This article is about New Age and the environment, the Gaia principle, and the dominion of man over creation.

Source: The Monthly Record, 1991. 6 pages.

The New Age and Green Issues

The Christian must be ready to provide an adequate answer to opponents of his faith. These opponents are varied: old ones are still with us; new ones are appearing. We must remember the past as well as be up to date with present trends. Two issues have in more recent years come to the fore: the "New Age" and "Green Issues". Here an expert in this line of study traces the connection between these two areas.

An attractive calendar was recently distributed in schools in the Moray district of Grampian Region. It is entitled "Trees for Life" and it has superb photographs of a variety of trees from many parts of the world. It contains an article entitled "From Germ to Giant" about the world's largest tree, the Giant Sequoia, and there is information about "Regenerating the Caledonian Forest".

A casual glance would perhaps convince you that this was something produced by some purely environmen­tal pressure group or even the Forestry Commission. In fact it is published by the Findhorn Foundation, a New Age community of worldwide reputation, based at Findhorn in Moray.

Alongside worthy ecological advice in the calendar, there are more esoteric and religious emphases: " is the essence of all life, and as humans, we have a unique opportunity to bring love to the world. At this time of increasing concern for the environment, we each have the power in our hearts to help in the healing of the Earth."

The "meditation" for the month of September is from "The Tree" by John Fowles:

Even the smallest woods have their secrets and secret places, their marked precincts. And I am certain all sacred buildings, from the greatest cathedral to the smallest chapel, and in all religions, derive from the natural aura of certain woodland or forest settings, in them we stand among older, larger and infinitely other beings, remoter from us than the most bizarre other non-human forms of life: blind, immobile, waiting ... altogether like the only form a universal god could conceivably take.

Is this one isolated exam­ple? Or can we see that there is a close connection between New Age thinking and Green attitudes? It is widely recognised that there is some connection. Clifford Longley wrote in The Times (25th November 1989):

The New Age is undoubtedly Green. It shares the contemporary perception of Planet Earth as a small and fragile globe which is mankind's one precarious home in the entire universe. The concept of Gaia, invented by Pro­fessor James Lovelock to describe the unity, the interdependence and the equilibrium of the planetary eco-system, offers New Ageism the beginnings of a theology, once Gaia is made to sound ... like a mother goddess who is divine protectress of all living things.

There is obviously some sort of relationship or interaction between New Age thinking and Green thinking. This article is partly about the exact nature of their inter-relationship (if anything can be made exact in this area!). I will also attempt a critique of New Age thinking as applied to Green issues, and finally, try to show that biblical Chris­tianity has the answers to questions that many are struggling with.

Green Concerns🔗

There is a growing concern at the present time about Green issues, about care for the environment and ecology in general. Although there are differences of opinion about how serious the situation is, there can be no doubt that there is cause for con­cern. There are three ways of looking at the problems — conservation of resources, prevention of pollution and preservation of nature.

Conservation of resources involves concern about the depletion of living species and resources, especially as this affects the life of man. Deforestation, dying oceans, exhaustion of mineral resources, loss of agricultural land and of clean water all fall into this category. To take just one example, the chronic famine situation in Ethiopia is caused not only by civil war, but also by past deforesta­tion leading to soil erosion and loss of agricultural land.

Prevention of pollution encompasses control of sewage, industrial and agricultural effluent into seas and rivers and concern about rain, global warming, destruction of the ozone layer and nuclear contamination. Until relatively recently we were releasing huge amounts of poisons into the oceans and the atmosphere with minimal controls. It is now argued that we cannot go on doing this indefinitely.

The third way of looking at the problems is to urge the preservation of nature. This position, even more than others, raises philosophical and religious questions. Are there compelling reasons for preserving all species of living things? It is possible to argue for preservation on the grounds of benefits to the human race. For instance, we have not even begun to utilise the medicinal poten­tial of most plants, especially in the tropical rainforests. But can a case not be made for preserving nature for its own sake too? After all, who gives us the right to destroy what we have not created?

What is New Age?🔗

These then are some of the problems and questions of Green issues. But what is New Age? And why is it becoming influential in thinking about Green issues?

New Age thinking is notoriously difficult to define. This is because it has been formed by many different influences, ranging from astrology to astronomy, from eastern religion to modern theology, from positive thinking to spiritism. It is eclectic. It will draw from any source. Its name may come from the belief in astrology that we are now leaving the Age of Pisces (the age of Christianity) and we are entering the Age of Aquarius (the age of peace, love and enlighten­ment), but as we shall see, it also claims to draw support from quantum physics and ecology.

