Saturday, July 05, 2008

Wholly Crap!

Launching a spiritual war on global warming

I am often at a loss for words. I want to blog but I don't like being always the angry critic of the non-stop wave of nonsense in our schools, universities and media. I'd like to be able to just grant people their various religious positions in matters existential, and grow wise to the pragmatic goods that can be sustained by all the irrationality of human thinking: the irrational can bond people in ways both useful and evil.(And as for Judeo-Christian orthodoxy, it is full of far more anthropological truth than anything yet offered by the "evolutionary" atheists.) But when the public space is endlessly occupied by people who keep advocating apocalyptic visions and call on all humanity to fall in line in some militaristic mission, I can't stop being outraged.

Is there no one at the Vancouver Sun, let alone the University of British Columbia, with the intelligence to keep this out of the paper? Let's fisk the latest from Sun religion columnist, Douglas Todd:
Does global warming pose a spiritual problem? Those who do not believe in any form of divinity would probably say No.

And even some who believe in a transcendent reality might think global warming basically needs to be fought through political, scientific and economic means.
That a religion columnist does not recognize that "global warming" is necessarily always about a "spiritual question", that the great debate in our world, however much informed by scientific hypotheses and research, which it is, is nonetheless in large part about what we wish to believe about the future of human existence, and not what we can know with any real certainty, gets us off to a bad start. Todd is making a hidden religious claim that "global warming" is a largely scientific phenomenon, and is doing so in order to win our attention for a column that will make a so-called "spiritual" claim on us, as if the spiritual dimension weren't obvious.

And then he suggests that "transcendent reality" is a question of belief. Well, it may be in some sense; I grant there are many people, even in universities, who don't recognize the reality; but there really should be no doubt that humanity is defined by a transcendent reality. Every word, as a meaningful word, and not merely as an association of sounds or letters, is something transcendent (and quite unlike the hard-wired signals of the animal world). Every piece of music, as something more than sound waves, is something transcendent. Every painting is more than a mere collection of paint splotches, because its overall effect is transcendent. Our minds operate in a transcendent domain, which is something different from our material, biological, existence. A serious writer on religion would recognize this as simple scientific fact, in search of some explanation. Todd:
But perhaps a spiritual response is also needed to global warming -- to provide the inner strength necessary to face and combat the worst effects that are to come from the Earth's erratically changing climate. You don't have to go to a church, synagogue or temple to be "spiritual" (although it doesn't often hurt). Spirituality can be broadly defined as the attempt to respond meaningfully to life's existential challenges.

And if you believe last year's Nobel Peace Prize co-winners -- Al Gore and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- the greenhouse gas buildup caused by fossil fuels is definitely one of those existential predicaments.

Those who feel they don't have to do anything about global warming, or are in denial, might have to draw on some deeper resources, including transcendent ones, to help them face the difficult music.

And for those who have accepted scientific arguments the world is growing hotter at the fastest rate in recorded history as a result of human actions, a spiritual stand could help overcome a sense of helplessness and despair.
Well it should go without saying that each and every human challenge requires some spiritual strength to tackle. So to then attack those who listen to "skeptic" scientists, and not the IPCC, as lacking spirituality is just a crude form of saying my enemy is not fully human, to hell with him, the "denier". That's known as scapegoating, a crude form of religious thinking. But Todd adds:
A spiritual response would also include accepting the western world's contribution to environmental disruption -- and not just pointing the finger of blame; scapegoating, say, China, for turning into the planet's newest, biggest reckless polluter.
Todd's now saying that he is not a scapegoat artist, that he has full regard for victims of Western-centred thinking. Victims, eh???.... Well, let's see if the rest of the article bears out the claim to be on the religious high road, helping to maximize human freedom from human violence...
Spiritual wisdom can also be helpful for those who are just old-fashioned afraid.

They've heard the warnings that global warming could lead to themselves, or more likely their children and grandchildren, struggling in a dystopia of global conflict over depleted natural resources. They need help being brave.

I have been re-convinced of the necessity of a spiritual response to environmental problems by the powerful just-released book, A New Climate for Theology: God, the World and Global Warming (Fortress), by B.C.'s Sallie McFague.

"Climate change will demand much of us," writes McFague, who had a prominent career at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Tennessee before coming in 2000 to the Vancouver School of Theology on the UBC campus, where she is considered by many the globe's most important eco-theologian. At a time when Canadians, especially British Columbians, are debating the pros and cons of a new carbon tax, McFague shows she's entirely up to speed on the science of global warming.

