Roger Gottlieb, author of A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planet’s Future, was interviewed by The American Prospect this week. Gottlieb argues that in recent years religious groups have begun to recognize the moral obbligation of preserving God’s creation and taken up a host of environmental causes.
How do you respond (or how would a religious environmentalist respond) to those who argue that justifications for public policy should be entirely secular, so that they can be justifiable by all members of a pluralistic society?
I think that this idea is a lovely except for one thing: it doesn’t work. The simple fact is that as a large modern society there are many things we do collectively, like make laws and policies, educate our children, and organize the economy. We have to guide those activities not only by individual rights, but by some basic, comprehensive view of what really matters. For example, one value orientation is that nature has no value in and of itself, only in how it serves human interests. Another is that nature is to be treasured as sacred and that it’s our job to be a part of it, not its master. At bottom, neither of these orientations can be justified in some final, conclusively rational way.
Different comprehensive views might be derived from the Bible or Marx, Ayn Rand or Milton Friedman. But there’s no objective justification for them. All any of us can do — religious and secular alike — is explain our perspective as fully as possible, tell each other what society would look like if our views prevailed — and then vote.
Also, it strikes me as amusing when orthodox secularists speak out against religion in public life … and then celebrate Martin Luther King Day. Who do they think Martin Luther King was?
The interview also includes an interesting discussion of how these religious groups challenge corporate America and the tension with other touchy policy issues like abortion and gay marriage. Read the full interview here.