“Gaia is Angry” was a popular Green slogan some years ago, and its message was later transmitted in the 2017 Jennifer Lawrence movie “Mother!”—a biblical allegory of how Man destroys God’s Creation by his careless devastation of the world’s resource and makes Mother Earth really, really, well, mother-bleeping mad. The result is global warming among many other plagues.
Or maybe not. Cinema audiences were confused by the allegorical plot, and attempts to explain it confused them further. One made it seem that God was the villain because his over-ambitious male creativity was constantly upsetting a Cosmos that Gaia’s gentle female touch might otherwise have made a little bit of heaven.
That’s the problem with allegories. They ride off furiously in all directions. Let’s get down to earth.
Gaia began her career as the goddess who represents the earth in Greek mythology. She was brought down from Olympus a few decades ago by the British scientist, James Lovelock, to give a divine face to his scientific definition of the Earth. Lovelock’s description of the earth is in fact a cool, rational one and it was well-summarized in the Summer 2020 issue of The New Atlantis by Joel Garreau, professor of law, culture and values at Arizona State University, as follows:
The physical components of the earth, from its atmosphere to its oceans, closely integrate with all of its living organisms to maintain climatic chemistry in a self-regulating balance ideal for the maintenance and propagation of life.
That’s a long way from seeing Gaia as the vengeful goddess seeking to punish her rape by murdering her assailants which is the admiring deep green view of her. It’s not even an attempt to personify and feminize the old-fashioned philosophy of pantheism (i.e., God consists of Everything all rolled up together) that the Victorian Scottish critic, Andrew Lang, summed up in the following verse drawn from the religion of cricket:
I am the batsman, and the bat,
I am the bowler, and the ball,
The umpire, the pavilion cat,
The roller, pitch, and stumps, and all
Lovelock’s view is a scientific analysis that treats human beings as valuable participants in nature and proposes to protect them (i.e., us) by geo-engineering solutions to global warming—e.g. spraying stuff into the stratosphere to reflect the sun’s rays back into space-- of the kind we used to hear from the late Edward Teller. It’s a good thing for Lovelock that his admirers don’t read him, as both he and Garreau concede, and so don’t know that Gaia is not quite the nice progressive girl they took her for.
That is small comfort to the rest of us, however, for Gaia has escaped from her Pygmalion and now wanders around freely, accepting not only the worship of Greta Thunberg and her New Age children’s crusade but also that of senior converts from established religions who seem to believe that she’s already a Christian saint—it’s just that she hasn’t been canonized yet. That’s the culmination of a slow movement by the Christian churches to adopt more and more of the Environmentalist Creed as the Christian creed seems less and less sure of itself.
When Gaia was first presented to the world by Lovelock, there was still some theological resistance to the new secular religion of environmentalism on the grounds that it saw humans not as part and parcel of the nature that ecologists seek to defend but as a plague or “bacillus” that is a threat, maybe a mortal one, to the Earth. Christians and other critics saw Gaia worship as a kind of hostile and aggressive pantheism, and in some of the policies it advanced—notably, population control or reduction, including support for abortion as a right—as self-consciously hostile to Christianity, especially Catholicism.
That suspicion has now vanished down the memory hole of Western Christianity. A few Catholic intellectuals, theologically serious about religions that rival Christianity, continue to resist Gaia’s charms. Otherwise, however, green policies are now a main orthodoxy of the Catholic and mainstream Protestant churches, and Professor Garreau see signs that U.S. evangelicals are increasingly converting to Gaia too.
He envisages two streams in the broad overall Christian exodus to Gaia diverging from each other: the less extreme is what he calls “the greening of Christianity”; the more extreme is a Calvinism-derived “carbon fundamentalism.” The first theme is reformist and open to practical compromises that improve the world’s carbon footprint without solving all climate problems; the second is a totalist approach that subordinates everything to the emergency need for net-zero carbon reduction. It is authoritarian in its politics, punitive towards those who disagree with it, aka mortal sinners, and has no provisions for compromise with the Devil or even for forgiving those who repent.
(It’s worth noting here that Andrew Sullivan has just written a column arguing that if Republicans were to adopt a mix of climate solutions—notably, nuclear power plus innovative new clean energy technologies—it would have a good chance of solidifying its support among electoral groups that closely resemble Christians who have undergone “greening.” So we're talking electoral politics here as well as faith-based policy solutions.)
Professor Garreau makes a persuasive and reasonable case, and I’m inclined to agree with eighty percent of it. But the twenty percent on which we differ is also worth examining. It comes down to three things: (a) are these two streams of Christian environmentalism really diverging? (b) does religious environmentalism develop a mistaken dogmatism unsuited to secular controversies? And (c) do the newly green Christian inevitably abandon Christian perspectives and Christian language when they are discussing climate change.
