Threatdown, Human Species Edition: Climate Change vs Religion

Blue Marble
The only home we have ever had, and in our lifetimes, will ever have.

I’ve wavered between two opinions for the past few years. It has to do with the delicate place in which the human species finds itself. We perch, as it seems, on the razor’s edge of extinction by climate change phenomena we are causing. I am very much a fan of humanity and would like to see us thrive, prosper, and one day leap across the divide to other planets and colonize the galaxy. (I dream big; blame Isaac Asimov).

The first opinion I hold is that climate change itself is the greatest threat to our existence. Given the alarms being sounded by the planet’s scientists observing and measuring our global climate, this is not a particularly original or controversial opinion. Lucky for us humans, it is an imminently (though not easily, as it turns out) preventable disaster, a slow-motion train wreck with time still to stop it before impact. 

However, many influential leaders, in both business and government, refuse to admit that the threat is real. They profit handsomely from this attitude. They literally earn more money and votes by denying climate change than they would by admitting it. Despite this being incredibly short-sighted, singularly self-serving, and based on nothing more than brazen greed, they have nevertheless enlisted the help of many allies to spread these denials. Their allies include their media outlets (Fox News, the Washington Post, Rush Limbaugh) and their lobbyists and PR machines (Anthony Watts, Joanne Nova, American Petroleum Institute).

Religion inserts itself as an influence on this group of deniers in a variety of ways, probably, but there is one way which has presented itself to me recently. Religion has become an ally of deniers of climate change because one belief which most religions hold in common across the great varieties of faith traditions: that there is something more to human beings than our brief lives here on our home planet, Earth.

This is why I refer to all (or, at least the majority of) religions with the initial capital, Religion. I’m aware of the danger of generalization and stereotyping, and yet I think I’m on solid ground with my claim that most religions hold a Paradise doctrine in common if we just take the belief in a better life laying beyond death alone, without getting distracted by differences in specific descriptions of the belief. I use the capitalized word Paradise as shorthand for the life-beyond-death belief, letting it stand in for the multitude of varieties of afterlife traditions.

Denialists’ most influential ally is Religion because of this very widespread, very damaging doctrine: Death is an illusion, and a better world awaits us on the other side of it. This belief in Paradise is damaging because it makes it easy for believers to shut down rational demands for evidence or facts. After all, they didn’t require evidence to accept the Paradise dogma. They require no evidence to believe any of the claims and dogmas of Religion. When scientists and their allies in business and government present facts as evidence that the human species faces an extinction-level crisis, Religion offers little more than a bemused yawn in response.

Think about it from their perspective: If all (or, as they would prefer, any particular one) of their religions were true, and God will fix every mistake humans can possibly make, then what good reason can anyone put forward to worry about climate change, even if it ends up killing off humans at an alarming rate?

In their faith-addled, religion-poisoned reasoning, if the human race ends up down to the last two remaining people, huddling on top of the last patch of dry land, about to starve to death or drown, and one of them happens to be a believer, the last words of the human species could conceivably be: “Don’t worry, man; God’s gonna remake heaven and earth and start over again, anyway. A resurrection is coming!” Or, if the other person happened to be me, the last words will actually be, “Will you shut the fuck up and let the human race die in peace?!”

Some believers even go the extra mile in cooperating with their greedy denialist allies (Christians are good at going the extra mile; Jesus did and taught them to go and do likewise). They actively cast doubt upon science itself, and deny their children access to it, replacing it with creation science and a profound anti-science fear of anything that casts doubt upon their Paradise dogma. Thus they ensure that whole new generations of religious believers are on their way to becoming denialist allies.

It’s easy to imagine that most denialists within Religion are such unwittingly, as out of touch with scientific facts as they prefer to be. Faith trumps fact in the formulation of their opinions and values. They trust their religious leaders and the media outlets referred to above, and they vote accordingly. They don’t feel the same danger nonbelievers feel at the prospect of climate change, since their faith in a Creator who controls history and, indeed, the weather, dulls their perception of the threat. A threat only feels threatening when it is perceived accurately as a threat. One who believes in the Paradise dogma cannot accurately perceive a threat in climate change.

This paralysis in the face of danger makes believers and other deniers uniquely UNqualified to make decisions bearing on climate change issues, or to wisely vote for representatives to deal with these tough calls. UNqualified though they are, they are unfortunately not DISqualified thereby; they go on voting into office deniers, becoming heads of environmental and science committees in legislatures (Sen. James Inhofe, head of the Senate committee on the environment, and Rep. Lamar Smith, head of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee).

So, the second opinion I hold is that the greatest threat to the future of the human species is a belief in the Paradise dogma, which is another way of saying Religion, I guess. Nonreligious deniers, at least, have nothing except their greed barring them from becoming convinced by the facts; they have no hope in a cosmic do-over preventing them from taking seriously the fearful facts daily piling up, warning us to slow down climate change.

The religious deniers, on the other hand, are handicapped in the arena of facts, warnings, and threats to human existence. Their denial of climate change is bolstered by their belief in an afterlife; even when they are forced to agree with inconvenient truths about the climate, their religious dogma trumps facts because they believe their deity will save them in the end. They are notoriously well entrenched in their dogmatic doctrines. It is almost impossible to educate them out of their ignorance of the facts while their critical thinking faculties remain so impaired by the incrustation of faith-claims.

And so I waver between the two opinions about which is the greater threat to my own species: Is it Climate Change itself which deserves our full and aggressive efforts to slow down, or is it Religion’s Denial-Fueling Paradise Dogma we should be working hardest to defeat? Which campaign will more effectively solve the crisis of our day? And what strategies and solutions would you offer to meet the demands of either campaign?

I’m interested in your thoughts and hope you feel motivated to share them in the comment section below.

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