Atheist and Green Party campaigner Siân Berry isn’t against Christmas. She just wants us to turn down the consumerism and ramp up the joy. An excerpt from a new compilation.
Being green and being religious can fit together well. Most religious texts contain advice on caring for natural things, and most religions use these teachings in campaigns to cut carbon and save the planet (“What would Jesus drive?” being my particular favorite). I applaud all of this, but my own political and environmental activism comes more or less directly out of my non-belief in God.
I have always been an atheist. At Sunday school I was willing to learn the moral lessons of the parables but very unwilling to believe there was anything supernatural about the commonsense advice Jesus was doling out. Later, even under extreme peer pressure when most of my friends became Baptists in the middle of my teenage years (and despite the exciting prospect of a dramatic full-immersion baptism ceremony), the idea of a divine being was something I just couldn’t accept.
I wasn’t political either. At university, I studied metallurgy and the history of science, visited coal mines and nuclear power stations with relish, and steered well clear of anything that smelled of ideology. On the college committee, I was the entertainment rep, keeping my fellow students amused with ’70s discos and pub quizzes and not giving a thought to the future or the bigger picture.
It was only later that I became more thoughtful and developed a proper humanist philosophy. After college, I moved into a house with five friends who brought with them a massive collection of books, including piles of politics, literature and history. So, with these resources at my disposal, I sat down to work out what I thought about the world. After two years of serious study, the conclusion was something of a counterpoint to the Atheist Bus Campaign’s famous slogan. My version goes something like this: “Our planet, its civilizations, and its people are unusual and fragile things. There’s probably no God, so we’d better look after them well.”
Once I had this sorted out, I was ready to go. I spotted the Green Party, realized I agreed with most of what they had to say, joined up, and volunteered to help. And in the busy eight years since that day, I hope I have helped to make a difference to the way some people think about how to help the world get by. Meanwhile, I’ve spent most of my professional life working as a writer and campaigner and, in the process, learned an awful lot about how to fail badly at convincing people into a greener, more responsible way of life.
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