Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Sometimes Faith and Hope are HARD

Sometimes it is very difficult to trust in God’s providential care and in a hopeful  future.  Today was one of those days for me.  It started out hopeful enough.  Early this morning, I learned that the Markey-Waxman bill that fights global warming by a cap-and-trade system on carbon emissions (which may help both the federal deficit and the economy as a fringe benefit) made it out of committee to the full House of Representatives.  Wow,  I thought.  If the Senate doesn’t block or water this down, we may get the first real action on climate change in this nation–after decades of doing nothing. (I don’t know whether to be angrier at the Bush administration, which claimed for 6 of its 8 years that global warming was a hoax–relenting only after the PENTAGON classified it as a bigger national security threat than terrorism–or the Clinton administration which KNEW the danger and betrayed its campaign promises by doing nothing because they were afraid of losing support from the business community.) 

But then I realized that, EVEN AT IT’s BEST, the Waxman-Markey bill would only lower carbon emissions 7-10%, lower than what the EU, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, and even latecomer Australia are doing.  And, because global warming is happening faster than originally predicted, it is FAR less than what climatologists think we need to stop global climate catastrophes:  About 50% carbon emission reductions by 2030!  Yet, trying to increase the bill to that amount is simply not politically possible–the entire bill would be defeated and we’d be back to doing nothing, again.

So by the time we headed for church, I was pretty pessimistic about the future.  One of my daughters tried to cheer me up–reminding me of the huge strides we are making in some areas of justice–such as gay rights.  I wasn’t very receptive. Let’s see, I thought, “we now have civil marriage equality in 6 states. Only 42 more to go in this nation. At that rate, gays and lesbians will be able to marry just in time for massive global-warming related famines in Africa, losing several island nations to the ocean, hurricanes that make Katrina seem like a gentle breeze, worldwide refugees in the millions, increased “resource wars,” massive global species extinctions, and killer storms across the MidWest.

Fortunately, everything at church today seemed to speak to my condition, to paraphrase Quaker founder George Fox. We sang, “Do not fear to hope.”  The sermon reminded me that God chooses unlikely vessels for change and amazing outcomes.  I needed reminding.

The facts have not changed. (Please no comments trying to convince me that global warming is a hoax. I’ve read the many detailed reports of the climatologists. I’m in no mood for attempts to cheer me up by denial and might just delete any such comments. I am certainly in no mood to DEBATE the science behind the climatologists’ warnings.) We are still preparing an INADEQUATE response–one that would have been more suitable for the late ’80s or early ’90s when there was more time. (The longer we put off responding, the more extreme our actions will have to take by the time all the skeptics are convinced–and it will be too late.) It still looks like too little, too late.

But God is still GOD and I cannot believe that God has abandoned this planet–no matter how we humans have messed up our stewardship.  I have no idea how God is working to save this creation, but I know God is working.  Maybe, just maybe, Waxman-Markey, while inadequate in itself, will be the crack that opens the dam of creative political will to do what is necessary to save our world.  Maybe we can add carbon taxes to speed up the work of a cap-and-trade system.  Maybe the Waxman-Markey bill will finally show the world that the U.S. is serious about fighting climate change and helps bring in China and India to a new post-Kyoto treaty at Copenhagen.  I don’t know.

Sometimes faith and hope are hard.  Despair is easier.  But as the hymn says, “Do not fear to hope, though the wicked rage and rise.  Our God sees not as we see, success is not the prize. Do not fear to hope, for though the night seems long, the race shall not be to the swift, the fight not to the strong.”  Amen.  Lord, I believe–Help, Thou, my unbelief.

June 14, 2009 - Posted by | ecology, faith, global warming, hope, hymns


  1. I take great faith in the fact that, no matter how many species are pushed to extinction, and even if it takes millennia, the Earth will eventually return to its natural state and life will flourish once more. There may not be people. But the Earth itslef will be just fine.

    Would you like to come check out my blog? You seem like you’ve done some reading on climate change. The purpose of my blog is fourfold:

    1) to decide the public’s place in the climate change debate
    2) to decide which sources to trust for scientific information
    3) to decide which actions to take regarding climate change, given the risks and uncertainties
    4) to spread promising ideas and sources.

    I’d love you to come check it out. There’s probably a link on my username.

    Comment by climatesight | June 14, 2009

  2. We can only hope and pray that taking action now will begin to reverse the damage. We probably won’t live long enough to see major changes, but, hopefully, our children will benefit. It is really disheartening to hear the denials in the face of overwhelming evidence. At least we got the Bush Administration out of office and have the chance now to do something no matter how inadequate it may seem.

    Comment by Ralph | June 14, 2009

  3. Thanks. I’ve been an activist on this for some time, but I would love to read another INFORMED voice.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 15, 2009

  4. What is the primary goal of anti-global-warming laws and treaties? Is it primarily for the good of humans, for the good of nature, or a balance between the two, or “other”? Is there general agreement on this?

    Although many in the Christian community want to “do something” about climate change, have they thought through the deeper issues — including the ultimate tradeoff to which climatesight alluded?

    Comment by K Gray | June 15, 2009

  5. Since catastrophic climate change would be very bad for MOST species, not just humanity, laws meant to address this problem are meant to be beneficial to entire eco-systems. By themselves, they cannot address the other threats that human technological (and hyper-consumerist) civilization poses to other species: human over-population, habitat destruction, air and water pollution, soil toxicity, resource depletion, ozone depletion, etc.

