Climate change: Capitalism and the Church speak the same language

climate change

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has submitted its latest report, and with it comes the unquestionably clear perspective that the Earth’s ecological situation is heading towards the land of no return. Indeed we can now be certain that since the 1950’s, the extreme dependence on fossil fuels as well as the capitalist resourcing of the ecosystem has been proven to be the leading causes of the world’s current levels of global warming. Thus in spite of what critics may say, we are definitely in an epoch of anthropocene, a geological period of history where human civilization has significantly impacted the Earth’s ecological balance. Yet as per the norm, climate change and sustainable energy is far from the pulpits of dominant church culture.

Dualism continues to render evangelical culture socially inept, especially around the ecosystem, paralysing the gospel of its “capacity to impact public affairs and transform the world” (Theron & Lotter, 2009, p. 474). Dualistic theology creates two distinct and perpetually divergent entities, with one being good (heaven) and the other as evil or ‘broken’ (the world) (Afloroaei, 2009, pp. 84-86). It is then obvious to see why the push to address climate change, ecological devastation and systemic inequality is basically void from Church culture, as dualism has separated souls and spiritual stuff into one group, and human biology and the environment into another group (a ‘secular’ or worldly category). This dualistic philosophy has incubated a ‘privatised Christianity’ which prioritizes self-interest and theocapital gain (the accumulation of spiritual blessings in finances, health or even post-mortem rewards) over the concern for socio-global issues. This encourages believers to view themselves as “just passing through this world, steering them away from worldly social engagement beyond their personal, family, and church-related concerns” (McLaren, 2007, p. 81). Succinctly, this dichotomy of the spiritual and the material has justified the separation between issues of the Church and issues of the world.

Capitalism and the Church seem to speak the same language when it comes to the ecosystem. Indeed the dualistic aversion to socio-ecological responsibility and justice is arguably synonymous with the ethos of capitalism, a philosophy in which the Church has welcomed with open arms. Concisely, capitalism perceives the Earth as just another resource, indeed the ultimate resource – an economic treasure chest of minerals, land and fossil fuels – up for grabs to whoever pushes the most on the stock exchange market (or whoever kicks indigenous people groups off their land the fastest). Evidently both capitalism and the Church (underpinned by dualism) relegate the Earth to less than it actually is – at times even Creationists just use the ecosystem as divine evidence rather than something (wait for it) ‘divine.’ Undeniably the Church seems to bequeath no ‘spirituality’ onto the Earth, only the ‘biblical’ fact that it was created by God, it’s now broken and fallen (‘the fall’ and ‘original sin’ both terms foreign to Old Testament Hebraic exegesis) and now the Earth is just waiting for Jesus-terminator 7 to come back and annihilate it. Capitalism perceives the Earth as a get in there before someone else does resource, and dominant church culture views the Earth as a sinking ship (so might as well join in with the capitalist rat race in the meantime).

Climate change is irrelevant if not a laughable matter to both Capitalism and dominant church culture. Fortified by a dualistic philosophy, the Church has relegated the Earth to a sinking ship in which the only solution is to rush every individual onto the life raft of Jesus. As the world/matter and heaven/spirit are platonically opposing, ‘saving souls’ takes precedence over socio-ecological responsibility and justice. The gospel has focused on the post-mortem destination of individuals and how the ‘saved’ can live victorious lives in the meantime; the good news of Jesus seems to have “little to offer regarding pressing global matters” (McLaren, 2007, p. 12). Debatably, the Church is in cahoots with the ethos of Capitalism, a worldview which views the world as a resource, a ‘thing’ to be exploited or a sinking treasure ship that needs to be raided before it goes down.

Climate change is real, as well as this Earth that sustains our very existence in the universe. If dominant church culture continues to neglect the reality of anthropocene and global warming, future generations will scratch their heads as they wonder why so many people that were ‘divinely-authorized’ to change the world, never did. The gospel has ceased to create transformation and liberation, and has instead become a spiritual message of societal distraction (McLaren, 2007, p. 29), in which the only things that matter is individual souls going to heaven (a dualistic philosophy) and the accumulation of personal wealth in the meantime (a capitalist ethos).

The Church needs to be debunked from capitalism and dualism, and given a good kick up the backside to take climate change seriously. This might be the Church’s biggest challenge of the 21st century.

Works Cited

Afloroaei, L. (2009). Religious dualism: some logical and philosophical difficulties. Journal for interdisciplinary research on religion and science (4), 83-111.

McLaren, B. (2007). Everything must change: When the world’s biggest problems and Jesus’ good news collide. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Theron, P. M., & Lotter, G. A. (2009). The necessity of an integral Christian worldview: reconnoitring the challenges for influencing the unbelieving world. Koers-bulletin for Christian scholarship 74(3), 467-494.

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