Will We Go over the Cliff?

A most succinct description—in the form of a parable—of our current situation is contained in a passage—suitably modified—in Everett Knight’s 1960 The Objective Society, (p. 32). The passage itself pertains solely to intellectuals:

How are they to justify their position in our society[,] which is that of a man seated on the rear of a lorry examining the road behind while an incompetent driver moves on at a reckless speed in what is perhaps the wrong direction?

However, a restatement of this passage relevant for 2014 might read:

Most of us are riding down a steep, curvy road, in a bus driven by our business and political leaders—who, unfortunately, are so intoxicated that they are driving recklessly. We passengers, however, are so occupied with conversation and other immediate concerns that we are unaware of this fact. The bus, in making a sharp turn, hurtles off the road into a deep canyon, and all of us—both passengers and drivers—are killed.

What I am referring to here, of course, is the ominous threat posed by global warming—a threat recognized by most climate scientists (e.g., the recent IPCC report) and a few others, but not by the mass of people, nor by our purported “leaders.” Climate scientists do not know how soon we will reach the cliff, but know that unless actions are taken soon, the cliff will be reached at some point in the future (certainly before the end of this century), the result being a massive culling of the human population—perhaps to the point of the extinction of our species.

The tragedy here is that we cannot look to governmental or corporate officials for leadership, nor can we look to the mass media, the entertainment industry, etc. There is, however, a group of professionals in our society who have contact with millions of people, and who have some influence over them, professionals who could, conceivably, play an important role in educating their publics, and in encouraging them to (a) think deeply about how to respond to this problem, and to (b) discuss their ideas with others.

The group that I am referring to is the clergy.

Granted that few members of the clergy are well-versed regarding global warming. However, most of them are reasonably literate and intelligent, and there is enough non-technical literature available out there for them to gain a basic knowledge of the subject.

There is a pressing need for members of our species to be “saved” from premature death resulting from—directly and indirectly—global warming. And, fortunately, “salvation” is a concept familiar to many members of the clergy. True, most clergy for whom the concept is meaningful interpret the concept in an other-worldly sense. Those members of the clergy for whom “salvation” is unimportant in that sense should be able to recognize that it is now important to add that term to their vocabulary, but give it a this-worldly meaning. And even members of the clergy for whom the term has an other-worldly meaning should be able to recognize a need, at present, to give it a this-worldly meaning as well. After all, any reading of the canonical gospels makes clear that the main character in those gospels—Jesus—had a this-worldly orientation primarily.

A few examples of this:

  • The Good Samaritan parable has a non-Jew giving aid to a Jew—the injured man in question having already been passed by a priest and Levite. Thus, the parable simultaneously criticizes the Judaism of his time (as having gotten “off the track”) and enjoins the helping of those in need—by virtue of the fact that they are in need, with no qualifications being involved.

  • His discussion of the sheep and goats, in which he enjoins his hearers to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, be hospitable to strangers, give clothing to those needing it, looking after those who are sick, and visiting those in prison. What’s notable about this story is it’s cleverness: It’s told in such a way that these six points are repeated four times!

Whether any of this has a sound historical basis is beside the point here. What’s important about it, rather, is that most clergy tend to treat these passages as “gospel” (!), and even those who doubt the historical veracity of the passages tend to regard the passages as giving good advice.

Assuming that these passages (and others like them) do have historical value, it is easy to believe that if Jesus were alive today, his concern for the well-being of others would manifest itself in a concern for global warming—given its threat to the very continued existence, as a species, of “God’s creatures.” Given this, and assuming that he would regard Christian clergy as worthy spokespersons for him (!), it is also easy to believe that he would urge clergy to educate their congregants about this threat, and encourage them to think about and discuss with others—whether fellow congregants or not—possible responses to this problem.

Is it realistic to assume that members of the clergy could become an important force in our society in addressing the problem of global warming? Probably not! After all, most of the churches and denominations in this society are a part of the societal system, and as such are supporters of the Existing Order. Few clergy and church members are likely aware of that fact—and it is that fact which makes them so useful as supporters of the Existing Order.

Clergy and the churches serve the interests of the Existing Order in different ways—with churches serving those with lower incomes and educations in one way (e.g., providing emotional release, thereby helping congregants maintain their sanity), and those serving those with higher incomes and more education in another way (e.g., convincing them that they deserve their positions, and thereby implying that others are less deserving).

“Thinking outside the box” is ostensibly prized in this society, but thinking that threatens the continued functioning of the Existing Order puts one in jeopardy. Given that clergy who might consider following the advice provided above are likely to at least sense, if not actually realize, this fact, I have serious doubts that clergy will play any significant role in “saving” us from the disasters that lie in our future as humans. Ironic, isn’t it!

It appears that “salvation” is merely a “utopian” idea!

Al Thompson retired over seven years ago from an engineering (avionics) firm in Milwaukee. His e-mail address is: sven3475@gmail.com. Read other articles by Alton.