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Reflections on Evangelicals and global warming…

January 30, 2008

651.jpgphoto:  Retreating glacier in Glacier National Park.  First photo taken in 1911.  Second photo from 2000.  Other warning signs of global warming are captured in photos here.

I wonder why many Evangelicals are wary and even cynical toward the idea of global warming.  I get the impression that many Evangelicals think it is all some big hoax–a giant myth invented by the likes of Al Gore (An Incovenient Truth).  Perhaps it is a deep-seated distrust of scientific enterprise.  You know, like Reason and Faith are inevitable enemies.  Residue from the Enlightenment shift whereby Science usurped the role of Faith in society as ultimate framing story narrating Truth…reality?  Perhaps. 

Perhaps it is more a remnant of the fundamentalist/liberal battles of the 20th century.  We could perhaps trace the origins of this skepticism toward science (within Evangelical circles) to these sources.  However, my hunch is that it is more a byproduct of uncritical consumption of certain media outlets which subscribe to a polarized view of truth. 

Where is the synthesis?  Where are the Christians that refuse to bury their heads in the sand?  Where are the Christians who aren’t afraid to examine valid evidence from any source (the scientific community included) and adjust their presumptions and ideas accordingly? 

Why must we deny the empirical evidence that points to definite shifts in the broader climate patterns?  What threat does this theory present to our way of looking at the world?

Most often I hear the global warming theory refuted each time we have a cold snap, or hear a report on heavy snows somewhere.  Someone quips, “I wonder what Al Gore would say about that?”  Yet such comments reveal a shallow engagement with the claims of science regarding global warming.  The fact that it still snows (a lot some times), the fact that we still experience frigid temperatures does not in one swift blow cripple the global warming theory. 

Another defense against the perpetrators of the global warming “myth” is to discredit their evidence as tainted.  They obviously have an agenda.  The agenda (as with others who favor environmental stewardship) is to infringe on the rights of capitalists to consume the raw materials of the earth in ways that produce needed goods and products.  Again, the economy is the primordial consideration, not ecologically sound principles.  Why would we want to preserve pristine Alaskan land that could be developed by the oil industry?  Why would we seek to regulate the mining practices in Appalachia?  Any attempt to do this is framed as anti-capitalist (and worse).   

Galileo challenged the assumed Truth endorsed by the religious establishment–namely the Catholic church.  Galileo championed the Copernican view of the universe (Earth not at the center)–this was controversial within his lifetime.  The Catholic Church prohibited the advocacy of heliocentrism as potentially factual, because that theory had no decisive proof and was contrary to the literal meaning of Scripture.  Galileo was eventually forced to recant his heliocentrism and spent the last years of his life under house arrest on orders of the Inquisition. 

And so it goes.  When the emerging evidence of science doesn’t fit into the interpretations of Scripture within our framing story, we mock or seek to censor in some way the alternative views.  This response is not the necessary response of Christians.  Truth is not threatened by honest questions.  The biblical worldview is not in danger of bankruptcy should global warming prove to be a plausible theory. 

While inconvenient to some of our predispositions, the truth (no matter what the source) is never a threat to the way of Jesus. 

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. pistolpete permalink
    January 30, 2008 2:19 pm

    I think even if Christians disagree on the science behind global warming, we should all agree that we’re doing a lousy job of caring for God’s Creation. We should all be motivated to personally and collectively make lifestyle changes to reverse this long-standing trend.

  2. just an apprentice permalink
    January 30, 2008 2:25 pm

    Pete,
    Agreed.

  3. dawn permalink
    January 30, 2008 2:56 pm

    “When the emerging evidence of science doesn’t fit into the interpretations of Scripture within our framing story, we mock or seek to censor in some way the alternative views.”

    Oh my goodness!!!! It has nothing to do with interpretations of scripture – I have never heard Christians use scripture to make an argument against the theory of global warming . . . unless you count the idea that it doesn’t matter what we do to the Earth because we were told in Genesis to “subdue” the Earth (KJV). No, I believe that at the heart of apathy and indignation against the evidence of global warming is selfishness and politics.

