The page-a-day literary calendar says today is Earth Day and recommends Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring as the reading for today. Silent Spring was the foundation document for the current Green narrative, it is a narrative demonises Protestant Christianity, claiming that after the Reformation God was transcendent and otherworldly, and that nature became disenchanted, lost its magic. According to the narrative, Protestantism led to a mechanistic account of the world that turned it into the raw material of industrialisation and capitalism.
The narrative is one that found a wide currency, the former British Poet Laureate Ted was among those content to cast Protestants as being on the side of darkness In Jonathan Bate’s 2015 biography of Ted Hughes, there is a chapter entitled “The Savage God”. Commenting on Hughes’ environmental views, Bate says, “Christianity, especially in its Reformed version, sees the earth as a heap of raw materials given to man for his ‘exclusive use and profit.'” Hughes wrote, “The subtly apotheosised misogyny of Reformed Christianity is proportionate to the fanatic rejection of Nature, and the result has been to exile man from Mother Nature.” Jonathan Bate acknowledges that there is an irony in Hughes’ criticism of the church’s attitude to women, given his own history, but Hughes’ environmentalism seem an accepted dogma.
While demonising Protestantism, holding the Reformers responsible for a shift from a supposed matriarchy to patriarchy, and believing the Reformation was the start of a process of environmental exploitation and degradation, the environmentalist narrative seems entirely to miss the nature of the Reformation. Radical Reformers offered a vision of society built on justice, a justice commanded by God himself. Radical Reformation beliefs in an absolute God is far more profound than the relativism of the Green movement.
Of course, the radical Protestant groups, with their desire for human equality, a radical redistribution of wealth, and peace and justice, were soon suppressed, but that was due to the nature of power, not to Reformed theology.
There are undoubtedly Protestants who have used the Biblical concept of dominion as licence to exploit the Earth for profit. There are Protestants who have used ideas from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy as the basis for a theology of prosperity. There are also Protestants who have stood for women’s rights, Protestants who have stood for individual conscience, religious toleration, the abolition of slavery, social reform, Protestants who have opposed anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice, Protestants.
Two years before the first Earth Day in 1970, the Anglican bishops from around the world, meeting at the Lambeth Conference, noted the prospect of human control of the environment and questioned what is to be welcomed and what is to be resisted in contemporary society. It seems that even in the 1960s there were Protestants who were environmentalists before the Green movement began.