Whose religious environmentalism?
Early in my college career, the distinguished literary critic Wayne Booth paid a visit to a class in which I had managed to wangle a seat. The text of the week was Booth’s Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent, an attempt to rescue reasoned discourse from the clutches of corrosive modern skepticism. Asked a question about a point on one particular page, Booth borrowed the teaching assistant’s copy to check the exact wording. He looked up in surprise, a slight smile on his face, and said, “I see that the owner of this book has written in the margin, ‘Bullshit.’”
As the graduate student in question turned bright red and the rest of us laughed out loud, I noticed that Booth seemed strangely satisfied. Someone was paying attention, even if they didn’t exactly respond with “the rhetoric of assent.”
I can only hope that Roger Gottlieb is half as indulgent as the late Dr. Booth should he ever come across my copy of his book A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planet’s Future. While I believe the marginalia are free of scatology, they do betray a fair amount of frustration. There are few causes in which I would more hope a writer to succeed, and there are few books that strike me as more likely to injure the cause, at least among one pivotal constituency: the evangelical Christians who, if books like Gottlieb’s can be kept from doing too much damage, may yet become the decisive constituency for environmental stewardship in the 21st century.
What is signally missing from Gottlieb’s account of religion is history—the possibility that our faith hinges on the intervention of God in a particular place at a particular time.
Gottlieb, a professor of philosophy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and frequent contributor to Tikkun magazine, is the very model of a postmodern progressive thinker. He leans “to the left side of just about any spectrum one could think of” but professes eagerness to engage those well to his right. He is frequently self-deprecating, generous to his likely opponents, and, it would seem, kindly disposed to folk of any flock who might join the environmental cause.
The phenomenon that Gottlieb documents—the flourishing of religiously motivated environmentalism in the past two decades—is both real and supremely important. Gottlieb ably surveys the development of Catholic teaching from Rerum Novarum‘s silence on environmental issues to John Paul II’s ecologically astute questioning of unbridled technology in Redemptor Hominis. He briefly covers the Evangelical Environmental Network’s “What Would Jesus Drive?” campaign and its Evangelical Climate Initiative (of which I was a founding member). He interviews Buddhist monks in Thailand who are “ordaining trees” to the Buddhist priesthood in order to signal the worth of nature, documents a Jewish movement to redefine kosher in light of “the deep well-springs of Jewish wisdom about protecting the earth,” and reports on Unitarians, Episcopalians, Wiccans, Sufis, and Calvinists who have engaged in various sorts of environmental activism. He approvingly quotes Bill McKibben: “Only our religious institutions, among the mainstream organizations of Western, Asian, and indigenous societies, can say with real conviction, and with any chance of an audience, that there is some point to life beyond accumulation.”
This is exactly right, and a reason to take this book seriously. At its best it is a useful compendium of efforts, albeit mostly by those on the liberal wing (if not the radical fringe) of their religious traditions, to take the care of life on earth seriously as a spiritual issue. But where it is most needed, it is likely to make as many enemies as friends for “greener faith.”
For the place where religious reflection about the environment is most needed is among evangelical Protestants in the United States—a bloc whose leaders have been at best indecisive about environmental issues. A column I wrote for Christianity Today in 2005 suggesting that climate change was real, and that prompt action to avert its worst effects was justified, produced more letters than the magazine received for the other five years’ worth of columns combined. All but one were strenuously opposed to my position. The Evangelical Climate Initiative, with 86 principal signatories, has been contested by a smaller group called the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, and intense pressure forced Ted Haggard, then president of the National Association of Evangelicals and a participant in the dialogues that led to the ECI’s statement, to withdraw his personal, and the NAE’s institutional, support of the document.
Evangelical leaders’ concerns about environmental activism, including the current flashpoint of climate change, come down to two basic concerns that have yet to be effectively dispelled. The first is the suspicion that “creation care” is a wedge issue designed to split evangelical voters from their allegiance to the Republican party (a concern not allayed by the roster of blue-state foundations that underwrote the launch of the ECI), or, more broadly, that it represents a left-wing attempt to undermine free enterprise and economic growth. The second concern, which for all the politicization of the evangelical movement is still the more fundamental and gripping one, is that environmentalism is a thinly disguised pantheism that sees the earth as “God’s body” and human beings as merely transient—or parasitic—parts of the evolutionary web of life.
