Category: environment

Climate change scepticism and worldview dissonance

A conversation I had the other day has been on my mind ever since.

It was with an old friend who I don’t see that often, but whose intelligence I’ve always respected, and who I’ve always regarded as being moderate – especially for a reformed evangelical – and considered. He’s always been interested in hearing my outlandish opinions. The surprise was the revelation that he was a climate change sceptic, and a passionate one.

It went deeper than that, actually – my new understanding of his worldview is that he regards the ‘climate change industry’ and ‘alarmism’ are part of a leftist strategy – if not conspiracy. I was surprised to hear ‘the left’ used so pejoratively by him as he expounded on the left’s agenda of curtailing economic growth, redistributing income, and enforcing political correctness. This left you talk about as the enemy, I said at one point – I’m sort of a part of that. Not completely, but my  instincts tend to go that way.

I left burdened and exhausted by worldview dissonance. How was I meant to weigh up his objections to the climate change consensus? I’d encountered them before, reading The Australian every weekend, but my friend has more of a background in science than I do. I felt disturbed considering the world through his eyes and seeing so many things I value and strive for as worse than useless, as what was wrong with the world.

I remain convinced that climate change is a real and present danger, that a simpler lifestyle and society are the answer to many of our problems and that unchecked capitalism is a dangerous and cruel thing. Yet I am chastened, and I now fear, just as I thought that the environment had gone mainstream in churches, that there may be a powerful conservative backlash, not even coming from  fundamentalists but from evangelicals.

Worldview dissonance is an everyday occurrence for me, taking as I do the minority view on so many issues. Why not on this one? How do we ever make up our mind on anything? Should we trust our own judgements, when there are usually wiser and more intelligent people with a different opinion? Welcome to pluralism, hazard of a postmodern society where there is no consensus. Humility required. And put a face to every contrary opinion; there’s probably someone you love who holds it.

Authority in science and religion, with short reflections on climate change, creation science and house church

The popular challenge to climate change science raises interesting questions about authority, expertise and the gap between popular opinion and the ‘experts’.

For many scientists, academics and politicians, there isn’t a debate about the science – or there shouldn’t be. In The Australian a few months ago, at the time Ian Plimer’s climate change scepticism book came out, an opinion piece (a rare voice from the left) said that the public needs to just believe the experts when it comes to climate change science. We aren’t scientists, we can’t just step in with our own opinions and trample over years of careful research.

But everyone likes to have an opinion, and the prominent public voices expressing scepticism about climate change give people the sense that there is a real debate, and they’ll be in good company remaining sceptical.

It reminds me of the creation-evolution ‘debate’. (Interestingly, Ian Plimer wrote an angry and thorough refutation of the creation scientists in Telling Lies For God; now he’s on the other side of consensus.) For most biological scientists there is no debate between an 8000 year old world and a much older one. But for fundamentalist Christians, a well produced DVD/book/magazine from Answers in Genesis convinces them that not only is there a debate, but that debate is over whether the Bible is true or not and the creation scientists have reason on their side over against the conspiracy of the atheistic evolutionists.

(I was brought up a creation scientist, and I have no wish to revisit arguments for special creation and young Earth. I am interested in hearing from people who have a well thought out theistic evolution they have managed to integrate with their faith.)

Just as we’ve always had folk religion, maybe we have folk science these days. Everything is just a matter of opinion. You show me your scientific consensus on climate change, I’ll show you my sceptics with PhDs in geology or whatever who mount a contrary argument and get as much air time in the media.

I’m not convinced that scepticism toward the experts and a conviction that one can hold one’s own opinion on any subject is a peculiarly postmodern phenomenon. Look at the superstitions which dominate nineteenth century village life in Thomas Hardy novels. Look through the Bible how the general public is always prepared to go off in a different direction than the mandated one. People have always insisted on their right to have a contrary, illogical, irrational view of reality and manage to live by it. Perhaps more individualistically so these days.

(Am I saying I want strict controls? No. I’m just observing. I don’t think there’s easy answers to these questions.)

