Selective Reading

While I try very hard not to read or discuss (and certainly not to write about) the current political situation and about the many problems we face that I simply cannot remedy, the following headline and brief story jumped out at me because it has so many ramifications:

What would Jesus do about climate change? According to one self-described Christian, not much.

Conservative pundit Erick Erickson fired off a tweet Wednesday saying his savior called on him to be a good steward for the planet… but that concept doesn’t extend to global warming.

Erickson then sat back in his comfortable easy chair and read the comments that followed his tweet. He was mostly amused by those he felt misunderstood what “stewardship” means. In fact, of course, he is the one who misunderstands what the word means. Given that we are dependent on the earth, on the air and water and on protecting our home as much as we can, the word reflects the obligation this places upon us to care for the earth and seek to preserve it for future generations. This is what “stewardship” means. And if global warming threatens the earth, as it surely does, then it follows that stewardship involves an attempt to curb global warming if at all possible.

I cannot speak about the obligation that Christians, in particular, may or may not have to respect their planet as I can recall no passage in the New Testament that seems to address this topic. But the love we are directed to have for our fellow humans would seem to imply a concern for the planet on which we all live and upon which our lives depend. I suspect the version Mr. Erickson reads is not the one I used to read so carefully.

Once again, we have a “self-described Christian” making it clear that he has his own interpretation of what the Lord has told him to believe and how to act. This is the attitude that has turned so many against the Church even though, by the way, many of Erickson’s fellow-Christians objected strongly to what the man tweeted.  The notion that each of us is privy to the Word of God and can interpret the Bible for ourselves is at the root of many misunderstandings of just what that book says and, even more to the point, what it intends. But when Jesus says that there really are only two laws, that we love our neighbors and that we love God, two things become crystal clear: Love is the main directive of the New Testament and love implies a determination to sacrifice our own pleasures and desires in order to helping others.

There are many ways to interpret the Gospels — and even the four books do not agree with one another in every respect. But the main message is clear and it would appear that it imposes obligations upon us to love one another and this would seem to imply caring for the planet upon which we all depend. But this is not the end to the story because Christianity — in its many guises — is only one religion among many and the messages that are set forth in the many Holy Books of those religions frequently are at odds with one another. But the central message of all of them, it would appear, is that we are not alone on this earth and we must take others into account and do whatever we can to help them when we can and love them if we are able. The notions of hatred and prejudice that many find in such books as the Old Testament, for example, are not to be taken for the heart and soul of the doctrine that all Holy Books, including the Old Testament, preach: care about one another and do not put yourselves first.

Mr. Erickson is deluded and finds in the New Testament a doctrine that supports his desire to ignore global warming. He finds solace in the words he is convinced he reads there. But others are unable to find those words which seem to be in direct conflict with the words that most people do find there. We can only feel sorry for the man while at the same time we can understand how it is that an ordinary man can find support for his biases wherever he is determined to seek it. It is called “selective reading,” closely related to selective hearing. It’s sadly not uncommon.

While Rome Burns

We all know that Nero fiddled while Rome was burning, though we aren’t told with whom he was fiddling . . .(sorry). In any event, we now find ourselves pretty much in his shoes, fiddling while our water dries up. I’m not speaking about the horrible event in Flint, Michigan where thousands of citizens were allowed to drink water contaminated with lead. Nor am I referring to our mindless waste of water as we flush the toilet with a cup of pee in it, take long showers, run the dishwasher for six plates and a dirty frying pan, leave the water running while we brush our teeth, or water our lawns (or golf courses). What I am referring to is the unconscionable act of “fracking.”

A recent story tells us about the steps that the European Union are taking to stop fracking, a procedure to get gas and oil out of the earth while contaminating between 1.2 and 3.5 million gallons of water per well each day in the process:

Studies by the European Commission, released last Friday, find the risks associated with large-scale shale gas development and fracking to be high and in some cases very high. The studies draw special attention to the cumulative environmental impacts of multiple shale gas wells. Eight key pieces of the European Union (EU) environmental acquis (acquis communautaire = agreed upon laws and regulations in the EU) are identified as being ill-equipped to deal with the water, waste, liability, air quality and other issues of large-scale use of hydraulic fracturing.

