Piousness as a Deep Ecology Solution to Environmental Challenges
Considering roughly one third of the world is Christian and another fourth is either Muslim or Hindu, one can argue that the majority of the world's multi-billion population is religious (Johnson, Grim 10). And given that individual beliefs yield ethics, one could argue that finding ways in which "the role religion could play as an element in solving current environmental problems" is worthy of discussion and implementation inasmuch as it could be applied to 60% of the world's population (Jackson 11).
Arne Næss – founder of deep ecology philosophy – contends that many who support the deep ecology mindset are "partly motivated by basic philosophical or religious premises and feel that all living beings have intrinsic value” (Næss 239). He further relates this religious premise to the God described by Spinoza. And given this piousness or the love of God as a starting point, one may secure for himself a deep foundation from which he builds a strong belief system which is further tied to love of self and others, including all beings and ecosystems. From this belief system, one’s ethics can be applied in several ways.
One case study from India demonstrates how a religion "emphasizes the harmony of all religions" which bolsters its mission "to help the impoverished populations of India through education, medical service, and helping small villages in the field of rural development" (Jackson 21). While its mission does not directly focus on the environment, its efforts often "co-laterally help the environment" (21). Connecting piousness as a way of life to holistic environmental solutions shows how deep ecology thinking can be applied in a broad-ranging and impactful way throughout the religious world.
The basic premise of deep ecology stems from a reaction to what Næss called the “shallow ecology movement” whose objective was to “fight against pollution and resource depletion” which essentially benefited “the health and affluence of people in developed countries” (Brennan and Lo). Deep ecology, on the other hand, sought to shift the focus away from an anthropomorphic view to an ecocentric and biocentric emphasis, whereby it recognizes the intrinsic value of all living beings and ecosystems. The “deep” aspect of the deep ecology movement is precisely about removing the anthropomorphic view of humans and placing them in a perspective of interconnectedness with all things in the world. The philosophy “asks deeper questions about the place of human life” and strives to enlighten humans to conceive of themselves “as integral threads in the fabric of life” rather than agents endeavoring to dominate the world (Bhandari 810). While Næss took great efforts to explain his philosophy, he simplified his philsophy with what he called the Apron diagram with its four levels, with one of those levels being the 8 point deep ecology platform.
In sum, the Apron diagram is a four-level framework for organizing a discussion around premises, principles, policies and actions. Level 1 represents foundational “ultimate premises, worldviews, and ecosophies” (Næss 107). It is at this level where discussions around God, ontology and other aspects of the aim of life are discussed. Level 2 covers the eight-point deep ecology platform. The first five points emphasize the flourishing of all life and some delineation of human behaviors including the “substantial decrease of the human population” (111). The remaining three points highlight the need for changes in “economic, technological, and ideological structures” and policies which would place a greater emphasis on “life quality” as opposed to increased standards of living (111-112). Given this platform, one then derives “normative or factual hypothesis and polices” at level 3. And from these hypotheses and policies one can ultimately derive “particular rules, decisions, and actions” found at level 4 (107). Returning to level 1 of the diagram, Næss discovered a rich heritage in the ideas on God from Baruch Spinoza.
Næss succinctly explains the essence of Spinoza’s God when he discusses God as “complete” in that God is both “the creative and the created” (Næss 236-237). Spinoza viewed God as one whole. He argued God is “infinite … (self-caused), [and a] unique substance of the universe” and that God is this substance, and all else that exists in the universe is in God (Nadler, “Baruch Spinoza (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)”). Since everything is God, humans and objects in the cosmos are simply modes or affections (Benedictus De Spinoza et al., Ethics, Part 1, proposition 15). Næss later observes God is creativity “intimately interrelated … by particular beings” which have intrinsic value (Næss 238). He notes that “it makes sense to care for these beings for their own sake, as creative beings” (239). The Stoics’ concept of God or Nature was not unlike that of Spinoza. One prominent Stoic, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote,
“All things are interwoven, and the bond that unites them is sacred, and hardly anything is alien to any other thing, for they have been ranged together and are jointly ordered to form a common universe. For there is one universe made up of all that is, and one god who pervades all things, and one substance and one law, and one reason common to all intelligent creatures, and one truth” (Book 7, chapter 9).
From these fundamental, deep beliefs, one can derive principles and lived ethics.
