Posted by: ericgrimsrud | August 6, 2019

Climate Science and Religion

The relationship between science, in general, and religion has been pondered continuously since and probably before the development of human civilizations several thousand years ago. Therefore, what I am about to say concerning the relationship between climate science specifically and religion will certainly not be new. It will simply be my own personal feelings about what I think this relationship should be. At the same time, I believe my thoughts are of a “common sense” nature and are possibly shared by many religions and cultures.

At the very top of this web site, under the tab called Scientific Basics, I have provided a brief account of what I think are the basic and most important scientific points regarding global warming. Therefore, for that scientific information, I will simply refer you to that tab. How religion is related to this subject requires some additional basic assumptions, however, to be made concerning the tenets of the specific religion chosen for this comparison. While there are perhaps hundreds of different religions to choose from, I am going to take the author’s privilege here of choosing the one that I was raised under – that of Christianity as it was typically offered to the descendants of Norwegian immigrants to the midwestern states of America when I was a young man. A convenience of this choice is that the basic tenets of the American Lutheran Church were then and still are very similar to those of many other American synods, including those of the Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Congregationalists and Baptists.

So, what were those messages that are still pertinent to the subject of climate change that I received from my religious instructions? First of all, those messages were not limited to issues concerning my own personal benefit. That is, “it’s not all about me” was a central theme. Any religion whose beliefs are limited to “self” would obviously be of no assistance to a “community” problem such as global warming and, I am glad to say, my religion was not of that variety.

In addition, I will clearly state at the onset that the messages I received did not suggest that we should leave complex global phenomena – especially if partially caused by mankind – in the hands of the Lord – with the excuse that those issues are just too complex and too far beyond our comprehension to deal with. To that suggestion, I say “no way!”, that is also not the religion I signed on to. Instead, I was taught that the problems we create in our lives are ours to solve – with God’s assistance, hopefully, and not simply by watching “God’s will be done”. There was much more to the lessons I was learned than that.

I did learn, for example, that God is likely to help those who do their best to help themselves and their fellow man (note that this statement carries essentially the same meaning as that promoted by Charles Darwin, the survival of the fittest species).  And just think for a moment about the fantastic tool He has given mankind specifically for addressing difficult tasks. That tool, of course is, our remarkable brain – that has been shown to be capable of understanding and addressing exceedingly difficult problems many of which have been more scientifically difficult than those affecting our climate. In view of the enormity of this gift of human intelligence, in my book, at least, it would be nothing short of a monumental Sin to not use that gift for preserving another great gift, that is our planet Earth – as opposed to letting it degrade by scientifically ill-advised misuse.

And, we now know that we are on the very edge of committing that unforgivable Sin. We are, indeed, about to hand off to succeeding generations a planet that is horribly damaged, at the very least, and might not even be sustainable for our grandchildren and their families.

The most unforgivable part of this Sin is that we did, in fact, know better. The science associated with climate has been steadily revealed for about two centuries culminating in 1988 with the testimony by leading American scientist, Dr. James Hansen, before the US Senate concerning evidence for the rapid warming of our planet by the combustion of fossil fuels. While Hansen’s testimony prompted extensive additional research which consistently supported and enhanced Hansen’s dire predictions, that science has also been largely unheeded by the leaders of our country, who have continuously succumbed to the appeals of our business-as-usual commercial interests and the fossil fuel industries.

Thus, for the last 30 years since Hansen’s testimony, we have used our brains appropriately to understand what’s happening to our planet, but not for responding to that information. That is, we continued to sell out the interests of future human beings so that we could enjoy ever more material extravagances. Thus, our two unforgivable Sins have been the misuse of our God-given gift of intelligence and our shameful disregard of our intergenerational responsibilities.

Therefore, according to the mores instilled in me by my religious training, the inhabitants of our special planet don’t deserve God’s assistance in cleaning up the mess we’ve made of it – because we have made such abysmal use of those two great gifts he has given us. We have paid insufficient attention to the only means – scientific knowledge – we have of avoiding our environmental predicament. In fact, we have done our best to marginalize the messages provided by the most gifted of our scientifically-inclined minds.

The only remaining question is: can our “ship of fools” be overtaken and turned around immediately in the nick of time by our still suspect set of passengers. Not even my religious training provides an answer to that one. One thing I do believe, however, is that the God I envision is not going to do the job for us while the people said to have been made in his image continue to misuse their brains for the trivial purpose of increasing their material comfort well beyond the necessary and points of sustainability .

Throughout the development of the Christian religion a point of discussion has revolved around the question of whether good works or faith is more important in being accepted into the community of God. For those that have preferred the teachings of the Apostle Paul, faith has been considered to be the more important of the two. Unfortunately, this choice might lead some self-professed Christians to put less importance on the preservation of Earth because he or she might consider faith alone to be sufficient to be “saved”. But, not so by my understanding of the Christian Religion. If good works are not considered to be of primary importance by an individual, good works are still expected to follow naturally from of a faith-based conversion – if that person is truly committed to the tenets of Christianity set forth by the example of Jesus of Nazareth. That is, one cannot claim to be a true Christion simply by “talking the talk” of one’s beliefs. One must also “walk the walk” of good works and these, of course, include the fulfilment of our responsibilities to our planet and its future inhabitants. If preserving our planet for its future inhabitants isn’t the most important of unresolved deeds before us, I don’t know what is.

The science of global warming is now essentially complete.  Thus, global warming is now primarily a moral issue to be determined by our collective concern for others. This means that where this issue goes from here on resides more in the domains of religion and philosophy than science.  So yes, indeed, religion and climate are intimately related.

 


Responses

  1. Eric, I suspect you would agree that the entire course of human evolution has been on the basis of exploitation of natural resources. Physical “progress” as we know it apparently is dependent on this fundamental principal.There is overwhelming momentum to continue onward in this regard. Our arrogant and self-serving dominance of the planet has become hard wired. Getting an entire diverse population to change course overnight is highly improbable. Intelligence unfortunately does not imply rationality. The degradation and likely irreversible (short term, geologically) damage to this awesome, beautiful planet is truly unimaginable.
    Religion has only paid lip service. I fear that climatic and social scenarios for the year 2100 are likely even worse than what climate science is currently projecting.
    -Mike

  2. Eric, Thank you for this essay and for your supportive email to me re my interactions with Concordia College Moorhead Mn.
    {Are we deranged? In ‘The Great DeRangement’ (2016), acclaimed Indian writer Amitav Ghosh argues that future generations may well think so. How else to explain our imaginative failure in the face of global warming? Ghosh examines our inability—at the level of literature, history, and politics {i would add religion}—to grasp the scale and violence of climate change. …Ghosh suggests that politics, much like literature, has become a matter of personal moral reckoning rather than an arena of collective action. But to limit politics to the individual level comes at a great cost. … His book serves as a great writer’s summons to confront the most urgent task of our time. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29362082-the-great-derangement?fbclid=IwAR1LEdfqZ0PbL0Pucg8s74odcusT3GrCu2aj4- … }

  3. Eric,
    Send a request for money as have some laying around.

    Arlo

  4. Hi Arlo,

    Tusen Tak for your generous offer of financial support. My ongoing expenses now are very low, but if I ever see a specific need that might help the cause, I will let you know. Hope you and Darlene have a wonderful Thanksgiving up there in God’s Country.

    We will be enjoying it with my daughter Amy in Spokane and son Paul from N. Carolina and families of both. ( Kathy and I no longer fly).

    All to best,

    Eric


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