Contribution to GTI Roundtable "Religion and a GT"

Mimi Stokes

For me, the core religious issue for the Great Transition is how religion influences and shapes our ideas of Agency, especially and pointedly Tragic Agency. 

We are having a difficult time trying to get across that humans are the cause of the cosmic catastrophe of climate change and the Sixth Great Extinction. The religious idea of a supreme being who is “Source, a First Cause, a Supreme Animating Will or Power” is one reason why climate science has such a hard time making its case for human causality. If a supreme divine power is the cause of everything, then religion becomes the meaning-making system that legitimizes God as the sole source and cause of climate change and religion drives climate denial. 

The religious idea of a Supreme Source that is ‘behind’ (for lack of a better word) “every aspect of the reality we experience” unhappily serves to make “the reality” of climate change just as divinely sourced as all reality is believed to be, indirectly granting legitimacy through First Cause religious epistemology to Texas Governor Rick Perry’s declaration that the BP oil spill was “a tragic act of god.”  Of course, it was no such thing; it was a tragic act by a Corporate Human named “Halliburton” (who, I fear, believes he is God...). In this absurd case, the religious principle of First Cause morphs into a “religious convenient truth” that serves to exculpate all human ‘actors’ (especially The Corporate Human Actor) from responsibility for the catastrophe of climate change.  All Tragic Agency goes to God (along with All Agency), conveniently getting tragic human actors off the hook.  

The flip side is that, if only a divine cosmic force and/or creator God has tragic agency on a cosmic scale, then it ‘logically’ follows that only a divine creator God can save us from a tragic situation for which He, himself, is believed to be responsible.  

Cue salvationist hopes and memes—and prayers—of being “saved” from this planetary tragedy of our own unintentional making.  The hope of salvation from anguishing human experience is an understandable hope, but a dangerous one if and when it leads to a fatal human failure to act.   

If the core question is how religion can be a ‘progressive rather than regressive’ force for inspiring and motivating a global citizens movement, then religiously inclined global citizens must tackle the wicked problem of the religious influence of causal religious epistemology on ideas of Agency. We all answer the question, “What can I do?” based on our beliefs about Tragic Agency and salutary, salvationist, heroic Agency to transcend a tragic fate. If we believe that all that is up to God and we have no Agency either way, tragic agency or transcendent agency, then we have a problem. 

The religious question I think we need to ask, and to answer, is: What are the ideas of Tragic Agency and Transcendent Agency we need to inspire and catalyze a global citizens movement to transcend our common, tragic fate of hurtling toward cosmic catastrophe by our own human actions, and how can the human spiritual impulse help foster those ideas? 

For which my short answer is developing “the great inspiration” for the Great Transition that dignifies and legitimates any, and every, source of inspiration to act to minimize human suffering and maximize human courage, compassion, and creativity to create a planetary form of human civilization in which real living humans can, and want, to live and thrive.

Mimi Stokes
Mimi Stokes is a playwright who focuses on the intersection of sustainability and drama.

Cite as Mimi Stokes Katzenbach, contribution to GTI Roundtable "Religion and a GT," Great Transition Initiative (December 2014),

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As an initiative for collectively understanding and shaping the global future, GTI welcomes diverse ideas. Thus, the opinions expressed in our publications do not necessarily reflect the views of GTI or the Tellus Institute.