Without getting into whether there are or aren't gods, I'd like to do some research on you guys.
Atheists in my experience, without an exception to date, are an environmentally-minded crowd. They tend to vehemently oppose anything that looks like industrial wrecking of nature, believing as they do that this Earth is the only one we've got and that no higher power will stop us from mortally wounding it.
Many atheists will also bring this up against religion: the whole dominion of the earth, the expectation of the end times and the new earth, the call to be hard-working and industrious, the call to have children (overpopulation), and the idea that god wouldn't allow us to affect the climate, etc. etc. To many it seems religion has a "whatever, it's all going to be destroyed anyway" attitude.
But I know religious people aplenty, however, who think the Creator is to be seen in nature and NOT in man-made things, and therefore removing the influence of nature from people could be seen as pulling them away from the influence of god. There are certainly many people of faith who felt called to protect the environment or work in environmental conservation.
How do your beliefs affect your attitude about the environment?
For those of any faith, how does your faith affect your regard for the environment, or does it at all? For those who in the "this is the only life I've got" crowd, how do you feel about it? If you call yourself an environmentalist, what is the reason?
That is an interesting article that makes some valid points that I agree with (even though it is from the Wall Street Journal). I do consider myself to be an environmentalist but I also recognize that some environmentalist "dogma", for lack of a better term, makes no sense. I would be crucified by some of my friends for saying this, but we really should get behind nuclear power. At least until alternative energy sources are capable of replacing it. Beats the hell out of coal.
At the same time, if they build a nuclear plant along the same plans as the ones as used in the US, Germany and other Western nations, they produce some of the safest/cleanest energy there is.
I know the anti-nuclear crowd love to point out certain disasters, especially the most recent Japanese ones. But I'd say, rather than look at the Japanese situation as such a disaster, understand just what it took to create that disaster: one of the larger earthquakes on record, plus aftershocks and whatnot. THEN they got hit with massive waves from tsunami effects.
There has also been recent talks about Germany shutting more of their own reactors down. The environmental crowd hail this as a win for them, but the real reason they're getting shut down?? Security issues.
Brad, I think that your general conclusion is probably correct. Non-believers probably lean toward being "greener" than believers. But it may be more complicated than just what people believe about the existence (or not) of god(s). As a very general rule, (in the United States anyway), believers tend to associate themselves with conservative politics and non-believers tend toward progressive or liberal politics. If a person joins the Republican party because they prefer the Republican position on some issue such as abortion, gun control, or taxation, they end up adopting other Republican issues by osmosis (such as a laissez-fair attitude toward the environment) The opposite is also true. Ethnic minorities, gay people, environmentalists, non-believers, etc., tend to associate themselves with the Democratic party, because that is the party that agrees with them on certain issues. The gay folks end up supporting pro-environmental policies and the environmentalists end up supporting gay rights. Speaking for myself, I am a progressive and a liberal, but not because I am an atheist. I'm a lefty because, in the United States, it is the party (at the moment) that is most concerned with social justice and the environment. But by supporting the Democratic Party's position on things that I care about, I unavoidably end up supporting its position on things that I don't care about so much, i.e., taxation.
I lean toward Kevin's view that neither theism nor atheism imply environmental concern, carelessness, or panic. I think association is a part of it -- at least, I can't think of another reason that feminists (say) tend to oppose nuclear power!
But that would lead us to the question of why these things got associated.
On the (Christian and Jewish) theist side, we have mankind starting out as gardeners; a belief that the natural world is not divine (so we can muck about with it) but is a good creation by the God who loves it (so we shouldn't muck about with it the wrong way). This would explain Christian/Jewish environmentalism, but not carelessness. (Are we more careless? We talk about it less. Not the same thing.)
We can also explain why Christians and Jews shouldn't be in a panic about the ozone layer -- worrying doesn't help; see the Beatitudes -- but we seem to manage it a lot anyway on a variety of issues.
