Fossil Fuel is Dead

windfarm-shrunk.jpgSome of my best friends are unbelievers or skeptics. They point out that there are scientists who are unconvinced; they believe the jury is still out; or they say there is just not enough evidence. They don’t believe in global warming.

Well, some of my friends are now reluctantly admitting that it is warming up–they’ve seen pictures of the poor polar bears’ homes melting right underneath their feet. So now they say, “alright, it’s warming; but it’s not our fault; it’s just a normal cycle.”

My daughter convinced me over a year ago. She reviewed a review of 1000 scientific studies that say global warming is a fact, and we are responsible (click here to see her review).

I do understand that the science of climate study is incredibly complex. In fact that’s where the expression “the butterfly effect” comes from. It’s not that anyone literally believes that a butterfly flapping its wings could cause a tsunami; it’s just that the mathematical calculations are so complex that a tiny variation early in the equations could have tremendous ramifications later on.

So what is a non-scientist to do? I look at it two ways: first, I have a basic trust that, if there is no other hidden motive, we should probably trust the scientists. Or to put it another way, all I can do is trust the majority of scientists, after ruling out those who may have a vested interest.

That’s why (apart from a couple of experiments in junior high) I never took up smoking. For over thirty years the tobacco companies had their experts who said, “the jury is still out, there is no evidence to prove that smoking causes cancer.” I thought it best to rule out the scientists who worked for the tobacco companies and follow the findings of the majority of other scientists. I’m glad I did, because as my brother recently told me, “Most men our age who smoke are having breathing problems.”

The other way I look at it is in terms of Pascal’s wager. The global warming version of it is this: If those who are warning about global warning are right–and if we don’t listen, we are (to quote some of my old friends) in deep frijoles, up that well-known creek without a paddle, in a world of hurt.

But what if we do take action to forfend the danger that brother Al is warning us about, and it turns out he was wrong? In that case we will have done the following:

We will have eliminated our dependence on oil from unstable countries ruled by the world’s worst despots. We will have stopped funding terrorists. We will have developed new technologies and new industries. We will have revitalized our economy and improved our quality of life.

Maybe we will drive less and walk more. In that case we will improve our health. If we do these things, and it turns out that Al Gore’s Nobel prize was undeserved; that he was wrong, or hypocritical (living in a big house and driving an SUV), well we will still owe him a debt of gratitude.

Last week the health and environment department in my state ruled against two new big coal burning electrical plants. Some of the friends of big coal are hopping mad. They are setting their hopes on the dead industry of the past; not on the new opportunities of the future.

Three Tasks for Theology

When my brother-in-law was about five he used to love telling a knock-knock joke: Knock-knock. Who’s there? Amos. Amos who? Amos bit me!

Then he would roar with laughter. He thought it was hilarious. He didn’t realize he was leaving out an important syllable. The joke was supposed to be “Amos-quito bit me.”

I know plenty of folks who have the special talent “to mar a curious tale in telling it.” Many of us can sing a song out of tune and still somehow manage to get the words right.

Theology is reflection on the meaning and content of our faith, it is scrutiny into the adequacy of the way we articulate our faith. Sometimes we explain it poorly. That doesn’t mean our faith is defective; it’s just like singing a tune out of tune. There’s nothing wrong with the song, but our singing of it is not very appealing.

Theology is not only the business of professionals; all of us should examine the way we articulate our faith. Theology has three main tasks; the trick is keeping them in balance.

The first task is to communicate the meaning of our faith to those who do not yet share it. To do this effectively we first have to understand the people with whom we wish to communicate. That means we have to be good listeners before we speak.

Paul the apostle called it “becoming all things to all people.” Paul Tillich called it the method of correlation: trying to find the questions people are asking before we give our answers. Then we can try to express the good news in a way they can understand.

The temptation is to package or market the gospel in a way that gives away too much, that compromises something essential. It is the temptation of trying to appease rather than challenge.

The second task of theology is the ongoing work of reformation. Put bluntly this means recognizing that a lot of things we are doing are wrong and a lot of what we are saying is bunk. The followers of Christ are always like his first disciples, people of little faith, short-sighted, hard-headed, and slow to learn. The church is always in danger of corruption, and is always in need of renewal. So we have to continually go back to the sources and ask What are we missing? What are we getting wrong? What are we distorting.

The third task of theology is conservative. We didn’t invent the faith; we inherited it and are entrusted with the mission of passing it on whole and intact. In trying to be relevant or trying to correct the faults of others, we risk losing something essential in the historic faith.

Anne Rice described her hesitance to embrace Christianity after she began to lose faith in atheism. The way other Christians expressed their faith struck her ears as wrong and she wondered how she could associate with them. For example she said, “How could I join with fellow believers who thought my gay son was going to hell? . . . How could I affirm my belief in a faith that was itself so characterized by argument and strife?”

Her answer was, “Well, what happened to me on that Sunday that I returned to faith was this: I received a glimpse into what I can only call the Infinite Mercy of God.”