Evangelical environmentalists have worked strenuously to counter these two concerns. The ECI statement and other major evangelical documents on creation care have gone out of their way to affirm human enterprise and have avoided taking a position on the Kyoto Protocol or, indeed, any specific piece of legislation—though this has not stopped critics from the Christian Right from trying to tar the ECI with the Kyoto brush. The coining of the phrase “creation care” is accompanied by repeated emphasis on the orthodox bona fides of evangelicals who advocate it, especially their affirmation that the Creator is distinct from the Creation, and that there is nothing about caring for the earth that requires us to worship it. Yet the suspicions remain, making progress agonizingly slow on mobilizing key evangelical leaders—even though 66 percent of evangelicals say that they would support paying up to $180 a year in additional taxes to mitigate climate change.
Alas, Gottlieb’s survey of “greener faith” could not be more calculated to inflame the suspicions of the politically and theologically conservative. When he turns his attention to Christians, at least, Gottlieb displays a touching confidence that even very radical activists are mainstream representatives of the faith, both politically and theologically.
So the Sisters of Earth, “an informal network of some three hundred Catholic nuns,” do not “couch their concerns in leftist rhetoric.” Perish the thought! But, “as politically committed environmentalists, they engage in ‘disrupting shareholder meetings of corporate polluters, contesting the construction of garbage incinerators, and combating suburban sprawls [sic].’” One wonders what they would be doing if they did couch their concerns in leftist rhetoric.
Similarly, Gottlieb, not unaware of the concern that Christians who are too enthusiastic about the environment may have abandoned orthodoxy, hastens to reassure us that the Sisters of Earth still “believe in the Trinity, but now see Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as permeating all of life, including human beings who have different names—or no names at all—for God.” Now, the Sisters of Earth are not responsible for Gottlieb’s summary of their trinitarian theology, but this clumsy identification of the Trinity with “all of life” gives no comfort to those who suspect that religious environmentalism is pantheism pure and simple.
Indeed, nearly every time Gottlieb touches on Christian belief and practice, he strikes a false note—or rather, frames Christian belief in a way that would only be recognizable to a liberal Protestant. In a book that makes a real effort to account for evangelical Christians (including an interview with Cal De Witt, the closest thing evangelicals have today to a Johnny Appleseed), he is still capable of tossing off phrases like “fundamentalist evangelical Christians” (apparently unaware that the two terms describe distinctly different groups) and “believers who still cling to the absolute truth of their faith” (the patronizing phrase “still cling” is, as Richard John Neuhaus would say, a nice touch). More substantively, Gottlieb’s claim that Christians celebrate Easter “as the rebirth not only of Jesus but of all life as well” may describe the cutting edge of “Christian ecotheology” but is hardly representative of orthodox Christian thought.
Gottlieb devotes considerable space to ecotheology in its various forms, from the writing of Thich Nhat Hanh to theologians like Rosemary Radford Reuther, John Cobb, and Thomas Berry. The thread that connects all of these is a radical reconsideration of the relationship of human beings to the natural world, rejecting the Christian (and Jewish) anthropocentrism that grants human beings a special place within the created order. Tellingly, when Gottlieb seeks to rebut the idea that religious environmentalists would gladly “sacrifice people to trees,” he resists framing the rebuttal in anthropocentric terms: “The entire ‘earth community,’ as Larry Rasmussen put it, is the focus of our work. The reasons for valuing nature—as creations of God, as interdependent parts of a system of life, as subjects of their own lives, as unique products of an evolutionary history—apply to people as well.”
Beyond the interesting claim that “nature” is (are?) “subjects of their own lives” (does this apply to dolphins? redwoods? viruses?), the order is salient: any significance that people have is predicated on the significance of all life. Consequently Gottlieb frequently returns to the claim of the “deep ecologists” that the language of stewardship of, let alone dominion over, nature needs to be supplanted by the language of “partnership” and “cooperation.”
Gottlieb is not unaware of the perplexities that this language poses. A particularly telling passage is worth quoting at length:
Yet, many would argue, the very idea of cooperation with rather than domination over nature, though (perhaps) appealing in the abstract, is impossible in practice. Don’t humans need to eat, build houses, and watch TV? Don’t deep ecologists and ecofeminists use antibiotics to treat their kids’ ear infections? And don’t we all use computers and drive our cars? Isn’t all of this talk of cooperating with nature simply an armchair philosophy that evaporates once we leave our armchairs and start to deal with real life?
