The Church of England’s satirical take on climate change

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | May 01, 2015

Anglican Bishop Nicholas Holtam has praised Tuesday’s statement on climate change by two pontifical academies. But this praise has all the earmarks of satire.

“Climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our day,” he begins. Really? It sounds suspiciously like a material or technical challenge to me, not that those do not involve moral responses. In any case only a religious leader who has lost all sense of what Christianity means and what a moral life demands could possibly identify climate change as the “greatest” moral challenge.

Coming from any other source but the Anglican Church (which never issues a moral judgment without ensuring that it has already been adopted by the dominant culture), this would clearly be recognized as satire. It is certainly more generous to classify it as satire, as we would had the bishop insisted that the recent increase in polar ice presents us with a monumental spiritual task.

Moreover, understood as satire the text goes from strength to strength. Bishop Holtam says he is delighted that the two pontifical science academies have “so clearly supported the scientific consensus that the major driver of climate change is almost certainly our burning of fossil fuels” (emphasis added).

Notice again the conflation between the Catholic Church’s moral authority and modern science. Is it a moral or spiritual task to support a scientific consensus? (If you answer yes, you have not yet read Phil Lawler’s recent essay, The Vatican’s dangerous embrace of climate-change theory.) When an obvious departure from reality is stressed this much, we typically assume it is deliberate: We are dealing with satire. Recall, for example, Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal.

Now notice how the scientific consensus is defined. It is a general agreement that something is “almost certainly” true. But “almost certainly” has never been an acceptable basis for scientific statements, nor is it the stuff of which religious pronouncements are made.

Rather “almost certainly” calls to mind instances of humor, rather like the famous line which is now being used as a sound bite on a local sports-talk radio station. The announcer intones: “Sixty percent of the time, it works every time.”

This is a joke. It should help us recognize the category of discourse in question. It provides our final interpretive clue.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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