Friday, November 01, 2019

Evangelical Christianity Off the Rails - Updated

Katherine Hayhoe knows a thing or three about evangelical Christianity, right wing politics and climate change. She is an evangelical Christian. She's married to an evangelical pastor. She is a climate scientist/teacher. She's just not a right wing evango-lunatic.

I've followed the Canadian-born Hayhoe for quite a while. She co-directs the Climate Center at Texas Tech, in Lubbock. She is something of an oddity.

While I don't buy her theology, I can understand how she reconciles Christianity and climate science.

I grew up in a Christian family with a science-teacher dad who taught us that science is the study of God’s creation. If we truly believe that God created this amazing universe, bringing matter and energy to life out of a formless empty void of nothing, then how could studying his creation ever be in conflict with his written word?
Hayhoe wrote a letter to the New York Times that's not the usual climate change stuff. Her focus is how, in the States, evangelical Christians came to repudiate climate science. It's a tale of theological corruption and it's something that flows through the veins of some of our own leaders, people like Harper and Scheer. wasn’t until after I’d moved to the United States for graduate school that it dawned on me, to my disbelief, that divisions within the science-faith arena, originally focused on questions of human origins and the age of the universe, were expanding to include climate change. 
Now, this discrepancy is pointed out to me nearly every day: often by people with Bible verses in their social media profiles who accuse me of spreading Satan’s lies, or sometimes by others who share my concerns about climate change but wonder why I bother talking to “those people.” The attacks I receive come via email, Twitter, Facebook comments, phone calls and even handwritten letters. 
I track them all, and I’ve noticed two common denominators in how most of the authors choose to identify themselves: first, as political conservatives, no matter what country they’re from; and second, in the United States, as conservative Christians, because the label “evangelical” has itself been co-opted as shorthand for a particular political ideology these days. 
But I refuse to give it up, because I am a theological evangelical, one of those who can be simply defined as someone who takes the Bible seriously. This stands in stark contrast to today’s political evangelicals, whose statement of faith is written first by their politics and only a distant second by the Bible and who, if the two conflict, will prioritize their political ideology over theology.
This is where it gets really twisted.
But if caring about climate change is such a profoundly Christian value, then why do surveys in the United States consistently show white evangelicals and white Catholics at the bottom of those Americans concerned about the changing climate? 
It turns out, it’s not where we go to church (or don’t) that determines our opinion on climate. It’s not even our religious affiliation. Hispanic Catholics are significantly more likely than other Catholics to say the earth is getting warmer, according to a 2015 survey, and they have the same pope. It’s because of the alliance between conservative theology and conservative politics that has been deliberately engineered and fostered over decades of increasingly divisive politics on issues of race, abortion and now climate change, to the point where the best predictor of whether we agree with the science is simply where we fall on the political spectrum.

An important and successful part of that framing has been to cast climate change as an alternate religion. This is sometimes subtle, as the church sign that reads, “On Judgment Day, you’ll meet Father God not Mother Earth.” Other times this point is made much more blatantly, like when Senator Ted Cruz of Texas told Glenn Beck in 2015 that “climate change is not a science, it’s a religion,” or when Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said at a 2014 event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations that “the problem is Al Gore’s turned this thing into a religion.”
Why is this framing so effective? Because some 72percent of people in the United States already identify with a specific religious label, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. And if you are a Christian, you know what to do when a false prophet comes along preaching a religion that worships the created rather than the Creator: Reject it! 
So this framing plays right into the narrative that scientists are a godless bunch who have teamed up with liberals (and perhaps the Antichrist, according to some comments I’ve received) to rule the world and overthrow religion, an agenda that any right-minded believer will oppose until his or her dying breath. In fact, 51 percent of scientists said in a 2009 Pew survey that they believed in God or a universal spirit or higher power.
It's a set-up, one that's been honed since the era of Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Depression. One of the books I'm reading now is Kevin Kruse's, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. Kruse, a Princeton history prof, reveals how the Great Depression drew America's industrialists and radical Christianity together.

The Depression drove a deep wedge between the American people and their industrial aristocracy. When FDR introduced the New Deal it terrified the industrialists who feared the rise of socialism. They didn't dare push back because they were already reviled. Then they got the idea of recruiting 'tent preachers' to do their bidding by spreading the word that FDR's reforms were an affront to God, the devil's work. Their campaign was called "Freedom Under God."

