saved me the trouble.
In his reflections on the film, at the Oxford University Press blog, Worster analyzes the religious vision and language both behind the establishment of the national park system, and of the emphases of Burns's film. Incidentally, the Washington Post reviewer, who (like me) is a "great indoorsman," has some funny quips about the occasional sanctimony that makes the film drag a bit -- still, it's well worth watching, and makes me grateful again for Muir and his descendants. The alternative -- the religion of the marketplace and endless development -- would have produced a catastrophe in comparison to the vision of Muir and his twentieth-century acolytes, including Gary Snyder. There is a darker underside even in this vision, hinted at a bit in the film, in terms of the connection between the displacement of Natives and the establishment of the parks; but this was part of a broader history of the 19th century. Worster concludes:
I am convinced that democratic societies are especially open to the religion of nature, for it takes faith out of the hands of priests and gives it back to the people. As long as Americans hunger for religion and as long as they pursue democracy, the national parks will likely be treasured as places where the people can go to worship as they see fit.
Watching the film also reminded me of an email conversation I had some years ago with the former editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, Sean Paige, who now heads Local Liberty Action. For years he railed against a small local tax we have locally (TOPS, the Trails and Open Space Tax) which funds the purchase of local parcels of open space; he once responded to a short letter to the editor I sent in with a several screen email rant-and-rave to the effect of "if you want a park, go buy one yourself, PROFESSOR Harvey." For years I used his rant in class writing exercises, asking students to take his execrable rough draft and rephrase his arguments in comprehensible terms.
In doing so, Paige served as the equivalent of those who railed against the role of "big government" in setting aside the national parks, blocking "development," and the like. It's remarkable to me that the scripture of nature is powerful enough to trump the otherwise libertarian instincts of my local populace, and those in the era of the establishment and growth of the parks system. That's some powerful religion.