Perhaps there were plans for some tax-payer-funded, public service web content with a catchy, kid-friendly slogan: ‘From eleven to three, sit under a tree, but refrain from quoting The Bible at me.’ Thankfully, sanity prevailed and the Queensland government has distanced itself from the ludicrous efforts of Sunshine State education officials to stop primary school children talking about Jesus on their lunchbreaks. Despite the best efforts of the HRC to trash it freedom of speech remains, as I write, a cornerstone of our constitution, and political correctness will not prevent Australians of any age voicing their religious convictions – however wacky or wrong-headed others may think them.
There are, in any case, good reasons to doubt the oft-made assertion that as a nation we are losing our capacity for faith. We may well have a more secular outlook than our grandparents, and church attendances have certainly been declining here for decades. But in recent times the influence of another faith has grown exponentially in our cities and suburbs, as it has in those of many other Western countries. And thanks in large part to the reluctance of left-leaning liberal progressive governments like Queensland’s to criticise the sermonising of this faith’s leaders, this is a trend which seems likely to continue.
And the willingness of so many Australians to listen is not so surprising when you consider the familiarity of the precepts of this other faith. Like Christianity it is predicated on the notion that how we behave in our lifetimes will determine what happens after we die. Like Christianity it threatens direst consequence if we ignore its central message. Like Christianity it requires us to suspend our individual critical faculties and accept as, well, gospel, the edicts of a scholarly elite.
But there the similarity ends. Because while the church’s position on most issues have been softened by the blue-sky thinking of people like Galileo, Newton, Darwin, the poster boys of this younger faith are inspired by a zealous and uncompromising fundamentalism. They aren’t just intolerant of dissent, they do their best to silence it. Indeed, they would like to criminalise it and have already done so in countries where their dogma has been most enthusiastically embraced. And whereas Christianity long ago abandoned its aspiration to world domination, this is a faith which is passionately committed to global hegemony, and will not rest until we’ve all been converted. Radical Islam? Hell, no. I’m talking about Climate Change.
For many thousands of years one of the primary functions of religion was to inure human beings to the random cruelties of their existence (storms, famine, disease, mortality) and to discourage them from ending the pain and misery of it all by jumping off the nearest cliff.
The survival of religion in wealthy, sophisticated countries like ours, not to mention the persistence of things like astrology and crystals, suggests that many are still hard-wired to give head space to stuff which our reason and collective knowledge will not affirm. And while most of us do not consciously believe in anything that smacks of the supernatural, for many the loss of religion from their grandparents’ world created a phantom limb which still needs scratching. Climate Change allows us to believe in something bigger than ourselves without compromising our secularism. Indeed just getting your head round concepts like greenhouse gas and ocean acidification requires a rudimentary understanding of physics and chemistry. And yet the big picture of Climate Change features so many of the things our grandparents learnt about in Sunday School! Inundation on a global scale, conflagration, mass migration, endless suffering – pretty much the full armageddon monty. And what can we modern mortals do to avert such catastrophic events? Obey a few simple commandments: thou shalt not derive thine electricity from coal, thou shalt not indulge in unnecessary air travel, thou shalt not leave the tap running while cleaning thy teeth, thou shalt re-cycle, thou shalt cycle, and on and on.
Of course there is plenty of evidence that many of the fears associated with Climate Change are either groundless or fraudulent. But, then again, who am I to ever wish to deny anyone their faith?
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