Killer Apes Won’t Save the Planet

The Summer philosophy group that I am a part of is reading The Faith of the Faithless by Simon Critchley. It is an wild, tour-de-force type of work that spans genres and categories. This past week it broached something that touched a nerve for me.

 The most extreme expression of human arrogance… is the idea that human beings can save the planet from environmental destruction. Because they are killer apes, that is, by virtue of a naturalized version of original sin that tends them towards wickedness and violence, human beings cannot redeem their environment.

Furthermore, the earth doesn’t need saving… The earth is suffering from disseminated primatemaia, a plague of people. Homo rapiens is ravaging the planet like a filthy pest that has infested a dilapidated but once beautiful mansion. In 1600 the human population was about half a billion. In the 1990’s it increased by the same amount.
This plague cannot be solved by the very species who are the efficient cause of the problem … When the earth is done with humans, it will recover and human civilization will be forgotten. Life will on on, but without us. Global warming is simply one of many fevers that the earth has suffered during its history. It will recover, but we won’t because we can’t.  – p. 110

This reminded me something that an old podcast interview with Michael Dowd first awakened me to. Dowd is the author of Thank God for Evolution and he has an incredible knack for articulating his unique perspective.

Dowd talks about the power of participating in a narrative. His assertion is that we are participating in the wrong narrative! If we think that humans are the crown achievement of a project that began about 10,000 years ago and was finished in a 6 day period … a project that humans were give dominion over – then we live one way. [often this dominion is mis-interpreted as domination and has resulted in everything from unchecked capitalism to environmental policies such as “drill baby drill” for instance

Dowd has this theory that humans who living under this narrative are participating in the earth as a cancer does in the body. Cancer is a biological part of the body. It is made up of the same matter that comprise the body that hosts it. But cancer is under the impression that the body that hosts it is a rival to be overcome and defeated. The cancer cells rally together to take over the body. They eventually multiply and expand to the point they endanger the very body that not only gave rise to it but that sustains it.

Ever since the Enlightenment and Descartes’ dualism, a certain set of the human population has believed that while humans are biologically mammals that they are not animals. Continuing on that while we originally were apart of the earth, we are above the earth. We are different than the rest of creation. While we came from the earth – from dust we came – we are not dependent on the earth for our very life. [I touched on this at my own blog in Nipples and Bellybuttons and the Imago dei ]

Because christian humans live by the wrong narrative, we behave as a cancer on the planet. In increasing size and exponential growth we consume at greater and greater levels, consuming the very body that gives host to our existence. At some point, the cancer ends up compromising the functions (organs) that give life to the organism in which it lives. Death ensues. We are not worried about because we think Jesus is coming back soon – it is the end times after all (a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever I saw one). *

Humans that are not willing to engage the ideas of emergence and evolution are living by a cancerous narrative that will extinguish the very host that gives it life. Humans that have a short view of history and a high view of their place in the created order behave in ways that are inherently cancerous to the ecosystems that support and sustain them.

 If we don’t wake up and acknowledge that we have been living by a false narrative we will eventually (sooner or later) overtake the host body’s capacity to renew itself and continue to survive and prosper. This 6 day – 10,000 year old narrative is resulting in a cancerous attitude that is killing the planet.

  • If Critchley is right, then we as killer apes can not save the planet – in fact we wouldn’t even care.
  • If Dowd is correct, we wouldn’t even try because we thought we didn’t need to. We would be living by a different narrative.

 

* The book of Revelation is a political commentary on Roman politics of the first three centuries written in the form of apocalyptic literature. 

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Jigsaw Puzzle or House of Cards?

JigsawHere is a sweet metaphor from The Economist article ‘The clouds of unknowinglast month:

Whether your impression is dominated by the whole or the holes will depend on your attitude to the project at hand. You might say that some see a jigsaw where others see a house of cards. Jigsaw types have in mind an overall picture and are open to bits being taken out, moved around or abandoned should they not fit. Those who see houses of cards think that if any piece is removed, the whole lot falls down.