These questions are not easily answered.
Coming from a professional philosopher, this is a curiously imprecise statement of the argument. The initial three examples—the need to eat, the need for shelter, and the need for television—are incommensurate. Shelter could be procured in ways that might thoroughly “cooperate” with nature (e.g., a return to living in caves or, more feasibly, “energy-neutral” homes). Television is not a “need” in any sense. The reference to antibiotics and ear infections is also a strange choice, given that the use of antibiotics for that purpose is increasingly debated among pediatricians. And as for computers and cars, well, most of the world’s population has neither. One begins to suspect that most of these objections are red herrings, designed to weaken the apparent force of the argument before the answer has even been attempted.
Most of these objections are easily answered. But one is not. To live, human beings must eat, and to call eating “cooperation with rather than domination over nature” is nonsensical. The lion does not cooperate with the gazelle (or, more to the point, vice versa). It is doubtful if we can even say that the cow cooperates with the grass—or if she does, then my misgivings about “cooperation” between deep ecologists and traditional Christians are even more grave than before.
But in the very next sentence, instead of confronting this logical box canyon, Gottlieb seeks to re-frame the problem:
It is interesting, however, that comparable [questions] can be asked of any religion. Can people really love their neighbors as themselves or (harder still) love their enemies? Isn’t it unrealistic to expect people to completely submit to God or overcome all their desires? … In the end, aren’t all grand religious values completely utopian?
Ah, so the challenges of “deep ecology” are simply the same as those faced by traditional religion! I try to cooperate with nature (but still find myself eating plants, and probably swatting mosquitoes); you try to love your enemies (but often fail). This bit of rhetorical jujitsu, from an alleged friend of religion, is jaw-droppingly unfair.
There is nothing fundamentally illogical in people loving their enemies—this has happened, even unto death, perhaps millions of times, inside and outside of Christian history. (Loving one’s neighbor as oneself, admittedly, poses ethical complexities, but it is not prima facie incoherent the way that the deep ecologists’ dilemma is.) The Christian witness, no less than the Muslim one, is that yes, it is possible to completely submit to God—this is what saints do, and the Catholic Church celebrates at least ten thousand of them. As for “overcoming all desires” (not a Christian virtue), according to Buddhism this is exactly what Gautama Buddha did. What our religious traditions ask us to do is certainly not easy, but they do not ask us to do something logically impossible in the terms in which the argument is set. That Gottlieb cannot or will not see this can only be chalked up to his unwillingness to question a thoroughly sacralized nature and a thoroughly naturalized anthropology.
Unfortunately, these turns of thought are all too characteristic. In a commendably careful review of the problem that “ecotheology” has in accounting for human moral reasoning, Gottlieb acknowledges that “the rest of nature does not … [consider] alternatives in the light of reasons—only human beings do. The redwood and the beaver may be our kin, but in terms of the actual practice of moral deliberation, the kinship is rather distant.” But rather than let this significant observation stand, he has to add: “This fact does not make us better, higher, or worthier. It makes us different.”
Why is it so hard for Gottlieb to affirm that there is something precisely better, higher, and worthier about our ability to deliberate morally and to take a responsibility for the redwood and the beaver that they assuredly do not take for us? What would be lost with that affirmation? How much, in terms of motivation to serious environmental stewardship, is gained when we name what is evidently true: that in the whole known universe we are the only species that takes responsibility for the others; the only species that demonstrates the slightest interest in naming, tending, and conserving the others; that indeed is accountable for the stewardship of the others; and the only species that feels guilt (however fitfully and hypocritically) when its stewardship fails?
The only possible reason for entering into the twisting and tortuous attempt to simultaneously charge human beings with moral responsibility while also demurring that we are, after all, merely “different” is, in a word, theological. It is the belief that god is in the redwood and the beaver, and that our refusal to set aside our own sense of being uniquely made in the image of God is at the root of our environmental foolishness. This is a perfectly recognizable position. But it is not compatible with the religious traditions that collectively claim the allegiance of several billion human beings. Why someone interested, even excited, about the prospect of religious engagement with environmental concerns would not recognize how many barriers this erects to any genuine partnership is puzzling at best. A philosopher who cannot recognize that he is in this instance making a contested religious claim, who fails conspicuously both to acknowledge and to defend that claim rather than merely assert it as presumed common ground, is deceiving himself.
