Instinct, observation and tribal wisdom. Interview with Bron Taylor, author of Dark Green Religion by Willi Paul

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"One of the central intentions of the council rituals, according to its creators, is to help people to 'hear within themselves the sounds of the earth crying.'”
Excerpts from Dark Green Religion

(i.) “Since the publication of Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, environmental
alarm has intensified and become increasingly apocalyptic. Meanwhile, nature- related religion has been rekindled, invented, spread, and ecologized.1 A great deal of this religious creativity has been dark green, flowing from a deep sense of belonging to and connectedness in nature, while perceiving the earth and its living systems to be sacred
and interconnected. Dark green religion is generally deep ecological, bio-centric, or eco-centric, considering all species to be intrinsically valuable, that is, valuable apart from their usefulness to human beings. This value system is generally (1) based on a felt kinship with the rest of life, often derived from a Darwinian understanding that all forms of life have evolved from a common ancestor and are therefore related; (2) accompanied
by feelings of humility and a corresponding critique of human moral superiority, often inspired or reinforced by a science- based cosmology that reveals how tiny human beings are in the universe; and (3) reinforced by metaphysics of interconnection and the idea of interdependence (mutual influence and reciprocal.” p. 13

(ii.) “As is usually the case with any ritual, the experiences people have during the council varies. Some participants report being possessed by and speaking for the spirits of nonhuman entities. For such participants, the experience seems to fit what I am calling Spiritual Animism— and it seems to resemble the experiences of some indigenous shamans who move between human and nonhuman identities and worlds, and also what some New Age spiritual leaders describe as channeling the spirits of other beings. Other participants in the council may speak for DNA or energy pulses permeating the universe, or of the pain felt by Gaia from mining or the pollution of her waters. One of the central intentions of the council rituals, according to its creators, is to help people to “hear within themselves the sounds of the earth crying.”17 For such participants, both those possessed and those who hear the plaintive cries of a sentient, sacred earth, the experience fits what I am calling Gaian Spirituality. For others, speaking for nonhuman life- forms is considered more an act of moral imagination than of being called or possessed by spiritual intelligences or a sentient earth. For such activists, the council is a kind of ritualized performance art in which participants act out what they surmise it must feel like to be a nonhuman entity. Such participants understand that they are engaged in a creative act rather than making a mystical connection with spirits in nature. This latter type of understanding can be understood as a form of Naturalistic Animism or Gaian Naturalism.” p. 22

(iii.) “Apocalypticism and Hope
Many individuals or groups can have perceptions of the kind attributed to these radical environmentalists without a similar political radicalism, of course. What often makes religions politically rebellious and sometimes violent is a millennial or apocalyptic expectation, which is often combined with a belief that it is a religious duty to resist or usher in the impending end, or to defend sacred values in the face of an unfolding
cataclysm. Thus, what separates radical environmentalism from many other forms of dark green religion is apocalypticism. But it is an apocalypticism that is radically innovative in the history of religion— because it is the first time that an expectation of the end of the known world has been grounded in environmental science.” p.84

(iv.) “Gladwell argued that there are three keys to understanding social epidemics. The first is “the law of the few,” by which he meant that individuals make a huge difference to whether things “tip” (positively or negatively). Three types of individuals are essential: “connectors” are those who build networks among people, “mavens” are teachers who
share the essential knowledge within these emerging networks, and salespeople/persuaders” are those who convince others to think and behave in new ways. Critical virtues found variously among these types are positive energy, charm, and optimism, all of which help to overcome resistance to innovation.” pp. 207-8

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About Bron Taylor -
Bron Taylor is Professor of Religion and Nature at The University of Florida. He is also an Affiliated Scholar with the Center for Environment and Development at Oslo University.

As an interdisciplinary environmental studies scholar, and trained in ethics, religious studies, and social scientific approaches to understanding human culture, Professor Taylor’s publications appear in articles, books, and a multi-volume encyclopedia. His central scholarly interest and personal passion is the conservation of the earth’s biological diversity and how human culture might evolve rapidly enough to arrest and reverse today’s intensifying environmental and social crises, and all the suffering, that flows from these trends.

