From the Paris Agreement to invoking God (or, When Theology Doesn’t Hold Water)

Paris AgreementEven though I’m over a month late in posting about it, I watched the response to withdrawal from the Paris Agreement with fascination. As someone who believes that the evidence for anthropogenic climate change is very strong, and that the consequences of global climate change are a wide-scale negative at best and catastrophic at worst, I was both disappointed by the withdrawal, but also suspected it didn’t matter. It is unlikely that the Paris Climate Change 2020 deadline for agreeing upon measures to stem climate change would have been met, making the agreement just another gesture that plays at addressing global climate change, and the US’ withdrawal from the agreement wasn’t enough to change the already burgeoning development and deployment of low-impact and renewable energy technologies in the US and around the world.

Tim_WalbergBut what struck me more than anything is what Republican congressman Tim Walberg said in the wake of the withdrawal.

You can read the article I linked to above for the full story, but Rep. Walberg said that he thinks that IF climate change is real, that God will have to take care of it, and it’s not “something for humans to solve.” When pressed about why he believes this, he essentially stated that he doesn’t think that humans have the power to change things as much as global climate change scientists suggest:

I believe there’s climate change. I believe there’s been climate change since the beginning of time. Do I think man has some impact? Yeah, of course. Can man change the entire universe? No.

I’ve talked with plenty that deny anthropogenic climate change, most of them evangelical Christians, and I can say with certainty that many christian climate change deniers hold an opinion similar to Rep. Walberg’s.

I’m sure that Walberg is being earnest in his invocation of God, and really believes what he’s saying, but it also highlights the failure of his church to train him. What Walberg said is simply bad theology.

By and large, evangelicals believe in an Augustinian version of original sin that originated when Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden, disobeyed God by eating fruit from a tree that they were forbidden to eat from. This resulted in what most people call “The Fall”.

And this is where my primary problem with Rep. Walberg comes in. In several theologies, including those of most evangelical Christians, the Garden Of Eden was set up by God to be perfect. There was no death. Creatures didn’t eat each other, since they were all vegetarians. There as no sickness. There was no deleterious effect of aging. Work, instead of being frustrating, was rewarding and productive. There were no thorns or weeds to make agriculture difficult. Food was easy to come by. Human childbirth, instead of being painful, was relatively easy. God walked and talked with humans face-to-face. Everyone was naked. It was a utopia.

Brueghel Jan__de_Oude_en_Peter_Paul_Rubens - Adam and EveBut then, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and everything changed. All of a sudden, the humans knew shame, and struggled to cover up their nakedness from each other. (Which, by the way, they did a really bad job at – some tree of knowledge that was.) They started to hide from God. Death and pain and hardship and frustration entered creation. And this effect extended throughout the entire universe. As a result of Adam and Eve eating of this fruit, entropy was given free rein. Perfect paradise turned red in tooth and claw.

All because a couple of naked hippies decided to eat some fruit.

Many evangelicals would point out that it was really God who caused all of these negative effects – that they are the curse pronounced upon man’s sin. And that’s true, to an extent. But, I would argue, within the context of the story, it’s a natural consequence. It’s like putting one’s hand in the fire. Sure it was the FIRE that burned you, but it was YOU who caused the burn.

I am willing to argue that Adam and Eve – two simple people – changed the entire universe with that simple action. So, when Rep. Walberg says that man can’t change the entire universe, I’d like to challenge him to explain how death entered the world (i.e., creation) “through one man’s sin”.

In evangelical theology, the place of sin holds prominence –  sin changes everything, works its way into everything, and corrupts. But even with Evangelicals the power and scope of sin is easily forgotten in service to political ideologies.  I’m not willing to say that denying anthropogenic climate change is a sin, but I am willing to say that failing to care for creation is a sin.

In that same Garden of Eden, before the fall, God gave the humans two jobs – to be fruitful and multiply, and to rule the Earth. But this ruling is not like the kings who came to power as a result of the fall, with all of its attendant anxieties and scarcities. Ruling is supposed to be in the image of God, and when humans let our lust for power (both in the form of energy and dominance) get ahead of ruling in the image of God, we’ve sinned. And since we’ve just discussed how sin in most evangelical theologies can have cosmic consequences, then I think it’s fair to say that Rep. Walberg’s statements are nothing less than poor theology.

This isn’t even to mention how in scripture God calls people to live justly and rightly or else sin will enter the land and corrupt it, causing the animals to die and the plants to not grow and infants to die in childbirth. It’s not even to mention the ways in which we have proof of how human activity can completely disrupt regional ecologies, and how human work has – at least partially – restored those environments. It’s not even to mention that climate change is a Pascal’s Wager in which doing nothing and being wrong has consequences that far outweigh taking serious action and being wrong.

If a person wants to argue that anthropogenic climate change is wrong, then we should all have that conversation and follow the evidence where it leads. But if a person chooses to use theological reasoning as a controlling paradigm to accept or reject information…then they better make darn sure that their theological reasoning holds water.

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