If an individual views himself as a part of the Whole – a part of God – then one can not only derive a sense of self-love, but a sense of love for all beings, creatures and entities in the world. Næss observes “love of the immanent God is love of God’s expressions, not of a separable God. A being expresses God’s nature or essence; therefore, love of God cannot be different from love of such a being” (Næss 240). In the caring crossfire of the Whole loving its seemingly infinite parts, one begins to lose the sense of self-distinctiveness and pivots to a paradigm of identifying “I” with “all.” And if the “I” is lost in the “all” then individual actions are only self-serving to all. Returning to Marcus Aurelius, he noted a similar sentiment: “What brings no benefit to the hive brings none to the bee” (Book 6, chapter 54). In sum, piousness towards the Whole produces sound ethics for all.
One Indian religion’s ideology is similar to what Næss encouraged: things, including religions, are part of the Whole and are unified. The religion’s paradigm of “the unity of all religions” is further exemplified with its mission: “to work in service to man and to God” through “education, medical service” and the development of small rural villages (Jackson 21). Two projects which helped develop the villages were an electrification project and a land shaping project.
For the electrification project, the villages usually depended on gas generators for their electrical needs. To secure renewable sources of energy, the mission contracted electricians and engineering experts to procure and install “hundreds of solar home power units” (22). For the land shaping project, the goal was to increase agricultural efficiency while minimizing deforestation. By shaping the land and creating a system of “ponds and uplands” the village saw a 50% increase in crops and wider access to fisheries, thus reducing illegal hunting (22).
When the head monk of the mission was queried about these “environmental projects” he was perplexed (22). The monk did not see these projects as solely benefiting the environment, but rather he was motivated “to work for one's own salvation, and for the welfare of the world” or in other words to “work for the greater good of humanity in order to better one’s own karma” which in turn is viewed as “honoring God” (23). In sum, this mission and the monk who leads it, did not simply isolate piousness and environmental sustainability, rather, they saw all things interconnected working in a unified effort to help themselves, others and to honor God.
While the vast majority of the world is religious, there is a growing number of populations which are leaning agnostic or atheist (Sherman). Is piousness applicable to this segment of the world? If one applies a traditional religious view of an anthropomorphic God, they may not think piousness is necessarily a good thing. And this is why, perhaps, Næss and the aforementioned Indian religion advocate for a wider pious paradigm. If one can imagine God as all-things, and focus on the interconnectedness of all things, then perhaps one may secure an all-encompassing piousness – an intellectual love of God.
In review, given most of the world’s population is pious, the philsophy of deep ecology can leverage this fundamental premise to form broad coalitions of beliefs across many religions, such as that which the mentioned Indian religion strives for. These coalitions in piousness can then be leveraged to institutionalize best practices which support ecological sustainment in developing countries, such as India. In brief, perhaps all we really do need is love, or as Spinoza wrote, “God’s love of men and the mind’s intellectual love of God are one and the same” (Nadler, Spinoza’s Ethics : An Introduction 273).
Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations. Translated by Robin Hard, Oxford University Press, 2011.
Benedictus De Spinoza, et al. Complete Works. Hackett Pub, 2002.
Bhandari, Rupsingh. “Deep Ecological Consciousness and Interconnectedness in William Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey.” Technium Social Sciences Journal, vol. 27, no. 27, Jan. 2022, pp. 808–14, https://doi.org/10.47577/tssj.v27i1.4910. Accessed 3 Mar. 2022.
Brennan, Andrew, and Yeuk-Sze Lo. “Environmental Ethics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).” Stanford.edu, 3 Dec. 2021, plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-environmental/.
Jackson, Timothy, and Ba Bs. Deep Ecology in Action: A Cross-Cultural Series of Case Studies on the Conservation Efforts of Monks and Religious Leaders in India, Mongolia, and Thailand. 2009, d-scholarship.pitt.edu/7261/1/Jackson_Timothy_R_Deep_Ecology.pdf.
Johnson, Todd M., and Brian J. Grim. The World's Religions in Figures : An Introduction to International Religious Demography, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/apus/detail.action?docID=1160764.
Nadler, Steven M. “Baruch Spinoza (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).” Stanford.edu, 2016, plato.stanford.edu/entries/spinoza/.
---. Spinoza’s Ethics : An Introduction. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009.
Næss, Arne. Ecology of Wisdom : Writings by Arne Naess. Edited by Alan R Drengson and Bill Devall, Counterpoint, 2010.
Sherman, Bill. "Report: Atheism Rate Growing Worldwide." McClatchy - Tribune Business News, Aug 25, 2012. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.apus.edu/login?qurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.proquest.com%2Fwire-feeds%2Freport-atheism-rate-growing-worldwide%2Fdocview%2F1034941626%2Fse-2%3Faccountid%3D8289.