By David L. Brown
The far right in American politics has consistently opposed recognition that global warming and climate change are real problems. Traditionally, a core element in this denial has been the members of the so-called Religious Right — fundamentalists who believe the Bible to be the infallible word of God and the only source of true knowledge.
In the face of growing evidence that climate change is actually taking place, and that it poses a threat to the future of the Earth, that stone wall of opposition may be starting to crack. According to this article in the New York Times online edition today, 44 leading members of the Southern Baptist Convention have signed onto a “declaration calling for more action on climate change, saying its previous position on the issue was ‘too timid’.”
The current president of the nation’s second largest religious group, Rev. Frank Page, was among those who approved the paper which is titled “A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change.” Two former presidents of the convention also signed.
According to the Times piece:
“We believe our current denominational engagement with these issues has often been too timid, failing to produce a unified moral voice,” the church leaders wrote in their new declaration.
A 2007 resolution passed by the convention hewed to a more skeptical view of global warming.
In contrast, the new declaration, which will be released Monday, states, “Our cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless and ill-informed.”
The document also urges ministers to preach more about the environment and for all Baptists to keep an open mind about considering environmental policy.
With 16 million members in the U.S., second only to Roman Catholics, and due to their activism the Southern Baptists and similar fundamentalist sects have political clout even far beyond their numbers. Typically taking their cues from Scripture rather than science or even common sense, religious fundamentalists are taught to believe that the Earth was created about 6000 years ago and that as written in Genesis, humankind was given “dominion” over the Earth. It is commonly believed that a day of reckoning will soon come during which those who have been “born again” will be literally raised up to a heavenly afterlife in an event they call the Rapture. Those who do not believe as they do will be destroyed along with the Earth itself.
In view of this kind of superstitious belief it is no surprise that Southern Baptists and fundamentalists in general would have little concern for what humans are doing to the environment, since in their view the Earth will soon be destroyed anyway.
And yet those ideas may be changing. According to the Times article James Merritt, a former president of the convention who played a leading role in the new initiative, said:
… that for years he had been “an enemy of the environment.” Then, he said, he had an epiphany.
“I learned that God reveals himself through Scripture and in general through his creation, and when we destroy God’s creation, it’s similar to ripping pages from the Bible,” Mr. Merritt said.
This is certainly a change from previous thinking. As you might recall, members of the religious right have often taken the lead in opposing conservation of resources and action to protect the environment.
For example, James G. Watt, the first secretary of the interior under the Reagan administration (1981-3) testified before Congress that it was important to protect natural resources only with an eye to the imminent return of Jesus Christ. He explained: “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations.” In other words, his idea was that we should use up all the resources of our planet before the Rapture would ensue, and it is apparently not an uncommon idea among fundamentalists that the quicker we wind down things here on Earth the sooner we will meet our reward in the presumed afterlife.
How do you think the members of Congress would have reacted to this kind of blathering insanity? Well, I wasn’t there but I can guess that they listened with polite attention and raised not a single objection to the interjection of Jesus into a discussion of our nation’s natural resources.
And why would that be? Why because of the political power of Christian fundamentalists whose ravings have done much to leave us in the state we are in now. And also because successful politicians —no matter what their true beliefs — attend church regularly. No politician who values his office is about to raise any objection whatsoever to even the most bizarre expressions of religious ideas. In this nation, no one who is perceived as non-religious has the slightest chance of holding public office, not even as dog catcher much less to an exalted position in the Congress.
Most if not all of the men and women in attendance at Watts’s testimony would have been quite familiar with arguments of this kind, from the mouths of their priests, preachers or ministers. Prayer may be banned in schools (due in the eyes of religious Conservatives to the evil Supreme Court and the misguided act of our Founding Fathers in creating a separation between church and state), but it still has a primary place in politics and no session of Congress begins without a fervent prayer.