Among overeducated leftist types, I'm something an anomaly - a religious person. A majority of the people I know who are involved in the peak oil and environmentalist movements are secular people who are either not religious or consider themselves spiritual, rather than religious. Most of them perceive themselves as dissenting from a mass culture that presses people towards cultural conservativism, unethical social practices, lack of concern for social justice and adherence to conservative Christianity. They tend to perceive religion as manipulative, often very negative in its effects, and anti-intellectual.
I also spend time working with and talking to fellow homesteaders, people who for various reasons have gone back to the land to subsistence agriculture, or small farming. And a large percentage of people in the homesteading movement are religious - the majority of whom are devout Christians. Overwhelmingly, these are people who perceive themselves as engaged in the practice of self-sufficiency, thrift and agriculture as part of a religious obligation. They see themselves as dissenting from a mass culture that encourages sexual immorality, lack of concern for community and traditional values, and adherence to a secular culture. They tend to perceive secular culture and its adherents as manipulative, negative in its effects and elitist.
I find the symmetry of distress between those secular folks who feel themselves oppressed by a religious majority that believes them naive and without principle; and those religious folk who seem themselves as minority in a largely secular world, assumed to be unthinking idiots by those who "think for themselves" both amusing and disturbing, because it represents a failure of natural allies to recognize one another. After all, adherence to any sort of moral philosophy is sufficiently rare in this day and age that I would imagine that instead of assuming the worst ofone another, secular and religious adherents of principle might make some useful alliances. Indeed, I believe strongly that the peak oil and environmentalist movements can only succeed if they work through synagogues, churches, mosques and temples across the world.
While there are some brands of faith and faithlessness that will probably never reconcile themselves to one another, the human majority, as always, probably stands closer to the middle ground than any of us think. All religions have their fundamentalists, but to judge a faith on its most extreme believers is kind of like judging all of capitalism's good and ill on the ground of one reading of Ayn Rand's collected works. And dismissing humanism, or Neitzcheism or socialism or any other philosophical grounding because it is not centered upon G-d is equally shortsighted.
The simple fact is that in a statistical sense, more people are subject to religious arguments than not, and there are compelling theological arguments in every faith for taking peak oil and global warming seriously. We also need to engage humanists and secularists as well - the grounds for ethical action inthe future can never be primarily or solely theological grounds - that way lies factionalism and represssion. We need to recognize that there is a philosophical category of both religious and non-religious anti-modernists out there, people whose overriding common interest is in exploring the ways that modern industrial capitalism has failed us - morally, personally, economically. I do not pretend that issues like abortion or gay marriage don't matter - they do. But they are secondary to the shared bond of the leftist environmentalist and the conservative Christian who both knwo with a queasy horror that something about our society is fundamentally, utterly wrong, bereft of integrity and truth. That common ground is powerful, and potentially transformative.
It is a mistake, and a foolish one, for secular thinkers denythat a tremendous amount of power lies in religion. While evidence for both the positive and disastrous power of religion abound, there is no question that religious communities of all sorts represent a power that can bedirected to changing the world for the better. If we are to soften our landing at all, and prevent total disaster, we need the grace ofG-d (if such exists) and the works of man brought together - we need the grounds of reason and the grounds of deferral to whatever higher power or principle you prefer. Both religious people and activists represent a kind of resistance against a populace that often seems to adhere to no principles at all, that exercises no discipline upon desire, and often seems to care for nothing greater than the next thing. Both are people who willingly subjugate their desires to a greater good, although their assessment of what is the greater good often differs. And all of them are adept at conversations about how we should begin to live better.
People who believe are not morons - I cannot persuade anyone who doesnot believe of this, but a sense of immanence is just a thing, a sort of awareness, a kind of meta-kinesthesia. My own experience of the divine is that I know G-d is there in the same way I am aware of having a tongue, in a totally inexplicable and preconscious manner. That others do not share this has always, since early childhood, been a bit of a surprise to me. I am aware that this makes me a lunatic by secular standards. But it does not make me unreasoning or dumb. If you are going to accuse believers of anything, make it madness, not stupidity. After all, the debt of secular thinking of theology is profound and essential, and cannot be erased. Science, mathematics, philosophy, literature, art...they were all to a large degree formed by people who believed profoundly in G-d and weren't fools. I can think of nothing more likely to undermine any movement to engage the whole populace than it being led by people who (covertly or not) believe that all religious people are imbeciles, or that they are all of a piece, incapable of making individual decisions.
At the same time, it is absolutely necessary to acknowledge that choosing to work outside of a theological framework for morality is often an act of courage, one that requires you to locate or draw on a less accessible template of ethical action. Those who do not believe in G-d are not amoral, and I am certain that there are those who know that G-d is unreal down to their bones, in the same way I believe that G-d is real. Denying the truth of that is an insult to others, and unworthy of us. Ultimately, Jews believe that our actions, not our interior thoughts, or beliefs are what we are held responsible for, and what matters most is that we are engaged in Tikkun Olam, the repair of the world. Those who do that work, no matter what their beliefs or their reasons are the righteous of the world, and I propose that may be a useful way for us to think about this - of righteousness as engagement in transformation. The righteous are the righteous, no matter on what grounds they act, and they deserve honor.
Right now, conservative Christians are engaged in a dialogue on global warming and environmentalism. They are struggling to find their place, and to determine what faith calls them to do. Members of other faiths are also newly engaged, recognizing that whether G-d created the world or it came to being some other way, we have an obligation to mend what we have broken. Peak oil will break on the public consciousness soon enough, and members of religious communities and secular ones will have to decide whether and how they want to talk to one another. Now is the time to look to one another as natural allies. Will it be difficult? Of course. But the stakes are these - if we cannot make both secular and religous moral arguments that convince one another to work together, we're doomed. So let us begin.