There is one underlying belief common to most New Age thinking and that is what has come to be known as pantheistic monism, the belief that all is one. God and the cosmos, man and nature, matter and energy are all one. It may seem tremendously confusing to the Christian mind, but C. S. Lewis held that it is the religion of the natural man. It was the underlying philosophy of the Stoics whom Paul met in Athens. For centuries it has been the unifying belief in Hinduism and Buddhism. In one of his many perceptive comments, C. S. Lewis said that ultimately Hinduism and Christianity would offer the only real alternatives, because Hinduism absorbs all religious systems and Christianity excludes all others. We see his prophecy being fulfilled in the New Age movement.

Spiritual Vacuum🔗

But why is it that New Age thinking is coming to pro­minence in the area of ecology? What has happened to Christianity or even scientific humanism?

The fact is there is a spiritual vacuum at present. Christianity has been rejected, but secular humanism has never satisfied the soul of man, and both are deemed by many ecologists to be far too anthropocentric (man-centred). There has, of course, been a rejection of Christianity in society at large, but particularly rele­vant here is the rejection of orthodox Christianity as an acceptable cosmology in relation to ecological issues.

One of the first to do this was Lynn White, Professor of History at the University of California in a now famous lecture in 1966 published in Science Magazine in 1967:

Especially in its Western form, Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen ... Christianity, in absolute contrast to ancient paganism and Asia's religions, not only established a dualism of man and nature, but also insisted that it is God's will man exploit nature for his proper ends.

He goes on to show that Christianity was the main factor in the rise of modern science and technology. He then concludes: "...Somewhat over a century ago science and technology joined to give mankind powers which, to judge by many of the ecologic effects, are out of control. If so, Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt."

Although White did not reject Christianity totally, yet he considered alter­natives, such as the Zen Buddhism of the hippies, and he opened the door for others with a more radical approach, like Richard Means, a professor of sociology. One of the first Christian writers to highlight these developments was Francis Schaeffer in Pollu­tion and the Death of Man, 1970.

Revolution in Science🔗

Another factor that has played a part in opening the door to New Age thinking is the revolution that has taken place in science, especially in nuclear physics. The distinc­tion between matter and energy is broken down — E = mc² (where E = energy; m = mass and c = the speed of light) and atomic particles are now wave-particle dualities.

Einstein's Theory of Relativity teaches that time and space are not absolutes, but variables that depend upon the position and the viewpoint of the observer, as well as the speed at which the observer is moving. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle says that we can determine the position or speed of a particle, but not both at the same time. There is also the possibility in quantum physics that the act of observing effects whether we judge something is a par­ticle or a wave and what its position is. Bell's Theorem tells us that once two particles interact, anything that affects the direction of spin of one of the particles affects the direction of spin of the other particle, even if they are at opposite ends of the galaxy. It appears that something other than normal "cause and effect" is operating, but nobody yet knows what it is.

All of this is used by New Agers as proof that the old certainties are breaking down and that there is a growing recognition of an inter-connectedness between everything in the universe. Fritjof Capra wrote in The Turning Point:

Quantum theory has shown that subatomic particles are not isolated grains of matter but are probability patterns, interconnections in an inseparable cosmic web that includes the human observer and her consciousness. Relativity theory has made the cosmic web come alive.

Shirley MacLaine put it more popularly in Dancing in the Light: "As the new physics and the ancient mystics now seemed to agree — when one observes the world and the beings within it, one sees that we are in fact only dancing with our own consciousness."

C. S. Lewis predicted this contemporary combination of science and superstition. In The Screwtape Letters, the imaginary correspondence of a senior to a junior devil, he shows that one of the greatest triumphs of Satan will be to produce "the Materialist Magician" — "if once we can produce our perfect work — the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls 'forces' while denying the existence of 'spirits' — then the end of the war will be in sight."

We are all probably fairly familiar with the three main elements that enter in to the consideration of "green issues": conservation of resources, preven­tion of pollution and the preservation of nature. But what are the main ideas associated with the New Age Movement?

We mentioned how dif­ficult it is to define the New Age movement because it draws ideas from a wide variety of sources.

