Environmentalism, Tony Abbot, and Satan.


A friend asked me for my perspective on this:

“Primitive people once killed goats to appease the volcano gods. We’re more sophisticated now but are still sacrificing our industries and our living standards to the climate gods to little more effect,”

Tony Abbot, reported by The Age.

My reply (which could stand a little editing):

I expect you are asking me specifically because of my past religious background, so I’ll add a perspective from that POV.

Some fundamentalist Christians see in environmentalism a strand of nature-worship. This may be understood as a philosophical pantheism, or a more naive tree-worship. There’s also an equivocation between the “paganism” of the modern hippie and ancient greco-roman “paganism”. They aren’t really the same thing at all, but we call them the same thing. And a person who isn’t a terribly clear thinker easily conflates pantheism with worship of the greek god Pan.

But so what? So what if Greenies think trees are nice? So what if some of ’em have Viking rune tattoos?

It’s important to understand that a fundamentalist christian believes that demonic spirits are literally real. Jesus cast demons out of people. Now, either Jesus was wrong, or demons are actually a thing. There a story of Jesus fasting for 40 days in the desert and being personally tempted by Satan. The story is clearly, clearly allegorical, but the biblical literalist takes the position that if this story was meant to be understood allegorically, God would have told us so.

The ancient Christians believed that the miracles of the pagans were perfectly real, and accomplished by demonic power. Fundies more-or-less regard anything in the least bit “spiritual” that isn’t christian to be of the devil. Whether the gods of Greece and Rome, or the vague woo-woo of the hippies, it’s all demons. When a hippie talks about a sense of connection with nature, they are being connected to the devil.

Fundamentalist Christians see “spirits” everywhere. This modern notion that we ought have a care for the natural world is probably spirits, which is to say demons. It’s all part of the same old big ball of wax that Jesus came to deliver us from. We know it’s spiritual because it’s about values. The abstract idea that values like environmentalism are spiritual and the more concrete idea that the Druids were in literally contact with actual, real demons gets all muddled up and stuck together in a big tangled mess of worrying ideas. (A person who believes in devils is afraid all the time, despite their protestations that their faith in Jesus keeps them safe from them. It’s a constant undercurrent of worry, especially for parents.)

The general notion that science is a good thing, also, is a spiritual force in our society. “Science” itself is a spirit, perhaps. Or perhaps blind trust in science – scientism, if you like – is a spirit, a great evil spirit sort of hovering in the air over humanity. An evil spirit clearly of the devil, because we should be putting our trust in Jesus alone. From it springs a multitude of lies, perhaps the greatest being that we don’t really have eternal spirits and that the devil is not real.

I appreciate that none of this makes much sense, that there’s a truckload of non sequitur in all this mess. But it doesn’t have to make sense. These are fragmentary ideas in the minds of (many? most?) Christians and especially fundamentalist Christians. Remember that most people are not terribly bright. [edit – perhaps what I really meant here was that most people are intellectually lazy, and perhaps what I mean by that is that I was]

This next bit is important, and perhaps I should edit this mail to make it more central:

Fundamentalist, biblical literalist Christians are creationists. The bible says what it says about where the world came from. In order to believe in creationism, you must conclude that the theory of evolution is wrong, or a lie. Consequently, creationists must and do believe that the scientific community is committing a fraud against all of humanity. And has been for hundreds of years. The idea that “science” is actually a vast conspiracy to deceive humanity is not new. It was not invented recently in reply to this latest climate science business. It’s as old as Gallileo and Newton. I mean, sure – not every scientist is an active conspirator. Some are misinformed by other scientsts (we all know that those white-coats are intelligent only in their specific area, and outside that they are absent-minded fools, unlike us reglar folks who have common sense). Some are mistaken. Most are just going along with the general consensus. But “the general consensus” is, of course, a spirit. The bible speaks of a “spirit of the age”. And it all comes back to The Devil.

Now, not all fundies take the whole thing as seriously as all that. And many who do literally belive this stuff don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about the implications of it all. But these ideas are all part of the package, the big old mess of ideas sloshing around in the Hillsonger’s brain pan.

So we get to Tony Abbot, who is not a Hillsonger but is a Roman Catholic. There’s what the americans call a “dog-whistle” in this message – something that is heard by the people that it’s intended for, and is inaudible to anyone else. And that dog-whistle is the charge that environmentalism and the climate science establishment is literally Satanic. Literally motivated and orchestrated by The Devil. Ol’ Scratch. Lucifer himself. Really.

Sure, it’s a long stretch to cast coal-fired electricity plants as fighting the good fight on the side of God against the general corruption of the age. Ludicrous, when you think about it, particularly given Jesus’ views on excessive wealth. The trick, as always, is not to think about it, but to know it. What Orwell called “bellyfeel”, what Steve Colbert calls “truthiness”, what the average Christian calls “knowing it in your heart”. You just know by faith that those greenie ideas are all from the devil, and so we should dig up and burn more coal just to spit in the devil’s eye as much as for any other reason.

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2 Responses to Environmentalism, Tony Abbot, and Satan.

  1. Amalia says:

    You were making a good case until your “remember most people are not terribl bright” comment. When you write such nonsense you lose people. Bright people.

    • Paul Murray says:

      Amalia, it is simply the case that half the people are below median intelligence.

      I said what I said as sort of an apology for not presenting a properly connected, logical schema with respect to the role of the devil in environmentalism. The thing that ejected me from christianity is when I finally, finally got around to seriously thinking about what believing in angels and demons actually implied about the world.

      Perhaps what I meant was that people are intellectually lazy. Or at least, that I was. Still am, to a great degree. I was content to let these ideas just be there in the background without ever really examining them.

      Some other pages about my road out of Christianity are here.

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