Freethinkers Need to Claim “Religious Freedom”


Reading Douglas Brinkley’s excellent article honoring Thoreau’s 200th birthday (“Thoreau’s Wilderness Legacy,” NYT, July 9, 2017), I sat back to ponder an oddly reasonable thought:

Since wildness preserves the world (as “Saint Henry” and his disciples have taught) and secular citizens respect, even reverence, this world as much as any believer reveres their god, because “this” world is the only world–our only home–it follows that it is our “sacred” obligation (our natural “calling”) to protect the earth as a truly “secular sanctuary.”

Any who would threaten or destroy the wild, the wilderness, wildlife or our own experience of “wildness” are infringing upon our rights (some would say our “god-given” rights “endowed by our creator” (Nature).  “Saint John” (Muir) attended the “Church” of Yosemite Valley and called it a “Temple.”  The earth, with all ecosystems and interdependent life-forms, is, for secular people, “holy ground” or “divine soil” as our “clergy”–naturalists and scientists–sometimes call it.

The Establishment Clause of the Constitution protects secular Americans too, does it not? Usually we think of this as protection from coerced religious belief or undue religious influence over our Secular Government.  But it also affirms our right to freely practice our “faithless faith,” our “godless goodness” and our “natural religion” without control or threat.

Brinkley points to threatened sanctuaries such as Cape Cod in MA and Katahdin in ME–“sacred land” for those of us who follow the muddy footsteps of one of our greatest “prophets”:  the Concord Saunterer.

So, I suggest the wildest of wild ideas:

What if. . .Freethinkers joined with Indigenous Religions, Pagans, Wiccans and Progressives of many traditions who are committed to the “care of creation” to loudly and proudly present and proclaim what the other “Saint John”–John Burroughs–called the “Gospel of Nature”?  Based on Muir’s “scripture verse” in his journals stating, “The best synonym for God is Beauty,” why could we not claim our own “Religious Liberty,” fully protected by the Constitution, for the preservation of our Beauty-filled natural environment which is, for all intentions and purposes, our church, synagogue, mosque, temple?

Isn’t this a neglected “Religous Liberty” issue?

Isn’t this one powerful argument to vote on, to carry into courtrooms, especially in this current atmosphere where the rights of faith are claimed so loudly and righteously?

Should not Saint Henry’s birthday be our moment, our time, to stand up for the environment and stand firm in freedom?


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