05 June 2017

Evangelicals, climate change, and creation care.

Gotta admit: For the longest time I was skeptical about climate change.

Back then it was called “global warming”—the idea of pollution changing our planet’s atmosphere, creating a “greenhouse effect” which trapped heat and gradually upped the world’s average temperature. And even if it did exist, big deal. So the world’s temperature went up a degree or two. What kind of impact would that make? Hardly any, I expected.

’Cause naïvely I’d imagined “average temperature” meant everywhere only got warmer by a degree. The north and south poles, however, got warmer by more than that. Warm enough for a lot of ice to melt.

Between 1980 and 2003, the north polar ice cover shrunk 1.6 million square kilometers. It’s getting so ships can now travel the Arctic Ocean. NASA

The reason I hadn’t believed in climate change was because, at the time, it was speculation. Based on evidence, but still speculation. I’m old enough to remember when scientists were predicting global cooling: Back in the 1970s, some scientists claimed another ice age was on the way, and the United States would be covered in snow like that lousy 2004 movie The Day After Tomorrow. Global cooling, global warming; make up your mind, science guys.

But between the shrunken ice caps and sinking islands, I grew convinced. Obviously the poles are getting warmer; ergo the earth is getting warmer.

The “price of industrialization”—well, when Beijing can’t be bothered to filter their smokestacks. CNN

All right, if pollution is the problem, can we solve it? Of course we can. Some of you older folks remember when London, New York, and Los Angeles were covered in smog to the level Beijing currently is. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s, and despite the nearby ocean making it legitimately overcast in the mornings, it used to remain “overcast,” in the wrong shade of gray, most days. It’s not anymore. California passed laws capping emissions. There was some uproar at the time, ’cause adjustment costs money, and those who have to spend the most on it really don’t wanna. But now we can breathe our own air… something China’s bigger cities can’t yet do.

So can we fight pollution and win? Of course; we’ve done it before. Humans, as the LORD once pointed out, can do whatever we set our minds to. Ge 11.6 At the time it wasn’t a compliment; we were up to no good. But we can do good. Not always for righteous reasons, but still.

Problem is, a significant number of politically conservative Evangelical Christians in the United States don’t believe in climate change. Even after they’re presented the very same evidence I was. This includes Evangelicals in elected office; this includes the Christianist politicians they back, like President Donald Trump.

During this year’s Group of Seven summit on 26-27 May, Trump stated he doesn’t agree with the other six national leaders about climate change. Therefore he was thinking about backing the United States out of the Paris Agreement—and on 1 June, he formally did.

Okay. First I need to point out the Paris Agreement is a United Nations non-binding document which merely states nations oughta do something serious about climate change. It doesn’t actually do anything when nations sign off on it; it’s pure political theater, which is why Nicaragua refused to sign it at all. Nations can sign it, then hypocritically do nothing at all, which is pretty much what I expect from some of ’em. This is much of the reason why the United Nations is so impotent, and far less relevant than conspiracy theorists imagine.

However the reason Trump backed out of the agreement is ’cause he believes climate change is a Chinese hoax, is nonsense (and worse), and is needlessly expensive. His supporters, which include way too many Evangelicals, agree: There is no climate change; this is just an international power grab; let’s get America to work on real issues.

Well. Since the federal government is only part of the United States government, various states (like mine) and cities (like, say, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), state they intend to follow the Paris Agreement regardless of what the president or Congress decrees. We’ll see how well they follow through.

What’s with these Evangelicals?

Why don’t conservative Evangelicals believe in climate change? For much the same reason I didn’t believe in it myself: We’re skeptical of scientists.

The difference is the route we come to our beliefs. I know I’m wrong and Jesus is right. Prove me wrong and I’ll change my mind. I’ve done it before, and still do it from time to time. I’m neither wedded nor welded to my ideas. Really, as a fallible human I have no business being so.

Other Evangelicals don’t look at truth that way at all. No, they’d never claim infallibility, but functionally that’s how they see themselves: Once the Holy Spirit got into ’em he sanctified them, and now everything they believe is right. It’s what God thinks. They don’t recognize this as pure projection; they honestly think he renewed their minds, and now their prejudices have God at the back of ’em.

Scary. But common.

I grew up in churches which taught young-earth creationism, the theory God created the universe only 6 millennia ago. No, not 13.8 billion years ago; a millionth of that time. They insist it’s the only legitimate conclusion a believing Christian can come to, if we claim to interpret the bible literally. If you believe the earth is in fact 4 billion years old, it’s all part of a slippery slope which means you don’t believe Genesis, don’t believe the bible, don’t believe what it teaches about Jesus, don’t believe in Jesus either, and therefore aren’t saved. Therefore every other belief about when and how God created the universe, they consider heresy. Believe it and you might nullify your salvation.

