Eco-Religion and Christian Faith

A provocative essay from the Austrian Jesuit Robert Deinhammer, S.J., courtsey of Mirada Global:

The vital need to protect the planet’s ecosystems in a comprehensive and sustainable manner is —unfortunately— often undermined by events that derive from within the environmental movements themselves that manifest themselves in a kind of ideology. It is a pseudo-religion that is not really new and which we could call “ecoreligion”.


Ecoreligion generates a massive deficiency in rationality, and entails profound changes in our traditional understanding of ourselves as well as of the world. “Nature”, or “Mother Earth”, are good and even in some way “holy”, whereas human beings are evil, since they try to dominate nature and wish to exploit it. According to this line of thought, the natural course of the world should be disturbed as little as possible. On the contrary, human beings ought to adapt to nature, should “respect” it and even “reconcile” themselves with “her”.

The difference between humans and animals practically vanishes in areas such as the animal rights movement and the advocacy of veganism or vegetarianism. In ecoreligion, we can in general detect a strong skepticism towards science and technology, a skepticism that is often allied with a new romanticism and with spiritualism. That is why it seems to me that one root of such ecoreligion is misanthropy arising from disenchantment. Basically, everything would be better if there were no human beings in the world. In many cases, behind this phenomenon there might be a hidden, repressed but subtly ongoing longing to die.

Ecoreligion presents a serious challenge to Christian faith and its proclamation. Christian faith requires a certain conception of the world and humanity, which is diametrically opposed to the basis of ecoreligion. According to Christian faith, the world is God’s creation; it is thus a good and worthy entity, but it is only a penultimate reality. Nature cannot represent an absolute value. And faith conceives the Biblical creation of man as the image and likeness of God. Seen from the point of view of philosophy, this image and likeness derives from man’s personality and capacity to reason, whereas, from the point of view of theology, human persons owe their unique position to their constant inclusion in the life of the triune God: man is filled with the love of the Father to the Son which is the Holy Spirit.Man is a part of nature, but at the same time he surpasses the frontiers of nature. Only in this way is he enabled to take responsibility for nature. The moral requirement to protect the environment would be meaningless, if man were incapable of entering into a distanced relationship to nature.

The Christian proclamation of faith appeals to critical reason, for only the dynamic of a critical reason can distinguish faith from superstition. Therefore, the proclamation of faith must simultaneously critically review all irrational beliefs. It is a witness to faith to criticize the devastating exploitation and abuse of the environment, but at the same time, we are called to oppose an ecoreligion that offers no genuine service either to humanity or to nature itself.

Also available in Spanish.

Tim Reidy



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Robert Riley
6 years 11 months ago
In some ways I agree with Fr. Deinhammer, and in other ways I do not.

As he says, we as human beings (in my view, we are the "agents" of the Divine in our ultimate potential -  i.e., when enlightened - as Jesus revealed to us) have a profound responsibility to be good stewards of the Earth during our temporal journey together.  That to me means that endless exploitation of the environment for blind profit and ever-increasing material consumption is a betrayal of our charge by the Divine.  So we must learn to not take nature for granted, but instead must learn to live in harmony with this planet's biosphere.

Gandhi said that one can tell a great deal about a culture's humaneness by the way animals are treated within it (and we in the U.S. have seen that ethic deteriorate in the corporate handling of animals in the food production chain).  I think the same thing can be said about the way we treat the natural environment. 

If we continue to pollute and "rape" the natural environment in pursuit of "endless growth" and profit, the human family and nature will both be horrendously damaged and billions of human beings and animals could perish.  This cannot be living in accordance with the ethic and eternal Reality of "the Kingdom of Heaven." 

In some ways, I believe that the western Churches could benefit by learning from the wisdom of the cultures of the indigenous peoples around the Earth which gave reverence to the natural environment which sustains our earthly bodies and the plant and animal life with which we share life. 

Liberation theology came from a realization that we must not be so transfixed by a vision of a Heavenly hereafter (a sheer projection, in my view) that we ignore social conditions and fail to develop humane political and economic systems.  I think that same learning must inform how our political and economic systems (and all of us as individuals) treat the plant and animal life in which we live our lives.

I am not condemning a living soul.  Who can make ultimate judgments upon a human being?  But I am saying that we have often been heedless and blind in our taking "nature" for granted - we must continue to grow in Wisdom and in developing our Divine potential to be loving of all beings and aspects of our life together.

Bill Mather
6 years 11 months ago
First of all, the cult of "eco-religionists" created by Fr. Deinhammer appears to be either wholey are largely fictitious.  I have been involved in many groups that express a sensitivity to the natural world around us, and none of them embrace all the aspects presented here.

Be that as it may, there are still some serious flaws in the essay.  While he decrys the fact that nature is "holy" and mankind is evil - this is actually part of our faith; man is born with original sin, we fell from grace.  Beyond the theological world, we also know that Man has he potential to destroy his habitat - and in fact has done so in many areas of the world through pollution, both chemical and radioactive.

We are called to be stewards of what God has given us.  Much like the man who entrusts two servants with money, we must be able to show God that we are trsutowrthy with the world with which he entrusted us.
Crystal Watson
6 years 11 months ago
This article seems almost fearful of environmentalism, that it might be taking the place of Christianity.  The ideas that human actions have damaged the ecosystem, that people are animals, that vegetarianism is a positive action, are not unscientific and romantic misconceptions - they are facts.  The idea that Chritianity is based on reason, is, I guess, his way of saying that it's based on Aristotelianism, but that's not the same thing as being based on science ... the idea that the natural world was made for people, that the ecosystem is just a prop for us to do with as we choose, is the kind of  religious viewpoint that got us to this climate change situation in the first place. 

A completely different way of looking at this ...

Climate Change and the Spiritual Exercises, by Stephen McCarthy ....

St. Ignatius's Approach to Nature Was Not Utilitarian, by John English SJ  ...

Genetic Engineering Evaluated from the Perspective of Christian and Ignatian Creatian Spirituality, by Roland Lesseps SJ
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 11 months ago
Look, I'm  an engineer.  I like civilization.  I want it to continue.  I don't want billions to die in hunger, war and plague.  I want people to have localized control of their lives and environment and resources.  I want fresh air and unpolluted water.  I want freedom of movement rationally and rational organzation of living space.  I want to look up in the night sky and see how great are the works of God.   I will work with anyone who wants those goals.  Afterwards, I can go to mass and the others can dance around a fire with flowers sticking out of their ears and nostrils, for all I care.  It's too late in the game to start quibbling about religious differences.  The good father doesn't have to worry about ME becoming a wiccan.
Thomas Farrell
6 years 11 months ago
Deinhammer does not name even one specific author or even one specific book connected with supposed eco-religion. This kind of writing is not worth serious attention.

I also have to wonder if Deinhammer is familiar with the poetry of the Victorian Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Hopkins poetry is worth reading and pondering.

But Deinhammer's essay is not worth reading.


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