Evangelical Conservatives Have A “Christian Worldview.” What Does That Mean For Climate Action?
For many Americas, the nation they woke up to the day after the last election is a strange and troubling place. How, they wonder, could so many people be in favor of a leader who demeans and diminishes anyone who doesn’t agree with him? How can so-called Christians cheer for a man who objectifies women and treats them as little more than sexual playthings? How is it possible that a leader who praises the KKK and denigrates Jews can be the leader of the United States? It’s like there was a parallel America that suddenly appeared and took the place of the country we thought we knew. Much of the explanation can be found in the simple phrase, “Christian worldview.”
What does that mean? Listen to the words of Rachel Held Evans, who styles herself as a Christian writer. She was once a part of the evangelical community but says she is not anymore. She attended Bryan College, an evangelical school in Dayton, Tennessee where she says she was taught to distrust information coming from the scientific or media elite because these sources did not hold a Christian worldview. She tells the New York Times, “It was presented as a cohesive worldview that you could maintain if you studied the Bible,” she says. “Part of that was that climate change isn’t real, that evolution is a myth made up by scientists who hate God, and capitalism is God’s ideal for society.”
The Christian worldview could be boiled down to this common bumper sticker wisdom: “God said it. It’s in the Bible. I believe it. And that settles it.”
What Is A Worldview?
But what is a “worldview?” Reduced to its essence, it is a belief structure that blocks any and all information that conflicts with it from getting through. The Catholic church had a worldview when it began the Inquisition. When a heretic like Giordano Bruno questioned the belief that that the sun and planets revolved around the earth, he was burned at the stake for saying things that conflicted with the church’s official Christian worldview.
Adolf Hitler had a worldview. He believed that Germany had a right to seize other countries so that German citizens would have lebensraum, or room to live, a notion inspired by America and its amazing western expansion. He also believed that Jews and Gypsies were sub-humans who should be exterminated.
Boko Haram has a worldview. It thinks Africa should become an Islamic caliphate. It believes the god it worships authorizes it to slaughter innocent people with machetes and sell young girls into sexual slavery to advance its cause. Boko Haram translated means “educated in the West.” Its leaders want to exterminate everyone with a liberal education.
ISIS and Al Qaeda have worldviews very similar to that of Boko Haram. That’s not expected, since radical Islam is stoked by messages repeated thousands of times a day in the madrassas that serve as the only educational institutions in much of the Muslim world. They preach an endless litany of hatred for the United States and for European society. The entire curriculum at a madrassa is teaching young people that the US is The Great Satan that wants to crush Islam.
Skepticism Not Cynicism
Not all conservatives subscribe to the distortions and half truths fomented by those who use the Christian worldview to line their own pockets — organizations like Fox News and Koch Industries. Dean Nelson, who runs the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, tells the New York Times he doesn’t see “how you can teach ‘Christian journalism’ any more than you can teach ‘Christian mathematics.’” But he admits that “many of the students’ parents were raised on Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and distrust the mainstream news media. So it’s a little bit of a dance with parents who are expecting us to perpetuate that distrust and raise up this tribe of ‘Christian journalists.’”
He encourages his students to be skeptics rather than cynics. “The skeptic looks at something and says, ‘I wonder.’ The cynic says, ‘I know,’ and then stops thinking.” Its when thinking stops that issues like the fate of the world fail to receive the critical analysis they deserve. Nelson points out that “cynicism and tribalism are very closely related. You protect your tribe, your way of life and thinking, and you try to annihilate anything that might call that into question.” Just like ISIS and Boko Haram. Or evangelical conservatives.
republicEN Is Founded
Alex Bozmoski grew up as a staunch Christian conservative. In high school, he started a newspaper called The Right Idea whose logo was an eagle gripping a Christian cross. At Georgetown University, he carried a cardboard cutout of the George W. Bush around campus. He signed up for a climate science class taught by Nathan Hultman just so he could heckle the professor. But every time he brought up something he had heard on a conservative radio talk show, Hultman asked him to back up those claims with actual scientific evidence. Soon, Bozmoski realized climate skepticism was unfounded, and that climate change is a very serious issue that his own political party was completely ignoring.
“I felt alienated that my tribe has been so out of the loop and not even working on it,” Bozmoski says. “To me, it seemed like just an easy way out, like a coping mechanism more than a governing strategy.” After he graduated, he began going around the country and talking about climate change and free market options to tackle it. He visited church groups, Federalist Society meetings, chambers of commerce, and universities. The more he engaged with others, the more he realized that “a lot of conservatives were very motivated to get involved.”
In 2014, he co-founded republicEn, a group of 3,000 people across the US who are working to create a grassroots movement of “conservative climate realists.” “We want to give them a voice,” Bozmoski says. “We want members of Congress to see that big chunks of their conservative constituency are deeply passionate about the environment and care deeply about taking responsible action to mitigate and adapt to climate change.”
More Republicans Are Concerned About Climate Change
The stance of the Republican party is at odds with what many Republicans feel, claims The Verge. A poll from 2016 showed that 71 percent of liberals and moderate Republicans and 47 percent of conservative Republicans believe the planet is warming. The percentage of conservative Republicans who say they believe in climate change has jumped 19 percentage points since 2014 — more than any other political group. The majority of Republicans also support more funding for energy sources like wind and solar, and believe heat-trapping pollutants like carbon dioxide should be regulated.
In Miami, Republican mayor Tomás Regalado says city residents are getting used to regular flooding from rising sea levels. Some banks are reluctant to approve conventional 30 year mortgages. “This is a real issue that people have experienced here,” Regalado tells The Verge. “We have a problem, and [Republicans] have to recognize that this is not only a philosophical debate, it’s a real economic issue.” Yet few citizens are clamoring for government action on global warming.
Bozmoski says, “I think the answer boils down to one phrase that we hear over and over from members of Congress: ‘My constituents rarely call me about climate change. I rarely get phone calls about this. It is not on the mind of our constituents.’ It’s not a national movement right now,” he says, so that’s what he is working to create.
His message as he travels around the country is based on free market principles: no to subsidizing renewables, yes to a carbon tax; no to American export taxes, yes to government’s investment in basic research to find new forms of energy. Bozmoski focuses on the science of climate change. “The climate science is so central to the urgency of action that you can’t lose it and not lose the urgency.”
Labels Destroy Dialogue
The tendency among Democrats and liberals is to label climate deniers as stupid. The danger is as plain as the nose on your face, they argue. It’s like looking at the sky and saying its purple instead of blue. How can people be so obstinate? It goes back to that tribal thing that Dean Nelson talks about. Sports fans are tribal. They give their allegiance to one team to the exclusion of all others. Try telling a Pittsburgh Steelers fan that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all times.
The destruction of the earth by burning fossil fuels affects every person on earth. The solution, if there is one, will require large numbers of people to work in concert. Beliefs are not facts. Tribalism and worldviews are destructive to critical thinking and the collaborative process needed to solve global problems. Engaging with someone who holds a different point of view is not helped by hurling epithets or belittling the other person’s intelligence. Global warming may be less of a problem than the splintering of modern society into multiple tribes, all of whom think their worldview is the correct one.
There is an old expression that goes like this” “Minds are like parachutes. They only work when they are open.” Rather than branding climate deniers as idiots, engage with them. Let the sunshine of logic shine into places where it is seldom seen. Treat others with respect and courtesy, not hatred and bile. In other words, do what Jesus would do and treat others the way you wish to be treated. It doesn’t get any more Christian than that.