She also believes climate change is a more clear and present danger to the globe than Naziism was prior to the Second World War. As such, she picks up an idea philosopher William James would have been suggesting back in 1906 when he wrote his famous essay, The Moral Equivalent of War. It maintained citizens need to muster the dedication, sacrifice and virtue brought to launching a military campaign to fighting peaceful causes, in this case saving the eco-system.

McFague believes we need to adopt a radical war footing against the common enemy of global warming, whose insidious consequences she first noticed 20 years ago while hiking in the Rockies -- in the decline of once-magnificent glaciers.

McFague makes it clear that vigorous legislation, which sets limits on consumption and emphasizes communitarian values over individualistic ones, is necessary to combat global warming.
Well, after calling modern humanity worse than the Nazis, with absolutely no rational argument developed to justify this (so what's there for me to rebut, but shake my head in wonder at the bog of emotional victimology our universities have become), these people naturally have the gall to promote vaguely some war against ourselves. But then to claim this is to be a "military campaign" in a peaceful cause, as if humanity could ever be single-mindedly focussed on a single cause and the results of this would not have all kinds of negative consequences for the level of violence in human society, which is never and can never be nill...? I mean, what kind of mark do these con artists take us for? And then to claim that this is world-leading religious thought, this crude and mindless apocalyptic rhetoric...? To suggest that we need to do away with individualism and embrace "communitarian values", as if telling people to shut up and think alike were a road to peace, is only to display that one has little idea of how the human technologies for deferring human-on-human violence - the threat that has always been and still is the primary threat to human existence - work. To put it all too simply, consumer society is something we have developed as an alternative to the "communitarian" nightmares under which many tens of millions of souls were murdered in the last century. That's not to say we don't need to make sure consumer society is sustainable and, as individuals - as only individuals can - discipline ourselves in various ways against it (we resist consumer society in order to strengthen it, to make it, and us, more sustainable); but to just throw off crap about "communitarian values" and to call this top-rank religious thinking is to abuse readers. It's to call us dumb, literally.

By the way, why aren't the Green Warriors trying to buy up some of that soon-to-be-prime agricultural land in northern Saskatchewan before the evil corporations jack the prices up....? I guess it's a spiritual question... Back to the article:
In making her case, McFague recognizes in a postmodern world influenced by the "deconstructive" philosophy of Jacques Derrida (in which the word "God" is virtually forbidden) she must offer what she calls a "minimalist theology." It should be acceptable to virtually all.
Here we are almost approaching a serious idea - recognition of a need for a global conversation on our shared humanity, on what we all minimally share in common. But the route to a "minimalist theology" cannot be through forbidding words, as if words themselves were full of Gnostic power and needed to be restrained, but to a sober thinking in which words are merely tools to seeing reality, not reality itself.

What we need is to understand why humans cannot forbid words like "God". Even if one day we are all atheists, we will still feel the need to deny the existence of "God". The concept cannot simply fade away. It is unavoidable that we will always understand our humanity in relation to some kind of "god" concept. This is because when we think about "God" we are invoking some unavoidable and originary fact of human existence, whether "God" exists or not. Transcendence, as we've noted, is a simple human fact. Transcendence is what transcends the individual human life, our material existence. All that we attribute to "God" - immortality, omniscience, omnipotence, etc. - are qualities of our human experience of transcendence (of language) whether "God" exists or not. We can deny "God" but not our human experience, no matter how many words we "forbid" like thrilled school girls doing something shocking as they initiate each other into secret post-graduate rites. Since humanity, in transcending the material domain of animals, begins with words that are, at first, simply names of "God" - ways of naming the shared human experience of transcendence - any serious investigation into humanity will talk about "God", whether one is a believer or not.
Her stripped-down theology centres on feeling gratitude for the planet and a sense of interconnectedness with all creatures.

A New Climate for Theology does not define spiritual "salvation" as select individuals obtaining eternal life, but rather, as the early theologian Iraneus put it, "The glory of God is every creature fully alive."

Convinced the flourishing of all living things should be our ultimate spiritual goal, McFague offers an understanding of God that might seem novel to many.

Even though McFague is a Christian, she says she goes beyond "neo-classical" western theology to "evolutionary" theology.

