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Archive for the ‘religion’ Category


Heaven and Nature

Monday, December 21st, 2009

God2-Sistine_Chapel (Small)

That’s the title of a column in the NY Times today, in which Ross Douthat examines the nature-culture divide in the context of religion.  In an earlier post, we saw this divide manifested in the struggle for the soul of environmentalism.

Here, Douthat frames the human condition as a struggle between monotheistic religion and nature (or pantheism).  An excerpt of his conclusion:

Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality.

….Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms. We stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We’re beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality.

This is an agonized position, and if there’s no escape upward — or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it — a deeply tragic one.

Pantheism offers a different sort of solution: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago.

But except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back.

There’s a lot to argue about with this interpretation. For example— Are spirituality and the natural world mutually exclusive? Does morality need to be grounded in religion? What might it mean for nature to “take us back?”


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Posted in nature and culture, religion | No Comments »

Why don’t people engage climate change? Problem 3: Personal perception, values, and behavior

Friday, November 6th, 2009


Prerequisite posts:

In earlier posts, we examined climate change engagement as problems of environmental literacy and communication.  There is no doubt we can do better with both of these.  But as we will see, proponents of environmental literacy and communication make a mistake if they believe engagement is simply a matter of getting more information to people.  Science, it is believed, will speak for itself.

Unfortunately, it often doesn’t.

A political scientist recently told me that before the age of 25, people use information to shape their value system and perceptions of the world.  After 25, they start cherry picking information that simply reinforces these beliefs (hence the world of cable news).

Although this is is a rough generalization, it suggests that a person’s values development may have a shelf life.  It also reveals why issues like climate change may not resonate with people cut from certain ideological cloths—no matter how much information they encounter.

The psychology, sociology, and ethics literature has a lot to say about this problem.  For simplicity, I want to pull out four challenges I think are among the most common and important with respect to climate change…


Posted in behavior, climate skeptics deniers and contrarians, communication and framing, environmentalism, gender, nature and culture, race and class, religion, social science, sustainability | 10 Comments »

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