The Renewal of Religion

JMG is doing a series of posts on "a new religous sensibility," but you will hear very few stories on the subject in the Mainstream Media. Newspapers slashed their reglious news desks in the last decade, and you probably won't see much of anything on TV unless it's fear-mongering or the election of a new pope. So, unless you are actively looking for news, you may not be seeing the nuns in Kentucky who are fighting the Bluegrass Pipeline:

You might not have seen Wendell Berry on the Moyers and Company:

You may have missed Moral Mondays in North Carolina:

You HAVE probably heard of Vandan Shiva:

Doubt if you've heard about the Druids protesting fracking at Glastonbury Tor:

Or Pagan leader Starhawk teaching permaculture in Palestine:

Or Interfaith Power & Light: A Religious Response to Global Warming

Mithra worship, Christianity, and Isis worship all entered Rome during it's decline. They were all Eastern religions competing for Roman followers. I think that the Next Big Thing might possibly come from South America... The election of Pope Francis has certainly indicated that the power of the Roman Catholic Church is shifting to South America and Africa. The Pachamama Alliance may be a movement to watch:

Pachamama Alliance Pachamama Alliance
And JMG sniffed at Karen Armstrong and the Charter for Compassion, but I'm a signee. I've gotten off track with Armstrong's 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life, but I recommend it wholeheartedly as a spiritual discipline:

What do you think? Can we have civil discourse on the development of new religious sensibilties?

An interesting article on Religion Dispatches. It's worth following the link to Jonathon Haidt’s work on the moral differences between progressives and liberals.

"Today [January 15, 2014] is Tu Bishvat, the Jewish 'New Year of the Trees.' Originally a quasi-economic date, used to calculate the ages of fruit trees (and thus their suitability for tithing), the day was turned by Kabbalists into a celebration of the cosmic “tree of life,” and later, in the twentieth century, into the Jewish eco-holiday."

One of the blessings of doing the 12 Steps to Compassionate Life was the requirement to study other religions. There's a bunch of amazing stuff in the Jewish faith. Like the Sabbatical Year... "According to the Jewish calendar, the next shemittah year begins on Wednesday, September 24, 2014." That's the beginning of Rosh Hashanah 2014 and continues until Rosh Hashanah 2015.

One of the aspects of the sabbatical year is the forgiveness of debts. I don't know how many people follow the Occupy Movement, but for last two years Occupy Wall Street has been buying up consumer debt for pennies on the dollar and writing it off. The Rolling Jubilee Project has spent $400,000 cancelling $15 million of debt, much of it medical debt. Will Occupy's Rolling Jubilee gain steam from the Shemittah Year?

A national preach-in on climate change is scheduled for February 14-16, when organizers say that “thousands of faith leaders will join together in preaching and teaching about climate change and love of Creation.”

It is being organized by Interfaith Power & Light, which says its mission is to be “faithful stewards of Creation by responding to global warming through the promotion of energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.”

The organization, which is mobilizing a religious response to global warming in 39 states, representing over 14,000 congregations, began in 1998 as Episcopal Power & Light, later joining other faith partners to become California Power & Light, which “developed a successful organizational model that engaged hundreds of congregations, educated thousands of people of faith about the moral and ethical mandate to address global warming . . .”

A story this week from The American Conservative, "The Benedict Option":  lay people coming together in intentional communities.

I had an opportunity to join a family order when I was in my early twenties.  I didn't take it, and the order morphed or was submerged into something else.  I've been curious of late about what became of the order, so when I came across the phrase "the New Monasticism" in The American Conservative article, I Googled that.  Here's a very long article from Christianity Today in 2005.

Apparently the "New Monasticism" is not that new.  "Brief History of New Monasticism" dates the beginning of the movement to April 26, 1935, when Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer opened a seminary for the underground Confessing Church in Zingst, Germany.  Bonhoeffer was arrested by the Nazis and executed just before the end of WWII.  His most famous book The Cost of Discipleship was an important text for the group I hung out, and I think, after 40 some years, that I just gave away my copy.  

  This is the group I ran with back in another millennium:  

"When Dr. Leibrecht returned to Germany in 1962 the Church Federation of Greater Chicago took responsibility for the centre and reorganised it under the name of 'the Ecumenical Institute'. The Federation invited Dr. Mathews of the Christian Faith and Life Community to become the Dean. Seven families from the Christian Faith and Life Community decided to join him there to form a corporate teaching staff. These families came as volunteers without a salary. They continued to develop the curriculum for local congregations while researching the form and meaning of contemporary Christian community. After studying the forms of corporate life of the historical religious orders, the staff began to model the community after the 'third' order or family orders, emphasising a corporate life­style of worship, study and service. This was the origin of the Order Ecumenical."