As a result, four countries in Europe have outlawed fracking. A growing list of others have placed a moratorium on the act. However, with the exception of a few states in this country, we continue to engage in an activity that is known to cause earthquakes in addition to drawing millions of gallons of water from the aquifers daily and rendering the water unusable. We ignore the fact that our water is becoming increasingly precious. Many think it will be the new gold. But actually it is more precious than gold, because we cannot live without it.

Some would chalk up our frenzy to draw oil and gas out of the earth to free enterprise. I would chalk it up to raw, unmitigated greed. As noted, growing numbers of countries around the globe see this as a very dangerous practice indeed, as are so many of the practices in this country we engage in daily — while we fiddle. We can continue to ignore the assault we have initiated against the earth, but we cannot do so much longer. And while I realize that this claim will be dismissed as mere nay-saying, chicken-little pessimism, glass half-empty exaggeration of our present situation, we need to consider that those who reject the dire prediction of scientists have a hidden agenda. The scientists do not. They simply tell it like it is. We need to start to listen to them. The money isn’t going to do even the wealthiest among us any good if they have no water to mix with their bourbon.

In my bleak moments I sometimes imagine that the very wealthy who pursue this deadly path have a jet plane ready to whisk them away from our dried up country to some place safe, one of those countries that has outlawed fracking and now relies on renewable energy — you know, the ones that will manage to hang on a bit longer. It’s not unlike the villain in a James Bond movie with his boat ready to whisk him away to safety before the British Secret Service can put him away. But this is real life, not a fiction: there are no jet planes that can take anyone far enough away.

At other times, in my more dreamlike moments, I imagine that the story in the Old Testament about the Garden of Eden is not a tale about what happened in the past. Rather, it is a prediction about the earth we all share, which is indeed a Garden of Eden. The serpent of avarice has offered us the apple of greed and we have eaten of it and we are now, slowly, being evicted from the Garden as a result of our own stupidity.

Two Gods

Some years ago, when I was teaching a required course in great books that we called “Humanities,” I was discussing with the class the assigned reading, the Book of Job. The discussion was going  well, I thought, but my repeated reference to the “God of the Old Testament” apparently riled one of the students who spoke out: “it’s the same God as in the New Testament, you know.” Well, I didn’t know. The student was a Born Again Christian and I had only been born once. From my apparently stunted perspective the two Gods seemed miles apart, the Old Testament God a vengeful and even vindictive God who would throw Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden for disobedience and punish Job for bragging rights. He’s the God who said to Eve: “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception, in sorrow shall thou bring forth children; and thy desire shall be thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” The God of the New Testament struck me as a forgiving God, a god of love and compassion. He is the God who said “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you.” The two seemed, as I say, miles apart. But clearly I did not know what I was talking about.

In any event, in reading The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, a novel recommended by a good friend, I came across the same concern I had expressed, to wit, the reflection by one of the main characters in the novel that the two Gods were very different. The novel raises a number of interesting questions and, while disturbing in many ways, is a good read, focusing on a very twisted Baptist preacher who decides to do a year of missionary work and hauls his wife and four girls to the Congo to drag the natives out of the utter darkness (where they appear to be quite happy, thank you very much) and into the light that apparently only he can see. Needless to say, he botches the job, alienating the natives entirely while abusing and doing untold damage to his children and making life a living hell for his poor wife. But such is the enthusiasm of the “true believer” who is convinced that he (or she) has the truth and everyone else should shut up and pay attention. Our hero is a hellfire and brimstone preacher who hopes to save souls by scaring the shit out of them. His mania can be found just this side of insanity. He bases his world view on a reading of the Old Testament having, apparently, never gotten as far as the New Testament — except for the Book of Revelation. Yet he insists that he is a devout Christian.

All of which raises the deeper question of the untold damage “Christians” have done over the centuries in direct defiance of the teachings of their Founder. How on earth the message of peace and love got translated into a message of intolerance and hate defies reason, though it would appear folks are simply more comfortable with the Old Testament God. But, then, many things we humans do defy reason. The sad thing in this case is that so much good has turned rotten and so many lives have been ruined by well-meaning zealots who think they know all that needs to be known. Just like my student who knew that the God of the Old Testament is the same God as the God of the New Testament, a conviction I knew better than to tamper with by trying to get her to think.