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Sheldon Whitehouse: God will not save USA from climate chaos

US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse last week delivered a stark message to climate sceptic colleagues on Capitol Hill – God will allow us to ruin the planet.

The Rhode Island Senator’s 20-minute address said there would be no “magical deliverance” from troubles caused by rising carbon emissions.

Members of Congress such as James Inhofe and John Shimkus have previously claimed that God determined changes in the weather – not humans.

Recently another unnamed Senator told a meeting God would not allow planet earth to be damaged – prompting this blistering response from Whitehouse.

Watch it here or read the speech below the video.

Mr. President, as I’m sure you suspect, I am back on the Floor again to urge that we awaken to what carbon pollution is doing to our planet, to our oceans, to our seasons, to our storms.

And I wonder, “Why is it that we are so comfortable asleep, when the warnings are so many and so real?”  What could beguile us away from wakefulness and duty?  I was recently at a Senate meeting where I heard a member of our Senate community say, “God won’t allow us to ruin our planet.”  God won’t allow us to ruin our planet. Maybe that’s why we do nothing: we are comfortable that God somehow won’t allow us to ruin our planet.  That seems such an extraordinary notion that I thought I would reflect on it in my remarks this week.

First of all, the statement refers to God:  it is couched in religious terms.  But is it really an expression of religious inquiry?  I think not.  It is less an expression of religious thinking than it is of magical thinking.  The statement that God won’t allow us to ruin our planet sweeps aside ethics, responsibilities, consequences, duties, even awareness.  It comforts us with the anodyne assumption that—no matter what we do—some undefined presence will, through some undefined measure, make things right, clean up our mess.  That is seeking magical deliverance from our troubles, not divine guidance through our troubles.

So is God really here just to tidy up after our sins and follies, to immunize us from their consequence?  If that is true, why does the Bible say in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived . . .  whatever one sows, that will he also reap”?  If God is just a tidy-up-after-us God, why does the Book of Job 4:8 warn that “those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same”?  If God is not a god of consequences, why does Luke 6:38 tell us, “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you,” and Proverbs 22:8 tell us, “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity”?

Jeremiah 17:10 says, “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”  So it seems that we should not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or sit in the seat of scoffers, and then expect there will be no bitter fruit of our deeds, no consequence.   We are warned in the Bible not to plow iniquity, not to eat the fruit of lies; where in the Bible are we assured of safety if we do?  I see no assurances of that.  The Bible says at1 Samuel 2:3 “the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed,” and that at 2 Thessalonians 1:6 “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict.”  Those who “sow the wind,” the Bible says, “they shall reap the whirlwind.”

And look at our own American history.  If God is just here to tidy up after our sins and follies, how could Abraham Lincoln say this about our bloody Civil War to free and redeem us from the sin of slavery?  Here’s what Lincoln said about that war: “Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said: ‘The judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.’”  That was Abraham Lincoln.  Blood, drawn by the sword, in equal measure to that drawn by the lash, as the true and righteous judgment of the Lord—that doesn’t sound like a God of amnesty.

Go to the very beginning.  If we live in a state of God-given general amnesty from consequences, why were Adam and Eve expelled from Eden for their sin?  Why was Cain sent into the wilderness, condemned to wander, for the crime against his brother?  If it is your assertion that God’s love has no measure of tough love, wander a bit through the Old Testament before getting too married to that idea.  And if the Old Testament is too bloodthirsty for you, look at Revelations 11:18:  “And thy wrath is come, and the time . . . that thou . . . shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.”  Destroy them which destroy the earth.

If we believe in an all-powerful God, we must then believe that God gave us this Earth, and we must in turn believe that God gave us its laws of gravity, of chemistry, of physics.  We must also believe that God gave us our human powers of intellect and reason.  He gives us these powers so that we his children can learn and understand Earth’s natural laws, which he also gave us.  So that, as His children, we can use that understanding of Earth’s natural laws to build and create and prosper on His Earth.  And hasn’t that in fact been the path of human progress?  We learn these natural laws, and we apply them, to build and create, and we prosper.

