By Clay Waters
More liberal media double standards: The New York Times, which would move, ahem, heaven and earth to get religion out of politics when it comes to companies like Hobby Lobby that refuse on religious ground to pay for birth control, eagerly embraces the perceived moral authority of Christianity when it comes to leftist issues like global warming. Such ardor was recently refueled by the release of Laudato Si, a papal encyclical on climate change.
Exhibit A: Avowedly activist environmental reporter Justin Gillis praising environmentalist Christians on the front page of Sunday’s edition: “For Faithful, Social Justice Goals Demand Action on Environment.” The text box: “Linking degradation of environment to the plight of the poor.”
For an earnest young Christian named Ben Lowe, revelation came on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, in Africa. A relentless warming of the lake was reducing the catch of fish, the people were going hungry — and he had learned of scientific evidence that climate change was to blame.
For the Rev. Brian Sauder, who grew up attending a small Anabaptist church in rural Illinois, the moment came in a college classroom. Studying the fallout from environmental degradation, he learned of poor people who had to walk hours longer each day to gather firewood from depleted forests.
For both men, Christian duties that their upbringing had led them to regard as separate — taking care of the earth and taking care of the poor — merged into a morally urgent problem. “Why haven’t I ever made this connection before?” Mr. Sauder recalled asking himself.
It is a connection that many people of faith all over the world are starting to make.
Yet that “connection” would doom those same Third World people to living in permanent poverty, without the benefit of air conditioning or other life-saving modern technology that would doubtless be regarded as necessities by Gillis and other prosperous American liberals. The anti-capitalist sweep and catastrophic tone of the papal encyclical would help pin those same people into lives of hopeless poverty by increasing the cost of energy by government mandate.
The sweeping pastoral letter issued by Pope Francis on Thursday may prove to be a watershed, highlighting the issues of social justice at the heart of the environmental crisis. But the pope’s encyclical is, in a sense, simply an exclamation mark on a broad shift in thinking that has been underway for decades and extends far beyond the Roman Catholic Church.
Many faith traditions are awakening to the burden that climate change is placing on poor people, and finding justification for caring for the environment in their scripture. The pope’s urgent call is likely to intensify this discussion, provoking what could be one of the most important dialogues between science and religion since the days of Charles Darwin.
It’s an odd day indeed when the New York Times is encouraging people to look to the Bible (or at least tortured left-wing biblical interpretations) for specifically moral guidance.
Environmental scientists who are themselves people of faith are in rising demand, valued as translators between two camps that have often seen the world in radically different ways. These scientists have known for a long time that the facts and data produced by their research colleagues would not be sufficient to rouse the public to act. For that to happen, the science had to be reframed in moral terms, they said.
Gillis again takes the left-wing view that global warming is enhancing global poverty – never mind that the same free-market capitalism criticized so harshly in the papal encyclical has moved millions around the world out of dire poverty:
Polls show that a majority of American Christians view climate change as real, but fewer than a third of them understand the point, thoroughly documented in scientific studies, that poor people are already being harmed by it.
There’s a slight echo of the Washington Post’s notorious 1993 “poor, uneducated, and easy to command” slur against Christian conservatives, in Gillis’s description on Sunday of “politically conservative” evangelicals.
Polls suggest that evangelicals are the American religious group least likely to believe that global warming is real or caused by humans. Many of them are politically conservative and are influenced by groups that question established climate science and defend the rising use of fossil fuels.
Among Christians and Jews, theological discussion sometimes centers on exactly what God meant in the first chapter of Genesis when he granted human beings “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
Does this passage — in Christian theology, it is called the dominion mandate — mean that people can do no ecological wrong? Some conservative politicians do seem to interpret the verse, and related ones, as a promise that God would not let humans wreck their only home.
Gillis belatedly tossed a bone to the human progress borne by use of fossil fuels, albeit with an immediate liberal rebuttal.
Religious conservatives who oppose environmentalism profess a deep concern for the plight of the poor. But they point out that economic success has historically been closely linked to the use of fossil fuels.
Liberal groups often dismiss that view as tendentious, yet it is precisely the fear that preoccupies countries like India that have refused to commit to serious emissions limits.
The stated goal of the environmental movement is to break the link between fossil fuels and economic success.
Perhaps the biggest question now is whether rising concern about the environment among religious groups will translate into stronger political demands that governments find ways to reduce the cost of low-carbon energy supplies, improve their reliability and speed their deployment.