The other day I had the (mis)fortune of getting into a protracted conversation with an evangelical Christian friend about climate change. Walking to our cars’ from the train station after work, we innocuously stumbled into the conversation as we rattled on about the large storm that hit Sydney over the weekend just gone.
We both noted the intensity of the storm, our personal experience whilst it was happening, and the damage that was done. Then as an off-hand comment I stated that the “weather is going crazy these days, eh?” – more a rhetorical question than anything else. But also, deep down I was seeing if he would take the bait. You see, I wanted to know if he took the threat of climate change seriously. I remember this individual being a wiz in our science class back in high school, but I also knew his deeply-held religious convictions. What I wanted to test was my hunch that evangelical Christians don’t give a shit about climate change, or worse, they actively challenge the science.
My hunch proved correct, as my friend meandered into his observation that he ‘personally’ hadn’t noticed any increase in the intensity of storms (as though his observation skills were the barometer of scientific inquiry these days) and then somehow linked his scepticism to the so-called Medieval warm period (long ago debunked) and doubt about the validity of ice-core data (also debunked). I’d somewhat switched off at this period in time, instead questioning to myself why such a smart individual could fail to accept the scientific consensus on something like this. It puzzled me.
But maybe it shouldn’t puzzle me. Maybe there is no mystery to the fact that not one of the evangelical Christians I know (and keep in mind, I grew up in an evangelical household and also attended a conservative Anglican school in secondary school – so I know a lot of them) care about the dangers of global warming, and in fact deny the phenomenon altogether!
There is a twisted rationale to their denial of climate change, with it actually being linked to their ‘overall worldview’. According to Yale University’s Cultural Cognition Project, one’s cultural worldview (i.e. your political leaning or your ideological outlook) can adequately explain an “individuals’ beliefs about global warming more powerfully than any other characteristic”. They discovered that your worldview was more powerful than the factors of age, ethnicity, education, or party affiliation.
They found that people with strong egalitarian (i.e. a ‘fair go’ mentality – with a greater emphasis on social justice and concern about inequality) overwhelmingly accept the science on climate change. On the flip-side, those with a strong ‘hierarchical’ or ‘individualistic’ worldview (i.e. a belief that we all pretty much get what we deserve – a common traits amongst evangelicals) overwhelmingly reject the scientific consensus.
When I was having this conversation with my evangelical mate, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit smug about the fact that I had 97% of climate experts, all major scientific bodies and government agencies across the globe, and even international bodies like the WTO, the IEA and the UN agreeing with me. I’m sure if 97% of doctors told him to take antibiotics if he fell ill he’d probably do it. So why would he even bother getting into a debate he was surely going to lose?
But here’s what you need to remember – to people who believe in a talking snake, the miracle birth, the tower of Babylon and Noah’s flood – scientific evidence doesn’t really rate all that high. Dr Kahan, a professor of psychology at Yale, reckons he has a good idea why these evangelical Christians are able to hold so dearly to crumbling ideas,
People find it disconcerting to believe that behaviour that they find noble is nevertheless detrimental to society, and behaviour that they find base [undesirable] is beneficial to it. Because accepting such a claim could drive a wedge between them and their peers, they have a strong emotional disposition to reject it.
The fancy term for it is cognitive dissonance – the process of spotting threats to your belief system and producing intellectual antibodies to repel such an unwelcome invasion. You see, it’s always easier for my evangelical Christian friends to deny reality than to allow their worldview to be shattered. Bible-bashers have been doing this since the first days of the Enlightenment, so they’re pretty well trained in how to deflect heat.
But where did this unique and skewed worldview come from? How did it come about that one can easily accept the stories of Moses parting the seas, but struggle to agree with the consensus formed by the world’s top scientists? I think we need to turn to sociology to properly answer this question.
Max Weber, one of the founders of sociology, reckons that our contemporary form of capitalism actually has its roots in the Protestant Reformation. This was the schism that occurred within the Catholic Church, initiated by a fellow by the name of Martin Luther. In a period of time when the Catholic Church had a virtual monopoly on access to God, and the masses could only seek the Lord’s messages and divinity via the Church – along came Luther! He called bullshit on the whole idea of saints, purgatory and the Pope. At a time when most couldn’t read or write, the Catholic Church was able to capitalise on the masses’ illiteracy by making themselves the gatekeepers to the Word of God.
