The Gospel According to Radical Environmentalism

When we observe people who believe so much in an idea that they are willing to devote their entire lives to it, and even put themselves at risk because of it, we are witnessing an expression of beliefs which have their core in that person’s worldview. As we look at the radical environmental movement, we see this playing out. There are entire organizations which are staffed with people who are so committed to “saving the planet,” that they physically confront military exercises, file lawsuits, lobby politicians, stage demonstrations and even destroy businesses and property.

There are many expressions of the radical environmental movement. Some are global, some regional, some national and some are even local organizations. Some are government-run while others are private. The different organizations have their own specialties. Some specialize in bringing lawsuits, like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund. There are others, such as the National Wildlife Federation, the Nature Conservancy, the Wilderness Society, the World Wide Fund for Nature and Friends of the Earth, which focus on disseminating information, participating in public hearings, lobbying, staging demonstrations, and purchasing land for preservation. Others conduct research on endangered species and ecosystems, such as Wildlife Conservation International. Then there are the more radical activist groups, such as Greenpeace, Earth First!, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), and the Earth Liberation Army (ELA), which take direct action to try and stop what they consider to be harmful environmental practices.

In some ways, radical environmentalism is difficult to pin down in regard to worldview. This is because, typically, the adherents and organizations do not have a formal philosophy statement which explains their motivation at a worldview level. They simply have the presuppositional belief that harming the environment is wrong and they try to correct what they see as the problems. That being the case, we have to take a different approach to understanding where these folks are coming from. We have to start with their actions and work back from there to get at the underlying beliefs.

In doing this, we are not able to make a definitive statement that “this is what radical environmentalists believe regarding worldview.” There are some common themes that we will be able to explore, but when we get down to really addressing this issue, we have to deal with it on an individual level.

Typically what we will see is that there is a mixture of beliefs at an individual level. Each person will have his or her own basic worldview belief (Christian, new age, Hindu, etc.) and overlay on top of that various other concepts which come from a different worldview, but which serve to foster environmental activism. Typically, many of the beliefs that individuals hold will be inherently contradictory. But this fact does not stop the activism. Human beings are quite capable of holding contradictory beliefs and of rationalizing them.

As we look at radical environmentalism, lets begin with a couple of underlying concepts which are very prominent.

Underlying Beliefs of Radical Environmentalism
Ecocentrism is a philosophy that recognizes the ecosphere (the home-sphere – earth) to be the source and support of all life, rather than any individual life form. Ecocentrism, then, puts the interests of the earth above all other interests. It asserts that no single organism is more important than any other. In fact, it does not even distinguish between animate life and inanimate matter. This belief encourages a holistic and ecocentric approach to every aspect of human life – government, industry, and even individual behavior.

Earth Liberation
Another important concept related understanding radical environmentalism relates to “Earth Liberation.” This is a philosophy founded by the radical environmental movement and has particularly been promoted by the Earth Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Army.

Earth liberationists are so radical in their approach that they even reject the mainstream environmental movement. They consider the mainstream people not to be activist enough. People who hold to earth liberationist beliefs include a wide group who hold a variety of different ideologies. The idea of earth liberation is simply laid over the other beliefs they may have. Those who believe in “earth liberation” include such people as: animal liberationists, anti-capitalists, green anarchists, deep ecologists, eco-feminists and anti-globalizationists.

For earth liberationists, the primary focus is to create long lasting, systemic change. They actually want to overturn the world’s social and ecological mindset in order to free the earth from the bad actions of mankind.

The Worldview of Radical Environmentalism
What Worldview Does Radical Environmentalism Represent?
At this point we would normally attempt to go through the seven worldview questions to try and get a handle on the worldview that Radical Environmentalism represents. In this case, however, we are not able to exactly go that route. That is because people who follow this road come from such diverse backgrounds. Rather than attempt a systematic breakdown this way, let’s evaluate by looking at the two sets of underlying beliefs listed above.

The first worldview undertone that we can detect comes from a Naturalistic point of view. Naturalists believe that our material reality is all that exists. People who come to Radical Environmentalism from this perspective have the view that since this earth is all that exists, we have to take care of it. It is a simple matter of the survival of humanity.

The other primary worldview undertone which forms a basis for Radical Environmentalism is Animism. This point of view understands the world itself to be an actual living thing. They believe that by doing damage to the earth, and the living things associated with it, we are harming a living entity – which is morally wrong.

There is one more thing which we must address in this part of our discussion. Since Radical Environmentalism does not demand or require adherence to a particular worldview foundation, there is virtually always a mixture of beliefs which inform the actions of individual adherents. There will generally be one major foundation, but there can be all kinds of beliefs from other places mixed in, as well. So, in the final analysis, understanding the worldview foundation of a Radical Environmentalist is a very individual matter. It will be necessary to ask the worldview questions of the individual in order to address this topic.

