For some time now, a towering irony has tickled my brain, though at root the topic is not at all amusing. This is the paradox that the regions of the United States that are suffering the most devastating effects of the climate crisis appear to be home to the greatest concentrations of those who deny the indisputable reality of climate change, or at least deny that human activity is the underlying cause of the calamity.
Oklahoma, Kansas and parts of Texas have long been known as Tornado Alley; Dorothy and Toto were not swept up by that twister from a rural location in Kansas because L. Frank Baum picked a spot at random from a map of the US. These wicked storms have only grown more intense as average temperatures rise, ramping up the dynamo of heat that fuels this deadly weather phenomenon that is so awe-inspiring to visualize…at a safe remove. Mississippi and Alabama, the quintessential “Deep South” states, likewise frequently get clobbered by ferocious storms. And Louisiana? Read it here first: I predict that within 15 years it will be recognized that humans must abandon their dwellings there.
In less enlightened times (actually, they were probably more enlightened times), these parts of the United States were tagged as The Bible Belt. In that environment, the famous Scopes Trial (“the Monkey Trial”) took place over the horror of the prospect of the teaching of evolution in the public schools. With the rise of the Modern Republican Party–which has moved remarkably (astoundingly?) far to the right since the era of Dwight D. Eisenhower–and its courting of the “evangelical” voter, politicians who campaign on their alleged faith in the contents of the Bible can be found most everywhere.
Now, you must forgive me for indulging in what some will complain is stereotyping. But I shall forge ahead fearlessly. We are in a time of grave crisis, and it will not do for the author to pussyfoot, beat around the bush, or pull his punches. It won’t be an original observation on my part to point out that there’s often at least a kernel of truth behind stereotypes. The danger lies in saying “Oh, you know, all ‘those people’ are like that.” So allow me to paint a portrait of what I consider a “typical specimen” of the “evangelical” voter. This person tends to be white, male, opposed to abortion under any circumstances, harbors a visceral hatred of homosexuals, has no doubt that women were created by the Divinity as beings inferior to males, opposes any regulation of possession of firearms, is a member of a Protestant sect (likely some variant of the Baptists) and thus deems the Pope in Rome not far removed from Satan, and professes to “fear and love Jesus” above all else.
The “good Christian” wives of these folks see no contradiction in voting for candidates opposed to equal rights for women. A puzzled, if not murderous, look will sweep over this individual’s face if you bring up the inconvenient fact that Jesus was a Jew. Our specimen may even still believe that Jews have horns and tails. We would likely find James Inhofe, esteemed (warning: ironic use of language) member of the United States Senate, re-elected perpetually by the good citizens of Oklahoma, in that latter category. Senator Inhofe has not the least doubt that every word in the Bible should be accepted as literally true. And he and his ilk will assure you with absolute certainty that climate change is a hoax, perpetrated by East Coast elitist liberals (probably with “limp wrists”) because they love to impose regulations on economic activity.
With “500-year floods” starting to occur only a few years apart; with tornadoes appearing in regions like New England with regularity now; with Lynn, Massachusetts inundated by flash flood waters in the past year; with Houston starting to be swallowed by the bayous that lie toward the Gulf of Mexico; with Miami under threat and plans afoot to build sea walls around Manhattan Island; and with consecutive years racking up all-time high average global temperatures…how could any reasonably intelligent individual howl that this is all manufactured “fake news”? Here is my answer: denial of the reality of the climate crisis is part and parcel of the mindset I described in the previous paragraph. Essentially, this is a theological package of beliefs. And with theology, the True Believer is required to accept every last detail unquestioningly. Indeed, to harbor the least doubt is to risk being cast out of the sect a foul heretic. One cannot sway a True Believer with even a tsunami of sweet reason. Thus do we find ourselves in the dilemma of being governed more and more by elected officials who must pander to the beliefs of this significant portion of the US population in order to remain in office, so they may milk that office for all it’s worth to their own self-aggrandizement.
In the realm of this Protestant fundamentalist religion, Jesus is Lord, the Holy Ghost secondary. God the Father is rather neglected in their beseechings of divine assistance, doubtless because of His–the God of Abraham–association with the ancient Hebrews and later, Islam. It’s always “Help me, Jesus!” and “Thank you, Jesus!” And so, to bring this little essay full circle, we must ponder a big question. Why is Jesus increasingly steering dreadful storms right into the hearts of the regions of our country where he is most adored? Perhaps the Savior has developed a wicked sense of ironic humor that mere mortals can’t grasp?
This post originally appeared on Greg’s blog.