The image above shared with me by Union Theological Seminary Professor Emeriti Larry Rasmussen demonstrates one of the largest hurdles climate scientists face when discussing the issues of climate change. Often when discussing global warming, climate change or the climate crisis, changing our lifestyles, our former beliefs, or dare I say our elephants[i], ends up being the most difficult challenge for anyone making a scientific or even a moral argument. Why become a zero waste facility when it costs more money? Why advocate for cleaner air when we have all this carbon to burn? Why not cut down the sacred glen, when we could build an apartment building on that same site and add to our tax base?
The last example I lift up in large part because the church I currently serve did cut down a sacred glen. Back in 1876 a new congregation was formed and the location of our current building was chosen because of the beautiful fir trees that lined Boston Post Road. Intended to be a memorial to that natural beauty, the original name of our church was “Huguenot Memorial Forest Church” and was only legally renamed within the last five years. I often think of our history when stories of the Keystone Pipeline are in the news[ii], or when people like Rick Ufford-Chase (one of my interviewees for this semester!) are arrested for speaking up for sacred spaces.[iii]
In fact, tying creation care to the issues of sanctity (one of Haidt’s six fundamental ideas that commonly undergird moral systems which include: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity[iv]) has been one of the green movements most creative shifts over the past decade. Exercises such as intentionally asking someone to remember a foundational or even spiritual experience that took place in their life somewhere in the out of doors and then to meditate on that experience, have resulted in seismic shifts about how individuals (whether they are right, center, or left) relate to, and wish to care for, the earth. Common responses to this question range from examples like hiking, camping or fishing with loved ones while a child, to high school football games being played on “sacred ground” or visiting a famous ball park or golf course, like Wrigley Field or Augusta National Golf Club. A trained discussion leader, like Rev. Fletcher Harper of GreenFaith (another one of my interviewees!) can then direct the conversation in a way that allows the participants to truly remember all that is good and mystical about their memory, by drawing out all the emotions one carries about that experience. And then at just the right time, the participant is asked to imagine, what they would feel like, if that sacred location, all of a sudden, became the dumping site for toxic waste. You can imagine everyone’s instant distaste for the proposed scenario . . . even though it is both less revolting, and more common, than many that Haidt gave in this week’s reading!
Earlier this semester, Larry Rasmussen reminded me that one of our jobs as people of faith is to never forget that we are the “keepers of the sacred. We must ask what do the trees want? What do the rivers want? And then sing the old songs, because we are the home of the prophetic voice.”[v] Caring for creation through prayer, worship and song . . . that sounds pretty righteous to my mind.
[i] Jonathan Haidt. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. (London: Penguin, 2012), 49.
[ii] Jeff Mason and Timothy Gardner, “Trump to sign order seeking to clear gas pipeline hurdles: Kudlow,” Reuters, April 3, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-gas-trump/trump-to-sign-order-seeking-to-clear-gas-pipeline-hurdles-kudlow-idUSKCN1RF1V5
[iii]Nick Smith, “Arrests made following rally of protesters, clergy at Capitol,” The Bismarck Tribune, November 3, 2016, https://bismarcktribune.com/news/local/bismarck/arrests-made-following-rally-of-protesters-clergy-at-capitol/article_37e60709-a2e2-511f-be4b-2db6608ae6e6.html.
[iv] William Saletan, “Why Won’t They Listen? ‘The Righteous Mind,’ by Jonathan Haidt,” New York Times, March 23, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/the-righteous-mind-by-jonathan-haidt.html
[v] Larry Rasmussen, February 2, 2019.