When I read this quote I really dug it and didn’t know why until I realized the house-of-cards-ists reminded me of biblical literalists. But the article is about views on climate science between the scientists and deniers.

The defenders of the consensus tend to stress the general consilience of their efforts…the way that data, theory and modelling back each other up. Doubters see this as a thoroughgoing version of “confirmation bias”, the tendency people have to select the evidence that agrees with their original outlook. But although there is undoubtedly some degree of that (the errors in the IPCC, such as they are, all make the problem look worse, not better) there is still genuine power to the way different arguments and datasets in climate science tend to reinforce each other.

The doubters tend to focus on specific bits of empirical evidence, not on the whole picture. This is worthwhile…facts do need to be well grounded…but it can make the doubts seem more fundamental than they are. People often assume that data are simple, graspable and trustworthy, whereas theory is complex, recondite and slippery, and so give the former priority. In the case of climate change, as in much of science, the reverse is at least as fair a picture. Data are vexatious; theory is quite straightforward.

At least one person made the connection before me. Jonathan Hiskes from Grist made a similar observation in the ‘bonus point’ in his post on The Economist piece:

One reason why some people adopt the house-of-cards view is that they transfer the metaphor from fundamentalist religion. Fundamentalism requires that every single tenet of a holy scripture be true. If not, the whole apparatus topples. Hence the Biblical inerrancy view…the Bible is true not just as a whole, but in every single historical and scientific detail. Most Christians I know don’t have this literalist view of the Bible. And I’ll leave it to theologians to explain whether this view of scripture makes sense. But if your faith rides on such a belief, you’re likely to look at climate change in the same way.

It’s an intriguing observation concerning the overlap between (fundamentalist) evangelicals and global warming deniers. But I don’t know if it’s simply transfered from religion. That’s a chicken and egg scenario if I’ve ever seen one. House-of-cards tendencies can be found outside of religion and are probably deeply embedded in the human psyche. On the other hand, it might be reinforced through the conditioning of dogmatic teaching. My sense is that it has more to do with one’s circumstances in relationship to a given topic, whether it’s healthcare, economic injustice, LGBT issues, environmental policies … you get the idea. People can be house-of-cards types when it comes to the facts on one issue and jigsaw types on other issues.

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Green Revolutionary Ben Lowe: Homebrewed Christianity 57

greenrevolutionBen Lowe is co-coordinator of Renewal, a grassroots student movement answering God’s call to renew creation through prayer, service, and advocacy. There are lots of books coming out about ‘creation care’, but this one, Green Revolution: Coming Together to Care for Creation, gets the official Homebrewed seal of approval. This is an extraordinary group and I’m very impressed with what they are doing. In this podcast we get into how this movement started, talk about how to begin the conversation in your campus ministry or congregation, and how to be compassionate towards other people with whom we share our home.

If you are involved in some form of student ministry and you have done some kind of work in the environment, give us a call and share your ideas with others. I often hear from ministers who are looking for ideas. Call us at 678-590-BREW.

We mention a climate change bill, and I was actually in D.C. lobbying around the same time Ben was, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (HR 2454), that will significantly reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. It barely passed the House after being weakened significantly, and it is on the way to the Senate after the August recess. Stay tuned for updates from Homebrewed Christianity and watch for ways that you can help strengthen the bill and get it passed.

Praise for Green Revolution in the blogosphere:

RelevantMagazine.com, Review by Jonathan Merritt
DeepGreenConversation.org
Godspace.Wordpress.com, Review from Christine Sine

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A Visit from Thomas Berry in the Rockies

I was in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado with my family last week. To describe the trip, I could show this photo and write about how I had an intensely mystical experience with God in the mountains.

flattopsummit

Which I did. But my trips to the mountains are always simultaneously joyful and mournful. The story I want to tell is about seeing the effects up close of the North American pine beetle outbreak. It’s devastating the Rocky Mountain forests in the U.S. and Canada and growing exponentially each year. The epidemic is occurring because our winters have not been cold enough to stop the beetles from multiplying. Bark beetles are good for the ecosystem, but not in this amount. The fall colors in our evergreen forests are telling us that global warming is no longer something our kids will face; it’s happening now. And it will accelerate if our forests disappear.

evergreenfall

But as I mourned, I heard the voice of a man named Fr. Thomas Berry. No one explains our present environmental situation better (and plainer) than this:

The great work of our time, I would say, is moving the human community from its present situation as a destructive presence on the planet to a benign or a mutually enhancing presence. It’s that simple.

