PSA: Environmentalism Does Not Need to be a Shame Culture
A couple of anecdotes:
A few years ago, before Marygrove College (where I worked for a long time) shuttered its undergraduate program and moved into a kind of non-profit version of McEducation (K-12...skip...graduate school) I attended a luncheon honoring the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who had founded the College. The IHMs are very involved with social justice initiatives and very environmentally woke. However, in conversation with one of the sisters over lunch, she fell into some talking points about how much water it takes to raise a pound of meat, how much waste is produced by human beings, etc, etc. Now I was educated by the IHMs, not only at Marygrove (where I’d been a student before a professor) but also in elementary school (talk about some heavy karma!), and I had been getting this environmental guilt trip since the 70s. “Maybe the IHMs should start teaching people how to love the Creation and not to feel guilty about being born. You’ve been using the same approach for at least forty years—and it’s not working.” The rest of the lunch continued in an awkward silence.
Sometime a decade or so before my encounter with the IHM at lunch, I was sitting in the faculty lounge of the Waldorf school where I was then teaching. A couple of my colleagues were lamenting overpopulation, yada yada…. I was a little dumbfounded: first because Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, always insisted that the inner disposition of the teacher should be one of joy toward life; second because of the innate strangeness of stating such an opinion. “You know,” I said to my colleagues, “I often hear people complain about overpopulation, but I never hear them offer to make more room.” What a conversation killer!
How did this inherent attitude of shaming and guilt become so ingrained in environmentalism? Does it stem from a Catholic preoccupation with sinfulness? From a Protestant preoccupation with human depravity? Many environmentalists, woke as they tend to be, don’t seem to have transcended the desire to shame others as a way to self-importance if not power. There is a better way.
What would happen if we taught children (and adults) to recognize the glory shining through nature? If we taught them to love the good instead of fearing to do evil we would be giving them a sure path—psychologically as well as spiritually—into creating a world that is healthy and sustainable. Laying shame and guilt upon people only creates anxiety (paper or plastic?) and psychological and spiritual dysfunction.
This approach to things is Sophiology in its simplest form and is articulated with great power and beauty in the eighth chapter of Proverbs, as Sophia speaks:
Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men. (30-31)
Environmentalism should be characterized by rejoicing.