The Practical Implications of the Beliefs of Radical Environmentalism
While the worldview foundation might vary quite a lot, the practical implications are fairly consistent. As a bottom line statement, the earth is seen as being of ultimate value – beyond the value of humanity or anything else. As a result, efforts are made and policies promoted which are believed to be good for the earth, regardless of the effect that is has on human society.

With this understanding, we can see that the concrete actions which radical environmentalists take are consistent with their beliefs. When the various groups do such things as bring lawsuits, disseminate information, participate in public hearings, lobby for eco-friendly legislation, stage demonstrations, purchase land for preservation, conduct research on endangered species and ecosystems, and take direct action to try and stop what they consider to be harmful environmental practices, they are playing out the beliefs which inform their worldview.

What Is Radical Environmentalism’s Authority Foundation?
In order to get at the authority foundation for Radical Environmentalism, we once again have to look at three factors, since there are three major worldview perspectives which are in play.

First, for those who are Naturalists, the foundational authority is human reason. Their belief is that human beings, by using science, are able to study the world and understand how it operates. Based on this understanding, they believe that they can manipulate the environment to make it conform to their image of what is ideal. Since they believe that mankind is responsible for making a mess of the environment, it is required that mankind be made to behave in ways which no longer harm the earth’s eco-system.

The second group are the Animists. The foundational authority for Animism is human experience. They believe that the earth itself is a living thing and, when they look at what is happening in the world, their experience tells them that mankind is doing damage to it. Even though they arrive at their conclusion in a different way, they still come to the same determination as the Naturalists and believe that mankind must be made to behave in ways which no longer harm the earth.

The third group are those who come from various other belief systems, but have bought into the conclusions of the radical environmentalists. These people simply superimpose those conclusions on their primary beliefs. In these cases, there is bound to be some internal contradiction, but they simply choose to ignore them or are incapable of understanding them. For these people, the perceived authority might be God, some prophet or a holy book.

What Evidence Exists for its Authority?
The evidence question is always the problem issue. The truth is, there really is no strong evidence for the assumptions that radical environmentalists make.

The human reason that Naturalists assert is not sound since other people who reason differently about the same evidence have just as much validity to their approach as the Naturalists. Science is simply incapable of proving the Naturalistic viewpoint.

The human experience that Animists assert is also not sound since other people who have different experiences with the evidence have just as much validity to their approach as the Animists. There just is no evidence that the earth is a “living thing.” Experience simply cannot prove the Animistic point of view.

The attempts of those who use a hybrid approach are doomed to failure from the start. Whenever trying to incorporate elements from more than one worldview, there are always internal contradictions which cannot be overcome.

How Can We Evaluate the Viability of Radical Environmentalism’s Authority?
In evaluating the assertions of all three groups above, we simply cannot find any objective basis for accepting them. It all comes down to personal preference and personal interpretation of facts and evidence. The bottom line is that the winners will be those who are able to force their opinion on others – regardless of the nature of actual reality.

Interacting with a Radical Environmentalist
When the opportunity comes to speak of Christ with a Radical Environmentalist, there is not a simple, one step approach to doing it. Because of the fact that the radical environmental movement has such a diverse philosophical underpinning, it is virtually impossible to deal with it based on a single set of beliefs. Rather, it is necessary to address each individual person and discover why they believe in this approach to life.

If the person’s belief basis is “ecocentrism,” it is necessary to deal with them as you would a Naturalist. If their belief foundation is “earth liberation,” you will have to deal with them as an Animist. If they are coming from a position of mixed beliefs, you will have to show them the internal contradictions of their hybrid worldview. But regardless of the foundation, you will have to deal with this on a very individual level.

Relatively speaking, there are not a huge number of true Radical Environmentalists out there – people who are willing to take aggressive action to “save the planet.” That being said, there are a lot of people who are environmentally conscious. Now, being environmentally conscious is actually a good thing. In fact, God made humans to be stewards over the entire earth. As Christians, we ought to be very aware of how we deal with that responsibility.

But accepting responsibility to be good stewards of our environment and being a Radical Environmentalist are two entirely different things. They come from completely different worldview frameworks. The Christian sees the world as a creation of God which was created to fulfill a purpose in his overall plan. The Radical Environmentalist sees the world as an end in itself.

Our purpose in understanding the beliefs of people who consider themselves to be Radical Environmentalists is not merely to oppose their actions – though sometimes that may be appropriate. Rather, it is to understand why they are separated from God so as to be able to share with them how they can know him.

 A radical in any arena is a person who has totally given his or her life to that cause. People who have totally given their lives to environmentalism have made that their god. Whenever we have the chance to engage someone like this, we need to be ready to share the hope that is within us in a way that will make sense to them. In so doing, we put ourselves in a position to be used by God to reach them with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

© 2008 Freddy Davis