Originally published on Virgin.com http://www.virgin.com/people-and-planet/blog/sustainability-is-a-sin
“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature,” was the pagan-inspired cut line from the Frankenbutter television commercial for Chiffon Margarine (the brand was purchased by Kraft Foods in 1985, sold to Nabisco in 1995, and finally came home to ConAgra in 1998). Mother Nature, of course, is a goddess, a fertility wood nymph, an American Gaia, and blasphemy in the eyes of the Church. She represents all that is unholy in a flimsy white dress.
Back in the 1970s when this TV spot was airing, God-fearing Christians took to the streets and picketed outside the dreary, gray downtown Houston offices of Anderson, Clayton & Company, the cotton products firm that manufactured Chiffon. Between hymns and chants, they demanded that this “War on Christianity” and “Celebration of Satan” end. They held homemade signs reading “God Loves Real Butter” and “The Road to Hell is Greased with Margarine.”
This did not actually happen. Nor does it happen today. Corporations and the religious zealots seem to get along just fine.
The Religious Right (RR) does not picket Monsanto or ConAgra for playing God by creating (and then trademarking) new breeds of foodstuffs. In fact, when it comes to sustainability in general, they take serious umbrage to the fact that mere mortals could ever mess with God’s own creation. It is impossible, they say, for Man to hold any responsibility for Global Climate Change. To think this way is a sin.
Calvin Beisner, the RR’s voice of scientific reason, recently noted (with the confidence only a non-scientist is afforded) that believing in climate change “is an insult to God.” Fitting core funder keywords like “oil” and “coal” into his mythology, Beisner refers to God’s delight in His creation’s (us) search for these “gifts.” If we don’t use (up) the earth’s resource, we may anger the one true God who put it there. Never mind the more interesting search for His other resources, like sun, wind and tide.
“Dig a little deeper, frack a little harder humans, for you are delighting me with your antics,” said God. “Now go kill your child.”
The ideology of the RR apparently includes a new concept for ecology, one not found in the Bible – dominion without stewardship. We’ve seen this strategy before with Friedmanesque robber barons.
Shouldn’t the basic concept of sustainability (however you define it) be lockstep with even Western religious beliefs? There are similarities between the two beliefs after all. Sustainabilitists believes in an eden. They have bought into the idea (however false, I think) that there is a pastoral past, a symbiotic relationship with nature to which we can return. The RR believes in The Eden. To each group. both ideas are sacred and critical to their mythologies and protective narratives. Why, instead, does the RR prefer to dominate but not serve, while their political voice chips away at the very mechanism designed to protect their precious possible Eden, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?
Follow the money. Much of the influence directed at the RR flows from corporations looking to weaken environmental regulations and discredit climate science. These are the same corporations we can imagine that have their marketing firms write their sustainability reports, and promote their products as “green.” This doesn’t mean all corporations, but there’s a little bit of it in all of us. The Republican Party’s stalker-ish courtship with the RR, through funneling influence via corporate monies into the extremes, serves to alter the very ideology that the religion pretends to preach: be nice, don’t be greedy, take care of things and people that can’t take care of themselves, put away your toys, etc.
Marx is paraphrased as writing that religion is the opiate of the masses. The upper class use it to control the lower classes. Cultural critic Slavoy Zizek has repurposed this idiom, saying that the modern ecological movement is the new opiate for the masses. The ruling class (those “job creators”) use it as a tool to placate and create their own vision of conscious capitalism— giving the lower classes permission to consume, consume, consume— while feeling we are all working towards a return to (mostly mythic) eden.
Of course, there are plenty of Biblical passages (and plenty or Christians, for that matter) that we can refer to, and interpret, that serve as guidance for stewardship, biodiversity, ecology and sustainability. But the RR ignores them out of fear of loss of control over their own ideology. The fear of losing control to science (etymologically, the words ‘nature’ ‘mater’, ‘mother’ and ‘matter’ are all connected). If there’s one thing the Religious Right and Corporations have in common these days, it is fear of loss of control.
And one other thing, Capitalism needs ecology like the Church needs sinners.