Luther was a ballsy man and not only wrote a 95 point thesis ripping on the Catholic Church, but he also nailed a copy of the document to the door of his local church in Germany – a big ‘fuck you’ to the Catholics. Church doors in those days functioned very much as bulletin boards do on 21st Century university campuses – it was for all to see. But this was also the era in which the Gutenberg press, the world’s very first printing press, hit the market. Luther’s revolutionary thesis was translated into a host of other languages and within two months copies had spread throughout Europe.
So here’s the crux of why I’m raising an obscure historical event that happened nearly 500 years ago. Simply put, what his document said was this, ‘you don’t need the Catholic Church to speak to God, you don’t need to repent for your sins or comprehend His word through the Church. You can have a personal relationship with God, this is a D.I.Y movement’.
The Protestant Reformation did away with communal acts (such as communion) and instead put the focus squarely on the individual. It was now a personal relationship between you and God – he personally cared about you as an individual. This was a new and hip understanding of God – he was now approachable, understanding, and personally concerned about your welfare.
From here, a specific branch of Protestantism called Calvinism developed. These guys believed in something called predestination – the idea that God has already determined who is saved and who is damned. As this strain of Christianity evolved, they came to value profit and material success as signs of God’s favour. This new attitude broke down the traditional economic system, paving the way for capitalism as we know it.
It also changed the way Christians thought about the earth. Christians have always considered man the centre of the universe, but after the Protestant Reformation it took on a new, destructive form – fuelled by the destructive capabilities of modern industry. Here’s what Time magazine wrote about the link back in 1989,
The Judeo-Christian tradition introduced a radically different concept. The earth was the creation of a monotheistic God, who, after shaping it, ordered its inhabitants, in the words of Genesis: “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” The idea of dominion could be interpreted as an invitation to use nature as a convenience.
And so we return full-circle. The reason evangelical Christians are so opposed to accepting the science of climate change boils down to this – to accept that climate change is a real threat to humanity means that they will lose the central ideological battle of our time. As Robert Manne from Melbourne’s La Trobe University so eloquently notes, climate change is for many evangelicals an…
affront to their deepest and most cherished basic faith: the capacity and indeed the right of ‘mankind’ to subdue the Earth and all its fruits and to establish a ‘mastery’ over Nature.
Evangelical Christians can’t stand the underlying message of climate change that reveals that individualism, capitalism and the unfettered pursuit of wealth are destroying the planet that God ‘gave them’. Best to look away or deny, deny, deny.
It wouldn’t be so worrying if these evangelical Christians kept their kooky ideas to themselves. But they don’t – in fact, they want to not only keep the status-quo, but also expand it. Don’t believe me? As I’ve written before, the current NSW Baird government is populated with these Hillsong happy-clappy douchebags. They honestly believe they’re doing ‘God’s work’. What’s also concerning is their complete disregard for what the world’s climate scientists are telling us. The Baird government has gotten cosy with the fossil fuel industry whilst suppressing reports detailing future extreme weather events in this state. Still within the state of NSW, the Shooters & Fishers Party and the Christian Democratic Party are stacked with evangelical rednecks and bible-bashers… and unsurprisingly question the merits of climate change. On a federal level, the whole of the Liberal/National party coalition is peppered with evangelical God-lovers and arch-conservative fucks. In fact, the whole party doubts the science of climate change more than the general population do, despite their high levels of formal education. This is not a coincidence. It all can be traced back to their warped religious view of the world.
Over in the U.S, at the moment three self-proclaimed evangelicals are battling it out for the Republican nomination. As of Tuesday, there is not one Republican contesting the presidency who accepts the science of climate change (Lindsay Graham dropped out). And it’s not just their politicians. Over 450 evangelical scholars, pastors and theologians have signed the so-called ‘Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming’ which essentially said that they know better and that global warming isn’t a thing. But, ya know, angels and demons are a thing.
My twin concern is that not only do these politicians, pastors, evangelical scholars and theologians foster these views – but that they have massive followings and support. In the US, their numbers are approximately a third of that nations’ population by some estimates. People like my mate actually support these misguided jerks – with donations, man-power and votes. They act as an echo chamber, so that their worldview is never properly challenged, even when it’s falling apart before their very eyes.
So when I say that evangelical Christians are literally ruining my world, I mean it. They not only make the rest of us stupider with their nonsense, but they prop up evangelical idiots in positions of power. Those guys then go ahead and gradually destroy the world and mess with the earth’s thermostat, making this fragile planet a more inhospitable and volatile place to live for all of us. So next time you hear a God-fearing man railing against the so-called climate change ‘conspiracy’, ask them if they scrutinise their Bible as much as they do the settled science of climate change. You sadly won’t be surprised by the answer.