Commentary & Opinion
3:51 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

Stephen Gottlieb: Is Environmental Catastrophe Ringing From The Pulpit?

Let me lead with a question – Is the threat of environmental catastrophe ringing from every pulpit and ethical organization in the country? If not, why not? The Bible records many prophets and the price of ignoring them. Surely making clear the moral and religious imperative of preventing catastrophe is a basic function, a duty of the clergy.

My wife and I have traveled to many places where civilizations died because of environmental changes. I often thought they died because they didn’t have the science to understand what was coming. But we do.

Many care very deeply about the end of time. Wikipedia offers a list of predictions of the end times, the judgment day, the return of the Messiah and other terminal events, when the world should have ended.[i] Too many have been crackpots:

·         2000 was a popular choice for such predictions

·         The world should have ended

o   On September 12, 2006 according to The House of Yahwah, in Abilene, Texas

o   On April 29, 2007 according to Pat Robertson

o   In 2010 according to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

o   On various dates in 2011, according to Harold Camping and Ronald Weinland,

o   In 2012, according to Warren Jeffs, and Ronald Weinland among others

·         Predictions of the end of the world have come from well-known people, from Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to Rabbi Schneerson and Louis Farrakhan and from Jim Jones who engineered the mass suicide at Jonestown in Guyana.

Jones was a particularly gruesome case because he took so many with him, including three hundred little children. Suicide, OK. But that was murder of innocents – by cyanide poisoning. Actually many of the adults who died were probably forced to take poison as well. Yet the people he killed will not compare to the billions – billions with a “b” – whose lives will be ended and destroyed by the damage we do to the earth we share.

Plainly lots of people have been concerned about the end of the world, hunkering down in various places to await the end when they hoped they’d greet their maker.

But we have very responsible prophets in our own day, people who are carefully studying the natural processes that are destroying the air, water and oxygen we depend on for life,[ii] yet most people go about their business as if there is no reason to pay attention. Zealots sacrifice their lives for Jim Jones but ignore the real threat to our civilization.

So is there silence from the pulpit? In those benighted houses of God where the clergy do talk about it, is there silence in the congregation? Some have at least broached the issue and urged their congregations to respond.[iii] I’d love to create an honor roll of those who do. But I want to challenge all who don’t for failing us in a time of great need and crisis. We need a movement to bring an end to the mass murder/suicide we are collaborating in.

Instead we fight lest government prevent us from murdering each other. Massachusetts Republicans object even to indexing the gas tax;[iv] we have so far defeated the carbon tax;[v] and so many spend all their energies attacking government that they make it impossible to deal with impending global catastrophe. What is moral or religious about that?

We need to light a fire under each other. We need to light a fire under the pulpit, the prophets and public officials to harness us all in the great struggle to save our planet for ourselves, for each other, for our children and our grandchildren. This is the great moral issue of our time.

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[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dates_predicted_for_apocalyptic_events#cite_ref-94

[ii] www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/ is a good place to stay current.

[iii] On the Vatican, see Andrew C. Revkin, Hefty Global Goals from a Vatican Meeting: Stabilizing the Climate, Energy for All and an Inclusive Economy, at http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/15/; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-walker/the-vatican-birth-control_b_5276020.html; http://www.pass.va/content/scienzesociali/en/events/2014-18/sustainable/statement.html. On other faiths, see http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/religion/news/2009/04/22/5913/21-ways-faith-groups-are-combating-global-warming/; http://dailycaller.com/2014/04/10/the-church-of-climatology-global-warming-is-now-literally-part-of-religion/.

[iv] http://www.masslive.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/05/automatic_massachusetts_gas_ta.html

[v] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-04-24/lobbying-surprisingly-strong-on-pipe-dream-carbon-tax-bill.html

Steve Gottlieb is Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School and author of Morality Imposed: The Rehnquist Court and Liberty in America. He has served on the Board of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and in the US Peace Corps in Iran. 

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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