**On the other side... I'm reading An Anxious Age by Joseph Bottum. It's largely about the development of a prominent group without a clear name, which I'd say is white American post-Protestant progressives (WAPPPs?). His thesis is that post-Protestant is a crucial part: this group has the moral fervor of their mainline Protestant ancestors but without the mainline Protestantism. They value being -- OK? justified? good people? elect? -- and, like their ancestors, are justified by their belief (not in Christ, but in the right views). (Contrast with Judaism and even Catholicism, which give relatively more weight to actions.) Like Paul, they wrestle not against flesh and blood but against "principalities and powers in the air." But their powers are isms: racism, sexism, environmental degradation, hegemony, income inequality, &c. Abstractions, not devils. More evil than devils: devils, in their view, don't exist.
This to me would explain why conservatives keep looking at global warming/climate change/climate disruption and saying, it's a religion! It has the same struggle as in another religion, and the same guilt and relief of guilt inherited from the church. But members don't like hearing that, and say: it's not a religion, because it has no supernatural elements.
It's clear to me both sides are on to something. WAPPP's are obviously right in pointing out they don't embrace the supernatural. Conservatives are right in pointing out the similarities. We may not have known them, or known how to express them. But there they are, and I think we get the difference in fervor on environmental issues between theists and WAPPPs (not atheists in general). For theists, environmental concerns follow from core beliefs. For these progressives, they form part of the very definition of good and evil, and by believing this, you thereby justify yourself.
tl;dr: just read the paragraph with the **.
No, I'd say the discussion has
a) provided a tiny sample space of Internet-using men from one culture (Western) and two religious perspectives (atheist and Christian), and can't be generalized; and
b) has shown that in this tiny sample, some atheists think of themselves as playing it safe with the environment and others not (you) and some don't (Andrew); and that these Christians show the attitude you describe (you'd find more in my circle of acquaintances in meatspace).
I value what you're trying to do -- make general conclusions from an informal survey -- but I don't think we're there yet.
I attended a pop culture convention once. I was surprised to find that over half the lectures attempted to say something objective about the real world in a sort of scientific way. Almost all failed; the authors weren't rigorous enough.
Two stood out. One tried to prove that women are more polite than men by a survey; I'll skip details. Her work failed -- though she didn't realize it -- because of a tiny sample space.
Another showed two images: cover of a Boy Scout fieldbook, and a Nazi Youth poster. The audience reacted with head-shaking: yep, the Boy Scouts sure are fascist.
But they weren't counting up similarities and differences. They were querying their own reactions, which were already predisposed (I judge) to dislike the Boy Scouts. So naturally they saw the images as similar.
I counted up similarities: a central figure, young, male, blond, holding a rod, looking to the side.
Differences: BSA manual had other figures. The rod was a tool not a symbol. Figure was not smiling. There were multiple other figures of indeterminate race. Scenes of nature and activity. More colors. Overall, the BSA directed your attention to individuals doing activity, and the Nazi poster directed your attention to one individual and his government's symbol.
My point here is that you have be careful you're measuring data, not your own expectations. Back to the first study. When the author found that men were more sensitive to rudeness than women (by a statistically insignificant margin), she theorized that women were actually more sensitive but were too polite to say anything. That is, she ended up concluding her expectation as well.
So what's right?
I definitely think that as we look into this, there is a pattern to be found. It may even be the one Brad proposes. I want to think about it some more.
@Rick. I've had similar discussions with Christian fundamentalists. I live in a city with a relatively famous Christian university. I have been shocked on several occasions when speaking with students and graduates of this school who genuinely believe that petroleum is an infinite resource. I have not had any of them explicitly tell me that god put the oil in the earth and that it goes all the way down to the core. But they have told me that the earth will never run out of oil and any suggestion to the contrary is part of the "liberal agenda." These same folks were also young earth creationists who took issue with all forms of radiometric dating (not just carbon dating). They actually argued, with a straight face, that although the universe was created about 6,000 years ago, we can see galaxies that are millions of light years away because god somehow gave the light coming from them a head start. They basically would engage in all kinds of intellectual gymnastics to avoid accepting any science that conflicted with their theology.
Fortunately, this particular university no longer has a medical school.