December 1, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, December 1, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Climate change summit in Paris reminder of twin human responsibilities of dominion and stewardship
Climate change is very much in the headlines these days, as yesterday, the 21st conference of parties known as COP 21, better known as the Paris Climate Change Summit began with about 100 nations represented, representing the United States, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, the Secretary of State John Kerry and other members of the American delegation. As Coral Davenport of the New York Times reported,
“President Obama and more than 100 world leaders will convene with thousands of diplomats on Monday on the outskirts of Paris to open two weeks of intense negotiations aimed at forging an accord that could begin to avert the most devastating effects of global warming and redefine the economy of the 21st century.”Show Full Transcript
That’s a very interesting paragraph taken just as one example of the kind of reporting you’re likely to hear on the Climate Change Summit. What we’re looking at here is the reality that the last part of that paragraph is profoundly important. Davenport says that what takes place in Paris could,
“Redefine the economy of the 21st century.”
One of the things we need to keep in mind is that the economy is very much front and center of the climate change conversation. It creates many of the foundational issues and it also constitutes many of the boundaries. There are political issues, of course, there are politicians present, but the economic issues are very much front and center. From a Christian worldview perspective, we need to recognize that what’s going on here is genuinely important. We also should believe that what’s going on is less important than the headlines would suggest and as many of the participants would imply. Many of the headlines concerning this event in anticipation of it and even now as the conference is underway would suggest that the very future of the planet is hanging on this meeting. And as the New York Times, as the Financial Times of London, as The Economist and others have noted, this is exactly what we have been told many times before, it’s what we were told in 1997, when the so-called Kyoto agreement was signed with binding agreements limiting the United States and other major industrial powers. The United States did not ratify any treaty out of that meeting, and the Kyoto Accords were largely dropped. Then again, we heard the same refrain in 2009 in the Climate Summit that was held in Copenhagen and Copenhagen was considered to be a massive failure precisely because of the failure to bring about any binding agreement. Politically speaking, binding agreement is still the issue in terms of the 21st meeting taking place within the next two weeks in Paris.
The Financial Times reported on this when reporters Anne-Sylvaine Chassany and Pilita Clark tell us that France has already conceded a very key issue by acknowledging that whatever comes out of the Paris agreement it will not be a treaty and that’s for a very simple reason, the United States Senate is not going to pass any such treaty. That puts the United States and thus all of the assembled nations in the position of acknowledging that something less than a fully binding treaty is likely to come out of this. But the other thing we need to note is that even as people will point to the United States as the issue there, the reality is virtually no one is ready to sign on to binding agreements that are actually binding. That’s one of the moral lessons to watch by observing this climate summit. Many of things that are discussed as being absolute and binding are not absolute or binding even before the meeting is over. The fact that this is the 21st of these meetings tells us something. It tells us that world attention has been directed to the climate change issue for the better part now of over two decades, but the fact that it is the 21st of these meetings also tells us that there has been something less than spectacular success in convincing the world of how nations individually and corporately should respond to what is perceived as a climate change crisis.
Christians looking at the larger issue understand that the Bible is clear; the world is God’s creation, the entire cosmos. He made it as the theater of his glory and for the drama of redemption, and we come to understand that God is sovereign over all of that which he has made that which he declared to be good and he has given human beings, the only creature made in his image, two different responsibilities, they are biblical themes of dominion and stewardship. Dominion comes very early in Genesis 1:28, when the human being male and female is given responsibility for a co-regency, that is for a co-reigning, sharing in God’s glory by sharing in God’s rule of the universe in so far as we have our own small but very important assignment and that is to multiply and fill the earth and to subdue it. But the Bible also is very emphatic about a stewardship theme. Jesus employs this theme in the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, he tells us that we are stewards and what is required of a steward is to be found faithful. As stewards we come to understand that even as God’s original habitation for human beings was the Garden of Eden, in a sense we are the stewards of a garden known as planet Earth and it is our responsibility as stewards to use that gift that God has given us for the purpose that he has given us. We are to till the ground, we are to plant crops, we are to enjoy its proceeds, we are to use the earth for the purposes for which God made it as a human habitation and as the arena of his glory. But at the same time we are to return as stewards that which is entrusted to us, not just in the very good shape to which it was given to us, but rather in an even better condition. Our co-regency by God’s assignment should result in the fact that the earth shows evidence of God’s glory to human endeavor on planet earth, even upon planet earth.