This willful imperception leads Gottlieb to at least one memorable display of journalistic foolishness. In the midst of chronicling new religious rituals that account for environmental concerns, Gottlieb singles out a particular Earth Day service developed by the National Council of Churches that was mailed “to each one of the NCC’s 170,000 member congregations.” (Emphasis in original—Gottlieb displays a great faith in the power of bodies like the National Council of Churches to influence the grassroots.) Included in the “Earth Sabbath” litany is a brief quotation: “Chief Seattle said: Whatever we do to the web of life we do to ourselves. God of justice, we confess that we have not done enough to protect the web of life.”
This quotation from “Chief Seattle” meets a rapturous reception from Gottlieb:
It is … noteworthy that this Christian prayer service includes, without apology or caveats, a quote from a Native American…. [T]he inclusion of Chief Seattle says more than ‘Native peoples have some ecological wisdom.’ It affirms, rather, that the words of an indigenous religious leader have enough holiness to be a vehicle for Christian worship…. To welcome the words of a different tradition—one despised for so long—is in itself to make a dramatic statement not just about what Christians think about Native Americans, but what they think about Christianity…. [T]his does not mean that all theological differences disappear. Protestants (even liberal ones!) will not become Native Americans nor will Native Americans become Protestants. It means that now, under the fierce demands of the environmental crisis, what it means to be a Protestant Christian includes the possibility of celebrating the words and insights of someone from a different faith.
It is difficult to know where to begin in commenting on this display of ignorance (and italics). A two-minute Google search will confirm that Chief Seattle never said anything like, “Whatever we do to the web of life we do to ourselves.” That quotation is part of a famous, or infamous, speech put in the mouth of Chief Seattle by a screenwriter named Ted Perry for a film called Home, broadcast in 1972, in which the noble savage sadly foretells the rise, and eventual fall, of the white man’s civilization.
But far more telling is Gottlieb’s interpretation of the spurious quotation’s significance. We should not suppose, Gottlieb says, that with this adoption of the “words of an indigenous religious leader,” all of our “theological differences” will be resolved. After all, in the brave new world of religious environmentalism, “Protestants … will not become Native Americans nor will Native Americans become Protestants.” This conflation of religious with ethnic identity ignores the patent fact that countless Native Americans are Protestants—and even today still convert to Protestant Christianity. More importantly and ludicrously, it flies in the face of one of the best-known facts about Chief Seattle: he was himself an adult convert to Christianity, albeit of the Catholic, not Protestant, variety, and had his children baptized in the faith as well.
Underneath this simpering celebration of diversity is a sorry display of condescension. Native Americans, like all human beings, can in fact choose a new religious tradition rather than being preserved in amber as “indigenous religious leaders,” and they can speak for themselves (the real Chief Seattle was a noted orator, though, alas, none of his speeches were reliably transcribed) rather than having words foisted upon them. For their part, as Gottlieb surely should know, Protestants of the NCC persuasion have been energetically celebrating “the words and insights” of persons of different faiths for quite a while, with such promiscuity that one sometimes wonders if they have any “words and insights” of their own. More to the point, it has never been outside the purview of even very conservative Protestantism to recognize that Native Americans have their own wisdom to offer, as a cursory acquaintance with the life of Puritan missionary David Brainerd will confirm.
To seriously engage the much more complicated narrative of the real Chief Seattle (who, by the way, forthrightly arranged for the sale of large tracts of land to the settlers, putting rather too much faith in their scrupulousness about honoring contracts) might require Gottlieb to confront what so many “progressive” religious thinkers wish to avoid: many of the world’s religions, certainly including orthodox Christianity, make claims about human history, not just human spirituality.
At one point Gottlieb turns his attention to new rituals that might help us understand that “the rest of the earth now forms part of our congregations,” such as the “Council of All Beings,” where “like children, poets, or shamans, speakers engage their capacity for empathic connection beyond the ordinary realms of the human ego,” speaking on behalf of lichen, trout, and even the rainforest. Or the “Cosmic Walk,” “in which participants follow a long rope in a spiral marked with significant moments in our universe’s history,” arriving at one point at this rather arresting item: “1 billion years ago, Organisms begin to eat one another in the predator-prey dance that promotes the vast diversity of life as predators pick off the least healthy members among their prey species.”
