledge about ecosystems and the interdependent nature of our own well-being and the well-being of our environments.

In arguments against environmentalism and global warming, I see a distinctly different line of thinking. The green moment’s logic tends to be one of connections and interdependence. Some feminists define this as a “feminine” way of thinking: of seeking connections with an ethic of care taking. (See Ecofeminism.) The opposite viewpoint, the one many in the US would call “climate change deniers,” is one of domination and patriarchy. The idea that we are here to “dominate” the Earth is linked in feminist thought with patriarchy and the patriarchal religions. In my opinion, this is an extremely convincing argument. Even those figures in the patriarchal systems who would preach an ethic of care taking (like Jesus Christ) over domination the care-taking values are often overshadowed by values of dominance. Environmentally, this thinking has led to a stubborn refusal of responsibility for environmental damages and impact beyond an instant payoff. This caused a lot of tension in my marriage: at the root of his logic seemed to be a sense of entitlement to the Earth.  Everything was put here “by God” for him and “people” to use: any sense to stewardship or responsibility to the Earth in way of care taking was not emphasized at all.  Now, his thinking was the result of a particular brand of Christian fundamentalism, but this message seems to be pretty common in the Abrahamic traditions. Even as a child, this was part of why I did not feel I “fit” into a Christian culture. It wasn’t just that as a kid I spent a lot of time outside talking to plants and trees and thought they were my “friends;” it was also because I didn’t think people just got to use everything and there wouldn’t be a consequence. Something about the logic of “just use it” didn’t feel right on an instinctive level. This in large part is why when I began to read about alternative religions I was drawn to those that seemed to be more Gaia centered.

My spirituality as a Pagan is tied to a reverence for nature. Not all Pagans worship nature or even natural forces. My gods (and goddesses) personify aspects of the human experience but I also recognize the sacred and godliness in all nature. I personally believe that all living things have a “soul” or spirit. This underlies practices like asking a tree or plant for permission before taking from it, working with the “energies” of plants or herbs, and thanking animals for their sacrifice before we eat them. Because I believe these things about living beings, I am mindful of my impact on their well-being. I am more mindful of what I am putting in an on my body, because I believe that food is alive – and when I eat I am taking that food’s life for myself. It’s a little strange at first, but this kind of ecological understanding of the interdepedence can make just living a deeply spiritual act.

I don’t go out of my way to “worship” nature: I worship nature by how I live. I respect the environment – mine and those of other places. I try to think about how my actions and decisions impact the environment. I find spending time in nature by walking in the woods, camping once a year, hunting mushrooms to be relaxing and invigorating. I enjoy watching things grow – I have even been known to purposefully plant “weeds.” I find a certain kind of joy from seeing nature settle into cracks in sidewalks. I think the old abandoned house with a tree growing inside, taking it over, is beautiful. These are simple everyday “normal” things: I don’t need to go dance around trees in the woods naked. If that’s your thing go for it. There are many layers to spirituality and those kinds of rituals are meaningless if they aren’t followed up by upholding a value of nature. I value nature, not just during holidays or pagan festivals, but every day.  For me, environmentalism is a way of life. While it is not specifically a pagan way of life, I choose this lifestyle because I am pagan.

Leonard, A. (2011) The Story of Stuff. 
Taylor, B. (2009). Dark Green Religion. University of California Press.
“Sacred Nature to the Best of Our Knowledge, NPR-I. Interview with Bill McKibben, Bron Taylor, Kurt Hoelting, Gordon Hempton, and Brenda Peterson by NPR.

About Pixie

I'm just your average 20-something trying to figure it out. I am also a theologian, yogi, witch, pagan, dirty hippie, activist (progressive politics), feminist, knitter, environmentalist, and friend. I've also been accused of being a hipster - I am not sure about that. I am sometimes happy to be Gen Y (go Harry Potter) and most of the time confused (seriously guys... ) by everyone else. My hobbies including knitting (and maybe crochet), quilting, recycling, cooking, writing, reading, and biking. I'm finishing up a masters in public policy and when I worked worked in political nonprofits as an activist.
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11 Responses to Ecofeminism, deep ecology, and dark green religion: PBP week 10

  1. Personally, I’ve never understood a Pagan who doesn’t have reverence for Mother Earth and doing his/her part to care for her i.e. recycling, green living, living simply. I have to say, I often (even though I detest labels) label them as hypocrites. Paganism is a nature based way of life, if you are throwing your beer and soda cans into a landfill and using 5 rolls of paper towels a day while covering your lawn with poison so dandelions don’t grow….well….I’m just sayin’.

    • Pixie says:

      Me too – but I accept that not everyone worships nature and thinks it’s a “good” thing and those folks are pagans too. Definitely a different sort of pagan than I am for sure.

  2. Annika says:

    I agree, the Earth is a living breathing being and we are part of it! There is a little problem with recycled paper however, as it is proven to cause more pollution in the process of making it 😦 I think of all the times I’ve bought recycled paper and realise I was doing more harm than good!! D: It aint easy being green!

  3. Annika says:

    One thing I have to disagree with is your ideas about climate-change-denial being a patriarchal attempt to dominate Earth. The very notion of “saving the Earth” is in effect an attempt to control what Earth does. I think we need to accecpt that Earth’s climate changes, this is natural, and not something we can try to control.

    • Pixie says:

      While it’s true that Earth’s climate changes naturally and without our control, I would definitely say the science shows we are radically speeding up that natural process. But I think the way climate change deniers, especially in the US, are thinking and the policy that is coming out is rooted in an attitude of the patriarchal domination systems. Religiously, those who believe in Rapture, etc. are funding these politics – people who sincerely believe that if the Earth becomes uninhabitable this will be a “good” thing or that this life is simply something to be endured rather than any kind of stewardship of the Earth. It’s not necessarily an attitude of “we can control this”: but more an attitude of “trash it – it doesn’t matter.”

  4. Lee says:

    I share most of your views, and I try to question them all the time- reading the comments about recycling etc is interesting. It’s difficult trying to make a small impact in a small way when the people in your neighboorhood possibly negate the whole process. I diligently recycle everything that’s possible but I am torn about what actually happens when my recycle bin gets collected, and how it all gets sorted! But like you it feeds into my spirituality. If you disrespect the earth, you’re disrespecting yourself- and that’s how it ties into my pagan mindset. I hate the idea of waste and something else, whether it is an animal, plant or a whole habitat- suffering because of my selfish actions.

    • Lee, when my son was in this awesome hippy dippy preschool (organic only foods, childrens veggie and herb garden tended by the kids, daily nature walks) they actually went on a field trip to the recycling center and learned from start to finish how items are recycled including how they are sorted. My son loved it, and to be honest, I wish I had been picked to chaperone. Maybe going to your local center will send your mind at ease?

  5. okarnill says:

    I absolutely loved this entry – following 🙂

  6. Pingback: Book Review: Eaarth (Bill McKibbens) | Pixiecraft: Adventures of Magick and Devotion

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