Friday, September 16, 2011

Though I’m not a great fan of climate models, I do believe climate change is real and has anthropogenic origins. Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, went on record saying that pouring research dollars into climate research is disastrous to the economy. Needless to say, he makes sweeping statements of disbelief among scientists about the reality of climate change. According to a 2010 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 97-98% of the world’s 1,372 scientists “most actively publishing in the field” of climate research are quite certain of the idea of anthropogenic climate change, or climate change brought about by human actions.

Climate change deniers – skeptics still have their place in my heart – take to God as an opposition to reality-based arguments about human actions. The Republican insistence on rejecting this reality for another, intangible one isn’t just bad science; it is, quite literally, bad faith.

Ten Commandments is one movie that has a special place in my heart. Of course, Charles Hesterton (who plays Moses) is not my pick for that role. Infinitely better than him in his appearance as Moses is the charming Israeli mathematician, Harry Furstenberg. In any case, the most interesting part of this long movie was how lead out of evil Egypt by Moses, the Israelites get to wait at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses goes to the top to get the word of God. Meanwhile, the folks get restless waiting for a week and create a golden calf. So, does this mean they no longer believe in God?

Here, after all, were people who, just a few weeks before, had witnessed with their own eyes the glories of God, but, impatient with their absent leader, waited barely a month before fashioning a more tangible deity out of precious metals. In Sinai, the Israelites knew God with their minds, but not with their hearts. They realized that the Almighty was real and present, but they did not yet believe in him.

We mustn’t blame them. God is a mighty difficult idea to grasp. Proof of his existence doesn’t make it any easier. Faith is required. Because faith, Moses knows, is more than believing in things we’ll never know for certain exist; faith is also the wisdom to believe in things we know for certain do.

Which brings us back to the Republicans. The adherence of so many in the party to counterfactual narratives is often explained away by faith. Just what kind of faith Rick Perry repeatedly makes clear. In a speech in Virginia earlier this week, Perry said that his “faith journey is not the story of someone who turned to God because I wanted to. It was because I had nowhere else to turn. I was lost spiritually and emotionally.”

Perry, then, assumes that if he trusts in God, God will tell him what to do. He believes, if we take him at his word, that he is capable of interpreting the precise and unerring will of the Creator. This is the opposite of Moses’ brand of faith. For Perry, faith comes first, and proof is unnecessary; for Moses, proof comes first, and faith must follow. Perry was lost until he found God; Moses found God first and then made his people wander in the desert for 40 years, until they were ready—intellectually as well as emotionally—to embrace what faith meant.
And what faith really means is responsibility. Because we are incapable of knowing God’s mind—and by “we” I mean decent people of all political persuasions who are humbled by their belief in God—we’re left grappling with life’s greatest mysteries by ourselves. We try, like children playing a game with rules they don’t entirely understand, to make sense of what might seem, to the unbelieving, like a cruel and random existence. All we can do is our best, and our only guide is our heart and its call for compassion.

The Israelites at Sinai didn’t understand this idea at first. They yearned for a god they could grasp, a shiny golden god, a god they believed could redeem them. It took them four decades in the wilderness to learn that only they could redeem themselves, and that faith isn’t, in itself, salvation, but merely its engine

Faith follows facts. Now I get why Jews are so mightily good at exact sciences.

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