Aince scientists uniformly figure the earth, much less the universe, can’t be as young as 6,020 years old, they conclude scientists must be heretics. Can’t trust ’em. Can’t believe anything they tell you. Not even the self-described “Christian” ones. At best they’ve been led astray. At worst they’re leading people astray, like those outspoken atheist scientists who insist God’s a delusion and not great. The only scientists you can trust are the ones who’ve publicly declared themselves young-earth creationists, or who work for young-earth groups like the Creation Research Institute or Answers in Genesis. The rest must’ve got into the sciences, not to learn more about God’s creation, but to seek reasons why God didn’t actually create it. All of ’em must have some sinister nontheist agenda behind everything they do. Trust none of them. Not even your family doctor.

I know; not every Evangelical believes in young-earth creationism. I absolutely don’t; if you really do take Genesis literally, young-earth creationism is physically impossible. May as well believe in a flat earth. Although you’d be surprised (or, if you’ve been Christian long enough, probably not) how many Christians seriously believe the earth flat. But regardless of whether you believe in 6,000-year-old dinosaur bones, or that every planet in our solar system is round but ours, the fact is if you’re surrounded by people who don’t trust scientists, it’s gonna rub off on you. If everybody in your church think all doctors are brainwashed pill-pushers, and all you really need are essential oils and super-fervent prayer, you’re more likely to follow the crowd than not. Hey, if they’re right about Jesus, maybe they’re right about this too.

The disastrous effect of this theory is obvious: Evangelicals choose to trust fake science. People who claim, “This totally works!” not because they’ve done a proper double-blind study, proven their results, and were required by the Food and Drug Administration to post the side effects. It works because they think it works. It appeared to work for them this one time. Or a friend told ’em it works. And to be fair, sometimes it does actually work; sometimes they stumbled into an authentic cure, like when the ancients discovered aspirin. Other times it only appears to, like when the medievals invented bleeding: That light-headedness you feel? It ain’t relief.

Hence Evangelical churches are medical con artists’ dreams come true. They’ll listen to any quack who pushes eastern medicine, because (though Fundamentalists may fear it’s devilish) it does still believe in and depend on spiritual things, so it must be closer to the truth than western medicine. (Even though eastern doctors study and practice western medicine—and lately in greater numbers than westerners.) Or quacks who still practice the old medieval belief of homeopathy—that if something’s poisoning you, a little extra dose of the poison will force your immune system to rally and fight harder, and that’ll cure you. Or folk medicines such as vitamins, herbs, oils, diets, and anything which lets you do an end-run around doctors in the pursuit of health. Or people who fear medication, vaccination, surgery, and any treatment which might have side effects—as if everything doesn’t have a side effect.

Anything which taps their paranoid worries that doctors are really trying to keep them unwell in order to profit off them. And y’know, the United States’ for-profit healthcare system honestly doesn’t allay these fears any.

So when scientists near-unanimously believe in climate change… well, that makes no difference to young-earth creationists. If the scientists are profoundly wrong about the age of the earth, stands to reason they’d also be profoundly wrong about every other claim they make about the earth.

Plus that whole sinister-agenda idea: Exactly why do all these scientists insist climate change is real? What’s their true motive for saying so? Somehow it’s gotta be political power; while they’re forcing us to stop polluting, they’re also gonna slip some plans for global domination in there. Or it’s gotta be money; they wanna shut down the oil and coal industries because they have a ton of investments in solar and wind industries. Pick the form of power you fear losing most, and it’s probably the one you most suspect mad scientists of trying to usurp.

Mammonism corrupts.

Evangelicals, and Trump himself, claim he’s a Christian. I have my doubts, ’cause you’ll know us by their fruits; I figure he said the sinner’s prayer in front of some prominent Evangelical, and she thinks it took, and people trust her… or at least they wanna believe it really bad. I don’t consider it outside the realm of possibility Trump is a relatively new believer. It’d be nice if true, and if he let the Spirit do some serious work on him. Thing is, Trump’s been a Mammonist for way longer, and old habits die hard.

Back when I was involved in the Republican Party, I discovered a whole lot of political conservatives are Mammonist. Their conservatism hasn’t a thing to do with a the culture—which was my reason for getting involved in party stuff. It has only to do with a government which doesn’t interfere with their pursuit of wealth. And ever since conservative Evangelicals joined the party en masse after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the culture warriors and the capitalists have been in a tug of war over the party’s soul. Evangelicals try to make the Mammonists more devout; Mammonists throw ’em a bone and fake devotion, then try to make Evangelicals see the merits in social Darwinism. Guess which team’s gaining more ground.

