Pope Francis’ debt to Calvinism:
Laudato Si’ will restate what previous popes have said on environmental destruction and its impact on the poor, but as an encyclical, the church’s highest teaching document, it will have magnified impact.
The encyclical should remind us of American environmentalism’s own intensely religious and moral roots, which have mostly been forgotten since the 1960s.
The very issues that Francis will emphasize — sin, the common good, and the harm that greedy exploitation causes society — inspired conservation and environmentalism from their earliest beginnings. Their roots, however, were in the social and religious teachings, not of the Catholic Church, but of Calvinist churches, such as Congregationalism and Presbyterianism.
In early colonial days, Puritans following Calvinist principles established communities across New England. Calvinism put special emphasis on God’s presence in the works of nature, and Puritans often went alone into the fields, woods, and hills to pray and meditate.
So that none would be poor, New England towns granted each family a share of land, which religious duty commanded they pass on to future generations in as good or better condition. Towns regulated land and timber use to ensure resources for the future.
By 1830, colonies became states, Puritans became Congregationalists, and New England towns, with their white steepled Congregational churches on the greens, became the very emblem of democracy, prosperity, and moral order.