Religion, Values, and Climate Change Survey

The American Academy of Religion and the Public Religion Research Institute released an enlightening survey last November entitled Believers, Sympathizers, & Skeptics: Why Americans are Conflicted about Climate Change, Environmental Policy, and Science. Findings from the PRRI/AAR Religion, Values, and Climate Change Survey.   This is a large sociological survey of attitudes regarding the environment and spirituality. I eagerly read the report, hoping for insight on which spiritual attitudes correspond with which environmental attitudes, and I was able to find one. This survey of Americans showed that those who reported having very frequent spiritual experiences often also report a greater concern regarding climate change, while those who reported infrequent spiritual experiences reported significantly less concern over climate change. However, among those who believe that climate change is real, about half report frequent spiritual experiences and the other half do not. The survey also found that among those who attend conventional religious services, they report that their clergy provide little to no support for environmental concern.


The most appalling finding was the degree of unconcern for the environment among Americans. Among those surveyed, climate change is ranked last on the list of issues presented by the survey. Not surprisingly, the survey respondents considered jobs and the economy to be much more important than the environment, or education for that matter. This short-sightedness is very dismaying, and indicative of the strain people are under regarding personal survival. It is nearly impossible to be concerned over larger issues when you or your children are hungry.   It is also difficult to look very far ahead when finding the next meal is taking up all your attention. It seems that America is not in the position of peace and prosperity it once enjoyed, and that insightful policies and programs will be in short supply until things improve, which of course is a catch-22. If this survey accurately represents American values and thinking, then we have a great deal to do if we are to help ourselves overcome our current crises, all of which are larger than most people seem to be able to grasp.


How are people to enlarge their vision? There are two ways: education and contemplation. One is intellectual and the other involves insight. It is optimal to have the benefits of both, but one or the other would suffice to bring about a larger vision that could help slow the degradation of the environment. There are many scientists who see the environmental threat very clearly, along with possible solutions, and who have no spiritual beliefs or practices at all. For those who are not scientists, contemplation broadens the mind and vision, and allows one to see that the world is larger and more important than one’s own private concerns and experiences. Contemplation allows us to see the value of the world as a whole, and everyone in it, beyond who and what is in our own sphere. It is this sense of value that contemplative practice provides that makes it essential for the work ahead. Without a sense of meaning in our lives and a deep regard for the world, why bother with any human work at all?


Copyright © 2015 Teresa Chupp.  All rights reserved.


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