As many commentators and “global warming skeptics” have observed, climate science has metamorphosed into a religion—or, more accurately, a cult in religious dress. It has its high priests (Al Gore, David Suzuki, James Hansen, Rajendra Pachauri), its sacred texts such as computer models whose inconsistencies and disparities are blithely ignored by the myriads of true believers, its prevailing orthodoxies that cannot safely be questioned or violated, and its Second Ecumenical Council of the Global Warming Vatican (after Kyoto), known as the Copenhagen Climate Conference. Carbon taxes resemble the traffic in Indulgences during the Medieval era as energy sinners buy absolution from a profiteering clergy. A divinity called Gaia now receives the prayers and invocations of a vast sodality of devout worshippers. The new religion is here, a resurgent faith, as George Will writes, “in man-made global warming [which] is now a tissue of assertions impervious to evidence.”
The Bible of the Global Warming campaign has not yet been compiled and authorized. But it is in process of being assembled piecemeal by a swarm of “prophets,” scribes and conclave-like institutions—“a priesthood of experts,” in the words of Patrick Keeney of the Imaginative Education Research Group, “who alone are in a position to adjudicate truth, and who the rest of us must blindly follow.” In particular, James Lovelock deserves special mention as the chief evangelist and apostolic virtuoso of the Green movement. His 1998 The Ages of Gaia effectively introduced the idea of the Great Goddess as the divine incumbent to the empty throne of heaven. The patriarchal god had been cashiered—though the ecclesiastical trimmings have been preserved. Lovelock’s follow-up screed The Revenge of Gaia, published in 2006, consolidated the apotheosis while introducing a note, if not a veritable movie score, of urgency, menace and a sense of apocalyptic deadline. This obviously struck a resonant chord in the modern western sensibility with its lurid premonition of impending planetary disaster.
Lovelock proposes in The Revenge of Gaia that, in the face of imminent catastrophe, “we write a guidebook for our survivors to help them rebuild civilization without repeating too many of our mistakes.” This book would not only be a manual to lead our descendants through the debris of a defunct world—a kind of Maimonidean update of The Guide of the Perplexed—but a new Bible lighting the way to salvation. It would be a book “written on durable paper with long-lasting print” which we would need “to accept and believe in.” Indeed, he compares it to “Tyndale’s Bible, a book of knowledge written with authority” and “splendid” to read. Perhaps it would help us to terraform a world “that could easily be described as Hell: so hot, so deadly that only a handful of the teeming billions now alive will survive.”
Nevertheless, he allows, we still have one last, fading chance to avoid plunging into Hell, if only we recognize the need for “restrictions, rationing and in addition suffer for a while a loss of freedom.” We must put our trust in a sort of clerical synod whom he describes as a “small permanent group of strategists” and who will save us from damnation. Such a consistory would have to be modeled on “the climate agencies of the UN” which, we are told, “have performed magnificently, as the IPCC proves.” The irony is mordant. One wonders what Lovelock would say today. How would he extenuate “the climate agencies of the UN” now that they have been shown to be seething bogs of corruption, engines of fiscal malfeasance and purveyors of spurious data?
There are many things that Lovelock and his fellow Gaianologists do not understand. First of all, when the dictates of faith determine our attempts to manage the natural world, we generally end up doing far more harm than good. Sanctimonious ignorance—or willful suppression of concrete facts—supplants informed research and genuine knowledge. Genuine spirituality then gives way to a profusion of cults, fads, social rituals, fabular constructs, romantic fetishes and rampant hero-worship. Serious conviction is replaced by earnest frivolity and rooted egotism is masked by the fiction of a sublime transmutation. Assuming, of course, that the primary motive for many is not mere self-aggrandizement, the accumulation of power, prestige and lucrative emoluments, of which the IPCC, pace Lovelock, has proven to be one of the chief exemplars on the contemporary scene. It has “performed magnificently” indeed.
Secondly, Gaia is probably the wrong goddess to worship. She is, after Chaos, the most ancient classical divinity, who united in incestuous passion with her son Uranus to produce the race of Titans. And the Titans are remembered for their war against the gods. But her cataclysmic origins, acts and sequels are no impediment to Lovelock’s reflections or, rather, to his saccharine adoration of the Great Goddess. In The Ages of Gaia, he compares Gaia to the Virgin Mary. “What if Mary is another name for Gaia,” he speculates, concluding that “her capacity for virgin birth is no miracle or parthenogenetic aberration…She is of this Universe and, conceivably, a part of God…That is why, for me, Gaia is a religious as well as a scientific concept, and in both spheres it is manageable.” Ay, there’s the rub. And there’s the nonsense.
For the movement of which Lovelock is a principle founder has now come to resemble the Sabbatarian clergy of Victorian England that, in the words of Jerome Hamilton Buckley, author of The Victorian Temper, had “established an authority which its opponents…might not easily defy.” The Sabbatarian rule, Buckley explains, had become an “expression of the cult of respectability” at a time when “the Whig aristocrats [read: liberals, or Democrats] were rapidly dissipating their material resources.” So-called “Climate Science” today has devolved, to transpose Buckley’s words, into “an overt Sunday-school morality” accompanied by a rigid intolerance that conceals “a basic ethical uncertainty.”
The similarities are striking: autocratic control of comportment and belief, immense self-righteousness, dubious moral foundations, the reckless squandering of funds. The difference is that the divinity we now venerate is not God the Father who is personally involved in the destiny of mankind but the incarnation of a pagan supremacy who cares nothing for human activity, whether reverent or invasive. Gaia is a false god (or goddess), utterly devoid of the values we affect to cherish and who confers neither obligation nor love upon us. We assign our own maudlin affectations to the goddess, idealizing that which has no interest in us whatsoever and which cannot open and sustain a dialogue with the human soul.
In actuality, we have come to revere a cold, deterministic and solipsistic deity more at home in the world of the ancient Greeks and Romans than in the spirit or psyche of modern man. She represents both a misunderstanding and a betrayal, a deity we have sentimentalized as a nurturing mother but who is only a displacement of our own self-infatuation, as the pagan gods were essentially the embodiments of the traits and attributes of their votaries. What we are witnessing is a form of self-worship, and the sense of our own ostensible planetary credentials is fueled by a quasi-religious dementia that operates in defiance of critical facts. The new theology is only a variant of the Sabbatarian gospel catering mainly to windy enthusiasts and canonical fanatics while imposing a strict regime of censorship upon agnostics and dissenters.
Although the metaphors and, let’s say, cosmetic properties that cluster around the global warming delirium owe their provenance to Judeo-Christian devotional literature and puritanical conviction, the substance of the movement is essentially a form of pagan idolatry. This appears to be the only way a secular culture which denies its heritage, yet cannot evade it, is able to justify and affirm its need for redemptive consummation, signifying a hunger for spiritual nourishment that goes otherwise unsatisfied. The urge to belong to something that is numinous, to form a community of believers, to parrot a confession and join a hieratic collective is almost impossible to resist. Like James Lovelock and a kindred host of officious doomsayers, we find ourselves subject to a pervasive fever inspired by an apocryphal religious groundswell. And so we are now Gaia’s obedient, exalted and fearful children.
Welcome to the new paganism.