As the climate changes, Christian beliefs can help

3 Januari 2020

Religion has always played an important role in our choices as a society. Now, as the environment is changing rapidly, new research explores the co-evolution of Christianity and climate change. 

Published in WIRE’s Climate Change, a new study suggests that old Christian beliefs about the weather are having a significant influence on modern-day climate action. And while some of them are helpful, others might need to be revised.

Since early history the concept of the climate has helped people to make sense of the natural world. Climate and religion have been tightly linked, with most natural phenomena explained as manifestations of the will of God. “Extreme weather events have long been regarded as omens and signs, and as divine judgments on sin” with Noah’s Ark being one of the first examples, the authors note. 

With the rise of the scientific worldview, religious explanations disappeared from official language, yet they haven’t done so from the popular imagination. Even with greater knowledge about climate today, many still see the weather as the “domain of gods”. Religious people are also less prone to believe in climate science while various Christian branches have quite different perspectives on the climate, from “green faith” advocates to fundamentalist skeptics.

The researchers argue that today’s apocalyptic framings of climate change rooted within evangelical and fundamentalist branches of Christianity may keep them from developing better responses to challenges. Under such premises, we can neither attribute necessary responsibility nor feel confident about acting on the climate, suggest the authors. 

Meanwhile, some Protestant and Catholic groups have “built on a longstanding environmental ethic to think creatively about present responses and solutions”. Those Christian groups are known for engaging in climate issues, from working with victims of disruptive events to using scripture to inspire action.

Importantly, the belief about links between weather patterns and human deeds has gained a new lease on life with the increasing instability of the weather based on the understanding that human behaviors are undermining nature’s capacities to sustain itself. This creates space for new bridges between religion and science in light of common concerns.

The paper suggests many ways Christianity can help people act on climate, including moral lessons, disaster relief, spreading awareness about impacts and opportunities to act through collective responsibility and empowering rituals. All of these can be used by Christians across the world to strengthen climate resilience of their communities and develop more ethically aware and just responses.

The article also explores the diverse weather rituals Christians have invented to cope with climate variability. Lastly, it discovers the relations between indigenous groups and Christian colonizers in how their climate beliefs interacted. The paper argues that Christians could learn a lot from the deep respect towards nature many traditional indigenous communities still practice.

The authors emphasize that the global character and particular entanglement of Christian beliefs with the story of climate change make it particularly responsible for discovering positive ways forward. And religious pronouncements like Laudato Si by Pope Francis show that Christianity might already be reinventing itself to provide guidance through uncertain futures.

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