    Since humanity tends to be self-centered, I would expect that most laws addressing climate change would focus more on threats to humans than to other species, but this is not always the case. In fact, many in the U.S. want to use the Endangered Species Act (which includes protection of habitats) to declare polar bears endangered and, thus, force greater action to prevent and reverse the erosion of sea ice in summer through warming oceans–an effect of global warming. Taking such action to save the polar bear would have the indirect effect of saving other species–including, perhaps, humans.

    It is true that if humanity dies off, the earth could renew itself–unless we die off in a nuclear holocaust so devastating that life itself is impossible afterword (a combination of nuclear winter and high levels of radiation with half-lives measured in millions of years). The History Channel series, “Life After People,” shows that, if humans were to die off in a way that did little damage to the rest of the biosphere, it wouldn’t take long for the rest of the planet to heal and eliminate most of the signs we’d ever been there.

    Two things: I think it unlikely that we would die out except in ways that would also threaten the rest of the planet. And, while I hate the arrogance that assumes that ONLY human life has intrinsic value and that the rest of the creation is only valuable in an instrumental fashion (i.e., as long as it serves human purposes), I do not agree with those who would denigrate the value of human life, either. I want our species to survive–not at the expense of the rest of the planet, but more in tune with it.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 15, 2009

  6. Although these have nothing to do with climate change, I am often encouraged by the fact that the Berlin wall came down, Apartheid was dismantled and Northern Ireland no longer produces stories of horrific violence. I thought none of these things likely in the lead-up to their occurences.

    Comment by Judy Redman | June 15, 2009

  7. All those are absolutely true, Judy. I actually predicted the Fall of the Berlin wall sitting in a university commons in 1980–but I never dreamed it would happen in less than 10 years! I was caught off guard by all of those remarkable and hopeful events.

    Thanks for reminding me of them. My despair over climate change is only an example of a larger problem: keeping hopeful in a world that seems to be rapidly going to hell in a handbasket.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 15, 2009

  8. Yes – that’s what I thought. Know the feeling.

    Comment by Judy Redman | June 15, 2009

  9. Provided that we do not destroy ourselves in a nuclear holocaust,global warming may hasten our demise as a species. That being said, as a Christian I do not fear what is to come, because I know how it will end. This Earth shall pass away. Faith and hope make this life bearable.

    Comment by Paul | June 15, 2009

  10. Michael you are hyperventilating. The problems and potential changes facing the world are serious and I imagine if we ever break the high temps of 1934 and 1998 that there will be concerted effort by all parties to address the problem technologically and/or limit its worse effects. Should ’98 never be exceeded however then the debate will continue whether we’re stuck in a range. But sitting around fretting about the end of the species is giving in to irrational media driven fear. It’s like worrying about your child in the front yard getting abducted because you have been watching to many Nancy Grace shows. We’ll be ok.

    Comment by stan | June 16, 2009

  11. Michael go down to Cape May , New Jersey for this year’s Oktoberfest. It will mellow you out. 🙂

    Comment by Paul | June 16, 2009

  12. Back in the day, it was nuclear holocaust (complete with futile safety drills), overpopulation, and the impending ice age.

    Comment by K Gray | June 16, 2009

  13. These doomsday scenarios are all the rage on television and people eat them up. My younger brother says that we have become a nation of sheep – led by politicians who don’t quite cut it and doomsayers. Get some backbone folks !

    Comment by Paul | June 17, 2009

  14. Many Christians, like me, see the homosexual equality strides you rejoice in as evidence that our nation has already gone to hell. But, unlike global warming, we humans can do something about issues of morality. We can vote out those lawmakers, judges, and other officials who are harming our society. We can also debate and debunk the ideas of those who fuel the agenda we disagree with.

    Comment by Chuck | June 17, 2009

  15. The science is real. Denial gains nothing. And, K. Gray, while total global thermonuclear war is much less likely since the fall of the USSR, nuclear war or nuclear terrorism is still a very real possibility. But my counsel is not despair. My counsel is the same as Chuck’s–just aimed in a different direction: work to change the political structure that keeps these dangers in place. I do NOT want us to be sheep.

    Calling something a “doomsday scenario” as a way of dismissal is naive–assuming that no doomsdays are possible. But if humanity has free will, then it has the ability to destroy itself–and 2 World Wars have shown us the deep destructive possibilities of human actions. But freewill means that doomsday scenarios are not INEVITABLE–but time to avoid them may be short and is always limited.

    We need an interesting mixture of fear and hope. Fear is a necessary emotion that warns us of danger–although the politics of fear can be very dangerous. But we also need hope that things can be changed–and just because hope is sometimes hard does not mean that it is either impossible or unnecessary.

    My story, as Judy Redman understood better than most commenters so far, was only about global warming as an illustration. It was mostly about how difficult faith and hope (both gifts of the Spirit, but also theological virtues) sometimes are in the face of real evil. It was also about the caring providence of God–for I found exactly what I needed to restore my flagging faith and hope in every part of my church experience last Sunday–something that is not always the case. The facts have not changed. Nor do I expect God just to overrule human foolish destructiveness and our free will. But I received the needed reminder that, however mysterious the workings of God, we do not struggle against the forces of evil, greed, sloth, lack of care for Creation, etc. BY OURSELVES–as it sometimes feels.

    If only one reader understood this, then I clearly have to learn to write better.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 17, 2009

  16. Michael doomsday is possible. It’s just that seeing these doomsday scenarios on television (ad nauseum)can wear thin after awhile.Most of the time the progenitors of these programs imply that they will happen.They are rarely presented in a rational manner because sensationalism boosts ratings.

    Comment by Paul | June 18, 2009

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