From the film Thomas Berry Speaks:

It is that simple. It’s not a political issue. It’s not about saving trees. It’s about our fragile interconnected relationship with other living things, including human beings in vulnerable communities around the world. We know what we need to do, and it comes down to making the decision to be a mutually enhancing presence rather than a destructive one.

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Another Congressman Quotes Bible Against Climate Bill

My ears always perk up when I hear the Bible quoted on the House floor to argue against a bill I support. Today,  Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) didn’t do as bad a job with Luke 11:46 as Shimkus did with his Bible quotes. The verse Pence quotes is one of Jesus’ three woes to the lawyers in Luke’s Gospel. Rep. Pence calls them ‘lawmakers’, which isn’t a good translation of the word nomikos in Luke, but neither is ‘lawyer’, the common translation. A nomikos in Luke seems to have authority to control people’s way of living Judaism. They are zealous for the Torah, and people consult them about how to follow the Law. Jesus’ woes to them in Luke 11 indicate that they have an obligation to help people follow the law and not just ‘burden’ them with things to do. The nomikoi in Luke joined the scribes and Pharisees as some of Jesus’ biggest opponents, as they had always been toward God’s prophets.

I suppose nomikoi could have made pronouncements which were legally binding, so in that sense they could be considered lawmakers. So let’s let him slide on his use of Luke 11:46. But what he says about the bill is completely wrong.

He says, ‘But there’s no dispute, the Democrat cap-and-trade bill will raise the cost of energy to every household in America, every small business, every family farm…’

Wrong. It’s going to lower our energy bills.

‘…and it will cost millions of American jobs.’

Wrong. It will create millions of jobs.

If you are going to talk about lawmakers putting a burden on people and not lifting a finger to help them, I’m sure we can find some examples, but this isn’t one of them.

By the way…

Whether you’re much of an activist or not, you can do something to help (if you’re reading this on June 25 or June 26). Congress is getting a lot of calls right now both for and against the American Clean Energy and Security Act. The vote will likely be tomorrow. Your call could tip the balance.

Here’s what to do:

Call the Congressional Switchboard and ask to be connected to your representative. If you do not know who your representative is, click here and enter your address.

House Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

What you can say…

Please pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act, HR 2454.  I am calling as a person of faith (and/or as a member of  ___________ congregation in _______). This bill will help launch a clean energy future and avert the worst impacts of climate change.

UPDATE: The bill passed! It was very close. It’s heading to the Senate next.

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Take Action: Tell Your Representative to Pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act

UPDATE: The bill passed! It was very close. Thanks to everyone who took action!

Regen_ColorWe just sent out a national alert today. The American Clean Energy and Security Act, introduced by Reps. Waxman and Markey, will put a cap on carbon dioxide emissions and create millions of green jobs here in the U.S. It is a crucial step toward an environmentally and financially sustainable economy. We will not be able to prevent global warming and protect life on the planet unless we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. We can’t accomplish this dramatic feat by only making changes in our personal lives, as important as these changes are. We need this bill. We’ve got to put pressure on Congress to pass it. Especially those of us in the religious community who support it need to be heard, because you can believe that they are hearing from the opposition.

How do we make our voices heard?

You can go to Interfaith Power & Light’s Action Center right now and spend a few seconds sending a message directly to your representative. Also, you can sign up for our action alerts to get updates on this legislation.

Here is the message that we sent out from IPL’s founder, the Rev. Canon Sally Bingham:

Dear Supporter,

With the introduction of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) in the House of Representatives, we are very close to the clean energy revolution that we have been working and praying for. In order to get to the finish line we need to increase our efforts to push this legislation through in its strongest form.

