By Eric Soble
“Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though all inclinations of his heart are evil from childhood and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease.”
One would expect this recitation of Genesis 8 from a preacher on a Sunday morning, or from a theologian studying biblical text in one of our many seminaries across the United States. But what is the context in which this recitation occurred? John Shimkus, a Republican representative from Ill., uttered this reading at a subcommittee meeting on global warming more than a year ago.
This same representative is now seeking the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. I hope I am not the only one unsettled by Shimkus’s reliance upon the Bible for scientific insights, especially given the imminent climate crisis. One wonders if Shimkus would also sanction selling his daughter into slavery (Exodus 21) or killing those who work on the Sabbath (Exodus 35).
His assertions that “the earth will end only when God declares its time to be over” and that “man will not destroy this earth” raise important questions about the role of faith in environmental policy. His policy changes, including a permanent block on the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of greenhouse gases, could be extremely damaging to our planet. However, this denialism is not confined to one individual. This climate skepticism can be framed in the wider Republican takeover of Congress and the ascendancy of the Tea Party.
In a recent New York Times/CBS News Poll, only 14 percent of Tea Partiers believed global warming to be a current problem, compared to 49 percent of the public. This is telling, especially in the context of the midterm election, wherein anti-environmentalism became a major tenet of the Republican establishment. A survey completed by the Center for American Progress found that, of the more than 100 Republicans newly elected to Congress on Nov.2, over half are self-proclaimed climate “skeptics.”
Part of this denialism stems from the right-wing’s distrust of elites such as climate scientists and politicians. Many believe that these people are trying to redistribute wealth and impose their own liberal policies on so-called “normal” Americans. But there is another less talked about source of climate denial that is linked to biblical literalism and fundamentalist Christianity.
Is it rude to point out that the 41 percent of Americans who believe that the rapture will take place within their lifetimes may be less likely to care about environmental sustainability? Am I stepping out of line by connecting the unscientific teachings of Genesis to the fervent denial by those on the Right? Of course, many Christians may be empowered to pursue environmental justice because of their faith, but this does not dismiss the wider picture.
I’m of the opinion that the Bible shouldn’t dictate our public policy, especially when it comes to such an important topic as climate change. I wish I could have faith that a supernatural being could wave a wand and make this all better, but this is nothing more than wishful thinking. Perhaps a more effective method would be to elect representatives to office who have a deep commitment to our environmental sustainability. This disaster is man-made, and thus must be fixed by man.