Professor Mark Wallace is a unique professor in Swarthmore’s Religion department as a specialist in both spirituality and environmentalist issues. He is currently on sabbatical and researching the spiritual source of alarming environmental concerns, in addition to teaching the Environmental Studies Capstone class this semester. Climate change is the “single most pressing moral condition and security threat,” according to Wallace. “We are spiritually addicted to an unsustainable lifestyle,” he warns as the centerpiece of his new book, New, Green Christianity, and in speeches at colleges and universities around the country. New, Green Christianity focuses on the dual roles of Christianity in promoting the “abusive” lifestyle and its potential to become an agent of change. Ultimately, Wallace hopes that understanding the roots of the problem will empower people to change.
Wallace’s research seeks to understand the causes of our addiction and to find a “rationale for the violence towards the earth,” he said. The issue combines several different elements including addiction theory, scientific research on global warming, and the role of Christianity in promoting an unhealthy and unsustainable lifestyle. Spirituality plays an important role because, according to Wallace, we analytically know the problem and the solution, but struggle to change our behavior. “It is a matter of the heart, not the head,” he said.
Part of the spiritual addiction stems from Christianity’s promotion of a disconnection with nature through its method of proselytizing. “Christianity removed God from the earth,” said Wallace, “emptied the earth of presence of spirit. Through the Bible…God became a far removed being: a Sky-God rather than an Earth-God.” Part of the solution is to “rethink Christianity,” not simply because it’s the fault of the religious communities but because Christianity has mobilized itself to promote social change.
The addiction to unhealthy energy consumption has historical parallels with overcoming slavery through religious grassroots movements; Wallace pointed to Martin Luther King Jr.’s roots in Baptist beliefs. “In the 19th century, we said that our economy depends on slavery as a way of life. We had to think our whole existence away from slavery,” he said. Similarly, we have to move away from our reliance on abusing the earth. Wind, thermal and solar powers are all examples of energy sources that can help us attain the spiritual goal.
The recognition of the relationship between spirituality and “clean” living resonates with some students. Kazuo Uyehara ’10, a prospective Environmental Studies minor and a former student of Wallace’s, feels the necessary spirituality aspect is missing in his academic diet.
Through the scientific lens, “we tend to quantify environmental issue, maximize different things which takes out ethical and religious aspects of movement,” Uyehara said. “There needs to be some urgency and actual aspect of us that says its wrong…and it starts at the spiritual level.”
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