After 50 years of never ever writing about God, I now find myself doing it twice in a month. Must be strange things happening. See what you think.
Some people thank God for all the wonderful things of life. And why not? If you stopped and thanked everyone responsible before eating, your meal would have long gone cold before you got halfway through the plants, animals, people, bugs, the sun, germs and weather phenomena who helped feed you. Thanking God is shorthand for thanking life, the universe.
Does it work the same way with bad things? If God’s going to get credit for the good, how does God escape blame for the bad? I wonder, because I’ve been asking who is to blame for global warming.
I mean, it’s probably some subset of people, right? The animals and plants aren’t doing it. Even though blaming people doesn’t do much good, it might be comforting to make sense of such a destructive and threatening trend. It might even help us deal with it. Unfortunately, I can’t pin down who is responsible. Maybe you can.
Look at all the choices. Atheists might blame religious people; religious people might blame science. Leftists can blame capitalists, especially oil companies; capitalists might fault overpopulation. Vegans could blame animal agriculture; organic farmers could blame industrial agriculture. Peace-loving people could blame militarism and war. The rest of the world could blame America, global leader in waste.
And they would all be right. They all have some truth on their side. In fact, it has taken a lot of these forces working together to create environmental catastrophe.
And then, there’s everyone who drives, who flies, who has too many children or a big house that needs heating and cooling. Most of us in the rich countries live unsustainably, and those who don’t are trying to. Is anyone innocent?
Indigenous people living their traditional lifestyles can truthfully say, “It’s not us.” Even in the rich countries, can you blame the poor? Can you blame children? That still leaves a huge number of guilty parties. And there’s something ironic about them.
People through history, from the Conquistadors to the Koch Brothers have done some horrible things. They’re doing them now. But it’s not the horrors; not the poverty, the wars, the oppression, ignorance, and injustice that have warmed the world.
It’s human successes that are killing us. Most of the technological changes frying our planet were developed to make things better. More people are living longer, with a lower percentage of people hungry than ever before. More Americans are homeless and living in poverty than we’ve had since the Great Depression, but worldwide, poverty is down, people are staying healthier and scoring higher on happiness scales. People are driving around, flying around, seeing the world, eating delicious food, creating wonderful works of art and whole cultures based on the World Wide Web.
It’s just that all that growth requires energy, and the energy has come from burning the carbon stores Earth accumulated over a billion years. As James Lovelock explained in the book Gaia: a New Look at Life on Earth, living things have steadily worked over eons to bury carbon, thinning the air.
Gaia has done this so temperatures would stay stable as the sun gradually enlarges. The sun’s heating up is part of the life cycle of stars, and the Earth in its genius has kept things livable by burying carbon under the sea, and evolving new plants, such as wheat and corn, that can grow with less carbon.
Then technological humans, emboldened by Western religion, educated by science and motivated by capitalism, dug much of that carbon up and put it back into the air in about 100 years. The indigenous people opposed all this drilling and mining. They warned us about fucking with Mother Earth, but they were dismissed as ignorant, their beliefs scorned as superstitions, killed if they got in the way.
Fossil fuel energy sources have made us comfortable and created all sorts of fabulous things. But nobody realized what Earth was trying to do, and modern civilization never considered that undoing what Earth has done might be a bad thing. It was progress; it was science.
If we are to blame people, though, who made people the way we are? How can you avoid blaming God for that? Even if you don’t believe in God, we certainly evolved to be the curious, hierarchical, greedy beings we are, long before we could know any better.
We’re part of the monkey family, and monkeys aren’t known for their judgment or their caution. Who would trust a monkey with an atomic bomb, or an internal combustion engine? God did, or evolution did. Same thing.
As we apparently evolved to do, humans have made a mess of the planet, while creating a glorious, though apparently very short-lived civilization. It’s all sad, and it points to any remedy’s requiring profound changes in human societies, behavior, and human nature. Changes we aren’t likely to see, though we can fight for them.
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If you’re interested, I could explain how I see the relative contributions of science, religion, capitalism, militarism, agriculture, and the rest. I’ve been studying them for 30 years. Let me know in a comment. It’s kind of an interesting history. But really, more knowledge probably won’t help you cope. It’s not doing a ton for me, except helping me to blame God, who I’m sure will do better next time.