I was having supper with a friend last night and the conversation inevitably turned to religion and faith. I’m a practicing Roman Catholic, whereas my friend believes more in the sanctity of nature and the ecology as opposed to going to any building and worshiping a Supreme Being of a monotheistic nature with longstanding historical antecedents regarding dogma, theology and theocratic hierarchy.

This, in her opinion, just didn’t reach her and seemed alien to her nature. But this got me thinking as I was driving home in my car, about just how many parallels there are between the established religious faiths of Christianity and the emerging and increasingly formalized ‘religious faiths’ of health and nutrition as well as environmentalism.

As conventional Christianity has waned over the last forty-five to fifty years or so in the West, such things as health and nutrition as well as the rising tide of awareness concerning the ecology have come to fill the breach in the minds of people who are looking for something to latch onto as a form of spiritual identity and praxis.

Especially from the 1960s onwards, we began hearing about so-called ‘health gurus’, promoting all sorts of alternative forms of nutrition, everything from Vegan diets, to Cream of Budwig, as well as an increasingly religious-like categorization of foods which were ‘sinful’ and foods which were ‘virtuous’. For example we started to hear all about the evil sinfulness of fat, sugar, salt, and junk food. Then it was cholesterol, and then trans fat, then carbs. There was even a book written with a title such as ‘foods that harm, foods that heal’, or something to that effect, underlining the ‘good versus evil’ aspect of it all.

The health and nutrition industry has a whole plethora of people who ‘preach and proselytize’ in favour of the virtues of certain lifestyles, foods or products, while ‘preaching’ equally if not harder against the ‘sins’ of the afore-mentioned carbs, trans fats, junk food, etc… The whole debate over health and nutrition and its parameters has taken on a distinctly Messianic even sometimes Apocalyptic tone, with some of these ‘preachers’ and ‘gurus’, predicting imminent Armageddon if something is not done about the epidemic of obesity, type two diabetes, etc…

The same goes for the environment. We have an increasingly vocal group of ‘preachers’ and ‘holy men’ in the environmental movement, many of them allying themselves with the sacred heritage of the indigenous peoples so as to give themselves a greater stamp of legitimacy, who’ve long since begun to advocate for who and what they consider to be ‘sacred and profane’, or who and what they consider to be a ‘sin or sinner or a virtue or virtuous’.

Oil companies are at the top of the ‘sinners’ list. ‘Greenhouse gases’ are now practically considered to be Satan himself. ‘Reducing our carbon footprint’ is now considered to be the officially-sanctioned dogma which will redeem us from our ‘sins’ of burning fossil fuels. ‘Sustainable development’ and ‘renewable energy’ are now also two widely-accepted and aggressively-peddled ‘virtues’ which will guarantee our redemption from ‘sin’ (see above).

The environmental movement even has its equivalent of heretics, just like in Christianity. Those who doubt or openly question the ‘official dogma’ or ‘theology’ of the ‘Church of Ecology’ are of course the right-wing think tanks and climate-change sceptics, who, as we all know, or should, are being financed by the oil companies. These people, we could say, are the equivalent of the likes of Martin Luther and the early Protestants, who questioned the official dogma of the Church.

Or, we could see them as the heretics who existed within the ranks of the early Church, and who got weeded out around the time of the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, when the Roman Emperor Constantine sought to get some uniformity in the early Church on the advent of making it the official Church of the Empire.

Either way you look at it, health and nutrition and the environmental movement have their share of parallels with Christianity and it’s interesting to examine them, especially in the wake of the decline of conventional Christianity in the West, and the rise of these two forms of ‘surrogate religious faith’ which have risen up, almost organically, to in a way, fill the breach in their stead.

It just goes to show you that humanity continues to be a spiritual organism living in a material context and that regardless of what happens in society, what forces of humanity attempt to deny the existence of the sacred or the eternal, either out of belief in the supremacy of empiricism or out of malevolence, humanity will continue to be inherently drawn to all that is sacred, eternal and holy.

One only has to wonder as to how long the gurus and preachers of health and nutrition as well as ecology will be able to hold the attention of a notoriously fickle public, what with a whole plethora of ‘flavour of the month’-type of causes and, ‘fifteen minutes of fame’-types of media flashes-in-the pan to distract them from what is truly sacred.

This is why I continue to stick to my tried and true Roman Catholicism. We’ve been under the same management for over two thousand years, my mother, being a good and virtuous Catholic, always taught me to eat my greens and to exercise and we always re-used and conserved as many things as we possibly could before throwing them out, even going so far as hoarding some things in the house until those blue boxes came along so that we could dispose of them properly.

So people can worship at the altar of whatever ‘Church’ they want to. It’s a free country which guarantees ‘freedom of religion’. But for me, being healthy, eating right and respecting the environment is all part of being a good Christian and a good Catholic.

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