If asked to state the goal of the environmental movement, a participant in it would probably say something like: "to promote a sustainable relationship between human beings and nature."
How could one possibly object to such a formulation? Yet hidden in it is a set of assumptions that may paradoxically lie at the root of our present environmental crisis.
There is a close resemblance between this stated goal and a much older idea from the rationalistic theology of the modern West: that the goal of the moral life is to promote a sustainable relationship between human beings and God. This God is the God of Christian theism, Who is eternal, transcendent, perfect, and unchanging. Obedience to Him is true happiness. We human beings are by nature fallen and wicked in part, and thus a caste of priests is necessary, themselves under discipline by an ecclesiastical organization, to discipline the population in the correct beliefs and religious practices.
A remarkable human culture flourished under the Christian theism of the West: whether it can survive the effects of democracy, technological progress, and intercultural exchange, all of which it helped to foster, is presently in doubt. It was itself the heir of a religious world view that was less abstract, less transcendent, more a matter of ritual and performance than what succeeded it, in which God, the angels, and the saints (and before that, the gods) were...