“When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything.” G.K. Chesterton.
The famous quote from G.K. Chesterton may be too pejorative for some, and does not always ring true, but it does perhaps offer some insight, from a sociological perspective, into the rise in importance and influence of the environment movement over the past few decades. Whilst there are, no doubt, a complexity of other factors at work, it does seem to be more than a coincidence that the flourishing of environmentalism, and in particular the increasingly religion-like adherence of many to climate change and associated articles of beliefs and causes, has taken place concurrently with the decline of Western Christianity. In fact, the closer one looks, the more what we might broadly call environmentalism, looks and functions just like an organised religion, complete with its pantheon of gods, its high priests, evangelists, its adherents and its heretics, and its spiritual zealots and nutcases.
Last week evangelist Al Gore was in town. As previous political leaders sought the counsel of Christian evangelist’s like Billy Graham in the past, Labour leader Bill Shorten was not about to miss a meet and greet, and photo opportunity, with the apostle of an ‘inconvenient’ (if error riddled) truth. Tony Abbot was less eager to break bread with Al. The Liberal leader is widely considered something of an apostate, epitomised by his earlier (accurate) comment ‘climate change is total crap.’ But even the conservatives cannot be seen to be neglecting a great moral challenge (the greatest of our age as one former Prime Minister infamously put it) like climate change. Hence the Liberals too have implemented expensive climate change policies and gone about doing their best to convince the population they too are believers. The result has been, apart from the odd dissident, Coalition MP’s appearing at the latest World Wildlife Fund fundraiser and generally looking a bit like the godless politicians of the past who endured church services out of a sense of duty and because it was too politically costly not to be seen among the Christian elect on important civic and ceremonial occasions.
An evangelist like Brother Gore appears only occasionally, and quickly departs – in a fuel hungry and pollutant belching airliner of course – like the televangelist pleading for more cash to repair his already very fast private jet, so that he can reach more people with the message of course, so too among the climate change apostles, are self denial and restraint for the masses in the pews, not the leaders of the show. In addition to its itinerant apostles, to which we could add the likes of David Attenborough and David Suzuki, among several others, the climate change religion has plentiful priests and several high priests – these are known as ‘scientists’ and especially ‘climate scientists.’ Just like the ex cathedra proclamations of the medieval Popes, their pronouncements on ‘the science,’ and determination that it is ‘settled,’ function in a way analogous to the ongoing activity of the Holy Spirit in the world, and must be accepted without question. Over time, this priestly canon has produced a dogma every bit as inflexible as that settled upon by the Council of Trent – among them, articles of belief such as, the sea levels are rising, the Antarctic ice is melting, global temperatures are warming, and extreme weather events are proof of climate change. These priestly proclamations are true, and remain true, even if they are patently shown to be false – for instance, when the world stops warming, or when scientific expeditions to the polar regions searching for evidence of melting ice find there is, in fact, so much ice, their ship gets stuck in it.
Those who question, doubt, or even arrogate to debate the findings of the scientific priestly class are immediately shouted down as ‘deniers’ and ‘sceptics,’ and, generally, treated like an infidel at a Ramadan meal. Whereas, in the golden age of the past, the religious thought police of Europe had access to far more persuasive methods, such as having ones skeletal structure rearranged on the rack or being burned alive at the stake, atheists and deniers today are subject to a more subtle and humane punishment – public shaming. This ritual rebuke is most zealously carried out by the political arm of the environmental religion – the Greens political party. Like all religious totalitarians, their ultimate quest is to attain power, so as to put an end to all unbelief permanently, and usher in a new age of communion with nature, in which the Green religion will be absolute and none other allowed. In this fully realised utopia, the leaders and priests will no doubt find their privileged place exempts them from reading by candle light, whilst the masses till their meagre plots for a subsistence living and burn twigs to keep the warm at night, and the deniers and sceptics become accustomed to life in the Gulag.
And finally, like all expressions of spirituality over the centuries, every religion has its nutters, and there really are no nutters like a religious nutter. There will always be those devotees who regard the rest of the congregation as weak and lifeless, lacking in genuine faith and zeal. The environmental faith has many such nutters and zealots, but our favourite is surely Professor Tim Flannery, who prophesises that the natural world (Gaia) will one day, quite soon, attain intelligence. At that time, Gaia will presumably advise homo sapiens what she thinks of us, and if the climate priests are right, the news will not be good. So spake Flannery, in his fourth book. As a denier, a sceptic, an atheist and a heretic, and as one perhaps marked for re-education, or worse, come the glorious revolution and the full implementation of Green theology on earth – my only comfort is that Professor Flannery’s prophesies to date have all been duds.