President Obama, in his State of the Union address, renewed his pledge to fight global warming. Although he failed to employ the religious rhetoric he used in last month’s second inaugural address—in which he said that reducing greenhouse gas emissions would “preserve our planet, commanded to care by God”—he will likely do so again to help get climate-change legislation passed. Appeals to heavenly authority may be uncommon in contemporary environmental discourse, but they have a long history. In his latest op-ed, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert H. Nelson reminds us that religious themes have played a significant, albeit often unacknowledged, role in discussions about the environment.
“In some ways, environmentalism should be seen as a secularized version of Calvinism, minus God,” Nelson writes in USA Today. “Obama has brought God back into the environmental conversation, even if his theological knowledge is incomplete.”
John Calvin, one the greatest influences on Protestant theology, wrote that God “daily discloses himself in the whole workmanship of the universe.” To damage nature was therefore was to harm our ability to see and appreciate divine glory. This message, according to Nelson, author of the award-winning book The New Holy Wars, is alive and well in the secular environmentalist movement today, even though many of its members are completely unaware of the theological roots of their green ideology and would take issue with calling it a secular religion. God and Climate Change, by Robert H. Nelson