While it would be nice to say that religion is the answer to the ecocrisis (and all the rest of our problems), the truth is not so simple. While there are many passages in holy books of the world that instruct believers to preserve, protect, and value nature ; the problem is that through interpretation and distortion, the same books and faiths can encourage humankind to continue dominating, exploiting, and attempting to control or destroy nature. For example, fundamentalist Christians interpret the story of Adam and Eve as God telling Adam that he should dominate the earth, animals, and Eve (women). This sort of religion is certainly not the answer to the ecocrisis that we face.
The solution is probably similar to a religion but with a less hierarchical organization, less dogma, and more emphasis on personal responsibility. Spiritual practices such as Taoism, Buddhism, and other philosophies that encourage mindfulness and positive personal responsibility. Events such as Earth Day founded in 1970 create more of an awareness of the environment without putting the dominating power of religion at the top of a power dynamic but some claim that this secular approach hasn’t done enough to solve our problems but certainly the first step to stopping a trip to hell in a hand basket is to recognize that you are on such a journey in the first place. This identifying stage is, perhaps, the role of the intellectual approach. The next approach is to apply solutions . The final approach is to adopt those solutions into a standardized ethic or philosophy. Such a philosophical approach could be termed spirituality, but without the centralized power that would make it a religion.
In the video Radical Simplicity, activists seem to be implementing the second stage in which they adopt solutions to identified problems and they seem to be in the process of turning these solutions into an ethic that borders on the spiritual. By only buying the things they need, using less resources, and shifting culture via conscious choices towards sustainability; activists are acting on an ethic that if it is not already, will certainly be considered spiritual in the future. While this sort of Gaia worship is not likely to develop a powered clergy and become religion, certainly it is already a spiritual practice. Living in a small house is as much an act of sacrifice as carrying a cross in an Easter parade.
It is easy to confuse the spirituality that leads Buddhist Monks to frequent caves in Southeast Asia with the religion they practice, but in actuality, it is the ethics of Buddhism and not the hierarchy that protects and preserves sacred caves. The same can be said for the caves that are sacred and protected around the world in all religions. Caves act as comforting wombs to the human spirit. The human spirit goes beyond the religions that attempt to bind it and embraces the spiritual energy of nature as a more worthy object. The powerful religions of the world recognize this and have either attempted to ban nature or to incorporate it’s power into their mechanics.
Sacred places are sacred, not because of religion, but because of the spirit of the places. While Townsend seeks a separation from the word spiritual , spirit is actually just another word for energy. Energy is something that exists in all things and if we take the time to acknowledge the energy that is around us, we might notice that the entire universe and everything in it are actually sacred and imbued with spiritual significance. Can religion solve our eco-crisis? No, but perhaps acknowledging the sacred that exists within everything can bring us to a more spiritual way of life that will work towards solving not only the eco-crisis, but all of our other problems too.