The group now known as the Institute for Cultural Affairs, and among their many projects, they are involved creating resilient communities.

I invested a few thousand hours discussing, then debating, then moderating religious and philosophical topics back in the bulletin board days.

Our group had every major religion, lack therof, or fringe philosophy you could imagine.

Civil discourse was often difficult. Debate structure helped.

Time and practice helped most of all.

At the end most of us understood that everyone was right, and everyone was wrong.

We were basically singin' the same song, after all was said and done.

Once you get to that point civil discourse becomes easy.

Religion though is about group coordination and control, and despite our best intentions, our sensibilities tend to go out the window when times are hard.

Thanks for the links I will browse them shortly!

David Trammel's picture

But I'll be watching as moderator lol...

(the views about to be expressed are mine not the GW site)

Seriously though, I consider myself a spiritual person just not much of a religious one. That is, I believe completely in a Divine Power that has its hands on this Creation, yet most organized Western religions come off to me as Ponzie scemes designed to separate you from your money while the higher ups of said organizations live large and luxurious lifestyles.

I'll give local level clergy the "hats off" nod because they at least seem to care for their flock, but once you get above that level, I see so many so called "leaders" just in it for their own glory and betterment. So I'm not surprised at many people exploring aternatives to spiritaulity.

Whether this turns out for good or bad is also debatable.

This dovetails nicely with a recent blog post by Chris Hedges, who sees the seeds of revolution against the culture of corporate cleptomancy spouting at the moment.

"Did you ever ask yourself how it happens that government and capitalism continue to exist in spite of all the evil and trouble they are causing in the world?” the anarchist Alexander Berkman wrote in his essay “The Idea Is the Thing.” “If you did, then your answer must have been that it is because the people support those institutions, and that they support them because they believe in them.”

Berkman was right. As long as most citizens believe in the ideas that justify global capitalism, the private and state institutions that serve our corporate masters are unassailable. When these ideas are shattered, the institutions that buttress the ruling class deflate and collapse. The battle of ideas is percolating below the surface. It is a battle the corporate state is steadily losing. An increasing number of Americans are getting it. They know that we have been stripped of political power. They recognize that we have been shorn of our most basic and cherished civil liberties, and live under the gaze of the most intrusive security and surveillance apparatus in human history. Half the country lives in poverty. Many of the rest of us, if the corporate state is not overthrown, will join them. These truths are no longer hidden."


I hope the birth of a new religiousness ushers in a religion of peace, that's focused on living in a descending world of limits, but fear a religion that rises looking for scrapgoats and people to blame.

David Trammel's picture

LOL! I'm not looking for any "My God/dess is better than your God/dess" exchanges. I'm Pagan but I have a background in existential Christianity. I've been involved in the Interfaith Alliance for two or three years. One of the 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life requires studying other religions, so I'm studying Islamic history by fits and starts.

No, I think that new religious sensibilities are already developing around us, and I want to map those sensibilities and see where they intersect with Green Wizardry. The list of links I offered up feature Catholics, Protestants, Pagans, Hindus, and indigenous people who may be animists. And a common thread among them, I would say, is a devout sense of stewardship.

Make time to watch Bill Moyers video. Part of the program is about the celebration of the 35th anniversary of Wendell Berry's book The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture--which should be on every Green Wizard's bookshelf. That took place recently at St. Catharine College, near Louisville, KY. Bill McKibben and Vandana Shiva were there. And the rest of the episode is a conversation between and Berry.

At one point Berry says, "The people of, people of religious faith know that the world is, is maintained every day by the same force that created it. It’s an article of my faith and belief, that all creatures live by breathing God’s breath and participating in his spirit. And this means that the whole thing is holy. The whole shooting match. There are no sacred and unsacred places, there are only sacred and desecrated places. So finally I see those gouges in the surface mine country as desecrations, not just as land abuse. Not just as…as human oppression. But as desecration. As blasphemy."

No sacred and unsacred places...

What other common threads can we name? What patterns are emerging?

David Trammel's picture

might be, what characteristics current religions, and/or future religions would have that would lean them towards adopting Green Wizardry practices? Maybe what common traits they would have?

