The 17th-century French mathematician Blaise Pascal famously characterized what he saw as the hypocrisy of the faithful. “Men never do evil so completely and so cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction,” he wrote.
We heard that sentiment repeated in various ways when we sought comments from listeners and readers about the intersection of their faith and environmental values for my "God is in the garden" series. We received plenty of passionate responses from non-believers, avowed environmentalists who point to what they see as a failure of green values in mainstream religious practice, particularly Christianity.
To start, several people say they find skepticism about climate change among some evangelical Christians troubling. David Wolf of Loma Linda wrote, “those who believe in the literal truth of the Bible may be apt to deny the reality of climate change as they believe that Jesus may return tomorrow, in which case, why save the environment today?”
Zachary Sneddon of Lemoore argued that belief in an afterlife discourages conservation. “If evangelicals and fundamentalists of all stripes could only wake up and realize that this planet and this life are all we've got, maybe people would be kinder to each other and to the environment.”
In this current of thought, a sense of entitlement stemming from faith in God is a harmful force. “My atheism may strengthen my environmental ethics, because I don't expect any magical solutions to the problems we create,” wrote Ann Tiplady of Vermont.
Atheists, agnostics and other non-believers also shared why they care about the environment – and why, for them, faith has nothing to do with it.
Kevin Bonham says he’s a secular humanist – and he says that drives his environmental passion. “The fact that I don't have a faith in life after death means that I see an enormous responsibility to make THIS life better for myself and for future generations," he wrote. "Making this life better includes protecting our environment and conserving our resources - this is the only home we have.”
Venus Stojsic of Buena Park was born Buddhist, but now is a hopeful atheist, who said the environment is a personal thing. “I do my own little part to affect overall waste and decrease consumption,” Stojsic wrote. “I loathe people who preach, I hate hypocrites and I absolutely hate so-called green and eco marketing.”
To that last part, Venus Stojsic, as Earth Day approaches, I can only say: amen.