The Common Good
March 2013

Top-Notch Theology (or Not)

by Bill McKibben | March 2013

Who speaks for God? Must be this guy...

DIVINING GOD'S intent is incredibly easy—all you have to do is seek out his representatives here on earth, like Bryan Fischer, director of "issue analysis" for the American Family Association, "where he provides expertise on a range of public policy issues."

Indeed, Rev. Fischer speaks for the Lord on any number of topics (badness of gay people getting married, badness of Barack Obama who nurtures a "hatred of the white man," badness pretty much of anything that's changed since Fischer was born in 1951). But in the autumn, he offered the authoritative assurance that there was one thing God thought was really, really good: fossil fuel.

Fischer said that not using all the coal and gas and oil we could find was an affront to God—it would hurt God's feelings. In fact, he offered an analogy: Once "I opened up a birthday present that I didn't like, and I said it right out, 'Oh, I don't like those,'" he explained. "And the person that gave me the gift was there. And it just crushed that person. And you think, that's kind of how we're treating God when he's given us these gifts of abundant and inexpensive and effective fuel sources," Fischer added. "And we don't thank him for it and we don't use it. ... You know, God has buried those treasures there because he loves to see us find them."

That's really top-notch theology, as other similar top-notch theologians would attest. Dr. Calvin Beisner, for instance, is a founder of the Cornwall Alliance, the premier faith-based climate-change-denial operation on the planet. Sharing the microphone with Rev. Fischer, Rev. Beisner pointed out that not burning fossil fuel is really "an insult to God"—and that Jesus, too, wants us burning coal. If we didn't take advantage of all the flammable rocks on the planet, Beisner said, we would be like the "wicked and lazy steward" who was given talents by his master but simply buried them.

Since I'm not a top-notch theologian at all—in fact, I've never risen higher in the ecclesial hierarchy than Sunday school teacher—let me just pose a few questions that I am certain these eminent scholars could quickly answer.

  • If fossil fuel is such an unmitigated boon, why does the most recent study—issued in September by the DARA group (daraint.org)—show that 100 million people will die from its effects by 2030, most of them in developing countries?
     
  • Why did God bother making all those other animals and plants if climate change, brought on by burning those fossil fuels, seems likely to extinguish more than a third of them before the century is out?
     
  • Most puzzlingly, what does God make of the fact that we waste most of the sunshine that bathes our planet daily, and the wind that washes across it every hour?

It's estimated that enough solar energy hits the earth each hour to power the entire world for a full year—there were days last year when Germany generated half the power it used from solar panels within its borders. Isn't all this clean, free stuff that you don't even have to dig up just about the best birthday present God could give us? Isn't God, like, somewhat miffed that we can't even be bothered to put up solar panels?

Maybe another way of putting it is, never mind the coal: Mightn't God like us to use the brains he gave us? But what do I know—I'm no theologian.

Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, and founder of 350.org, the international grassroots climate change campaign.

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