    The majority of Christians would rather say that Al Gore is a nut and liberal than think about the ways he might be right and the ways their habits would have to change if we are to do something about it. I wonder if years ago, someone like Bob Dole or even Pat Robertson had pushed the idea of global warming, if the religious right would have looked at it differently from the start. I think first and foremost it has to do with who is bringing up the issue. Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christians wouldn’t trust anything a liberal politician and the unethical science community would have to say.

    And most fundamentally, I think the problem is that most of the Fundamentalist/Evangelical circles are predominately middle-class, the part of society in which most of the changes would be needed/expected. No one in America wants to talk about compromising American lifestyle unless, of course, you are Barak Obama, who says that sacrifices will be needed and expected in the American people if we want to maintain a healthy environment, economy and position in the global community. Making changes and adaptations in our fossil fuel consumption, water use, land development, waste disposal are inconvenient and infringe on our freedoms to live however we want.

    So if you want to come back to interpretation of Scripture as a basis for why people don’t subscribe to the evidence of global warming, I would argue that people can’t find Scripture to support exploitation of the Earth and middle-class American life-style, rather they add ideas to Scripture in ways that make room for these political biases and selfish living patterns. So we hear people argue that “subdue” and “have dominion” means we can do whatever we want, maybe that is interpretation that supports exploitation, but I do not see it as speaking against global warming. I see it as adding to what God actually said to fit what we want God to endorse (our selfishness) and what we want people to think is not true (global warming).

  4. just an apprentice permalink
    January 30, 2008 5:20 pm

    Dawn,
    You mean to say that the unfettered right to freedom and the pursuit of happiness isn’t found in Scripture?!? Are you positive about that?

    But, subduing the Earth and having dominion surely allow for the exploitation of the Earth to increase the GNP. Don’t they?

    What in the world! Why should we (Americans make sacrifices) when global warming is a global issue?

    Do you also mean to suggest that political biases and lifestyle choices may have an impact on the way we read the Bible, or the presuppostions we bring to the text?

    Pretty radical stuff…

  5. dawn permalink
    January 30, 2008 7:26 pm

    yes, very funny . . . you are the one who said it first, you just prefer to say it in sophisticated and round about terms . . . until your sarcasm gets the best of you! :-)

  6. Ira permalink
    January 31, 2008 8:37 pm

    I see several things that influence American evangelicals in not caring for the earth:

    1) an affluent lifestyle

    2) the rejection of matter as basically evil and unredeemable– which is heresy. The truth is that creation is to be redeemed and our bodies are to be redeemed.

    3) An interpretation of 2 Peter 3:5-13. We must remember that this draws on Noah and the flood when the earth at that time was destroyed. What was that “destruction?” Certainly not the annihilation of planet earth.

    4) overlooking Romans 8:19-11. The universe (kosmos) will be redeemed.

    5) overlooking Revelation 11:18. The call of the 7th angel for God to destroy those who destroy the earth.

    6)God so loved the world (kosmos) (John 3:16) Not just the people, but the entire creation that has been infected.

  7. dawn permalink
    January 31, 2008 11:20 pm

    Ira,

    These are very good examples of how interpretation of Scripture would lead people to not feel compelled to care for the Earth. And as for that argument, I have heard Christians add that they believe that God created enough resources for all of mankind to use for the duration of life on Earth. So at the end of times, the resources may run out, but we don’t have to worry now.

    Or, for those who, as you say, “overlook” the concept of redemption of the world, verses like in 2 Peter give even more reason to not care about environmental issues. Based on what is depicted in 2 Peter, some Christians may argue, the world is going to be destroyed anyway, why should we be working to “fix” it?

    I suppose these perspectives are founded on a “created then leave it” idea that God created the world, threw it into space and then left it to function purely by the laws of nature. There is missing in that picture a loving interaction of Creator with His Creation and a desire to redeem it from captivity, the consequences of sin. Yes, as you point out, there is missing the concept that “all of Creation” means both Man and Earth.

    Thanks for those references.

  8. just an apprentice permalink
    February 1, 2008 6:05 am

    Ira,
    Great stuff! Very helpful.
    Thank you.

  9. February 1, 2008 12:08 pm

    well, al gore did invent the internet. so he is pretty smart…

    just kidding. no matter what we think about global warning, there is a scriptural mandate to love and care for our environment.

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