Understanding the theme of dominion, human beings should never apologize for being human beings in the first place. We are, after all, not human beings by evolutionary accident, but by God’s creative decree and furthermore, we must not apologize for using the earth and enjoying the earth for the purposes and ends for which God made it even as a human habitation. We should also understand as stewards, we have to be concerned about anything that would bring about damage to this garden, damage to this planet, damage to its ecosystem and thus Christians have to be looking at a situation such as climate change with an open mind, looking at what we can find out about the evidence of what human activity may be contributing to in terms of some kind of damage to the planet and the ecosystem, but at the same time we have to do a worldview analysis that would reveal that a great deal of this conversation, indeed, the better part of this conversation is offered worldwide as if God does not exist, as if the world is not his creation and as if human beings are not only an accident but a pernicious blight upon the planet. Furthermore, even as we’re being told that this is an emergency, we need to note that what is being talked about here is an emergency, but people are not actually acting as if it is an actual emergency. Again, this is the 21st Conference of Parties, again, we’re being told that this is a make or break opportunity. We’re also being warned by many from the scientific community that it may already be too late. And yet, Christians with an historical awareness have to remember we were told this before, we were told this in the 60s, we were told us in the 70s, we were told that a massive population explosion was going to lead to untold human misery. Some of the very same people, from the very same places, sounding the alarm on climate change are the very same people who told us that the earth was going to experience mass starvation in the 1970s because of the population explosion.
As a vast a series being published now in the Wall Street Journal makes very clear, even on these very days, the real problem the world faces right now is not a population explosion, but an implosion of population in many nations of the earth. As Christians look at what’s going on in Paris, we have to be those who look at this through a theological lens, a lens of responsibility, but also a lens of biblical realism. We also have to do a constant worldview analysis. By what worldview would this kind of statement or this kind of theory or claim become plausible? We also have to understand what’s not being discussed in so many of these conversations. And that is, for example, that many people in the developing world are hoping and praying for the very things that a certain kind of restriction on carbon emissions would preclude. As I have said economics is never far from the scene, it is foundational to this reality, and it establishes the boundaries of whatever political agreements may come out of Paris. But we also need to note something else; a great deal will not be articulated. Simon Kuper writing in the pages of the Financial Times gets it exactly right when he makes very clear that nations, and by this we mean every individual nation present at this conference, will eventually do what it finds to be in its own best interest and that is not uniform.
The biggest engine of industrialization in this world right now is the nation of China, and no agreement, no matter whether it’s claimed to be binding or not, that does not actually meet what takes place on the ground in China is going to make much of a long-term difference. But we also need to note that that vast industrialization in China has led to political change that has been very important in that country and it has also led to the fact that China’s growing economy has fed and sustained the economies of much of the rest of the world. So behind-the-scenes Chinese authorities are simply able to say, which do you want? A radical cut in carbon emissions or do you want the continued vitality of your own economies? That’s not something that is likely to make the front pages of the papers; it is something that is likely to determine what is actually in or not in the agreement.
Before leaving this issue, simply because the issues are so important and the conversation is now so relevant with the meeting going on in Paris, the Wall Street Journal ran an article yesterday entitled,
“Climate Experts Question Temperature Benchmark.”
Gautam Naik writes,
“The single most important benchmark underpinning this week’s talks in Paris on climate change—two degrees Celsius—has guided climate-treaty discussions for decades, but scientists are at odds on the relevance of that target.”
