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.
The time during which Watt spoke was soon after the devastating period of the 1970s during which no less than two severe “oil shocks” took place, in 1973 and 1979. The nation was clawing its way through a recession that destroyed much of the agricultural base and created havoc in many other segments of the economy.
A trigger of those events was the fact that in the U.S. “Peak Oil” had been reached. The nation could no longer sustain growing production of domestic petroleum and had to turn increasingly to imported oil. OPEC reared its ugly head and Islamic regions having the good fortune of lying above a sea of oil were ready once more to renew their 1400 year program of world conquest, this time financed by what would eventually be trillions of petro-dollars extorted from the West.
It would have been the right time for the U.S. to make a sharp turn, and in fact during the Carter administration there had been a fledgling effort to develop renewable energy resources. Under Reagan, and thanks in large part to his running dog Watt with his superstitious view that the future of humanity belonged somewhere other than on the Earth, those programs were canceled and our nation lurched forward on the path of oil dependency that has led us to where we are today. Since Watt was sworn in as secretary of the interior almost three decades have passed, a vital period of time during which much could have been done to protect our future and the future of the very Earth itself.
As you can see, it is not only the environment that is under threat because of the inaction and misguided policies that have been followed throughout the last 28 years. Our economy has become a fragile and distended thing, all too dependant upon Arab oil and Chinese manufacturing. Politics has descended into impolite, raving, dog-eat-dog fights for power. Chaos is descending upon the entire Planet with the failure of one so-called nation after another. And, as I discussed in my last post, truly frightening famine is looming over the horizon.
Well, that was then and now is … well, a different time. It is a sad history of lost opportunity, but at least there are some slight signs that attitudes may be changing.
Many of the most rightwing political “Conservatives” (we can call them “religious fundamentalists” for all practical purposes) have criticized John McCain because he recognizes the need for action on climate change (for several years he has teamed with Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman to sponsor a bill to increase action to reduce carbon emissions). Will the new initiative from the Southern Baptists begin to change Conservative positions on that and other issues presently on the political agenda?
Only time will tell, but it is refreshing to think that perhaps opinions will be affected more by documents such as the third report of the International Panel on Climate Change and less by the Book of Revelations, a superstitious political diatribe against the long-gone Roman Empire, a wacky, fictional document filled with fantastic visions worthy of an LSD trip and which bears absolutely no relation with the real world, either when it was written nearly two millennia ago or today in the 21st Century.