Dystopian threats and the globalisation of faiths

Sanna (24) wants to be sterilised for the climate - Scary to have children. This is the translated title of a Norwegian article posted on the website of the NRK, the Norwegian broadcasting corporation.

My love, who is rather fluent in the Norse language (and otherwise incredibly smart), showed me this piece, with her translation of course. The main gist is as follows:

“I choose to be sterilised because I think climate change is scary. There is little hope, and it does not seem that Norway takes it seriously, says Sanna Kristine Laksholm.”

Apart from the climate change topic, the article also discusses whether women, such as Sanna, should be allowed to undergo sterilisation at such a young age.

To be absolutely clear: human procreation is a supremely private matter with, paradoxically, non-private consequences.

That is, every child born into our world carries the potential for change!

Be that as it may, coercion regarding human procreation is deeply troubling and fundamentally detrimental to individuals, couples and societies. In that respect, I could never judge her decision regarding her own future.

Now, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby together have produced a joint message for the protection of creation.

One would expect that these three church-leaders perhaps would be able to allay the fears Sanne has, at least to some extent. We read that (emphasis added):

“… We are in a unique position either to address them with shortsightedness and profiteering or seize this as an opportunity for conversion and transformation. If we think of humanity as a family and work together towards a future based on the common good, we could find ourselves living in a very different world. Together we can share a vision for life where everyone flourishes. Together we can choose to act with love, justice and mercy. Together we can walk towards a fairer and fulfilling society with those who are most vulnerable at the centre.

But this involves making changes. Each of us, individually, must take responsibility for the ways we use our resources. This path requires an ever-closer collaboration among all churches in their commitment to care for creation. Together, as communities, churches, cities and nations, we must change route and discover new ways of working together to break down the traditional barriers between peoples, to stop competing for resources and start collaborating.”

However, we are told in no uncertain terms that we stand before a human-induced collapse of the world, which demands this envisioned urgent change of direction (emphasis added):

“The current climate crisis speaks volumes about who we are and how we view and treat God’s creation. We stand before a harsh justice: biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and climate change are the inevitable consequences of our actions, since we have greedily consumed more of the earth’s resources than the planet can endure. ….”

The extreme weather and natural disasters of recent months reveal afresh to us with great force and at great human cost that climate change is not only a future challenge, but an immediate and urgent matter of survival. Widespread floods, fires and droughts threaten entire continents. Sea levels rise, forcing whole communities to relocate; cyclones devastate entire regions, ruining lives and livelihoods. Water has become scarce and food supplies insecure, causing conflict and displacement for millions of people.”

On many levels, this church-leaders’ message is deeply troubling. Reflecting on this document seems imperative, and I will do so from the notion and importance of truth ánd our submission to that truth, both scientifically and theologically.

Let me try to explain.

In the text, it is said that “biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and climate change” are “inevitable consequences of our actions”.

But, how do our three church-leaders knów this? And what does “inevitable” actually mean in this particular context?

The answer to both questions seems clear enough: science, or purportedly so.

But that promptly leads to a fundamental impasse. Scientific research can never (as in never) give us “inevitable” results. No matter how ‘firm’ empirical results may seem, they are always probabilistic in nature.

In other words, scientific knowledge can invariably be improved upon or even be replaced by new insights coming to the fore ‘tomorrow’.

So, what the church-leaders here implicitly pander is not science but scientism, the modern adultery that is empirical absolutism/authoritarianism. Karl Pearson, in his 1982-book The Grammar of Science, gives a concise definition of scientism:

“… the scientific method is the sole path by which we can attain to knowledge. The very word knowledge, indeed, only applies to the product of the scientific method in this field. Other methods, here or elsewhere, may lead to fantasy, as that of the poet or of the metaphysician, to belief or to superstition, but never to knowledge.”

Despite these grandiose words, scientism must fail as there never will be any scientific research results forthcoming that could show scientism to be true. It is merely an ideological position, and a poor one at that, standing outside any field of science.

Furthermore, scientism claims infallibility where there is none to have, subsequently censoring views that conflict with prevailing scientific - correction: scientistic - opinion. Paul Feyerabend, already in 1975, made some pretty penetrating remarks on this shambles (emphasis added):

“‘Truth’ is such a nicely neutral word. Nobody would deny that it is commendable to speak the truth and wicked to tell lies. … it is easy to twist matters and to change allegiance to truth in one’s everyday affairs into allegiance to the Truth of an ideology which is nothing but the dogmatic defence of that ideology. …”

But perhaps Blaise Pascal is closer to the theological homes of the authors of the joint message. In his Pensees, he makes a poignant observation, which the church-leaders should have heeded before publishing their statement (emphasis added):

“Knowledge has two extremes which meet; one is the pure natural ignorance of every man at birth, the other is the extreme reached by great minds who run through the whole range of human knowledge, only to find that they know nothing and come back to the same ignorance from which they set out, but it is a wise ignorance which knows itself. Those who stand half-way have put their natural ignorance behind them without yet attaining the other; they have some smattering of adequate knowledge and pretend to understand everything. They upset the world and get everything wrong. Ordinary people and clever people make up the run of the world; the former despise it and are despised in their turn. All their judgements are wrong and the world judges them rightly.”