First, it’s my impression from reading Christian apologetics on the environment that these two “new traditions” are not so much diverging as that carbon fundamentalists are gradually gaining influence and leadership over the newly-Green Christians (maybe born-again environmentalists?) Consider, for instance, a recent survey of Anglican beliefs on public policy, Rotting from the Head: Radical Progressive Attitudes and the Church of England, from the UK think-tank Civitas, which consists largely of quotations from Anglican sources on how they are committing to Green and other progressive causes . It’s summed by one statistic:
Over 70 percent of all Dioceses (71 percent) appoint clergy who promote climate activist warnings and calls for recognition of the ‘climate emergency.’
But that statistic does not convey the radical character of what a large majority of Anglican bishops and priests are advocating: they assume the truth of the most extreme forecasts of climate emergency, propose the most extreme solutions to it with no serious consideration of their impact on human life and well-being plus no serious consideration of trade-offs, and urge support for civil disobedience by Extinction Rebellion and other social activists on the grounds that the “climate emergency” is too important to be left to democratic decision-making.
In other words, the carbon fundamentalists are leading their moderate religious allies towards the most extreme rhetoric and policies of a form of environmentalism that is utopian, pessimistic, authoritarian, and anti-democratic. That's a very bad fit with most of the Christian message and as a result it produces a number of perverse effects.
One is the second difference I sense with Garreau: that many Christians converted to Gaia embrace global solutions which take little or no account of their overall impact on people. In particular, as Bjorn Lomborg has pointed out, they violate the commonsense rule that the costs of a remedy for climate change should not be higher than the costs of climate change itself. When we cease to apply such tests to climate policy, we're not doing what Christ wants; We're substituting moral vanity for thought. Such broad-brush errors are not, of course, confined to Anglicans.
Pope Francis won’t be at the U.N. Climate Change COP26 conference in Glasgow—almost certainly for medical reasons—but he will be there in spirit. Only two weeks before it opened, he made a series of demands upon the world “In the Name of God” which began with a request to “the great extractive industries–mining, oil, forestry, real estate, agribusiness–to stop destroying forests, wetlands and mountains, to stop polluting rivers and seas . . . “ and in short to stop destroying the environment for their business.
Since Pope Francis is known for deploying ambiguity in argument, we can legitimately ask what he means here. If his meaning is that mining companies should clean up after their activities, he is amply justified. If he means that they should treat the environment in general, including local peoples, with respect, ditto. But if he wants an end to mining fossil fuels asap, as some have interpreted his words, then we must point out that today fossil fuels provide eighty-five percent of the energy for the world, that there is no possibility they can be phased out in anything like the near future, and that if they were to be phased out prematurely, the poor and marginalized in all countries would suffer dreadfully in ways for which neither taxpayers nor “corporations” could possibly compensate them.
That's something that Catholics in particular must consider seriously. Catholic social teaching is blend of moral principles on which the Pope is an authority and practical secular knowledge which is the province of the layman. That’s why its judgments tend to be balanced and to seek to reconcile conflicting legitimate interests. That is not the spirit in which Christianity’s carbon fundamentalists approach climate policy or reform in general. In their moralistic zeal to punish what they see as evil, they risk destroying the huge gains in living standards—several billion Asians lifted into the global middle class since 1989—that are rooted in cheap carbon energy. That fierce spirit has spread to all of Gaia’s new Christian converts. But they don’t know what they do.
And, finally, that spirit is reflected in the language that Christian preachers too often use in debates on the environment. Simply look through the twenty-seven pages of Rotting from the Head devoted to statements by Anglican bishops and priests and you find very few traditionally Christian terms justifying their radical green demands. Their rhetoric is drawn largely from the radical progressive wing of climate Christianity which is itself shaped by a punitive godless Calvinism.
There are very occasional references to Christian stewardship or God’s Creation—and that’s it. Interestingly, there are even fewer rebukes to radical Green attacks on human beings as a plague on the planet. And most interestingly of all, there are many fire-and-brimstone punishments threatened to polluters, “deniers,” and the merely uninterested. Except for the elect in Extinction Rebellion, we are all guilty.
But punishments imposed by Whom? God is no longer allowed by progressive Christianity to threaten such things. It seems that for a satisfying denouement we’ll have to rely upon an “Angry Gaia." And unfortunately, as we have seen, Gaia’s thunderbolts are more likely to strike the sheep than the goats.
