Radical environmental activists in France seek bridges with spirituality

    Source: Le Monde.

Known for its use of civil disobedience to alert the public about climate change and other threats to the environment, the French section of Extinction Rebellion (abbreviated XR) launched a spiritual branch (XR Spi) three months ago, which in July met with some Christian groups sharing its concerns, reports Weilian Zhu in La Vie (July 28). Launched in 2018 in the UK, XR has become a prominent activist group on issues of climate change in Europe. Influenced by the ideas of deep ecology, one of its 10 principles encourages the building of “regenerative cultures to save ourselves from the insanity of a self-destructive civilization.” Supporting positive changes “can include ceremony and prayer (in ways that are not dogmatic) to find inspiration from things bigger than ourselves.” XR has also been interacting with faith-based groups and individuals in the UK.

A group called Christian Climate Action has been working closely with XR since 2018, and there are also XR Muslims. Attending XR gatherings in the UK a few years ago, Stefan Skrimshire (University of Leeds) had observed that “the presence of religious ‘affinity groups,’ organized talks by religious leaders, and rituals and ceremonies were more prominent in this movement than in any [he had] previously witnessed” (Open Democracy, May 12, 2019). In France, this kind of engagement is unusual in leading environmental activist organizations, and the July gathering was met with a flood of negative comments on the Twitter account of XR France, with suspicions that XR was turning into a “cult.” According to members of XR Spi who spoke to Zhu, more emphasis should be given to self-transformation as a way to balance activism and eco-anxiety and go beyond a materialist worldview. They emphasized that religious traditions offer a wide range of supportive resources that could address a spiritual emptiness among activists. The activists are looking for ways of proceeding that would take into account both the need for spirituality and the French secular framework.

(La Vie, https://www.lavie.fr/actualite/ecologie/quand-extinction-rebellion-souvre-a-la-spiritualite-83587.php; XR Regenerative Cultures, https://xr-regenerativecultures.org/;

Christian Climate Action, https://christianclimateaction.org/)