Holidays in national parks: does religion explain the preservation of parks?


This article was first published in the State of the Faith Bulletin. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox every Monday evening.

Every time I visit a national park, I am newly delighted with their very existence. It is remarkable to me that policymakers were once so mesmerized by America’s natural beauty that they took steps to ensure that vulnerable wonders like Utah’s Delicate Arch would be there for generations to come. to come.

After being struck by this thought again last week on a family trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, I did some research on the factors that made this preservation possible. I was surprised – though I probably shouldn’t have been – that religion played a notable role.

To be clear, not everyone who fought for the creation of national parks saw their work as spiritually important. But many did, which is why the early arguments for land preservation were often made in religious terms.

Proponents of creating the National Park Service would say things like, “We need to protect the Grand Canyon. The creator has only made one, ”Mark Stoll, professor of environmental history, told me in 2017.

John Muir, a famous author and naturalist who is often referred to as the “Father of National Parks,” included the importance of providing a space for prayer in his list of reasons why the government should protect America’s most beautiful places, according to National Catholic Journalist.

“Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray, where nature can heal and encourage and strengthen body and soul,” he writes in his book Yosemite “.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who agrees with Muir’s words. One of the things I love about visiting national parks is how time spent in nature, often without cell service, prompts me to think about big questions related to faith, spirituality and God.

A few years ago, I spent a weekend in Bryce Canyon National Park reporting on a religious organization called A Christian Ministry in the National Parks. He sends people to national parks across the country to lead worship services and Bible studies for workers and guests.

The men and women I spoke with as I worked on this story helped me recognize that the former champions of the national parks system were giving us a spiritual gift. As I was driving in the Rocky Mountains last week with my family, the phrase “Thank you” kept coming to my mind.

Fresh from the press

Term of the week: parliamentarian of the Senate

As I noted in my previous coverage of the federal LGBTQ rights bill, pushing a bill through the Senate these days is not easy. In order to overcome a potential obstruction, politicians need the support of at least 60 senators, and neither party has more than 50 senators to call at this time.

One way the Democratic Party is trying to get around this roadblock is to embed otherwise controversial policy proposals into legislation that is not vulnerable to obstructions, including the budget reconciliation package. These policy proposals can sometimes pass through the Senate even after a 50-50 tie, since Vice President Kamala Harris has the power to cast a decisive vote in favor of the Democrats.

However, there are limits to the types of proposals that can go through this policy-making shortcut, and someone called the Parliamentarian of the Senate is an expert on what it is. This weekend alone, the parliamentarian, who is an unelected and non-partisan arbiter overseeing Senate affairs, determined that Democrats cannot include immigration reform measures in their budget plan. “The decisions of the parliamentarian can be ignored by lawmakers,” although they rarely are, USA Today noted.

What I’m reading …

In the midst of a heartbreaking and confusing pandemic, congregations clash over what it means to live by faith rather than fear. Some Christians refuse to be vaccinated or wear masks because they want to trust God to keep them safe, while others describe these same precautions as an act of love and not fear, according to Lifeway Research. These tensions further complicate the already messy process of putting in place security measures for in-person worship services, the article notes.

Jewish rabbis are among the religious leaders who oppose Texas’ restrictive abortion policies. Some have described efforts to ban abortion procedures as a violation of religious freedom, since Jewish law “not only allows abortion … but requires it in some cases,” reports The Christian Century.

The Washington Post recently looked at a start-up incubator serving Catholic entrepreneurs.


For more on the link between religion and environmentalism, see “Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism” by Mark Stoll and “Devoted to Nature: The Religious Roots of American Environmentalism” by Evan Berry.

I can’t wait to see the new movie “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”, which is about infamous evangelical leader Tammy Faye Bakker and the televangelism empire she created with her husband, Jim.


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