One factor that caused its rise was the spiritual vacuum left by the rejection of Chris­tian values. Another was the revolution in modern science which has given prominence to ideas of relativity and uncertainty in science itself. But one of the main con­cepts that we have to under­stand to appreciate the New Age outlook is the one we wish to consider now.

Gaia — Goddess of the Earth🔗

One of the key concepts in the influence of New Age ideas in ecology has been the Gaia Hypothesis formulated by British scientist James Lovelock. According to Lovelock, the Earth itself may be seen as a self-regulating, living organism, which he called Gaia after the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth. He expresses it like this:

The entire range of living matter on earth from whales to viruses and from oaks to algae could be regarded as constituting a single living entity, capable of manipulating the earth's atmosphere to suit its overall needs and endowed with facilities and powers far beyond those of its consti­tuent parts.

To begin with, this idea was presented as a purely scientific hypothesis, but latterly Lovelock said, "I have tried to show that God and Gaia, theology and science, even physics and biology are not separate but a single way of thought." He became a member of Lindisfarne, a sort of New Age think-tank, who describe themselves as "seeking for the sacred in all forms of human activity and culture ... the spiritual transformation of individual consciousness ... the re­sacralisation of the relations between nature and culture..."

This blending of ecology and religion is typical of the New Age movement and of a school of thought in ecology known as "deep ecology", but it is also common at the popular level. Richard North writing in The Independent said,

An awful lot of us just need to worship something ... We are all falling in love with the environment as an extension to and in lieu of having fallen out of love with God. As it happens it makes for a pretty deficient religion, but as an object of worship, nature takes some beating.

Jonathan Porritt, a direc­tor of Friends of the Earth, has a high regard for New Age thinking — "All that one can incontrovertibly claim is that many thousands in the U.K. have found in New Age thinking and teaching a sense of hope and meaning that has eluded them elsewhere" — and for Buddhism — "Only Bud­dhism can make any real claim to be permeated through and through with ecological awareness and guidance about 'right livelihood'." He also quotes with approval John Stewart Collis, whom he calls "a visionary of the Green movement" as follows:

This is now regarded as a very irreligious age. But perhaps it only means that the mind is moving from one state to another. The next stage is not a belief in many gods. It is not a belief in one God. It is not a belief at all — not a conception in the intellect. It is an extension of the consciousness so that we may feel God, or, if you will, an experience of harmony, an intonation of the divine which will link us again with animism, the experience of unity lost and the in-break of self-consciousness.

G. K. Chesterton put it more bluntly, but more accurately — "When men cease to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing; they believe in everything."

The Findhorn Faith🔗

David Spangler, a representative thinker of the Findhorn Community men­tioned at the beginning of this article, writes:

The Myth of Findhorn is the Myth of Creation, of a rebirth of man emerging into a totally new consciousness. The myth is not a few individuals gaining a higher understanding of the spiritual and cosmic prin­ciples behind life and creation, but a period when the planet as one shall begin to strip away the old per­sonality patterns ... and in its place reveal the true divine nature of the planet.

In 1963, Dorothy Maclean, one of the leaders of Findhorn, claimed she started receiving messages from spirits (called Devas) which said that "man has to do one thing in order to reverse the trend of events on the planet: he has to recognise within himself the divinity and wholeness of which he is part."

Sir George Trevelyan, who taught Prince Philip at Gordonstoun, is a prominent New Ager who supports both the Gaia Hypothesis and the Findhorn Community. In 1971 he founded the Wrekin Trust, an interdenomina­tional organisation dedicated to teaching the spiritual nature of humanity and the holistic view of the universe. He says, "We must learn to think wholeness, to realise the reality of the Earth mother and that our exploitation of the animal kingdom and the rest of nature is piling up for us an enormous karmic debt." This is a perfect example of the syncretism of New Age thinking. The Eastern con­cept of karma (judgment and fate) is linked with holistic thinking, the Gaia Hypothesis and ecological concerns.

All that is Green is not New Age🔗

From all that has been said already we can see that New Age is Green. But we must be careful not to make the mistake of thinking that all that is Green is New Age.

There are those, such as Murray Bookchin, who advocate "Social Ecology" — really socialist and naturalist ecology. Accor­ding to this view there is no supernatural, and ecological problems are not caused by individual attitudes, but by a social order based on free-market, expansionary capitalism. And of course there are those who are con­cerned about Green issues from a Christian point of view, like Tim Cooper of the Green Party, whose book "Green Christianity" is on the whole a balanced presen­tation of a Christian attitude to Green concerns.