This all gets me thinking of the phenomenon of house church. I have been quite turned off house church the last few years. Not the ecclesial concept of a gathering of Christians meeting in a household context, but more the house church movement, which is full of people with their own opinions on everything, and not always very well thought out ones. There are crazy people in every church, I suspect, but in a house church their opinion becomes as valid as everyone else’s. Should we go on with the status quo, then, and deny most of the congregation a voice? No, I don’t think that’s good either. I think it’s a dilemma that needs much attention by any church.

I have real problems with the amount of authority invested in the priest/pastor/minister of traditional churches.  I don’t think it’s what Jesus or Paul envisage in the New Testament, not at all. I agree with Yoder that the Bible has a trajectory moving away from religious specialisation.

But simply rejecting the authority of the (trained and accredited) pastor is not the answer.  We shouldn’t pretend that church is really very simple and it’s just a matter of clearing away the complexities those power-hungry establishments have created.

No answers, just some dilemmas, some frustrations with our ‘I reckon’ world.

Resurrection and Renewal: Bigger and Better Than Going to Heaven When You Die

Here’s the text of that sermon I gave at  Network Vineyard Church on 12 July 2009.

1. Introduction

I want to talk about an area of faith where my whole way of thinking was turned upside down. And that’s about heaven. I’m anticipating three possible reactions – boredom, disagreement and excitement. I hope the excited group of people is the biggest one. If you already know everything I’m going to say, come see me and I’ll arrange for you to get your money back out of the offering. If you disagree with me because you have a strong contrary opinion, I understand, but have a think about it. But I’m thinking there are some of you here today who will be inspired to find new hope and meaning in your life and your understanding of what your faith is all about.

I spent the first nineteen years of my life with an unhealthy view of physical reality. I believed that God was going to destroy the Earth one day. I believed that my future state was to live as a soul floating around in heaven, with no physical body.

When you think that God is going to destroy his creation, plucking out as many souls as he can before he throws the Earth on the fire, you tend not to care as much about what happens here and now. The injustices that plague our world become unimportant. Doing good seems futile. Things can only get worse; why try to do good? Why care about the environment? About climate change? It’s only going to get worse; the whole earth’s going to be thrown out like a disposable cup. More than that, all of life feels a bit pointless. You’re waiting around for heaven, and the only useful thing you can do is evangelise.

When I was nineteen and studying theology at uni, at one stage I got overwhelmed. I had so many questions and challenges to what I’d thought in the past. Fortunately, there was a man named Ian who was a mentor to me. I rang him and he told me to come around. I didn’t have a car, so I had to catch a bus into the city and then one out to his place; it took nearly two hours. When I got there, I was ready to pounce on him with all my questions about the sources and authorship of Genesis and Deuteronomy and the history behind them. But instead, he asked me a question. I think the Holy Spirit inspired him to ask it, because on the face of it, it had nothing to do with my situation.

He asked me, ‘What happens after we die?’
I said, ‘We go to heaven.’
But then he asked, ‘What about after that?’
And when I looked at him like he was playing a trick on me, he told me two things.

First of all, that the Earth wasn’t being thrown in the bin, but was going to be redeemed and renewed.

Second of all, I wasn’t going to live as a disembodied soul in heaven forever, but at Christ’s return, I would be resurrected to live on the renewed Earth. Our resurrection bodies were to be more physical, more real than our current ones – not less. Heaven, he told me, was only a waiting place for something better.

Basically he told me that Christianity was bigger and better than going to heaven when I died.
(more…)

Deep green snobbery?

A letter I wrote to The Australian today.

Dear editor,

Your editorial ‘Deep-Green Snobbery’ (13/12) dismisses any challenge to outer-suburban, McMansion living as ‘class-hatred’. But the green movement is diverse: people from all walks of life are realising that something is wrong. Certainly people with tertiary education are over-represented, but that might be because critical thinking leads many people to become green.

You dismiss the green movement as being far away from the ‘pragmatic-centre’ of ‘popular sentiment’. But ‘popular sentiment’ is shifting as the world realises that the only pragmatic response to climate change is drastic action. Everyone needs to change; not just the people in the outer-suburbs. You’re right to point out that the outer-suburbs make green living difficult. Part of the challenge is to provide the infrastructure and planning in both new and existing suburbs to make green choices more viable.

Yours sincerely, Nathan Hobby