An academic entrepreneur and program builder, he led the initiative to create an academic major in Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, later initiated and was elected the first president of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture, while also founding its affiliated journal and becoming its editor. Recruited to fill the Samuel S. Hill Ethics Chair at the University of Florida and appointed in 2002, he played a leading role in constructing the world's first Ph.D. program with an emphasis in Religion and Nature. Most recently, he has been involved in an international think tank exploring ways to more effectively promote an environmentally sustainable future.
Connections –

Bron Taylor
Department of Religion
The University of Florida
PO Box 117410
Gainesville FL 32611-7410
bron at brontaylor dot com
(352) 392-1625, 237
"There are many musicians, working in rock & roll, who express dark green religion."
Instinct, observation and tribal wisdom. Interview with Bron Taylor, author of Dark Green Religion by Willi Paul.

Could you start with a brief definition of Dark Green Religion, the main title of your new book?

Dark green religion involves perceptions nature is sacred and has intrinsic value, a corresponding belief that everything is interconnected and mutually dependent, and a feeling of belonging to nature and felt kinship with all living things. This feeling of kinship enjoins a sense of responsibility to protect all life and the systems they are a part of and upon which they depend.

Do you think that Earth is heaven? Do others?

One important proponent of what I have called DGR was Edward Abbey, the writer best known for his reflections on a he spent at Arches National Monument in Utah (now a National Park). When reflecting on notions like the supernatural and heaven Abbey opined, “If a man's imagination were not so weak, so easily tired, if his capacity for wonder not so limited, he would abandon forever such fantasies of the supernatural. He would learn to perceive in water, leaves, and silence more than sufficient of the absolute and marvelous, more than enough to console him for the loss of ancient dreams."

Abbey wrote these words in Desert Solitaire (p. 155), which was published in 1968. Twenty years later in a preface to the 1988 edition, and shortly before his death, Abbey made sure he would not be misunderstood: "Desert Solitaire, I’m happy to add, contains no hidden meanings, no secret messages. It is no more than it appears to be, the plain and simple account of a long sweet season lived in one of the world’s most splendid places. If some might object that the book deals too much with mere appearances, with the surface of things, and fails to engage and reveal the patterns of unifying relationships that many believe form the true and underlying reality of existence, I can only reply that I am content with surfaces, with appearances. I know nothing about underlying reality, having never encountered any. . .

Appearance is reality, I say, and more than most of us deserve. You whine and whimper for immortality beyond space-time? Come home for God's sake, and enjoy this gracious Earth of ours while you can (p. xii) Many but not all participants in DGR similarly eschew interest in supernatural metaphysics. I personally consider such mysteries beyond human ken and at best, an entertaining hobby, and at worst, a waste of perfectly good time.

Is the Internet an Animistic communication portal?

Not directly, if animism is understood as an ability to empathetically or spiritually imagine communicate or commune with another living thing, for this would involve an organic process, a relation between two organisms (whatever else might be involved). To the extent the internet encourages people to cultivate an animistic perception, whether in a naturalistic form (based on science or one’s own anthromorphic moral imagination) or spiritually (through some explicitly religious ritual or other means), then it could have an indirect role in promoting animism.

How does rock music influence DGR?

There are many musicians, working in many genres including rock & roll, who express dark green religious themes in their music. On the website where I am developing supplementary materials to complement my book, focusing especially on sound, moving pictures, and other graphics, I’ve put some of the best examples of dark green religion in a section there entitled
Favorites (media & more)
.

How is alchemy a force in the growth of DGR?

In the book I assert that the DGR is an increasingly influential global phenomenon, and if I am right, then readers will be able to think of their own examples of it. Maybe alchemy is such an example I have not thought of in this regard. Alchemy has had much to do with nature, science, philosophy, and the quest for wisdom, but I would need to know more about the specific expression of it to judge whether it has dark green manifestations.

Is sustainability like a new religion? If so, who are the players?

I think a good deal of the global sustainability movement resembles religion in general and dark green religion in particular, and in my book, I provide many examples to this effect.

How long do humans have until the Earth resources are out of balance?

Well, I prefer not to speak of living things as resources, which is something I learned from those pioneering dark green religion. But if we compare studies like Limits to Growth, which was published in 1972, and the trends in the following decades, as some scientists have done, it is clear human beings are already outstripping the bio-capacity of the ecosystems upon which they (and other life forms) depend.

What POV’s can you give us about how DGR views population control?

Most participants in DGR criticize the idea that human beings are exempt from the laws of nature. One such law is carrying capacity, a principle that recognizes that the number of organisms a habitat can support depends the amount of available water and food. Consequently, reducing human numbers is a common prescription to both social inequality and declining biological diversity for most of those who have affinity with dark green spirituality.