I think a philosophy of "stewardship" would be high on the list yes BUT also a downplaying of the whole one life and then Heaven mantrua. When it doesn't matter what happens here, when you die you go to some great "uberparty in the sky", to me tends to self select for members who are "users" not stewards.

But then I'm tired and its late lol.


The Earth is sacred. Places may be desacreted, but there is no place that is not sacred.

Social justice is a concept that seems to connect most of the people and groups that I follow. And that includes economic justice.

And I'd say, most of the people and groups I'll list here are probably well versed in "Green Wizardry practices."

Here's Starhawk talking about permaculture, feminisim, and Earth-based religion at the Harvard Divinity School.

And here's Winona LaDuke's webinar this week "Restoring Stable Indigenous Economies" for Idle No More. She is talking about Indigenous Rights, poverty, fossil fuels, and Earth-based spirituality. The vision statement for Idle No More:

"Idle No More calls on all people to join in a peaceful revolution, to honour Indigenous sovereignty, and to protect the land and water" INM has and will continue to help build sovereignty & resurgence of nationhood. INM will continue to pressure government and industry to protect the environment. INM will continue to build allies in order to reframe the nation to nation relationship, this will be done by including grassroots perspectives, issues, and concern."

They have been organizing First Nations people to block fracking in New Brunswick, Canada.

Social justice

After reading JMG's post last night, I realized that "re-figuration" is probably another characteristic. The new sensibility will not be abstract. Many folks like Wendell Berry, like the Mi'gmac Nation who are fighting fracking in New Brunswick, Canada, and the Menominee Nation who are fighting against a mining company in the Penokee Hills in Wisconsin...these folks are not talking about an abstract "Earth-based spirituality." They are talking about their HOMELAND--places where their ancestors have lived for generations.

I have a friend from Wisconsin, who is following the Penokee Hills struggle (runoff from the mine will pollute the local watershed and end up in Lake Superior). . The protestors are set up on a "harvest camp." Rent-a-cops from the mining company are trying to drive them off the land but:

"The Lac Courte Oreilles Harvest and Educational Camp is on county land and covered by ceded territory hunting, fishing and harvesting rights...The camp will be overseen by several LCO harvesters organized loosely by Melvin Gasper and Felina LaPointe. Harvesting on public lands is not constrained to just treaty harvest but includes harvestable products by non-Natives as well. We will be looking to include elders and youth, school, college, AODA, language immersion, rehab and business development programs — asking the question, how can we learn about the ancient Cahokia history of the range, Ojibwe village and burial locations, and the mining that has occurred over the course of 1,200 years including the geography, topography located there. What can be harvested, from berries to iron wood and used or bartered to assist in making a moderate living as defined by courts under treaties with the Chippewa."

They are settling in for the winter up there.

A professor of religious studies here at Bradley University is doing a program on religion and pyschology tonight. I was trying to find more info on the event when I found a talk that Dr Fuller did at TEWxGrandRapids a couple of years ago. He's talking about Religion and Wonder. The research he is doing strongly indicates that wonder leads to empathy.

Empathy is a crucial component of Karen Armstrong's 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life. She asserts that every major religion is based upon an understanding of the Golden Rule, locally expressed. And the Charter for Compassion is about choosing to live by the Golden Rule. And again this is not to be taken as an abstraction. I found a Wendell Berry's interpretation: "Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”

So, another word we might use is "grounded." I think it was Paul Tillich who said, "Sin is separation from the Ground of Being." (In my student days, we said "separation from GOB.") --So actually that's two characteristics, being grounded and defining sin as separation from our GOB.

Sophie -

I watched that Moyers/Berry video recently, and really loved it! It's too late tonight for me to write much, but I highly recommend that interview. And after reading Armstrong's "Spiral Staircase", I've borrowed the "Compassion" book, but haven't started it. I consider myself a highly spiritual person with no religious affiliation... because I can't find any that - in person - actually lives out the precepts that they preach! And I'm not much of a joiner, anyway... but I will affirm any life-affirming religion. More on this at another time...

