There are several movements in the New Age “tent” – one of which is neopaganism, and it is from here that the link to environmentalism enters the picture.
As I explain in The Learn to Discern Compendium, the belief that deities embody the forces of nature is as old as history itself.
However, these beliefs are making a comeback in today’s neopaganism where it has become known as eco-spirituality. Eco-spirituality is practiced by both New Age and Neo-pagan groups as well as environmentalists and a variety of “green religions” around the globe.
The basic theory behind eco-spirituality is that the divine is present in all creation – which is known as panentheism – and that we are to expand our love of ‘neighbor’ to include the entire cosmos and all creatures, plants, trees, etc.
“Eco-theologians hold that because humans are so intimately interconnected with the organic cosmos, they cannot come to completion without the cosmos, and that the universe is a single dynamic whole into which humans are imbedded,” writes Dr. John B. Shea. “The earth is held to be self-organizing and self-transcending. Humans are a tool for the earth to explore itself. We are told to abandon ‘value assignments and blind judgments’ and choose actions which are ‘effective and appropriate.’”
The New Age version of eco-spirituality fosters a religious worship of nature known as pantheism, which is based on the belief that the cosmos is animated by one spirit or is guided by a universal consciousness of which man is merely one more participant. This vision of the relationship between man and the planet is often referred to as “depth ecology.” It denies the basic difference between human and non-human existence. It speaks of a bio-centric equality, whereby a mountain, a flower or a turtle would have the same rights to its own fulfillment as would a human being.
“It fosters a religious worship of nature or of mother earth as if it were a divine reality,” writes Archbishop Norberto Carrera in A Call to Vigilance: A Pastoral Instruction on the New Age. “It ends up labeling man as an intruder and considers him a curse for the cosmos. At the heart of the radical ‘green’ movement, it pressures governments for legislation that would cut back human population and limit technological development in order to heal the planet.”
Another thread that winds through the study of eco-spirituality is a theory held by many environmental enthusiasts of all persuasions. It is called the Gaia Hypothesis, a theory first articulated by a British atmospheric chemist named James Lovelock. This theory contends that the Earth is a self-regulating, self-sustaining entity which continually adjusts its environment to support life.
“In attempting to answer the question of life’s existence on Mars, Lovelock concentrated on the nature of the Earth’s atmosphere and argued that ‘the entire range of living matter on Earth, from whales to viruses, from oaks to algae, could be regarded as constituting a single living entity, capable of manipulating the Earth’s atmosphere to suit its overall needs and endowed with faculties and powers far beyond those of its constituent parts’,” writes Stephen Scharper in his article entitled, “The Gaia Hypothesis: Implications for a Christian Political Theology of the Environment.”
The Gaia Hypothesis is not new, however. It’s based on the worship of an ancient Greek god named Gaia – or Mother Earth – which has been repackaged with scientific-sounding language to suit the modern tastes of the New Age and Neopagan environmental movements.
Although the Gaia hypothesis may seem wacky to many, its adherents have managed to project their theories onto the world stage in frightening ways.
According to Samantha Smith in The Pagan Roots of Environmentalism, “Gaia worship is at the very heart of today’s environmental policy. The Endangered Species Act, the United Nation’s Biodiversity Treaty and the Presidents Council on Sustainable Development are all offspring of the Gaia hypothesis of saving ‘Mother Earth.’”
The Pontifical document, Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life, confirms this fact.
“To some, the Gaia hypothesis is a ‘strange synthesis of individualism and collectivism. It all happens as if New Age, having plucked people out of fragmentary politics, cannot wait to throw them into the great cauldron of the global mind.’ The global brain needs institutions with which to rule, in other words, a world government. ‘To deal with today’s problems New Age dreams of a spiritual aristocracy in the style of Plato’s Republic, run by secret societies . . .’ This may be an exaggerated way of stating the case, but there is much evidence that Gnostic elitism and global governance coincide on many issues in international politics.” (Sec. 18.104.22.168)
The infamous Matthew Fox, a former Dominican priest, is pushing his own version of eco-spirituality. Called Creation Spirituality, it is mostly derived from the mystical philosophies of medieval visionaries such as Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart, and Nicholas of Cusa.
These examples of exaggerated environmentalism in which eco-spirituality is frequently imbedded posits a planetary spirituality that desires to bestow on creation some kind of magical force.
As Archbishop Carrera writes, “It loses the notion of a personal God, really distinct and superior to the created world, in favor of an impersonal divine force that is everything and is in everything,” Archbishop Carrera writes. “This return to naturalistic pantheism, which was definitively overcome by the event of Christian revelation, finds support in many new religious movements coming from the east and in a return to pagan religions.”
Pope Francis enunciated the correct Christian vision of the environment in a General Audience in 2014: “Creation is not some possession that we can lord over for our own pleasure; nor, even less, is it the property of only some people, the few: creation is a gift, it is the marvelous gift that God has given us, so that we will take care of it and harness it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.”