Curiously enough, it was Dwight Eisenhower who married Christianity and conservative politics. It's claimed that Eisenhower saw religion as essential to uniting the American people and he wasn't too fussy which faith prevailed. On Ike's watch the National Prayer Breakfast was introduced, Congress added the phrase "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance and made "In God We Trust" America's first official motto. Church membership that had never claimed more that 30 per cent of the American public soared to 69 per cent.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Today's Christian conservatism does not spring from the Bible. It is not something organic. It's not particularly Christian, in the New Testament sense. It is engineered to serve a purpose and it's still working whether through America's 'bought and paid for' Congress or some of those who lead the Conservative Party of Canada.


If you're interested in how religious fundamentalism blossomed in America you can also check out Kevin Phillips' 2005 book, American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. Phillips charts the decline of the United States from the perspective of a patrician Republican, a party stalwart long before the GOP succumbed to radicalism.

Here are a few excerpts from Phillip's American Theocracy:

[War and terror] both derive much of their current impetus from the incendiary backdrop of oil politics and religious fundamentalism, in Islam as well as the West. Despite pretensions to motivations such as liberty and freedom, petroleum and its geopolitics have dominated Anglo-American activity in the Middle East for a full century. On this, history could not be more clear.

The excesses of fundamentalism, in turn, are American and Israeli, as well as the all-too-obvious depredations of radical Islam. The rapture, end times, and Armageddon hucksters in the United States rank with any Shiite ayatollahs, and the last two presidential elections mark the transformation of the GOP into the first religious party in U.S. history.

The financialization of the United States economy over the last three decades - in the 1990s the finance, real estate and insurance sector overtook and then strongly passed manufacturing as a share of the U.S. gross domestic product - is an ill omen in its own right. ...Excessive debt in twenty fist century United States is on its way to becoming the global Fifth Horseman, riding close behind war, pestilence, famine and fire.

...A leading world power such as the United States, with almost three hundred million people and huge international responsibilities, goes about as far in a theocratic direction as it can when it satisfies the unfortunate criteria on display in Washington circa 2005: an elected leader who believes himself in some way to speak for God, a ruling party that represents religious true believers and seeks to mobilize the churches, the conviction of many voters in that Republican party that government should be guided by religion, and on top of it all, White House implementation of domestic and international political agendas that seems to be driven by religious motivations and biblical worldviews.

Over three decades of Bush presidencies, vice presidencies and CIA directorships, the Republican party has slowly become the vehicle of all three interests - a fusion of petroleum-defined national security; a crusading, simplistic Christianity; and a reckless credit-feeding financial complex.
A lesser known expansion of religious fundamentalism into the American establishment is described by career US Army commander turned academic, Andrew Bacevich, in his 2010 book, The New American Militarism. The author explores how Christian evangelism has morphed into the de facto official religion of the American military.

Again, a few excerpts:
"Certain in their understanding of right and wrong, growing in numbers, affluence, and sophistication, and determined to reverse the nation's perceived decline, conservative evangelicals after the 1960s assume the role of church militant. Abandoning their own previously well established skepticism about the morality of force and inspired in no small measure by their devotion to Israel, they articulated a highly permissive interpretation of the "just war" doctrine, the cornerstone of Christian thinking about warfare. And they developed a considerable appetite for wielding armed might on behalf of righteousness, more often that not indistinguishable from America's own interests
...evangelicals looked to soldiers to model the personal qualities that citizens at large needed to rediscover if America were to reverse the tide of godlessness and social decay to which the 1960s had given impetus. 
Militant evangelicals imparted religious sanction to the militarization of U.S. policy and helped imbue the resulting military activism with an aura of moral legitimacy."  
"Conservative Christians have conferred a presumptive moral palatability on any occasion on which the United States resorts to force. They have fostered among the legions of believing Americans a predisposition to see U.S. military power as inherently good, perhaps even a necessary adjunct to the accomplishment of Christ's saving mission. In doing so they have nurtured the preconditions that have enabled the American infatuation with military power to flourish. 
Put another way, were it not for the support offered by several tens of millions of evangelicals, militarism in this deeply and genuinely religious country becomes inconceivable."
Bacevich chronicles how today's American military would be unrecognizable to Eisenhower who, on leaving office, warned the American people of the establishment of a "military-industrial complex" that would undermine American democracy.

The author argues that, from the advent of Reagan's presidency and continuing through the Bush/Cheney era what, in the 50s, had been a military-industrial complex had metastasized into a military-industrial-Christian fundamentalist-neoconservative-commercial warfighting (think Blackwater, Haliburton etc.) complex that has driven Washington to switch from diplomacy to the use or threat of military force as America's principal instrument of foreign policy.