I was introduced to the Society of Friends not this winter, but a year ago. Usually no clergy, church. sermons or hymns. I knew of one or two Pagans on line who belonged to Quaker Meetings, so when a casual friend invited me to go to Meeting with her, I was glad to go along for the ride (her Meeting house was an hour and fifteen minutes away). Most Quakers sit in silence for about an hour, facing each other but eyes closed , open to "the light within", waiting for God to speak to them directly. If an individual receives a message, he or she will rise and deliver it. Others may be moved to speak as well. At the end of the hour the "head" of the Meeting will shake hands with the person next to them, and then everybody shakes hands, and then we'd eat. Once a month there would be a business meeting before the worship hour.

All laid back, jeans and flannel, sweaters and slacks. We had some farmers, the owner of a restaurant/catering business, a retired diplomat, a university professor, a factory worker, a writer... Service is a huge part of their relgion. Simplicity, plain speaking, and common sense make up their living. I only got to meet once in the official Clear Creek Meeting House. It was the last meeting in the fall before it was closed for the winter. It is not heated! The other Meetings were held across the road in the old (but gorgeous) farm house. And yep, this is how everybody dresses for Meeting!

My friend is in the process of moving to another city, so she invited me to come over and help myself to the books that were not going with them. I shamelessly filled up a big bag! Among her treasures I picked up A Quaker Book of Wisdom: Life Lessons in Simplicty, Service, and Common Sense by Robert Lawrence Smith and Living the Quaker Way: Timeless Wisdom For a Better Life Today by Philip Gulley

Quakers were early abolitionists. They were doctors and teachers. They are generally pacifists. They are social justice warriors. They are environmental activists.

Let me repeat: everybody interested in Green Wizardry should have a copy of The Unsettling of America. And I would recommend Home Economics. (Does this sound familiar?) The Amazon blurb for Home Economics says,

“My work has been motivated,” Wendell Berry has written, “by a desire to make myself responsibly at home in this world and in my native and chosen place.” In Home Economics, Mr. Berry explores this process and continues to discuss what it means to make oneself “responsibly at home.” His title reminds us that the very root of economics is stewardship, household management. To paraphrase Confucius, a healthy planet is made up of healthy nations that are simply healthy communities sharing common ground, and communities are gatherings of households. A measure of the health of the planet is economics—the health of its households. Any process of destruction or healing must begin at home. Mr. Berry speaks of the necessary coherence of the “Great Economy,” as he argues for clarity in our lives, our conceptions, and our communications. To live is not to pass time, but to spend time. Whether as critic or as champion, Wendell Berry offers careful insights into our personal and national situation in a prose that is ringing and clear.

And his poetry... WOW! Just WOW! Click on the Moyers interview and listen to his poem on hog killing...

Here's a bunch of good Wendell Berry quotes:

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

I love Wendell & very much like the writings of Philip Gulley as well. "The Unsettling of America" has a permanent place in my own personal "Gaianomicon". Home Economics is excellent as well.

The Quakers are interesting group, one of the oldest Christian denominations in the country. I think they have a long future ahead of them here. I've had the pleasure to become friends with a Quaker in the ham community and he exhibits all the traits you mentioned above. Great guy.

Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community: Eight Essays

"In this collection of essays, first published in 1993, Wendell Berry continues his work as one of America's most necessary social commentators. With wisdom and clear, ringing prose, he tackles head-on some of the most difficult problems confronting us near the end of the twentieth century––problems we still face today.

"Berry elucidates connections between sexual brutality and economic brutality, and the role of art and free speech. He forcefully addresses America's unabashed pursuit of self-liberation, which he says is "still the strongest force now operating in our society.' As individuals turn away from their community, they conform to a 'rootless and placeless monoculture of commercial expectations and products,' buying into the very economic system that is destroying the earth, our communities, and all they represent. "

Another group who may gain more visibilty in the future.

Sikhs aim to plant million trees as 'gift to the planet'
This article is more than 1 month old

Global project will mark 550 years since birth of religion’s founder, Guru Nanak

"Sikhs around the world are taking part in a scheme to plant a million new trees as a 'gift to the entire planet'.

"The project aims to reverse environmental decline and help people reconnect with nature as part of celebrations marking 550 years since the birth of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak."

Sikhs are very big on feeding people. There is a community kitchen in every Sikh temple, which is open to peoople of any faith. They frequently turn up at disaster sites to cook for the displaced residents, and they cook the free noon meal at the Parliment of the World's religions

Blueberry's picture

From the time Ireland joined the EU to the Year 2008 planted 20 million trees. If a tree is cut down in a managed forest it will be replanted within 18 months. In Florida nearly a million trees a year are planted.

Blueberry's picture