Can DGR impact the mechanism of Darwinian evolution?

Today the evolutionary future is intertwined with human culture. Consequently, we need to speak of and understand the dynamics of bio-cultural evolution. I argue in my book that DGR today may presage a global, civic earth religion, which could decisively shape the personal and planetary future. Whether or not it is successful will influence evolution, indeed, the very sorts of biological evolution our cultures will allow to continue.

What aspects of Quaker faith in practice support DGR development? Why can’t the Quakers be the dark green church right now?

There are people in the world’s predominant religious traditions who have affinity with much if not all of the perceptions common in dark green religion. Among mainstream Protestants, my hunch would be that Unitarians and Quakers would be the traditions with the highest proportions of participants who have such affinity. This is worth further study.

Why can’t the Earth be worshiped as supernatural?

It can be and some do. Others venerate the earth and its diverse life forms without attributing anything supernatural to it and its living systems.

How does the computer-web channel or build the sacred or nature spirit for individuals and organizations?
Every medium that conveys such tenets is a means of promoting dark green understandings, values, and actions. When I write in the book about the possibility of DGR going “viral” and creating a social contagion, fostering rapid eco/social change, I certainly have in mind the proliferating ways of human networking and communication (e.g. social networking and new media) which also is proving successful at evading those who wish to enforce antiquated belief and political systems.

What are some every day examples of the bonding of spirituality and science in the US?

Everyday there are scientists, and those who read what can be learned from them, who delight in and wonder at the nature of nature. There are many examples in my book, but for now, check out the Symphony of Science videos at Favorites (media & more) and the NY times essay by Carol Yoon which I have provided at my link examining DGR in the movie Avatar.

What is Deep Sustainability?
Sustainability not only grounded in concern for human beings but in respect and reverence for all life.

Is this a battle for the hearts and minds of children? How is the DGR movement building awareness and trust in the youth?

Some DGR proponents are putting their efforts toward educating youth. A good example I discuss in the book is Jane Goodall and her Roots and Shoots movement. But there are many, many people promoting such values, in schools, museums, parks, and through diverse children-focused media.

Are DGR people fearful for the Earth’s survival, fearful for the survival of humans, or both?

Some are, some are not. Some think life will go on just fine however humans fare. Others fear that humans will so precipitate species extinctions that it will be millions of years before the earth’s living systems reach anything approaching the biological diversity that existed at the outset of the 20th century.

Is fear the main psycho-spiritual driver on the planet now?

I tend to see environmental and social systems as so complex that I shrink from making such generalizations.

Is vegetarianism a major tenant in DGR? What are the hurdles in getting this POV into the main stream?

It is for some but not others.

Some DGR participants believe vegetarianism is implicit in a reverence for life ethic.

Others think we should reverence foremost ecological processes and the resulting biological diversity, recognizing that predation is a part of the struggle for existence, which accounts for the beauty and fecundity of the world. Thus, with this line of thinking, we should not shrink from being the omnivores that we evolved to be, and would not be, had we not become scavengers and hunters.

Some of those who are not opposed to eating animals in principle, however, decline from eating them in practice. These people consider most modern ways of procuring animal protein (e.g., through industrial agriculture and factory farming) disrespectful and irreverent, as well as degrading to environmental systems.
Also worth comment, to look at the other side of the coin, is that agriculture causes the death of many organisms, both plants and animals, so there is very little eating that does not involve killing. Many of those engaged in DGR recognize this as well. Some of these, then, like the poet Gary Snyder, view both eating and being eaten as a sacrament.

Eating should, therefore, be undertaken seriously and with gratitude, and without self-righteous restraint from eating one form of life over another. It should also be done with full knowledge that we will, if we do not poison our bodies with embalming fluid, eventually nourish other organisms after we die. It is possible, with such a sacramental view, learn to appreciate the proper place that eating each other has in the Circle of Life. I use this phrase for it is precisely the message of the song by this name in the motion picture the Lion King, one of the many forms of art I discuss in my book that expresses a dark green worldview.

Has Christianity created a “torn psyche” in its followers has many struggle with the values in ecology vs. the historic guidance and principles in Abrahamism?

I’m not entirely sure what you mean by a “torn psyche” but it has certainly been difficult and wrenching for many Christians to come to terms with the ascendant ecological/evolutionary worldview. Christians (and others rooted in Abrahamic religions) variously reject this worldview, integrate it (often uncomfortably) with their beliefs in invisible deities and worlds, or shed such beliefs to embrace scientific understandings.