There is a traditional instinct in political discourse to avoid the subject of religion at all costs. Hands off, religious freedom, blah, blah, blah. I firmly embrace freedom of religion. That extends to religious belief and worship but no more than that. It needs to be understood that there can be no freedom of religion without freedom from religion. If the political realm is to steer clear of the religious realm, religion must stay out of politics.

We need to recognize that religious fundamentalism in whatever flavour - Islamic, Judaic, Christian or any other - is a scourge. Radical religion is authoritarian and doesn't seek to influence politics but to control it, making common cause along the way with other forms of radical conservatism. Today's Conservative Party, evidenced by its last two leaders, bears witness to this.

Just as corporatism pursues monopoly rather than competition, radical religion follows the same path. We can hold corporations in check through regulation but we have no similar means of curbing religious excess or the challenge it poses to liberal democracy. There is good reason why the thoroughly debauched president of the United States has gone to such lengths to court Christian conservatives and why, in turn, they have embraced Donald Trump. Each gives the other what they want and what they want has very little to do with the teachings of Jesus Christ.


Why This Matters - To You.

We are at a moment unlike any other in the 12,000 year span of human civilization. The past 120 years have witnessed more change than in the entire previous history of mankind. Before the Industrial Revolution our global population was barely one billion. By 1900 it had grown to 1.6 billion. In 2,000 we reached 6 billion. Two decades later we're closing in on 8 billion. From 1900, lifespans in the developed world nearly doubled while annual per capita GDP - production, consumption, waste - increased at least five fold. There are massively more of us, living far longer and, each year, consuming ever more.

Rather than meet this ominous predicament with concern and caution our only response is to double down. We won't stop until we are stopped. This will not be on our own terms. It will, however, be by our own hand.

The situation we are in today is not unprecedented, except in scale. We are on the cusp of irreversible, existential change. The scientific community speaks of "tipping points" that, once passed, cannot be remedied. Think of a canoe. When the water starts pouring in over the gunwale, you are about to tip over. You are no longer in control.

Anthropologist Jared Diamond explores our immediate predicament in his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed." He writes of several societies in centuries past that collapsed. In particular he focuses on societies that took decisions that ensured short-term benefits even though it was apparent that catastrophe would await future generations. Societies have knowingly written their own death warrants. These were 'rational' decisions for the time they were taken for the generation(s) they benefited even if it required discounting the interests and welfare of the future to nothing.

In the past these were limited events. A society here or there might collapse - think of the Mesopotamians, the Mayans or the Easter Islanders -  but many others would continue, even thrive. Today, by contrast, we have a global civilization and the threats we countenance for our immediate convenience are also global and very existential. These range from our resolute pursuit of perpetual exponential growth to climate change, overpopulation and truly rapacious exhaustion of Earth's finite natural resources.

Think of it as 'rational nihilism.'

Whenever any of these disastrous and counter-intuitive practices are challenged they're met by an equal, if not greater, response in the form of denial and, when that fails, delay. Examples of this are abundant and we can even attach names to them, names such as Trump, Putin and Orban, America's 'bought and paid for' Congress, and, closer to home, Harper and Scheer, Kenney, Moe and Ford, and, regrettably, even Trudeau. This isn't some bunch of cranks. It is mainstream. These are all instruments of rational nihilism.

It's now a given that liberal democracy is in decline and we may be entering an era of authoritarianism. If, as has been predicted, severe climate change impacts arrive in the coming decade the world will enter an era of spreading instability, incompatible with the ideals of liberal democracy.

Unless we are content to live in a regime other than liberal democracy we had better formulate means of dealing with the current crop of denialists and delayers, particularly forces that act out of purely ideological/theocratic reasons to the detriment of society.


Owen Gray said...

The American Founders were skeptical of organized religion, Mound, even as they guaranteed the freedom to practise whatever religion you chose. But, contrary to popular belief, they never saw their new country as a "Christian nation."

The Mound of Sound said...

Owen, I suspect that, had the industrialists not imagined how to game fundamentalist Christianity for their personal benefit, the separation of church and state would remain intact. There was a reason they chose evangelists over Episcopalians, Catholics or Presbyterians. I suspect they wanted a fringe sect, one that freely took theological liberties with the New Testament, that would collaborate with them. Now I'm wondering whether this hellish marriage explains the American government's hands-off approach to these evangelical hustlers, especially the TV types who prey on a naive public.

the salamander said...

