Category: politics

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.

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Greenish: Why I Don’t Think the Greens are an ‘Anti-Christian’ Party

On their Facebook profiles, many people leave the field for their political views blank. My most theologically astute Facebook friend has ‘Jesus is Lord’ for both his religious and political views. He’s exactly right – our confession that Jesus is Lord needs to take precedence over any denominational/theological loyalty and over any party/ideological loyalty. But it’s not an answer that makes much sense to people; if they want to know at all, they want to know who you vote for, which political movement you align yourself with. So despite wanting my political views to be, in practice, ‘Jesus is Lord’, for the moment the field on my facebook page says ‘Greenish’. I’m not a card-carrying Green. I don’t agree with everything the Greens say, and I won’t uncritically support them. But so far, through eleven years of voting, I’ve always put their candidates first.

It’s not a popular position for a Christian; indeed, for most evangelical, pentecostal and fundamentalist Christians, it’s unimaginable. A website called One Vote run out of Perth is urging Christians not to vote for ‘anti-Christian parties like the Greens’ (2010, section 3). I’m not writing this article to urge you to vote for Greens, but to explore why, as a Christian, I am voting for an ‘anti-Christian’ party.

Interestingly, in an article in the Australian on 12 June 2010, columnist Angela Shanahan writes:

…Christians, like most people, have Right sympathies and Left sympathies, and the factors that inform their votes can range beyond those boundaries.

I think she’s right about that, although having come of age in the Howard years, I’d like to imagine the Right sympathies in me are confined to my little finger, or somewhere else unimportant. But despite agreeing with her there, the rest of the article challenges my ‘greenish’ sympathies.

The title of her article gives away her central message—‘Christians must boost immunity to Greens virus’. Shanahan describes ethicist (and – I didn’t realise this – former Greens candidate) Peter Singer as the ‘philosophical godfather of the Australian Greens’. She is warning ‘the left-leaning Christian humanitarian brigade’ that supporting the Greens means supporting Singer’s explicitly anti-Christian philosophy:

The new ‘green ethic’ according to Singer, directly contradicts the old Christian, biblically based ethic of man [sic] at the centre of creation.

What is important to Brown and Singer is to establish the green philosophy as an alternative to the traditional Christian view: ‘an alternative tradition’, a green ethic that is concerned for ‘the interests of individual non-human animals’.

The non-human centred view of the world leads the Greens, according to Shanahan, to have too much respect for animals while lacking the respect for the sanctity of human life which presumably Labor and Liberal are meant to demonstrate.

In Singer’s account, endorsed by Shanahan, the philosophical basis of both the Liberal and Labor parties is essentially Christian, simply by placing humans at the centre of creation. They are correct in so far as the Bible’s account of the world does place humanity at the centre of creation – as caretakers of creation, we should note. The Greens do not necessarily place humans at the centre of creation, but they do show more concern for being good caretakers of creation than the other parties. But this is only a small part of what a truly Christian ethic might look like anyway. For Anabaptists, a Christian ethic is not the worldview which Western civilisation has been operating under for centuries, now under threat by godless Greens.

A fully Christian ethic can only be embodied in a community of disciples who are following Jesus – a community living the practices John Yoder spells out in Body Politics. But some of the themes I realistically hope to see in a Christ-like ethic in parliamentary politics are:

  • a concern for the marginalised and downtrodden
  • love for enemies and a desire to make peace, not war
  • contentment with living simply
  • an attempt to speak plainly rather than ‘spinning’ everything

I see these things most strongly in the Greens. They are the ones speaking out most strongly for asylum seekers, the homeless and indigenous people. They are the ones who opposed the Iraq War the most strongly and have a reduction in military expenditure as one of their goals (The Australian Greens 2010). They are the ones rejecting the gospel of eternal economic growth at any cost. And they are the ones who seem least manipulative in their media dealings. They also see climate change as an urgent problem, living up to Kevin Rudd’s claim that it is the ‘great moral challenge of our time’. These are all such important policy and ideological issues for me that I’m prepared to overlook my disagreement with Green policy on abortion.

The Greens are also criticised by Christians for their strong stance on secularisation. Anabaptists would have sympathy with a Green critique of Constantinian notions of a ‘Christian country’. Does praying the Lord’s Prayer before parliament make parliament more Christian, or weaken the radical nature of the prayer? But what about chaplaincy in schools, which Greens have said should be replaced with counsellors? (Although it doesn’t seem to be part of their official policy.) I think chaplains do good work in schools, and I wouldn’t be supporting moves to dismantle the program. Yet there is a lot to explore in the issue about church and state for Anabaptists. It is another area where I might be at odds with the Green policy, but still not strongly enough to turn me away from them.

I find it upsetting that a party which stands firmly against greed, militarism and injustice can be labelled as ‘anti-Christian’. I hope that Angela Shanahan’s fears come true, and there’s a growing body of Christians who succumb to the green virus. Not completely, but just enough to be ‘greenish’.

References

The Australian Greens 2010, Peace and Security, The Greens, viewed 14 August 2010, < http://greens.org.au/policies/human-rights-democracy/peace-and-security&gt;.

One Vote 2010, Please Vote For Someone With Christian Values! , One Vote, viewed 14 August 2010, <www.onevote.com.au>.

Shanahan, A 2010, “Christians Must Boost Immunity to Greens Virus”, The Australian, 12 June 2010, viewed 14 August 2010, < http://www.theaustralian.com.au/politics/christians-must-boost-immunity-to-greens-virus/story-e6frgczf-1225878344697>.

Yoder, J 1992, Body Politics, Herald Press, Scottdale.

For further reading, see Green candidate Jim Reiher’s article, ‘Who should a Christian Vote For?’ John Mark Ministries <http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/18402.htm>.

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.

Refugees and the media

I was horrified to see on Media Watch on Monday the way the commercial media is demonizing asylum seekers and using dodgy figures to incite public outrage. The public doesn’t argue with statistics provided to them by those ‘reliable’ newsreaders (who are deliberately chosen to be ‘trustworthy’ looking). There is no better way to send us straight back to an alarmist, uncompassionate response as a nation than beat ups like this.

And on a related note, I wish evangelicals were known as people of compassion, people at the forefront of standing up for asylum seekers. I hope they are in this current resurgence of the ‘problem’.

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