That gets to another big issue. Once again, we confront the fact that science is not an authority, it is a project. And even though many in the media will say science says, well that depends on the scientist and it depends on the way the statement is made and is to be interpreted. For example, much of the climate change science as it is called requires scientists to reconstruct absolute temperature estimations going back centuries and that is something that is absolutely a matter of theory, because how in the world do you reconstruct scientific data back before the invention of the thermometer or before the habit of maintaining any kind of records about temperature? As this article in the Wall Street Journal makes very clear, if you are off by a very small degree over centuries that could put your entire theory completely off the map of reality. Furthermore, the central issue in this article is the fact the scientist aren’t agreed on the most basic math when it comes to climate change. And you’re not going to be hearing that out of Paris either.
There is no doubt that climate change as most of us have experienced that even our own lifetimes. We can look at growing or receding glaciers, we can look at geological evidence, we can see sign of climate change in cycles and in spikes and dips over time. And furthermore, Christians are not in the position of denying that climate change is happening. We are in a position of saying that it is not at all certain that human beings are directly to blame for the climate change that is taking place, nor are Christians in the position of suggesting that humanity itself is a pestilence that has brought about this kind of development, and thus, and here’s much of the agenda you also will not see behind the headlines, there are those who are arguing that the net result of climate change should be a radical decrease, not only in the human economy, but in the human population. With all this in the background Christians need to be watching very carefully what is said in Paris, what is done in Paris and what is agreed in Paris. We should rightly see human beings as moral actors who are responsible for our actions, but we can never see human beings as the problem.
Opposition to Lord's Prayer ad in Britain exposes increasing intolerance of secularism
Next, while those headlines are coming to us from Paris across the English Channel, another important headline is coming from London. As the New York Times, Stephen Castle reports,
“Showing Christians in public and private prayer, an advertisement produced for Britain’s main church was designed to promote a moment of contemplation among moviegoers as they settled down to watch a pre-Christmas blockbuster.
“Instead, it has provoked a ferocious debate over the role of religion in an increasingly secular Britain.”
The report tells us that the advertisement was,
“Based on the Lord’s Prayer, the 60-second commercial, which was to be shown before [the debut of] “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” when it opens [this] month.
“The decision to reject the advertisement has been criticized by the Church of England, which commissioned it. The church said it was “bewildered” by the move and claimed it could have a “chilling effect” on free speech.”
The controversy has spread throughout political circles in the nation of Britain. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron responded that the decision was absolute nonsense. His official 10 Downing Street spokesman said the decision was,
But even as many people have said it’s ridiculous, this is actually following the logic of this increasingly secular Britain. One of the things that has been noted by many, including Giles Fraser, hardly a conservative, writing in the liberal London newspaper The Guardian, he points out, amongst others, that this points to a growing intolerance of the secular left, a growing intolerance of those who had been complaining about an intolerance of secularism. But now as secularists are increasingly in authority, they are turning with a decided intolerance back towards traditional religion and in particular back towards Christianity and what we’re looking at here is of course the Church of England, and what we’re looking at here, of course, is a 60 second commercial that was produced by the Church of England. England after all, has a state church. It is established by the government, it has a government funded authority within the nation, bishops of the Church of England sit in Britain’s government in the House of Lords, and the monarch of the nation is the Supreme Governor of the church. Now at the very least, you would expect that a nation that has a state church would allow that state church to put on a benign or bland 60 second commercial before a movie in a movie theater, but you would be wrong. The authority that controls most of the commercials being shown in Britain’s more than 2500 movie screens, and theaters across the country, it has decreed that it is simply not going to allow this commercial which artfully represents many people in different segments of life with many voices reading parts of the Lord’s Prayer.
Giles Fraser, writing in The Guardian says,
“They say that people might be offended by the Lord’s Prayer. But for years now we have been told by secularists that religious people have to stop being so easily offended when their faith is challenged. And I agree. But secularists have to stop being so easily offended too. “Don’t impose your religion on us,” they shout. Well, it’s no more of an imposition than all the other advertisements we have to put up with.”