It would be totally wrong for Christians to think, because Green issues are argued for on non-Christian or even anti-Christian grounds, that Green concerns are not compatible with Christianity. Green concerns are valid for the Christian, just as concerns about abortion, famine and Sunday trading are valid. Christianity embraces the whole of life.

It would be equally wrong for Christians to accept the role given to Christianity in the origin of environmental problems by such thinkers as Lynn White. Certainly Christianity played a part in the development of modern science, but what is so often overlooked is that science was then hijacked by Enlightenment thinking which, instead of being God-centred, was man-centred. Thus no form of humanism has the answer to ecological problems. It is the very man-centredness essential to humanism that is to blame. If man is a law to himself, then he can do as he pleases to the rest of nature.

However, New Age has no sufficient answer either. If, as according to Shirley MacLaine, I am God and I think the cosmos into existence, then the reality, and therefore the importance, of the cosmos is lost. There cannot even be agree­ment that nature has an objective existence, because there is no guarantee that each person is thinking the same universe into existence. We are up against the same problem as in Eastern thinking — the world is maya (illusion).

Also, if all is one and all is God, then we have two problems. First, there is no basis for holding that human beings are distinguished from nature and in any way superior to nature. If that is so, then man has no right to interfere in nature for even supposedly "good" reasons.

In fact, secondly, there is ultimately no basis for distinguishing between good and evil at all, between cruel and non-cruel. If all is one and all is divine, how can we say some things are evil and to be fought against and some things are good and to be fought for? And if we cannot do that, how can we propose Green policies? We are again left with the fatalism of India where there is no impetus to change for the better.

It's God's World🔗

The truth is that only Christianity has sufficient answers in the area of ecology. The Bible teaches that God created the world and so it belongs to God, not man — "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it" (Psalm 24:1). The creation glorifies God (Psalm 19:1). Therefore, nature is important in itself, even without reference to man.

Man was created in the image of God and given authority over the other creatures (Genesis 1:26). But that authority is not an absolute authority. Man was not allowed to do as he pleased. Although he had power over the animals, yet he was to maintain a kindly interest in them. God brought them to him to name them. And man was put in the garden of Eden to take care of it (Genesis 2:15, 19). Man is God's gardener, shepherd and steward.

It is quite clear in the Bible that we are answerable to God for how we treat the rest of creation and God will judge us for maltreatment of the earth. Part of the reason for the seventy years exile in Babylon was so that the land could enjoy its sabbath rests (2 Chronicles 36:21). God had commanded that the land should lie fallow one year out of seven (Leviticus 25:1-7) and this had obviously not been observed because of greed. There were also commands about not destroying fruit trees in time of war (Deuteronomy 20:19, 20) and about not taking a mother bird from a nest (Deuteronomy 22:7). Particularly, the king of Babylon was judged as "the man who made the world a desert" (Isaiah 14:17).

Creation Spoiled and Renewed🔗

Another thing God teaches us in the Bible is that creation is not now as it was originally created. Man sinned against God and so not only fell into a state of sin and misery, but also dragged the rest of creation down with him. Because man is God's steward of the earth, God's judgment of man involved a curse on the earth (Genesis 3:17-19). This means that the balance of nature has been upset. Thorns and thistles grow out of proportion to the rest of the plants. The creation is a frustrating and imperfect place (Romans 1:20).

Does this mean that nature is hopelessly corrupted and the Christian doesn't need to bother about it and about how he treats it? Far from it! One day the creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay (Romans 8:21) and that transformation will be brought about by Jesus, who is the Son of Man who rules over the creation now (Hebrews 2:5-9; Colossians 1:15-20). So, for the Chris­tian it matters tremendously how we treat the creation, not only because God the Son originally created it, but also because he now rules over it and one day will liberate it.

Therefore, we agree with many in the "Green Movement" that nature should be treated with respect, not because man is on the same level as it, but because God has set man over it to use it for the glory of God, for the good of his fellow men and for the good of other creatures, all under the rule of Christ. So, although we have been given the right to use both animals and plants for food (Genesis 1:29; 9:3), we have no right to needlessly and recklessly destroy plants or animals and their habitat. Above all, we have no right to do anything that would endanger the life of another person made in the image of God.

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