Monday, 7 September 2009

Only God Can Save the Planet - Or Not

Lord May has said that religion may now be the only way to save the planet. With no government prepared to take the lead or able to co-ordinate a global effort, he thinks it may be time for God to take over. He claims that 'a supernatural punisher may be part of the solution'.

Lord May is the president of the British Science Association and a Zoologist at Oxford. He does seem to have got a bit muddled up though.

He says that 'Given that punishment is a useful mechanism, how much more effective it would be if you invested that power not in an individual you don't like, but an all powerful deity that controls the world... It makes for rigid, doctrinaire societies, but it makes for co-operation' and would be ' immensely stabilising in individual human cultures'.

However, he also says that fundamentalism and authoritarian religion have directly undermined attempts to achieve global co-operation on climate change. He gives the examples of America and the Catholic Church and says that 'although (...) authoritarian systems seem to be good at preserving social cohesion and an orderly society, they are, by the same token, not good at adapting to change'.

Does this imply that we need to get rid of the current religions and get some nice new fluffy ones where everyone co-operates? But then we need the Wrath of God to keep us on the eco straight and narrow. Vengeful, punitive gods tend to come at the more extreme end of the religious spectrum. And where does this leave Buddhists?

There is another flaw in the argument. We are already threatened with eternal punishment if we do or don't do certain things and very few people pay close attention to the imminent fiery pit even if they have a religious belief - otherwise there would be no crime and no sex before marriage, for starters.

It's not just the average person in the pew who needs persuading, it's the leaders of the multinational corporations who will have to be convinced.

Strengthening religion will not come without side effects. Religions encourage tribalism, an Us and Them mentality; they do not come with built-in co-operation with other religions. It may create stability within societies, but not between them.

What about non-believers? If religion was given the upper hand in order to save the planet, their lives would become significantly worse; both women and homosexuals might find themselves on the wrong end of the wrath too. The Pope has already said that homosexuality is as much a danger to the planet as global warming and that atheists are to blame for it. Would the guilty parties be targetted?

Yes, this is the worst case scenario; the much more likely response is a few strong words from religious leaders that are promptly ignored.

There is a certain cynicism at work here too. It seems that any god will do, any faith, as long as it has an eco-friendly message. Save the planet or (insert name of god/s here) will smite you.

Lord May really hasn't though this one through.

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