God is not a "being," she says. Instead, God is the source of life, love and hope.
I wouldn't spend all day dwelling on this mysterious distinction. Seems to me that it's just the "source of life, love and hope" that we usually try to invoke when we use the word "Being" to describe God. Someone who accepted transcendence as a simple fact of our humanity would recognize that whatever the irreducible degree of mystery in any account of how a shared human understanding of transcendence emerges from our lived experience, there's no need to take for granted that some maternalist neo-pagan blather is "minimalist" theology. It seems to me like an attempt to re-mystify our capacity for sacrificial violence. This, at least, is what one would expect from anyone calling for some great martial and secular project to save the world. But I admit that Todd may be over-simplifying the work of this scholar.

She sets out a mystical vision of the universe as God's beloved body, even suggesting we all metaphorically exist within "God's womb." And even though humans are beginning to destroy the tiny portion of God's body that is Earth, she maintains the divine is always ready to work with humans to redeem this planet.
Yes, but I think if we stuck to a Judeo-Christian understanding that we are made in God's image, we'd have a clearer sense of what God is, since his purpose in human minds is obviously human-centred, anthropological. No matter how much we invoke the inter-connectedness of all things, McFague, in talking God, is talking to us, and not to pineapples.
Fighting a spiritual war against global warming will demand that we live differently, McFague says. But our motivation for coming together in the military-like campaign should not be fear, or even duty.

It can be gratitude and love.

"We stand with our feet firmly on the earth," she writes, "and exclaim, 'I thank you god for most this amazing day.' And then we get to work."
Oh come on: we are to radically change how we live, and the motivation for doing so won't involve at least some fear or duty, just gratitude and love? People who have such an unreal take on human nature, coupled to a Utopian promise, have, historically, turned out to be agents of great violence.

Having said all this, I would point out that, despite my disbelief in regard to many claims about "climate change", though change is certainly a constant, I am becoming more and more sympathetic to the need for some kind of global "science-based" religion to help shake our dependence on such things as Middle-Eastern oil. I am willing to put up with a fair amount of bullshit to this end, including sundry hypotheses of climate change. This is because pragmatic ends - like becoming less dependent on oil - cannot be simply served by overly-rationalized means of the type sooner or later invoked by those who call on us to start "military campaigns". A potential investor in some new solar technolgy, for example, doesn't need to hear that he is about to be conscripted into Al Gore's Green Berets; he needs a less centralized spirituality than that if he, as an individual (as only free individuals can), is to bother to act on faith. Spirituality, b.s., and reason, need to mix and evolve endlessly in ways that are just not foreseeable and centrally controlled. A truly "minimalist theology" will help sustain this, not a war campaign.

But if anything along the lines of a more advanced form of secular or "science-based" religion is to develop, it will also require a more sophisticated understanding of anthropology and religion than is yet widely on display in the pages of our MSM and academy where basic issues like transcendence are not yet seriously delimited by any "minimalist theology". Judeo-Christian orthodoxy, whatever its baroque, "neo-classical" ornaments, remains a far more sophisticated form of anthropological truth than anything on display in this article. That's not to say we yet have the final word on anything though I can't see present orthodoxy fading away because some pop tarts, afraid of Occidentocentric names, want to forbid the word "God". They're going to have to do much better than that.


Eowyn said...

Excellent essay and fisking, truepeers. In fact, it's a very civilized (and all the more effective) smackdown.

You gotta love the irony. Here's a bunch of green hysterics who are, in large part, lefties and, therefore, sneer at religion in any form. When their precious cause is under fire from rational thinkers (who, by and large, ARE "religionists"), they suddenly get religion.

Dag said...

A thousand volumes come tumbling down from the shelves as I read about this fascist fool McFague. I struggle to clear my head and see William James and his "War" smack up against Mussolini: "The War of the Grains." "The War on Poverty." "The War on Drugs." "The War of Terror." Turn first to Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism, to the index in search of "Mussolini, James, War on...." It's almost funny. Almost makes one laugh. This woman passes as an intellectual in our day. God help us. She is clueless. Honestly, dear readers, search out for quick clarity Goldberg's chapter or William James for a nasty laugh.

"The Moral Equivalent of War. It maintained citizens need to muster the dedication, sacrifice and virtue brought to launching a military campaign to fighting peaceful causes...."

Look at what Wilson came up with and what Mussolini improved on. And to those who have no idea of the history of our ideas, here we see them in print, in "action." Goldberg refers to these people as "liberal fascists" for a reason. We see "fascism." Not mere grumbling and aspersion casting. Once we examine with some clarity the bricks and mortar of our intellectual constructions, then we see clearly the fascism of McFague, et al. To most, Goldberg is available. A mere 20 minutes at the bookshop and you will see this woman so clearly she will never be trusted again. Or you might write about this for months, as I have done recently, and come to the same conclusion. (To come.)

