Previous posts have highlighted the similarities between the adherents of AGW and religion. Indeed, it should be unsurprising that the two have so much in common. All of the utopian movements and catastrophic chicken-little crusades use religious language and typologies. This is because these movements stem from the same human desire and satisfy the same human needs, as religion does.
Two months ago in the United Kingdom, a court ruled that the belief in man-caused global warming is equivalent to a religious belief, and as such is protected by law. The ruling had few defenders, as neither the Christians nor the global warming crowd wished to be associated with the other. The Christians objected to having AGW believers raised to their level, while the latter group protested being lowered to it.
But it was the plaintiff himself who saw the danger in all this. Tim Nicholson, who had brought suit after losing his job as the Head of Sustainability for a UK residential firm, won when the judge rejected claims by the defense that AGW couldn’t be a religion because it could be proven by scientific data. Nonsense, said the judge. AGW was clearly a “philosophical,” rather than scientific, belief. But “This isn’t some new religion,” protested Mr. Nicholson, unwittingly undermining his winning legal strategy. “This isn’t a faith-based belief, but a belief based on overwhelming scientific evidence.”
I have no doubt that Mr. Nicholson sincerely believes that the science has “proven” his beliefs to be true. I also have no doubt that Christians are absolutely positive that their view is correct, just as are Muslims. All of these beliefs satisfy the natural human fear of uncertainty. They offer a definitive account of not only the here and now, but of the impending future, free of any doubt or unanswered questions. All of them, and other religions as well, know for sure that everyone else with every other belief is ignorant and doomed to death and/or hell.
All of these belief systems rely on warm embraces for the faithful, apocalyptic warning for unbelievers, anger directed at heretics, relentless proselytizing, rituals, symbols, dogma, and holidays. It is not a coincidence that those with a strong belief in traditional religious faiths are least likely to adopt the cloak of an AGW congregant. The have filled their need for such a belief system. Nor is it a surprise that should a religious person be swept up by environmental craziness, they run the risk of loosening the bonds they have with their current faith, hence the concern among the churches.
Most relevantly, none of the adherents of these belief systems are in the least bit open to new ideas, and thus they can’t be argued with. They never discuss their faith with the idea that some of it, let alone its very foundations could be wrong. Indeed, most of them will avoid any point by point discussion, because they don’t want to know if they’re wrong, even if it turns out they are. If you have ever gone to the good websites on climate change, you will see an impressive array of data, charts, numbers, and seemingly convincing answers to the common objections from the other side. But the thing is, you can find these good sites from each side. This allows all to find the site that reaffirms their belief, and does so with what looks to the believer to be powerful evidence. Why can’t the other side see this?! they plead.
Up until the 1970′s the Mormon church forbade blacks entry into the priesthood, because Brigham Young had received a revelation from God that said blacks were unfit for the priesthood because of the “curse of Cain.” The Western Athletic Conference was on the verge of kicking out Brigham Young University, when the proverbial phone rang. It was God. He imparted a new revelation, just in time, to the effect that the church should now ignore his previous revelation on the subject and give blacks full rights. The revelation was announced, blacks entered the priesthood, and BYU got to stay in the WAC. Many Mormons at the time protested vigorously that the new “revelation” undercut the idea that the “prophets” were at all prophetical, as indeed it did. In fact, logically, either the previous revelations were bogus or the latest one was. Now it might surprise no one to find out that this episode resulted in not the slightest harm to the Mormon church, nor any noticeable reduction in its membership. Those who had dedicated their entire existence on this earth to the belief system weren’t about to walk away from it just because it appeared to a rational mind to be a made up bunch of trash. The mind rationalizes what it must.
But religious belief, environmentalism, and other philosophical movements are so beneficial to the individual that they transcend the level of cognitive judgement. These beliefs prove too useful to the individual to discard merely because they are false. They provide an organizing principle around which people structure their entire lives, and here is where we can so clearly see the connection between the types of faith. Environmentalism used to be a global outlook, or perhaps a local ethic. It has morphed into a dogma that not only informs its believers as to all aspects of political life, but mandates their daily activity, as well. The reason why the beliefs of religions, AGW, or other philosophical movements become so ingrained in the persona of an individual, and the reason why its adherents are unwilling to seriously examine the veracity of its claims, is that they form a grounded pole around which all aspects of a person’s life orbit. They define one’s political outlook, worldview, and ethical system. They provide a metaphysical context. But, what’s more, they animate the daily activities and behaviors of the believers. This is why it is so pertinent that the radical environmental movement has begun to be the basis of the “small footprint” do-gooder actions of the flock. Each day, they awake and begin to do the good deeds and avoid the sins and preach the gospel of their faith. And at the end of their day they feel very, very good about themselves because of it.
Of course, not all belief systems should be regarded as equal in the eyes of the nonbelievers. Christianity’s days of conversion by force are behind her, but Islam and the radical environmental movement are just now feeling their oats. The Guardian’s Andrew Brown, a radical environmentalist, is concerned about the UK ruling in the Nicholson case because modern Western political thought maintains that the state should stay neutral in religious matters. This won’t do for Mr. Brown, who believes, and is comfortable writing this in a major national newspaper, that the state must forcefully declare an end to discussion of environmental wackiness and immediately crack down hard on dissent. He agrees that his own pathology is like a religion in so far as he believes that children of the faith should be heavily indoctrinated in the creed before they reach the age where their reason might allow them to be free of it. In this, he echoes the instruction of nearly all deeply religious people. It’s just that the usual restrictions religions accept for themselves seem to trouble Mr. Brown, specifically, he indicates, the whole opposition-of-fascistic-application-of-the-belief provision.
Radical Islam and radical environmentalism both represent a significant threat to human freedom and prosperity and therefore must be fought vigorously. Christianity, like Buddhism, and Hinduism, and hundreds of other faiths, does not. But their similarities are greater than their differences.