No doubt the fires of Hell burned a little warmer and brighter at the Vatican this weekend as Pope Francis met with U.S. speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
The geriatric speaker, 81, and the daughter of a mobbed-up family of Baltimore politicians whose brother Franklin D. Roosevelt d'Alesandra was once arrested for statutory rape, and of course skated on both that charge and another for perjury, was lucky in her choice of popes. Although Francis has called abortion "murder," as the Church has long taught, he has also resisted the notion of some American bishops to deny the sacrament of communion to nominally Catholic politicians who support it.
Indeed, Pelosi was recently criticized by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, her place of residence, after the Speaker claimed to be a devout Catholic who supports a woman’s right to have an abortion.
No one can claim to be a devout Catholic and condone the killing of innocent human life, let alone have the government pay for it,The right to life is a fundamental—the most fundamental—human right, and Catholics do not oppose fundamental human rights. To use the smokescreen of abortion as an issue of health and fairness to poor women is the epitome of hypocrisy: what about the health of the baby being killed? What about giving poor women real choice, so they are supported in choosing life? This would give them fairness and equality to women of means, who can afford to bring a child into the world.
There are really three distinct ways to look at human life. One, that human life is unique and involves a God-given soul that is given to each person at the moment of conception. Anyone who believes that cannot and should not support abortion in any way. If you are of this frame of mind, then no one has a “right” to an abortion any more than any person has a “right” to blow away an annoying two-year-old.
We should certainly be tolerant of women who choose abortion, as we should be tolerant of all sinners since, after all, we too are sinners. But to love the sinner does not mean one should approve of the sin.
The second way to look at human life is to say that we are uncertain of its significance. Perhaps it is unique and perhaps it involves a soul. Perhaps it is neither. Perhaps one applies, but not the other. We simply do not know and it is up to each person to figure out what he or she believes.
This is of course the classic path that justifies the legality of abortion. Since people can disagree about when human life begins and what makes human life different, each prospective mother should be able to make a choice that is consistent with her beliefs.
Speaker Pelosi is free to be an advocate of this line of thinking, but she needs to be crystal clear that to a Catholic – specifically the “devout Catholic” she claims to be – this reasoning is completely and unalterably inconsistent with the Catholic faith. It is as inconsistent as claiming to be a devout Catholic who supports a communicant’s “right” sell the Eucharist to devil-worshipers.
Catholics believe some things are sacred, such as the Eucharist and human life from the moment of conception. There is no “wiggle room” that allows us to say its all right for someone to abuse or destroy what is sacred.
It is worth noting that the original Roe v. Wade decision recognized that medical advances would make the life of a fetus outside the womb more and more possible at earlier and earlier stages of pregnancy as medical science advanced. Thus the “trimester formula” was part of the decision: no abortions allowed in the third trimester, abortions possible but limited in the second trimester, and abortions allowed in the first trimester. (And yes, I’m over-simplifying, but this is a column, not a legal treatise).
So why are late term abortions routinely performed? Because there were two escape clauses incorporated in Roe: 1) the court said that a fetus is not a person and thus not entitled to protection under the 14th amendment (thanks Potter Stewart), and 2) if the health of the mother was at stake, then abortions could happen at any time. In a subsequent decision the court decided that the “health of the mother” essentially included her emotional state, ergo if being pregnant made a woman sad, she could have an abortion whenever she wants, ergo any woman can have an abortion whenever she wants.
There is third way to look at human life: that it is neither unique nor involves a soul. It is a mere accident of nature. This is the depressing view of the atheist, a materialistic doctrine that values human life no more than that of a rat or a stalk of corn. It holds that we blinked into existence for our short stay in the material world and will blink out of it, never to manifest any other form of existence. We just disappear.
This mindset not only finds abortion a perfectly reasonable proposition, it eventually leads to the horrors of eugenics and euthanasia. Indeed, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was primarily interested in using birth control as a means to prevent the spread of what she considered to be “mongrel races” like our black- and yellow-skinned brothers and sisters. It is an evil way of thinking that spawns systems like Nazism and Communism.
As a Catholic, I fully recognize the problems my church has had and the mistakes that it has made. It is a human institution and human beings are fallible. But there is no mistaking the Catholic view that abortion is the taking of a human life and no Catholic should support it. Pelosi, like Joe Biden -- another nominal Catholic -- needs to pick a lane.
Capitalism is not the answer to human suffering. At the same time, it is the only economic system which allows individual freedom to flourish; it produces unrivalled prosperity; and, as Michael Novak perceptively says in the 1991 edition of The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, “it is the most practical hope of the world’s poor: no magic wand, but the best hope.”
Not content, some very rich people, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope, among others, want capitalism to do more. Enter “inclusive capitalism” and its more recent stablemate “stakeholder capitalism.”
