Conversations with European Green activists
Edited by: NUALA AHERN (Green Foundation Ireland) and ERICA MEIJERS (Bureau de Helling)
Green Values, Religion and Secularism is a book published by Green European Foundation in 2015, in which Green activists from different European contexts reflect on the relationship between politics and religion, both in their own lives and in society.
Six European Green foundations participated in conversations on religion, Green values and secularism with Green activists from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, The Netherlands, Poland and Turkey.
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Green values are profoundly critical of the idea of the isolated individual freely contracting with other isolated individuals as the basis of social and economic life, and see this as a dangerously destabilising liberal mythology with little basis in reality. Greens tend to see human beings as living in connection with each other and with their environment.
As political parties however, they do not really act accordingly, as the Dutch philosopher Ger Groot observed after reading these interviews. He noticed that Greens have little room for the contemplative side of life; they very quickly focus on the responsibility to act, looking at wrongs which must be righted. The Greens have a split image of the human being: people are part of a bigger constellation but, at the same time, they are the masters of that same constellation (see de Helling, winter 2015, p.10).
The Green critique of modernity approaches a religious critique of humanism, understood as humans being the measure of all things. However Greens also have a split relationship with religion. In spite of much common ground, religion is often seen as something backward that hinders the liberation of individuals and society. The ‘secularisation thesis’ still has a grip on the Green movement, as it has on the left-wing parties.
During the 1960s and 1970s, left-wing intellectuals expected religion to disappear from society, but this concept no longer makes sense. Religion shows no signs of disappearing from modern life, but it does manifest itself differently – on the one hand, in a more political way and, on the other hand, in non-institutionalised forms.
In the 21st century the relationship between religion and modern society has shifted. In Europe secularism has become mainstream and no single religious tradition can command a majority in society. Both Muslim and Christian immigrants have a different approach to religion compared with Europeans, both Christian and secular. There have been fierce debates on issues such as ritual slaughtering, the wearing of the headscarf and gay marriage. Are these conflicts about the relationship between belief and politics, or is the relationship between church and state the issue?
Nuala Ahern was the first Chair of Green Foundation Ireland (2011 to 2014). She is a former Green Party Member of the European Parliament (1994 to 2004), was a member of Wicklow County Council (1991 to 1994) and was a founder member of the Irish Women’s Environmental Network. A counselling psychologist by profession, Nuala studied psychology at Brunel University London. She has a deep interest in mythology and modern culture, and is a co-founder of the lecture series Mythical Links.
Erica Meijers is Editor-in-Chief of de Helling, the quarterly of Bureau de Helling, the foundation of the Dutch Greens, and is a member of the editorial board of the Green European Journal, the publication of Green European Foundation. She holds a PhD from the Protestant Theological University in the Netherlands. Her dissertation on the debate on apartheid in South Africa within the Protestant churches in the Netherlands was published under the title Blanke Broeders Zwarte Vreemden (2008). She was the editor of Populism in Europe (2011).