“At this point,” Gottlieb acknowledges, “I can almost hear someone muttering that all these rituals are little more than quasi–new age fluff… . How can they even be spoken of in the same breath as taking Holy Communion, celebrating Passover, or honoring Krishna?” Ever able to see both—or three or four—sides of the issue, Gottlieb begins his response, “Although I sympathize with this concern… .” What the muttering objector wants, though, is not sympathy but critical thinking, which unfortunately is not forthcoming:
I believe that what really distinguishes Communion or a seder from the Council of All Beings is simply the familiarity of Communion and a seder to us, their long-standing embeddedness in our culture, and not their content or structure… . Is not a Passover seder, after all, in many ways just like the Cosmic Walk: a ritualized retelling of an ancient story to help us understand where we came from and who we are? … Of course, it is essential that the contents of the ritual in question fit something deep in the structure of our experience and hope. It helps … that Christmas occurs when the nights are long and Easter in the spring.
One notes again Gottlieb’s maddeningly unphilosophical tendency to neglect to respond to his own questions, since devotion to Krishna has, strangely, dropped from view. (In fact, one might very credibly argue that the Council of All Beings and the Cosmic Walk are quite akin to it.) On Gottlieb’s account, the rituals cherished by Christians and Jews are significant essentially because they are familiar—they “fit something deep in the structure of our experience and hope.”
To be sure, some modern Christians will readily agree with Gottlieb, happy to find that they are climbing the same mountain, if by different paths of ascent, as those who attend the Council of All Beings. But to any thoughtful orthodox Christian, this is nonsense. It does not “help” that Christmas or Easter take place at a particular season, especially not when most of the world’s Christians live in the Southern Hemisphere where the seasons are reversed. It does not hurt either. It does not matter, because what we are celebrating at Christmas, Easter, and at every Communion service is an event in human history, not an internal experience of any sort.
The Passover seder is not “in many ways just like the Cosmic Walk.” The reverse is closer to the case, since the Cosmic Walk betrays human beings’ incorrigible need for a redemptive story even when one is unlikely to be found in the dubious arrival of the “predator-prey dance.” The Passover seder is not about a cosmic history that only incidentally, and in all likelihood temporarily, includes us—it is about a moment in the human story when a people are singled out for rescue.
What is signally missing from Gottlieb’s account of religion is history—the possibility that our faith hinges not on subjective (or even shared) experience of a numinous, interior sort, but on the intervention of God in a particular place at a particular time. History, of course, is itself a form of human experience, but it is unlike the experience so prized by Gottlieb in that it is anything but universal. The claim that God has been definitively revealed here, and not there, creates the “scandal of particularity.” It may well not be true—orthodox Christians do not believe it is true in the case of Islam’s particular claims, and many fair-minded Westerners do not believe it is true of Christianity’s particular claims. But such particularity is of the essence of orthodox faith.
Individual experience, on the other hand, is, paradoxically enough, universal, and in this sense all religious roads do lead to the top of one mountain—though whether once we get there we are in the presence of the divine, or merely at a high place, is the point at issue. If nothing human is alien to me, nothing religious is alien to me either—I can recognize and respect the profound experience of smallness and grandeur reported by mystics of all sorts.
Yet the experience of the mystic, the interior journey to awareness, lends itself to one of two conclusions—both of which Gottlieb seems likely to heartily welcome as resources for environmental activism. On the one hand the mystic may experience himself as radically a part of nature, interpenetrating with all other beings and indeed perhaps with the inanimate world as well. For this is one readily accessible truth even to the unmystical among us: we are dust, and to dust we return.
On the other hand, the mystic, especially if located in a pleasant Zen center in sunny California, is equally likely to discover that the divine is located within her—that far from being a vanishingly small part of a grand Everything, she is imbued with an infinitely grand divinity, lifted out of mundane existence into the life of the god within. Either dust, or god—these are the two truly mystical experiences, and they are not as differentiable as one might suppose.
But only historical religion, only the religious tradition set in motion by the Exodus and confirmed by the Incarnation and Resurrection, makes the extraordinary claim that we are “a little lower than the angels”: that we are not merely dust, but we are not God either. Only Incarnation can affirm that God came among us, but only Incarnation insists that God had to choose to dwell among us, that humanity is capable of but not intrinsically possessed of the divine life. And only the historical tradition ultimately makes such a big deal of sin, because only when we enter into relationship with a God who is outside of us and greater than us, and begin to try to trust that God in the midst of history, do we discover—as Israel did in the desert of Sinai, as Peter and the rest of the Twelve did in the garden of Gethsemane—the depth of our faithlessness.