For the president and other Mammonists, climate change prevention is bad business. It’s not about science skepticism: Mammonists see science as a tool which invents cool stuff for them to sell. But if they can’t make a buck off it, why bother? Boner pills sell; cures for rare diseases do not. Likewise if science leads us to the conclusion something profitable is dangerous, Mammonists are quick to dismiss it. Just look at all the tobacco companies whose executives, despite decades of evidence to the contrary, insisted to Congress nicotine isn’t addictive. It’s much the same mentality about climate change: Their activities and policies are affecting the ecosystem? The global ecosystem? Can’t be them. Look how huge the earth is, and how tiny their smokestacks are.

It’s not that Mammonists don’t care what pollution may be doing to the planet and its people: They’re not buying vacation homes in Beijing either. It’s that they don’t wanna be on the hook for it. Don’t wanna be obligated to pollute less—especially not when their competitors, namely businesses in unregulated countries, have no caps on pollution whatsoever. Don’t want those caps here, either: They’ve always been willing to spend gobs of money on any politician who promises to fight regulation. Don’t wanna pay to fix the world’s problems, because they’re not their brother’s keeper; they don’t have to love their neighbors; they’re a business, not a charity. More social Darwinism.

And yeah, some Mammonists truly don’t give a rip about the planet. Maybe they’d act when things are dire in their homeland, but if memory serves, they haven’t. Even if our islands were flooding like those in the Solomon Islands, they’d simply move to other islands. Those who can’t afford to do likewise? The social Darwinist figures if God wanted ’em to survive, he wouldn’t have let ’em be poor. Screw ’em.

Now yes, natural disasters tend to wake up and mobilize Evangelicals. Hurricane relief, tornado relief, tsunami relief, volcano relief; we’re usually first in line to help. Climate change relief? Well, that’s a much slower natural disaster, so Evangelicals don’t consider it as dire. And because they doubt scientists’ predictions—hey, the globe gets warmed every year when we go round the sun!—they still figure something might turn the trend around. Maybe the increase in global temperatures is part of some fake-science solar cycle that we’re at the high point of. Maybe a major volcano will go off and create some of that global cooling, like Mt. Tambora did back in 1816, and that’ll balance stuff off. Besides, what can we humans really do to control or affect nature? The earth is so big!

Skepticism, fatalism, nihilism, whatever you wanna call it: It plays right into Mammonists’ pockets, so they’re all too happy to encourage it. Stoke their shared fears of socialist one-world governments. Promote their shared goal of taking over the kingdoms of this world… even though Evangelicals and Mammonists have very different plans for what to do with it. For Evangelicals, it’s to turn ’em into the kingdoms of our God, or close enough, before Jesus comes back.

Funny; they never ask themselves whether Jesus wants to take back his world in its polluted condition.

Aren’t we meant to care for the planet?

Back to Genesis, to the texts young-earth creationists claim to follow so closely. When God created humans, he commissioned us to rule the world.

Genesis 1.27-28 KWL
27 God created humanity in his shape; in God’s shape he created it: He created male and female.
28 God blessed them and told them, “Bear fruit. Be many. Fill the land and take it over.
Rule the sea’s fish, the skies’ birds, and all life—everything crawling on the land.

It’s the LORD’s world, Ps 24.1 but we were given its oversight.

And like slaves put in charge of talents, Mt 25.14-30 God calls us to account for how well we supervise the planet he created for us. Did we rule it wisely, or were we so fixated on exploiting it for our own selfish gain, we ruined it for our descendants—not to mention everything else “crawling on the land,” which we either killed with pesticides or mismanagement? When the Son of Man returns to take possession of his world, in what condition will he receive it? Did we, with his help and guidance, fix its problems?—or did we, feigning ignorance or rejecting wisdom, pretend it’s nothing to do with us?

Even if you don’t believe in climate change, you’d have to agree there are many areas where we humans need to be more responsible with our world. Clean up all the plastic we dump in the ocean, which fish and birds eat because they think it’s food, and die of starvation. Clean up the sewage generated by our factory farms, which leaks into the groundwater or spreads E. coli into our crops. Get rid of the air pollution in big cities. Reduce the amount of garbage we throw in our landfills. A lot of this is basic stuff; a lot of the reason we pollute anyway is because we don’t care to be bothered with the basic stuff. And in so doing, we abrogate our duty to run God’s world.

Any Evangelicals ever considered the idea that one of the reasons they’re not getting anywhere with their culture war, is because God isn’t gonna let ’em be stewards of people if they refuse to be halfway decent stewards of those peoples’ world? That maybe he wants us to be holistically good, Jm 2.10 and not just good at the one or two areas we’ve picked as priorities? That picking and choosing where we’ll do our duty, makes is inconsistent, inauthentic, and therefore inappropriate to be given bigger duties?

Nah, probably not.

I’m hoping once Jesus returns, he puts ’em on garbage duty.