It was May 2014. A conference called “Making Capitalism More Inclusive” was held in London. Inclusive capitalism is a concept developed in 2012 by the Henry Jackson Society - a British think tank of classical-liberal persuasion. It started well enough with the principal objective being to engender more ethical behaviour in business practices. The excesses surrounding the recession of 2009/10 were fresh in mind. Unfortunately, it has gone rapidly downhill since.
The aforementioned conference was opened by Prince Charles and featured Bill Clinton, Christine Lagarde, Mark Carney and Lawrence Summers. Hardly a conservative or classical liberal in sight. Three conferences have followed: in London in June 2015, in New York in October 2016 and back in London in March 2018. Presumably, Covid has prevented holding a more recent conference. No matter. Those behind inclusive capitalism co-opted the Pope to keep the pot simmering.
As the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) puts it, Pope Francis has become the “moral guide to inclusive capitalism.” ‘The Council for Inclusive Capitalism (the Council), with the Vatican onboard, was launched on December 8 last year. Earlier in the year, in May, The Great Reset was unveiled at Davos. “Stakeholder capitalism” became the watchword; encompassing the same grand idea as inclusive capitalism.
So, to my theme: What’s it all about or, in other words, what do ‘they’ want; and why is the whole thing a crock or, more politely, misconceived?
This is Mark Carney, the then Governor of the Bank of England, at the 2014 conference to which I referred: “Inclusive capitalism is fundamentally about delivering a basic social contract comprised of relative equality of outcomes, equality of opportunity, and fairness across generations.” Hard to believe coming from a central banker? He’s Canadian.
This is easier to believe. Justin Welby, participating in the 2015 conference, outlining his aspirations for capitalism: “A generosity of spirit that doesn’t always seek the greatest return…that meets the needs of the poor and the excluded and the suffering.”
To add waffle to waffle, the Council’s mission is to “harness the private sector to create a more inclusive, sustainable and trusted economic system.” Understandably, sustainability is featured. After all, the Pope urges us to listen to “the cry of the earth.” Hmm? Smacking too much of paganism? Perish the thought.
Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, expanded on the term stakeholder capitalism in February this year. He identified two primary stakeholders. One is the planet (no, not kidding); the other is everyone, wherever they live. The respective wellbeing of both stakeholders is the objective. Though, Schwab notes, “people are social animals and their absolute well-being is less important than their relative well-being.” Got that. You and your neighbour each having ten dollars is better than him having fifteen and you only twelve.
How the idea of levelling down translates to those participating at Davos and at inclusive capitalism forums is beyond me. Note this description in UCA News of those calling the shots at inclusive capitalism: “a group of individuals and institutions with more than $10.5 trillion in assets and companies with a combined market capitalization of more than $2 trillion.” They are the woke big end of town. A race apart from the small and medium-sized businesses which make up the bulk of market economies. Their self-appointed mission: to rescue the world by reimagining capitalism.
They are discomforted by the prevailing state of affairs. They want a world within which all existing species survive and thrive, the oceans cease rising, the earth cools and each and every person everywhere enjoys a liveable income and state of the art medical attention.
Leaving aside a slight qualm I have about the earth cooling; the aims are fine. I sometimes daydream about winning a lottery. That fantasy is fine too. To take saving the poor and saving planet earth in turn.
Capitalism makes much of the world prosperous. Part of that is entrepreneurs and businesses striving to earn profits by vigorously competing with each other. Part is prices guiding resources into their best commercial use while informing and rationing demand. Part is not ensuring fair outcomes. Capitalism cannot be moulded into a generous outreach to the poor and disadvantaged. It simply won’t work. It is an idea contradictory at its core.
As for lifting those in poor countries out of poverty, how about advising them to adopt Judeo-Christian institutions and values; the institutions and values that have underpinned economic progress in western countries and in other countries which have tried them. Call them what you like, of course, to make them universally palatable.
I will guess. That advice will never come out of Davos or the Council. Yet, when all is said and done, parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, property rights, free speech and freedom from fear, the absence of systematic nepotism, cronyism and corruption and, vitally, mutual trust, tell the tale of progress; not pie-in-the-sky reimagining of capitalism.
From the unattainable to the unachievable describes the segue from saving the poor to saving the planet. Here’s a thought. What is the ideal state of the planet? Roaming ruminants, sans people, perhaps. Short of that green-dream nirvana wouldn’t it be nice, for example, to get CO2 down to pre-industrial levels? Or would it?
A friend of mine, Ivan Kennedy, emeritus professor of agriculture at Sydney University, tells me that we are now effectively addicted to higher levels of CO2. He estimates that if CO2 were to return to pre-industrial levels it would reduce the photosynthesis of cereal crops by more than 20 percent. This would likely cause famine, malnutrition and death, particularly among the world’s poorest. Something on which the Pope and Archbishop might cogitate.