So why then, when we ignore His plain natural laws, when we ignore the obvious conclusions to be drawn by our God-given intellect and reason, why then would God, the tidy-up God, drop in and spare us?  Why would He allow an innocent child to burn its hand when it touches the hot stove, but protect us from this lesson?  Why would He allow a badly engineered bridge or building to fall, killing innocent people, but protect us from this mistake?  Why would He allow cholera to kill in epidemics, until we figure out that the well water is contaminated?  The Earth’s natural laws and our capacity to divine them are God’s great gift to us, allowing us to learn, and build great things, and cure disease.  But God’s gift to us of a planet with natural laws and natural order has, as an integral part of that gift, consequences.  Consequences when we get that law and order wrong. The child’s hand burns; the bridge falls; the disease spreads. If it didn’t matter whether we got it right or wrong, there’d be no value to God’s creation of that natural law and order in the first place.

So, is that then to be our answer to polluting our atmosphere with carbon by the megaton and changing our climate and changing our seas?  Is it to be our answer to that that God would not allow us to ruin our planet?

We are to continue to pollute our Earth, with literally megatons each year of carbon, heating up our atmosphere, acidifying our seas, knowing full well by His natural laws what the consequences are, and instead of correcting our own behavior, we’re going to bet on a miracle?  That’s the plan?

Excuse me, but that’s not really the American way.  President Kennedy described the American way as he ended his inaugural address connecting our work to God’s: “. . . let us go forth,” he said, “to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

That is the order of things.  We are here to do God’s work; He is not to do ours.  How arrogant, how very far from humility, would be the self-satisfied, smug assurance that God, a tidy-up-after-us god, will come and clean up our mess; that on this Earth God’s work need not be our own.

Remember the story of the man trapped in his house during a huge flood. A faithful man, he trusted God to save him.  As the waters began to rise in his house, his neighbor offered him a ride to safety.  And he said, “I am waiting for God to save me,” so the neighbor got in his pick-up truck and drove away.  As the water rose, the man climbed to the second floor of his house.  And a boat came by his window with people who were heading for safe ground.  They threw a rope and they yelled at the man to climb out and come with them.  He told them “No, I trust in God to save me.”  They shook their heads and they moved on.  The floodwaters kept rising, and the man clambered to his roof.  A helicopter flew by and a voice came over the loudspeaker offering to lower a ladder to the man and let him climb up, and fly to safety.  The man waived the helicopter away, shouting back that he counted on God to save him.  So the helicopter left.  Well, eventually the floodwaters swept over the roof and the man was drowned.   When the man reached heaven, he had some questions for God.  “God,” he asked, “didn’t I trust in you to save me?  Why did you let me drown?”  God answered, “I sent you a pick-up truck, I sent you a boat, I sent you a helicopter.  You refused my help.”  Just as God sent the pick-up truck, the boat, and the helicopter to the drowning man, He has sent us everything we need to solve this carbon pollution problem.  We just refuse.  We just refuse.  Some of us even deny that the floodwaters are rising.

Mr. President, as I’ve indicated in previous speeches, climate denial is bad science, indeed it’s such bad science it falls into the category of falsehood.  Climate denial is bad economics, ignoring that in a proper marketplace the costs of carbon pollution should be factored into the price of carbon. Climate denial is bad policy in any number of areas: bad national security policy, bad environmental policy, bad foreign policy, bad economic policy.

Though I’m a Senator not a preacher, from everything I’ve learned and believe, it seems to me that climate denial is also bad religion, and bad morals.  Hopes for a nanny God, who will with a miracle grant us amnesty from our folly, that’s not aligned with either history or text of the Bible.

We need to face up to the fact that there is only one leg on which climate denial stands: money.  The polluters give and spend money to create false doubt.  The polluters give and spend money to buy political influence.  The polluters give and spend money to keep polluting.  That’s it.  That’s it.  Not truth, not science, not economics, not safety, not policy, and certainly not religion, nor morality.  Nothing supports climate denial.  Nothing except money.  But in Congress, in this temple, money rules; so here I stand, in one of the last places on Earth that is still a haven to climate denial.  In our arrogance, we here in Congress think that we can somehow ignore or trump Earth’s natural laws, laws of chemistry, laws of physics, laws of science, with our own political lawmaking, with our own political influence.  But we’re fools to think that.  The laws of chemistry and the laws of physics neither know, nor care, what we say or do here.  So we need to wake up.  We need to walk not in the counsel of the wicked, nor sit in the seat of scoffers, but with due humility awaken to our duty and get to work. Because here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.

Thank you very much, I yield the floor.

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  • John Folderstein

    A powerful message well delivered. We need the U.S. Senate to wake up and address this critical problem. The whole world has been waiting for the U.S. to lead on this issue for 15 years, but the Senate has blocked action for that long. Now it’s almost too late. Come on!