It may seem that an environmental crisis which is universal by definition requires a religiosity that is freed of the scandal of particularity. But the stubborn truth is that in the United States at least, the traditions that “still cling to the absolute truth of their faith”—for “absolute” I would much prefer the term “historical”—are the ones that are thriving. Furthermore, as Gottlieb has the clarity to note at one point, the liberal religious traditions that seem so hospitable to environmentalism bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the very consumerism that environmentalism must overcome, affirming as they are of an endless search for the sacralized self set free from the constraints of tradition—which is another way to say, from history.
Elsewhere there are more prosaic, yet equally troubling, gaps in Gottlieb’s argument. His reading of our current economic and environmental situation is incorrigibly pessimistic. “Unless we live in California or Florida, the vast majority of our food comes from hundreds or thousands of miles away, most of it nearly tasteless, laced with additives, or genetically engineered.” No doubt such food is the only practical option for some Americans, especially those living in the grocery-store-deprived inner cities, but any other urban or suburban American who chooses such a diet is doing so of their own accord. The increasing availability of tasty, non-additive-enhanced, local food in even the most pedestrian suburban supermarket is entirely a development of the last twenty years. Meaning no disrespect to my parents’ cooking, my children and I (and for that matter, my own parents today) have access to vastly more tasty, non-processed food than I remember eating as a child in the 1970s. Have these developments completely escaped Gottlieb’s notice? Has he not been to Trader Joe’s?
“Even if pollution diminishes, the unending multiplication of buildings, roads, and commodities is likely to leave little room for anything else on this earth.” Yet much of what advanced economies produce—notably, information—takes up little or no space. Nor does Gottlieb seem to be able to imagine that human beings might, in the long run, choose density rather than sprawl, come to prefer infill development to greenfield development, and reach a natural limit both in population numbers and in appetite for material goods—all without the global economy returning to a steady state.
“Capitalism produces dazzling technology and wealth for some, while the rest languish in social dislocation and brutal deprivation.” There is surely truth in this, but how can Gottlieb not at least acknowledge the extraordinary progress in reducing absolute poverty in the last several decades—from 38 percent of the world’s population in 1970 to 19 percent in 2000? (A graphical tour of the progress of world development, which shatters many assumptions while also driving home the ongoing inequities within and between nations, is readily available on Hans Rosling’s UN-funded website gapminder.com.) Has he not contemplated the hopeful option of “leapfrog” technologies whereby poor nations can adopt the innovations of advanced economies without having to retrace every (often environmentally destructive) intermediate step? Does he have no vision for responsible economic growth, given that if we simply spread the world’s current gdp evenly around, we would all enjoy the standard of living of today’s Bulgaria ($9,500 per capita)? The glaring absence of any serious consideration of these factors betrays, again, a loose touch with the particularities of history and a preference for a grand, if vague, spiritual vision—to which, one might even say, Gottlieb “still clings” while the rest of us are wrestling with a global situation that seems too complex for pious platitudes.
There is another way.
There is an environmentalism that is rooted in historical faith—that indeed is modeled on the life of an historical human being who modeled both feasting and fasting, abundance that offended the ascetic and simplicity that challenged the affluent. This environmentalism is agnostic about our market economies, recognizing that on past form they are likely to foster innovation, relieve poverty, and solve many of our worst problems, while not expecting them to deliver us a life without suffering and sacrifice, nor granting them impunity from their consequences for our descendants. This environmentalism affirms the dignity, uniqueness, and accountability of humanity and thus can motivate serious stewardship without the circularity and contortions of ecotheology’s self-defeating pantheism.
And fortunately, several recent books articulate exactly this kind of environmentalism, and are likely to be remembered as the salvos that awakened a sleepy and complacent American evangelicalism to its responsibility for God’s good earth. Reviewing them is a far more encouraging task, which I will undertake in this magazine’s next issue. Future scholars may appreciate Gottlieb’s survey of religious environmentalism, for all its limitations both as reportage and as philosophy. But let us hope that among environmentally concerned Christians, and even more so among their fellow pilgrims who are skeptical of environmentalism, it will be quickly forgotten.