“God is dead,” observed the title character of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, written by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in 1883.

The notorious claim, often interpreted as a celebratory declaration, was not delivered as a boast. Rather, Nietzsche made his observation about a rapidly changing Western culture with a profound sense of foreboding. The fear arose from the risk inherent in the decline of traditional religious values that had shaped the Western world; that the death of God would leave a vacuum, and that vacuum would be filled with a new religiosity, albeit one devoid of the intrinsic meaning and mores that shaped the Christian worldview.

Fast-forward through 150 years of history and we can observe just how prescient Nietzsche’s proclamation has been and remains. Here in modern day America, church attendance has been declining for decades; “In God We Trust” has been replaced with “Trust the Science;” and our coming-of-age generation, Gen Z, is reportedly the least religious generation in our nation’s history.

Considering such data points, one could be forgiven for accepting the more literal take on Nietzsche’s claim — God is clearly dead. But I’d argue the more nuanced and foreboding perspective is what we have witnessed. Indeed, large swaths of Westerners have filled the void created by God’s untimely death with a new religiosity: the Green Movement.

The religiosity of the green movement

For younger Americans, say, those under 40, the statistics on church attendance may not be entirely accurate. After all, for the last 30+ years, anyone attending public schools in the United States has essentially been in the Green Movement pews, learning that reverence for Mother Earth is the highest aim of one’s life.

Beyond the classrooms, younger Americans were inundated with the early green canon: Captain Planet; acid rain; reduce/reuse/recycle; overpopulation; the vanishing Great Barrier Reef; a catastrophic hole in the ozone; and, finally, global warming, caused by you, melting the ice caps, and murdering the polar bears. How dare you?

The good news is you can (and must) repent for your sin of living. As long as you make sure your prosperity, comfort, production, security, and individual liberty take a decidedly lower station to the primacy of Gaia’s perceived health, you might relieve yourself of the guilt of your existence. You might even find that meaning in life you so desperately seek.

Will the personal and societal sacrifices work? Have faith. The alternative is a vengeful flood of your own carbon-making.

James Lovelock — a late famed English environmentalist, inventor, and author of the Gaia hypothesis — recognized the weaponization of guilt in a movement he helped set into motion:

It just so happens that the green religion is now taking over from the Christian religion. I don’t think people have noticed that, but it’s got all the sort of terms that religions use… The greens use guilt. That just shows how religious greens are.

James Lovelock

The guilt works.

Data from the Pew Research Center shows that nearly 70% of Americans support prioritizing the development of renewable energy sources; a majority support governments incentivizing wind and solar energy production; and, three-quarters of Americans say they support US participation in international efforts to “reduce the effects of climate change.”

There is a significant partisan divide, and it’s growing, but younger Americans on both sides of the aisle are more open to drastic changes such as completely phasing out fossil fuels. It’s a privileged position to take, to be sure, but saving the world is worth it.

The spread of this new faith has overtaken the values vacuum of the Western world, just like Nietzsche worried it might. And just like he worried, that which fills the void has flipped the values on their head.

Replacing the sanctity of the individual, formed in the image of God, is instead a primacy of collective identity existing in service of Mother Earth. Instead of love and prosperity, the new missionaries preach that starting families is a sin because it exacerbates the climate crisis.

However, eternal truths being what they are, the new Green God seems incapable of delivering the meaning that we’ve been sorely missing in the last couple generations. The dearth of meaning shows up in our worsening mental health crises, crime spikes, and cultural excess. It underlies the pervasive sense in America that something is wrong, and it’s not the sea level.

Fortunately, this dark cloud comes with a silver lining: many have started to question their self-flagellation, and instead are returning to a more honest search for meaning. With any luck, exposing the destructive, nihilistic nature of Green Movement policies will awaken more hearts and minds to a tried and true alternative — human flourishing.