One of the persons featured reading a portion of Lord’s Prayer is the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion and the Church of England that is the Archbishop of Canterbury, the most Reverend Justin Welby. The theme of the commercial is “Just Pray” and the idea behind it is to show Britons that prayer is not such an unnatural activity and to try to incite at least some interest in spiritual things and in prayer amongst the British people. The Church of England is turning this into a free speech issue. The Reverend Arun Arora, the Church of England’s director of communications, told the BBC,
“We find that really astonishing, disappointing and rather bewildering.”
Language almost as if a Hollywood screenwriter had written the part for the spokesperson for the Church of England. The Telegraph, another major British newspaper has said that the reason behind the turning down to the commercial was the fear of offending some Briton’s, especially those who are most secular. It turns out evidently that secular Britons could be offended even by seeing other people pray for 60 seconds as they are reading the Lord’s Prayer. The Church of England also pointed out,
“The Lord’s Prayer is prayed by billions of people across the globe every day and in this country has been a part of everyday life for centuries.”
And indeed it has. A part of Britain’s heritage going back for many centuries includes the fact that the Lord’s Prayer, most famously in the language of the King James Version, known in the U.K. as the Authorized Version, has been a part of the cultural landscape. It has been heard over and over and over again. The implication of the Church of England, by the way, is that the Lord’s Prayer shouldn’t be offensive because there isn’t that much to it. People are just watching the Lord’s Prayer being read, or recited for 60 seconds. The implication of Giles Fraser and others is that secular people should not be so offended by a Christian prayer, especially a prayer that is just a part of the cultural landscape like the Lord’s Prayer. I have to say, shockingly enough, that it may be that the secular society has the better theological argument here. Because they at least understand what the Lord’s Prayer is all about. Christians should never see the Lord’s Prayer as merely a part of the cultural landscape, after all, as the gospel of Luke tells us, the Lord’s prayer was given by Christ to his apostles when they ask him, Lord, teach us to pray. And we also have to understand that the Lord’s Prayer, rightly seen as one of the most theologically explosive and truly socially revolutionary statements found anywhere in Scripture. It is not only a distinctively Christian prayer; it is a prayer that is given to us by Christ himself, who told us that when we pray, we are to pray,
“Our father who is in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
That is a basic statement not only of monotheism; it is a basic statement of Christian theism and then the next statement,
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
That rightly understood is a prayer that turns principalities and powers upside down. It turns the world upside down. It is not merely a part of the cultural landscape. Christians above all must understand that it is the declaration of a theological revolution. A revolution that is centered in the Trinitarian being of God the father, God the son and God the Holy Spirit, a revolution that states that only one name is to be hallowed and that is the name of God, our father and it is a statement that in its very earliest words declares that which is a threat to every kingdom and every power on earth,
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Giles Fraser and others are absolutely right and the Church of England is right in this sense, this is a secularist overreaction to a commercial. But then again, maybe it’s the secularists joined by believing Christians who actually understand what is at stake. Everything is different if there is a God, everything is different if he is our father, everything is different if we pray,
“His kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Secular French President attempts to encourage religion for sake of environment
Finally, tying these two stories together, The Economist of London ran a column with the headline,
“How secular France is giving faith a voice in the planet’s future.”
As you would expect, this has everything to do with the Paris Summit and as you would expect you’ll find these words,
“Surprisingly enough, this spiritual activism has been fostered by François Hollande, the socialist president of a secular republic [that’s France] who has firmly renounced the Catholic faith in which he was raised.”
So The Economist is telling us that France, a secular nation with a very secular leader, is trying to inject a spiritual dimension into the climate change talks, that’s interesting and of itself, but what kind of spiritual dimension would this be? Well, it’s explicitly not Christianity and it’s explicitly not anything that would be in any way explicit. François Hollande said,
“I respect all [religious] confessions. Mine consists of not having any.”
So a man who is now pleading for a spiritual dimension to be understood in the climate change talks taking place in his capital city has also told us that when it comes to spirituality he simply respects all,
“I respect all [religious] confessions. Mine consists of not having any.”
So a man that doesn’t have any wants someone else to have some and to have it on the issue of climate change and in a hurry.