The Corner

Energy & Environment

The Climate Faith

Students take part in a “youth strike to act on climate change” demonstration in Nice, France, March 15, 2019. (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)

We are religious creatures. The desire to worship — something, anything — persists, even as our objects of veneration change. That religious impulse can be led easily astray in an age where traditional religious institutions appear impotent, unwilling to defend their claims against the rising tides of universalism and ecumenism. If you’re not careful, you’ll worship something unfit for your devotion. Worse, you might end up confessing your sins to NBC News.

As a certain type of person found themselves doing yesterday.

The network announced that it is soliciting “climate confessions,” admissions of public and private sins against the natural environment and the climate.  The sacrament, far from the ornate wooden lairs of Catholic lore, occurs on one sordidly animated webpage, where your transgressions against Gaea are plastered for all to see, in a communal ritual of denunciation. Atop the site is a promise to uphold the seal of the confessional, assuring penitents that their “confessions” will be kept anonymous.

“Tell us,” NBC insists with ecclesial verve, “Where do you fall short in preventing climate change?” It even provides an examination of conscience in miniature: “Do you blast the A/C? Throw out half your lunch? Grill a steak every week?”

Contrite sinners were all too happy to admit their faults: “I compost at home, but not at work,” reads the confession of one offender; “I want to install solar panels but am waiting for state/federal incentives to do so!” grieves another. Like any good religion, there were apostates; one heretic nailed this to the digital door: “I run my AC 24/7. I’m not going to sweat to appease this climate religion.” Another wrote, “I eat meat every day. And won’t stop, because it’s good.”

The famous Michael Crichton line — “Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists” — beats you mercilessly over the head as you view this website.

But it’s not only the “urban atheists” anymore.

Union Seminary — a pan-denominational, “ecumenical,” effectively spiritualist Christian organization — engaged in much the same sort of Gaea worship on Monday. “Today in chapel,” their summative tweet began, “we confessed to plants.” And confess to plants they did, expressing their collective “grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor.” Notice their lament that they failed to “honor” plants—not God the Father, Christ, nor anything worth a Christian’s “honor;” indeed, nothing that would lead you to believe that, as asserts their mission statement, they are “grounded in the Christian tradition” at all — but plants.

The seminary, facing immense backlash from Christians of more orthodox persuasions, posed this question to its detractors: “Because plants aren’t capable of verbal response, does that mean we shouldn’t engage with them?”

Since they asked: The reason we should not “engage with” plants is not because they are incapable of “verbal response.” We should not “engage with them” because they are incapable of being engaged with.

Because they’re plants.

Which is much the same reason why we shouldn’t worship them.

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