By Andrew L. Seidel
Polar bears hop from one ice floe to another.
Another mundane “miracle”: a cross left standing in the wake of a hurricane that killed 33 people. God didn’t save the people or even the church from Hurricane Michael. Instead, he saved a torture-device-turned-religious symbol.
This religious myopia is remarkably consistent. After Hurricane Harvey, Christians claimed that their god saved a cross and let over 100 people die. And it might not have been a cross, just a telephone pole.
To see these as miracles, one must be blind to just about everything else. It’s not focus or positivity, it’s ignoring facts and reality and death. It’s willful blindness.
That same willful blindness is actually contributing to the hurricanes. It leads people to claim that there is a scientific debate and dispute about anthropogenic climate change.
As fires rage out West and hurricanes devastate the Southeast and Gulf Coast (which tend to be the more religious areas of the United States), I continually wonder when we’ll break through this deliberate ignorance, this head-in-the-sand hope for a better future. It was only two months ago that the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the report warning humanity that we’ve got about a decade to ensure that our children have a habitable planet. This is not an environmental issue, or rather, it’s not just an environmental issue. This is also a security issue, a food issue, an immigration issue — and so much more.
The willful ignorance is one reason I continue to believe that climate change is also a state-church issue.
Denying anthropogenic climate change is based on the rejection of facts and reality in favor of blind faith, wishful thinking, or willful denial. Many of the climate denialists in politics, such as Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. James Inhofe, and has-beens such as Scott Pruitt, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, deny climate change for explicitly religious reasons.
There is a correlation between religiosity and climate denial. While other factors, such as political party affiliation, race and ethnicity, are strong predictors of views about climate change, the Pew Research Center found “it is the religiously unaffiliated, not those who identify with a religious tradition, who are particularly likely to say the Earth is warming due to human activity. . . White evangelical Protestants stand out as least likely to have this view.”
President Trump denies climate change as creationists deny evolution, citing no science or facts, but arguing that he’s got a “natural instinct” for science while citing what he believes to be disagreement among scientists over the anthropogenic nature of climate change. That disagreement tends to center on a small proportion of scientists, usually pegged at around 3 percent, who tend not to be climate scientists and who may disagree with some aspect of anthropogenic climate change.
I encountered this 3 percent argument for the first time in the office of a conservative Christian U.S. senator who shall remain unnamed, but who’s a big fan of “thoughts and prayers” over concrete action. I was so stunned by the deliberate ignorance that, instead of choosing a persuasive analogy (it’s like refusing to get treatment for cancer when 97 doctors say you have cancer and three say you don’t), I pointed out that more people deny the Holocaust than scientists deny human-caused climate change.
The staff did not appreciate being lumped in with Holocaust deniers. I did not appreciate them denying reality and risking the only planet we have.
Inhofe once cited Genesis to bolster his denial of reality: “God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what he is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.” He also stupidly tried to disprove climate change by bringing a snowball to the floor of the Senate. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who’s been a good friend to the secular community, utterly destroyed Inhofe’s idiocy.
It’s not just that more zealous believers deny climate change; their religious blinders also prevent them from viewing reality. Those following literalist strains of religion are particularly primed to reject clear facts, such as evolution, the fact that virgins don’t give birth, and that human beings don’t resurrect themselves. Many believers are perfectly willing to reject claims without evidence — or even in spite of the evidence.
Religion’s view of the afterlife also hinders our collective ability to tackle climate change. The only afterlife we ought to care about is leaving our descendants and our planet a secure and pleasant future, as FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor has pointed out. Systems that deny facts and reality must not be used to dictate public policy.
We get one shot at life and we get it on this one planet. Carl Sagan famously wrote in Pale Blue Dot, “The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.”
By ignoring our role in climate change we are not just ignoring reality, we are kneeling before and bowing our heads to the same willful ignorance that has driven religion from one generation to the next. And I, for one, refuse to bend my knee to any ignorance — be it rooted in religion or elsewhere.
Andrew L. Seidel is the director of strategic response for FFRF.