It's stewardship season at church. For the past fifteen years or so, the church has been the biggest recipient of our charitable donations. As a former member of the congregation's Service and Social Responsibility Committee, I know that money given to the church is distributed to worthy causes locally (e.g., the Community Action Center) and across the nation (e.g., the Southern Poverty Law Center, continuing hurricane relief in New Orleans). But a larger portion of the money we've given to the church has gone to local programs and operations, including Sunday worship and the upkeep of the church building. In my current mood of disenchantment with organized religion, I'm finding it more difficult to justify giving large amounts of money to the church. This has left me pondering how to plan our charitable giving, if it is no longer concentrated on the church.
A belief in a transcendent God and a resurrected Christ has less meaning for me now than does a sense of the life-sustaining interrelationships of the natural world. For me, those interrelationships provide a firmer foundation for an ethical system—a greater sense of responsibility—than the teachings of Christianity. The idea that my actions and my patterns of consumption cause harm elsewhere in the world fills me with a sense of sinfulness. I would rather strive to have a right relationship with the planet than a right relationship with Jesus. My mother-in-law, who is a very religious woman, asked me if I was prepared to give up a belief in life after death. I've never had a strong faith in such a thing. Now, while I can, I would rather put my faith and my energy into this life, into the world that is, to make sure there is a future here for my children and my children's children.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul preaches to the Athenians and quotes the Greek philosopher Epimenides to say that God is the one in whom "we live and move and have our being." For me, that sounds like a description of the environment. The environment doesn't demand elaborate acts of worship or churches (each of which has its own carbon footprint). It demands stewardship. It demands a focus on interdependence, not transcendence.
I've begun to investigate environmental organizations which might become recipients of my "church money." The American Institute of Philanthropy has a good website which grades charities, primarily according to how much of donated money goes directly into programming. The highest rated environmental charity is The Conservation Fund, which receives an A+. 97¢ of every dollar goes directly to programming. What I've read about that programming seems impressive. The Conservation Fund believes in collaboration, not confrontation. It focuses on building partnerships, with businesses and other groups, to preserve land for conservation, to create sustainable solutions, and to sequester carbon. It's worth a closer look. Meanwhile, if you have suggestions for charitable giving to environmental organizations, please let me know.
My views on religion are evolving all the time. For previous statements of my views on religion, look here (from the February 2005 issue of the online journal Bad Subjects) and see my sermon, linked in the sticky post above.
My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .
The frontispiece from Countee Cullen's The Black Christ and Other Poems (1929). Illustration by Charles Cullen. Click to enlarge. On...
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