.. this whole psychodrama disgusts me..
Lorne over at his Indy blog Politics and its Discontents has long led a charge questioning lack of critical thinking in politics and the base of certain Political Parties. Your blog among others.. like Owen at Northern Reflections or Climenhaga, Babel By At The Bay strike at the discouraging ignorance of voters and how they are played, groomed, gooned by shallow political opportunists.. and Organized Crime.. (sorry I mean Religion.. my iPad jammed is my excuse)

This ties into the anti-gay factions and racism, the so called 'nationalism', the white supremacists, the extreme partisanship.. you name it. what the f#*k is with 'Conversion Therapy - will they do Over The Cuckoos Nest doink electroshock or bare bum spanking to humiliate and rescusitate 'straightness' or faith in Jehoba ? Look back to the residential schools outrageous religious fervour, crusading under the banner of the politics of the day, the extirmination of First Nations people, the banning of potluck, the 'Dominionism' ! We still have 'Monarchists' today, Hell, we see a Queen in England ! Eminant Domain !

We end up with creeps like Tom Flanagan or Ken Boessenkool, Jason Kenney, Stephen Harper, Ray Novak or Stephen Lecce, Arthur Hamilton. BTW can anyone aside from you, name the three out of seven 'Conservatives' I just mentioned.. who signed The Alberta Firewall Letter re Alberta Separation almost 20 years ago ?? Scheer is just a greasy political animal and welfare queen weeny.. Arthur Hamilton is a fervour overloaded extreme partisan & Canadian sellout extrordinaire.. saving 'his last breath' for Jeebuz and his dark lord Harper

The extreme partisas, the evangelicals with their invisible friend upstairs, the faux, failed, flailing, the psychotic incels, the crude adamant pro-life are astonishing to this farm boy.. in the level of corruption they will rationalize as 'the Holy Bible, The Word of God, a sacred mission, Jesus whispered their ear.. its crazy & man ploughed the earth behind teams of Hairy Mammoth or Brontosaurus. How many of the Ten Commandments has Donald Trump not broken ?? In Canada, the pro-life are fully intent on capturing all Conservative riding campaigns by the expediency of massive retail membership drives, to ensure that only pro-life candidates are nominated. They see it as 'Their Crusade' - their task or opportunity to take down the infidels.. convert the heathens, save souls... The Grail even

Maybe they could be less like 'wood chipper' 750 $ hour partisan extremist lawyer Arthur Hamilton.. and emulate Jane Philpott, or David Lewis.. forget about The Rapture.. and donating to Israel.. love their neighbor instead.. work on humble, compassion, critical thinking or reading.. awareness, their backyard.. and actually 'raise their children' instead of hiring nannies from far away nations and cultures.. If you're so pro oil, pro-life.. why not relearn to walk.. or swim, volunteer for society, not for extreme twisted political asshats
I have a fab old friend who's an alcoholic, drug addicted alcoholic.. yes I said it twice. He struggles, but has a gift for music. Despite his struggles, he still gets a humungous tractor trailer or two, team of well paid pro drivers who love him too.. and delivers complete sets of hockey equipment, skates - figure and hockey from folks like me and my friends.. and a zillion others.. to remote First Nations kids.. and don't think those unrefrigerated trailers aint stuffed with fresh fruit, fish, fowl, canned goods, pencils, paints, music, used iPods with chargers, CD's, jeans, dresses, blankets.. God bless Johnny.. He runs, he skates, he struggles, he tries with the devil on his tail.. but he has the BIG HEART .. walks the walk, not the talk

Northern PoV said...

I follow Hayhoe on twitter but had no idea about the religious angle.

This is why 'they' don't want to teach 'arts' in school anymore.
Many folk, saw it coming ....

"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
apocryphal quote 'from' Sinclair Lewis.

"But when fascism comes it will not be in the form of an anti-American movement or pro-Hitler bund, practicing disloyalty. Nor will it come in the form of a crusade against war. It will appear rather in the luminous robes of flaming patriotism; it will take some genuinely indigenous shape and color, and it will spread only because its leaders, who are not yet visible, will know how to locate the great springs of public opinion and desire and the streams of thought that flow from them and will know how to attract to their banners leaders who can command the support of the controlling minorities in American public life. The danger lies not so much in the would-be Fuhrers who may arise, but in the presence in our midst of certainly deeply running currents of hope and appetite and opinion. The war upon fascism must be begun there."
John Thomas Flynn’s As We Go Marching, published in 1944