Regrettably, the joint message is littered with ‘cleverness’, fracturing the quintessence that is scientific and theological truth in the process.

That is not hard to see. Considering the former, two weather extremes as to climate change, reported by the IPCC, are illustrative.

There is no evidence found that flooding is increasing in the world and no evidence that the changes that have been observed are attributable to climate change.

Tropical cyclones, as the most devastating weather events in the world, do not show any trend, intensity, and damage increase. The two graphs below show exactly that (see also Historical Global Tropical Cyclone Landfalls):

If the authors, seemingly, play fast and loose with factual knowledge, how could we appraise the truthfulness of their theological panorama?

I believe Sanne is right in seeing straight through official bodies such as governments pretending to counter climate change whereas, at heart, they do not really take it seriously.

The same goes, I fear, for our three church-leaders.

The rosy picture they paint of everyone flourishing if humanity, as a family, “work together towards a future based on the common good” is exactly just that: a rosy picture. It is a figment of their imagination.

But make no mistake, this utopian picture of ‘rosiness’ put forward by the authors is preceded by the ominous dystopian threats some of which I have quoted above, and two of which I have discussed with respect to their factual content.

Sadly and ironically, Sanne does take the dystopian threats to heart, thus leaving her without any substantial hope for the future, notwithstanding the ostensible confident words of the church-leaders.

I think Sanne’s fear of the future is found in many young people who, unthinkingly and wrongly, embrace the scientism of ecological threats. At the same time they rightly dismiss the oversimplified utopian build-back-better rhetoric such as found in the joint message.

In order to understand the latter, let us turn to the theological in the joint message.

Unsurprisingly, it does not fare much better than the scientific. New Testament texts are dismally misconstrued in their exegetical characterisations (interpreting the meanings of texts). For example:

“We are cautioned against adopting short term and seemingly inexpensive options of building on sand, instead of building on rock for our common home to withstand storms (Mt 7.24–27).”

The truth of the matter is that this parable of the two builders has nothing to do with cheap and fleeting (socio-economic) options that cannot stand the storms of time.

The parable, with reference to Isaiah 28:14-18 (for those who enjoy a theological challenge), revolves around Jesus Himself as the rock to build ones life on (see e.g Kenneth E. Bailey’s masterly Jesus through Middel Eastern Eyes for a precise analysis).

This also implies that if our world is to be improved upon, our turning towards our Creator as embodied by Jesus is the only way forward. This is far less obscure than one might think, as I explain in my Utopia and Gospel.

Yet, this is not touched upon in the joint message.

Whether or not this is something you, dear reader, believe in, as in trust your life with, is besides the point. I only try to show that the authors of the joint message play fast and loose with theological truth as well.

On the whole, the church-leaders dabble in the modern and decidedly anti-christian utopian dialectic, as defined in my Utopia and Gospel (emphasis added):

“The hazards and risks of modernity, the plights of the present world and its precarious future, need to be portrayed and experienced on an all-encompassing dystopic level so as to capture the hearts and minds of contemporary world citizens to let the societal systems managers strive for this better world ….”

Sanne’s observations on the climate change threat and the, in her mind, paltry attempts of people and governments to effectively deal with this threat, shows that many people, including the church-leaders, deeply misconstrue our place within reality.

Crucial here is the historical fact that any utopian attempt to fully reconstruct society always spawns the very dystopia one tries so hard to avoid. Utopias with a green/sustainable blueprint will fare no better. (See my Utopia and Gospel.)

Although the climate-carbon dioxide narrative is as susceptible to revision or even abandonment as the next scientific theory, its deep political utopian entanglement has for the most part ossified this scientific discourse.

The joint message proves that point convincingly.

Solving this puzzle is far from easy, as we are all deeply immersed in the utopian dialectic. As said, the church-leaders do nothing other than playing out this dialectic through ecological threats and unctuous words of the desirableness of global utopia.

A first step towards freeing ourselves from the shackles of Utopia/dystopia of any colour is found in this observation made by Feyerabend (emphasis added):

“If Truth, as conceived by some ideologists, conflicts with freedom, then we have a choice. We may abandon freedom. But we may also abandon Truth.

Careful here! Feyerabend talks about us leaving behind expedient truth that functions purely as a tool of oppression in the hands of ideologues.

Very much in line with Feyerabend’s observation, above all else we must abandon fear, which stands at the heart of the utopian dialectic. This fear is time and again cultivated; the joint message is no different, and tragically so.

Fear is the dominant human factor at any time in history and in any culture. Abandoning fear seems impossible to do.

Against all our instincts and our logic, time and again the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament encourages us, commands us ‘to not fear’. Why? Perhaps C.S. Lewis said it best in his A Grief Observed:

“… To make an organism which is also a spirit; to make that terrible oxymoron, a ‘spiritual animal.’ To take a poor primate, a beast with nerve-endings all over it, a creature with a stomach that wants to be filled, a breeding animal that wants its mate, and say, ‘Now get on with it. Become a god.’”

Once fear is abandoned, new ways of life lived, as an individual and within our respective communities, truly can emerge.

And these new ways will include children born to us; if you can imagine that. “Let the children come to me! Don’t try to stop them. People who are like these children belong to God’s kingdom.”

If I could say anything to Sanne in person, it would be this: “Don’t be afraid.”


© 2019. All rights reserved.