"McFague makes it clear that vigorous legislation, which sets limits on consumption and emphasizes communitarian values over individualistic ones, is necessary to combat global warming."

What is this if not simple and pure fascism? Well, I am in a position to know what I mean by the term fascism, which I haven't completed writing out for the public as yet. Look though at some basics without anything more to confuse the issue:

Vigourous legislation. Goldberg is the most recent and most easily available writer on this topic. Writing from a Jamesian foundation, Wilson writes and acts on "war socialism." It is not democracy, not the world we cherish and struggle to improve and expand: it is the return to the feudal period. In short-hand, it is "neo-feudalism."

Limiting consumption? This is only a neo-feudalism. Appanage. It is a destruction of capitalism. It is a return to the "limited pie" economy of "if you have too much, then others have nothing because you, you greedy bastard, took it all." It is the vision of the Middle Ages, that one should not work for profit but for wage. That life is meant not for the individual but for the greater glory of the Mysteries and the Order. That to set oneself apart by wealth is to distort the the links of the Great Chain of Being. That wealth is Satanic. This is a peasant vision of reality, a vision of the world as non-market, moniless, equalitarian, utopian, Edenic.

This leads us from the obscurantisms of the Gnostic who knows the higher vision to the Gnostic who kills dissenters, burns them at the stake. This leads us to philobarbarism and povertarianism. That only the good live lives of immaterial purity, searching for the return via the Mystic Spark of the Aethereal. That the material world is the creation of the Demiurge playing with the cosmic faeces from which he makes the world, a terrible thing to be slipped from. We find ourselves in the grip of Gnostic religious fanatics who claim their higher insights lead to wisdom. Only those who live in a state of Nature are in hope of redemption, not being tied to the Earth, to consumption, to the material. Christianity? No, this is Gnosticism. And it is a religious fanaticism. It is a povertarianism running amok. Blessed are the poor, for they have fuck-all and are so superiour to western consumers, the poor living authentically in their innocence and smiling happiness. Rousseau, a fascist to the core, and this moron theologian not having a clue. Read a book, lady.

The answers to these points are all available in the record of Human attempts to articulate a path and a pattern that makes the meaning of life clear for us all. It takes a bit of effort and an open mind to seek out the questions, a bit of energy to plough through the works of thinkers and fools who have decided this is thus. And once we begin to see the chains of thought from one to another, then we see the patterns, the roots of the fascism of Man.

Religion and fascism both have the same denotation: Binding. The problem for free people comes when they don't know the difference between the two ideas.

Communitarianism? What is it but a binding of the mind?

And I call it "Velvet Fascism."

The last part of this objection is to the sentimentality of the Gnostic fascism of Vospers and Williams and McgFague. Sentimentality. It is a false emotionalism as world view. Social Gospel, our inheritance from the likes of Walter Rauschenbush, gives us the idea, taken seriously by fools, that if it should be it could be: "Wouldn't it be nice if...?" If it should be, then it must be, otherwise it isn't, and things wouldn't be nice.

To arrive at a philosophical postion in which this kind of "reasoning" is valid, one must abandon all Reason and delve into the depths of sentimentality. This is peasant intellectualism. This is Populist Romanticism at work and play. It can only flourish in a highly evolved and wealthy suburb of a wealthy nation. No one but the most self-indulgent and spoiled ad pampered house-wife with a hobby job could take this seriously. And guess what we have a nation of as intelligentsia? God help us.

truepeers said...

Thanks eowyn.

Dag, re-reading what I wrote yesterday I see I didn't satisfactorily address the totalitarian and Gnostic aspects of this nasty piece of writing. Thanks for correcting that in your, dare I say compelling, way.

I'm still reading your copy and thinking about the desire to assimilate wide swaths of thinking to "fascism". (Clearly there is a widespread Gnostic and totalitarian tendency, no less strong in our day, but is it all "fascism", or something less obvious and hence perhaps more insidious?) It's almost as if the entire medieval and romantic universes are just grist for the big bad mill. But surely we find therein some countervailing tendencies. Why is it possible for people to be fooled again and again by "fascism"? Is it really just the same old same old?

Eowyn said...

Nice insight, dag. Of course -- *metaphorically smacking self in head* -- the element of fascism underlies the whole tawdry worldview.

My (reductionist) thinking is this: She's pissed off because Daddy took the T-Bird away. But -- she'll always be Daddy's girl, and "subconsciously" emulate Daddy's "fascist" behavior.

Truly. I see these people as perpetually frustrated adolescents.