The bill has faced an onslaught of attacks by interest groups trying to weaken it at every turn. But the faith community has been calling on Congress to do the right thing. On May 6, 50 IPL state leaders descended on the Capitol to deliver our message of support for strong and fair climate legislation. In addition, IPLs in five key states ran ads in local newspapers urging fence-sitting Congressmembers to pass the bill out of committee.

The bill is now almost to the House floor, and we are inviting you to contact your representatives. We know they are hearing from the opposition, which is generating thousands of calls and letters. Now more than ever, we must make sure the voice of the faith community is heard loud and clear! Don’t forget to mention the moral obligation that every one of us has to leave a healthy future for the least among us and the people that come after us.

Yes, I will tell my representative that global warming is a moral issue and we must pass effective and equitable climate policy this year!

Keep the Faith,

The Rev. Canon Sally G. Bingham

P.S. Please forward this message to your friends!

Want to do more to help? Post this on Facebook and use the ‘Tweet This’ link below to help get the word out.

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Philip Clayton’s Reply to Rep. Shimkus

Dr. Philip Clayton, a Christian theologian and philosopher from Claremont Graduate University who specializes in the intersection of religion and science, has recorded a reply to Rep. Shimkus’ (Ill.) use of the Bible in a House hearing on global warming. Shimkus basically offered a couple of prooftexts to justify his irresponsible political position, followed by ludicrous scientific claims, and presented them as if his statements were the infallible word of God instead of an out-of-context interpretation of scripture. I applaud Dr. Clayton’s respectful tenor given the level of lamitude of arguments from an elected official.

Source: Transforming Theology Blog

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God’s Carbon Footprint: Evangelicals and Global Warming, Cont.

jesusworldonfireThis post is a continuation of an earlier one where I shared a chart from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. The chart showed that white evangelicals are the religious group with the smallest percentage of people who believe that human activity is causing the Earth to warm. Now that it’s Earth Week, I want to comment more about the categories of responses I hear from evangelicals against protecting Creation.

The first argument I mentioned I like to call ‘God’s Carbon Footprint’. It involves Jesus’ imminent return to judge the Earth and destroy it with fire. So our current carbon footprint is barely noticeable compared to the one God will leave during the terrible end times. We in the U.S. are most familiar with this eschatology because of the Left Behind series, but it’s also very prominent (and spreading) in the global South.

The interesting thing about this belief system (and why it is so popular?) is that, on the one hand, it gives oppressed people hope that their suffering on this Earth will end any day. And on the other hand, it gives wealthy countries like ours license to pillage the Earth’s resources and keep others in poverty. Rep. John Shimkus’ recent statements that only God can destroy the Earth probably fit into this category, with the additional point that the very idea of anthropogenic climate change is an attack on God’s sovereignty. It is an excuse to be completely apathetic about or outright opposed to the MDGs. (The MDGs are a set of goals to address the world’s biggest problems – not a Miller product).

N.T. Wright calls this belief ‘more mythical than biblical’. He adds, ‘It is an attempt to make sense of some bits of the New Testament. It was always the literature of the dispossessed … it’s now become the literature of the rich masses in parts of America.’ His recent writings on the afterlife have challenged popular beliefs that he says have strayed from the biblical text.  When we die, according to Wright, there is a period of time in which we are ‘with Christ’ in a holding pattern, and then we will be physically raised to live on a reconciled, physical new Creation. Where we will be is even better than an ethereal, spiritual realm called Heaven. Here is a relevant quote:

If you really believe that what happens at death is that you leave behind the world of space, time and matter, you are never going to be bothered with it again, you’re never going to have a physical body again and that ultimately God is going to throw this whole world on the rubbish heap somewhere, then what’s the fuss to work for justice in the present?’ he said. ‘What’s the fuss about AIDS, what’s the problem about global debt, you know these are trivial and irrelevant. What matters is whether you’re going to heaven tomorrow or next week.