Do Christians and DGR people have the same spiritual reservoir?

That’s beyond my ken but I doubt it.

Is Christianity and DGR irreconcilable? Do you see a fight between groups in these camps for hearts and minds and dollars?

Thinking very long term I think they will prove to be irreconcilable. Christianity has traditionally perceive the most sacred place to be above and beyond the world, dark green religion considers the biosphere, and anyplace full of life, to be the most holy of places. It’s not impossible, perhaps, and some are trying, to reconcile DGR and Christianity, but it is clearly difficult to reconcile a view that the sacred surrounds us and we belong to it with a tradition that has avers that the sacred is above and beyond the world. These views are already in contention for hearts, minds, and the resources these hearts and minds control.

What are the effects of the commercialization / commoditization on the sacred and dark green values in general? Like eco-tourism, ski areas and sustainable communities?

It’s complicated: some effects are positive, some are negative, and most is difficult to quantify. Does dark green spirituality expressed in motion pictures or theme parks produce more sustainable practices than it costs environmental systems? We don’t have models to assess such effects.

Can the “mysterious forces of Nature” simply be seen as an artificial construct of humans? What is real here?

That our experiences and perceptions of nature are mediated through culture does not mean there is no nature apart from contested human understandings of it. If humans are a part of nature, that we naturally influence environmental systems does not mean there is no nature apart from human constructions of it. This kind of thinking that underpins the question, in my view, reflects the kind of anthropocentric hubris that participants in dark green spirituality tend to reject.

Please give us a few hot green prophesies.

I’m empirically oriented and skeptical of most prophesies, especially any that are religion-tinged. I will say that the accumulating scientific evidence is that the 21st and 22nd centuries will be a very hard time for our species and involve a substantial decrease in human numbers.

Meanwhile, we will likely drive millions of other species to extinction while continuing to reduce the range and viability of the populations of many more. It is likely that through most of this process human beings, in the struggle for survival, will not behave very well, at least according to current standards we call human rights. There is, nevertheless, a chance that our species will, in the midst of or in the wake of this suffering, realize that we should be doing everything possible to protect the earth’s remaining diversity, decide to cooperate, and learn afresh the meaning of planetary manners.

My thoughts here are not so much predictions as scenarios. Evolutionary theory teaches there is no pre-ordained end of the process. What is to come, then, depends largely on what the earth’s currently dominant animal does in the coming decades.

DGR folk are a “mixture of instinct, observation and tribal wisdom.” (p. 206) Can you develop each of the three terms more, please?

Regarding the two previous questions, I need to refer you and your readers to the book as this is much of what I was unpacking in it and I don’t have the time or space to repeat that work here.

Say that I want to build-up the DGR POV in LinkedIn.com? How would you suggest I go about it?

Well, I’m not very sophisticated in these areas but one thing the book does is show widely scattered people, who resonate with the feelings and ideas of those in the book, that there are many people like them, all around the world. As best I am able I will put additional information on my website and hopefully a blog to come, where people can be in contact who want to talk about what is in it. But I’ve noticed people don’t need me to do this and that a Facebook group focused on “Dark Green Religion” has already formed. And there are many other places where people with such sentiments are gathering and collaborating. So, maybe, this is a small sign that such ideas are ripe for spreading through the new media proliferating today.

One thing I want from the book is a “launch plan” or How to manual on building the DGR movement. Is this coming?

If I, or any others involved in DGR, knew what prescription might reverse the current destructive trends, believe me, we’d be doing them and would be calling others to do so. Unfortunately, there is no clear path from here to some future dark green utopia.
I think what the book shows, however, is that there are many actors and organizations who are motivated by dark green perceptions and who are trying to spread ideas and practices that cohere with it. It shows they are having a significant influence and positive impact.

It shows that people can participate in this global movement by uniting their talents anywhere they think it is possible to make a difference, and that they thereby do so, at least in small ways. If a large enough impact can be made, in time to avert catastrophe, it will be through the cumulative effect of all these actors. They might just precipitate a tipping point toward a widespread change in consciousness and behavior. This is as hopeful as I can be. As profound and rapid as the growth and influence of DGR has been, however, it is difficult to be optimistic when one compares that influence with the ongoing, global rate of bio-cultural simplification.

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