In recent years, under the mantle of legitimate concern for the environment have come varieties of green religion containing overtones of neo-paganism, pantheism and feminism.
Within the Catholic Church in Australia this has been mostly initiated by a few members of religious congregations that once formed the backbone of the Church's schools. These people appear to have abundant spare time and, as the saying goes, "Nature abhors a vacuum".
The latest case in point - titled EarthSong - has emerged in Victoria in recent months, enjoying the sponsorship of several well-known religious congregations.
On the basis of information gleaned directly from the EarthSong website, an official investigation is warranted, given the use of Catholic venues and the nature of the listed topics and resource materials - with references to a "new cosmology", "ways of honouring the sacredness of all creation" and rituals to celebrate nature - none of them suggesting any connection at all with the Judeo-Christian tradition, let alone Catholicism.
Christians, of course, ought respect, conserve and utilise wisely God's creation, but it is another matter to be worshipping creation as if it were God Himself.
The following extracts from the EarthSong website are cited without comment since they are generally self- explanatory.
According to the "Vision Statement" of the "Co-sponsoring Congregations" on the website, EarthSong "had its genesis in a conversation between members of several religious orders in Melbourne in early 2003". Each of these "found a resonance between the vision of 'celebrating the sacred in all of creation' and their Order's vision, inspirational documents and directional statements."
The "focal points of EarthSong's programs", we are told, are "literacy, spirituality and ethics", with the following goals:
* to raise awareness around the emerging new cosmology and the growing communion between the various aspects of human knowledge and endeavour in the light of this cosmology;
* to develop new ways of honouring and celebrating the sacredness of all creation;
* to promote a new ethical structure that recognizes and protects the integrity of all life forms on planet Earth.
These aims are to be "implemented through an educational and experiential approach" with "wherever possible ... collaboration with other groups and organizations with similar visions".
The four presenters of the EarthSong program are members of some of the sponsoring religious orders, each with "training in the fields of Earth Literacy and Spirituality."
During 2006, sessions on "Exploring the New Cosmology" were to be held at Trinity Primary School, Narre Warren South, the Augustine Centre, Hawthorn, and at the Mercy Centre, Ballarat. Sessions dealing with "Earth's Imagination" are scheduled at the Kildara Centre with the aim of exploring "the potential within the human for developing mutually enhancing relationships with the natural world."
Also on offer is "Celebrating Cosmogenesis: The Triple Spiral in the Seasonal Wheel", which is "based on the content of Glenys Livingstone's recent publication PaGaian Cosmology, which explores an eco- spirituality grounded in indigenous Western religious celebration of the Earth-Sun annual cycle" - Gaia being an Earth goddess.
Here, participants will be "involved in an experiential workshop developing ritual in the context of the current season."
A further topic, "Spirits of the Australian Desert", is to be held at Treacy College, the Christian Brothers headquarters in Melbourne. We are told: "In this International Year of Deserts this symposium will offer a feast of celebration through the voice of indigenous culture, and the novels, poetry and songs of white Australians."
Other sessions to be held at the Christian Brothers' Edmund Rice Centre, Lower Plenty, are "designed for teachers", and will "explore the current understandings of the origin and nature of the Universe, as a basis for opening up fresh insights into the place and role of the human within a single sacred community."
Course materials accompanying the sessions encompass "aspects of the thinking of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Matthew Fox, Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, David Abram, John Seed, Joanna Macy, Jean Houston, Joseph Campbell, Fritjof Capra and Theodore Rosak."
Among the recommended book titles are The Sacred Earth: Writers on Nature and Spirit, Edited by Jason Gardner, PaGaian Cosmology: Re- inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion by Glenys Livingstone, The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature by David Suzuki with Amanda McConnell and The Dream of the Earth by Thomas Berry.
Other recommended resources include: Earth Prayers from around the World: 365 Prayers, Poems and Invocations for Honouring The Earth, Edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon, The Star In My Heart: Experiencing Sophia, Inner Wisdom by Joyce Rupp, Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim: A Personal Manual for Prayer and Ritual by Edward Hays, Sparks of The Cosmos: Rituals for Seasonal Use by Margie Abbott RSM, Sparks of Life: Rituals for Children by Margaret Abbott RSM and Jennifer Callanan, and Celebrating The Great Mother: A Handbook of Earth- Honoring Activities for Parents and Children by Cait Johnson and Maura D. Shaw.
In light of the above, it is disquieting to note that Earthsong's initial co-sponsors were listed as the Brigidine Sisters, Christian Brothers, FCJ Sisters, Loreto Sisters, Presentation Sisters and Mercy Sisters (Ballarat East), joined in late 2005 by the Mercy Sisters (Melbourne), with several other unnamed Orders providing funds for the project.
Materials promoting EarthSong under the banner of care for the environment might be anticipated in some schools and parishes over the coming months. Catholics will need to be alert since any resemblance between EarthSong and Christianity appears to be purely coincidental.