A brief response to the ‘God’s Carbon Footprint’ argument:

I know how difficult patience can be when there are people say hateful things about Christians who are concerned about global warming, or any of the MDGs, but I want to offer something brief in response.

I don’t think abandoning dispensational theology is necessary to embrace the privilege of partnering with God for the reconciliation of the Earth and its inhabitants. When the Thessalonians didn’t see the point of doing anything until Jesus returns, they received a stern warning. Maybe today’s Thessalonians need a similar warning?

As Andrew pointed out in a comment on the first post, there are a number of groups of evangelicals who believe this is an issue that deserves to be addressed, including the EEN, Deep Green Conversation, Flourish, Restoring Eden, and the recent Southern Baptist statement. There are probably people in these groups who have a similar eschatology and still see the importance of this work.

Maybe some readers have more to add about how to respond to this argument against creation care. This is a deep divide among evangelicals. Might it even be the biggest barrier to working together to solve the climate crisis? It deserves more attention than I can give in this post.

I’ll also have a post about the ‘Worshiping Creation’ argument and finishing up on Earth Day with the ‘Distraction’ argument.

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Evangelicals and Global Warming

Here’s an interesting little chart from a 2008 survey:

warming

Is it evangelical theology or the high overlap between conservative politics and evangelicals that contributes most to these statistics?

I’m developing a hunch. Religious arguments against addressing global warming usually fall into the following basic categories:

  1. ‘If you think it’s hot now, wait until Jesus comes back.’ Long before global warming gets serious, Jesus will come back on a white horse, judge us, destroy the wicked with flames, and take the righteous to heaven. Just wait until you see the carbon footprint of an angry God.
  2. ‘You’re worshiping creation instead of the Creator.’ Caring for the Earth is a subtle form of paganism. Recycling leads to buying a fuel-efficient car, which leads to drum circles and neo-druid solstice rituals.
  3. ‘The Great Commission has nothing to do with lowering GHG Emissions.’ Addressing the threat of global warming doesn’t help anyone accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. Therefore, anyone or any church involved in protecting the Earth is distracted from our calling to present the gospel so that people can be saved. Worse, these people are spreading this distraction to others. So this type of ‘ministry’ is actually causing countless unsaved people to go to hell, and the blood is on the hands of the global warming alarmist Christians.

I’ve been on the receiving-end of all of these statements, and I’m not at all exaggerating on the wording. Show me a Christian argument against global warming, and I will show you how it fits into one of these three categories. As we get closer to Earth Day, I’m going to be addressing each one, but I want to get back to the survey and my initial question.

The above responses aren’t at all concerned with whether an increase in CO2 from fossil fuels is causing the earth to warm at a rate that will cause the most vulnerable communities in the world to suffer from drought, hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters. None of them addresses the scientific evidence.

My hunch is that the evangelical theology from deniers doesn’t cause people to doubt the existence of anthropogenic climate change; it causes them to think that concern about it leads Christians astray. Denial of human-caused global warming is usually aimed at the scientific claims, and sounds like, ‘The earth is actually getting cooler.’ Or, ‘Warming is a natural cycle caused by the sun.’ Or, ‘Methods of measuring historical CO2 levels are untrustworthy.’ These denials compliment arguments against climate legislation, such as capping emissions.

Maybe this is an obvious distinction, but I think it’s important when it comes to having productive conversations with our friends on the subject. When people make a theological argument against care for creation, it’s about their (sometimes) sincere belief in what work is important for Christians to be involved in. When the science is attacked, it’s often because of conservative political ideology. But often these groups overlap, as the survey demonstrates.

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Congressman Uses the Bible to Clear Up Global Warming Silliness

I just wanted to pass on the good news. We don’t have to worry about global warming because the Bible clearly says humans cannot destroy the Earth. Thanks Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill) for clearing up this huge misunderstanding.

0:54

The second verse comes from Matthew 24. ‘And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call and they will gather his elect from the four winds from one end of the heavens to the other.’ Man will not destroy this Earth.

UPDATE: Deacon Drew nails it!

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