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Why Some Christians Won’t Suffer The Little Greta

Swedish Climate Activist Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that a religion that has so much to do with children would be pleased to find that Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is making waves on the international stage. Actually, children is probably a bit of a sore point for various churches right now, but what I’m actually talking about is images like this:

And famous quotes like “suffer the little children”, which even people who’ve never read the bible (and we know for a fact that most Pentecostals and Evangelicals haven’t) will be able to trot out on command and more or less understand.

So why is it, then, that Pentecostals like Scomo and Trump’s Evangelical base have been so toxic in their vilification of someone who, regardless of what you think of her means and methods, is essentially on a mission to save the world? Why are we watching conservative Christians pile in on her looks, her voice, her age, her figure, or her parents in what can only be called cyber bullying? The answer, as you might have guessed, is slightly complicated.

I know quite a few members of what I and many others consider to be churches at the insanity end of the spectrum. For the most part, they’re lovely people. Always up for a chat, heavily involved in volunteer and community work, and the picture of sanity and reason when you, say, can’t help but point out the insanity of Christian fundamentalism at a dinner party in a house you’re absolutely certain you will now never be invited to again. For the most part, these people are not just model citizens, they’re model people. So why is it, then, that these same people so frequently and so vehemently plop themselves down on the wrong side of debates such as marriage equality, LGBTQI rights, and climate change?

“So why is it, then, that these same people so frequently and so vehemently plop themselves down on the wrong side of debates such as marriage equality, LGBTQI rights, and climate change?”

The cheap and easy answer is ‘religious dogma’. The narrative which I most frequently see in both the media and in discourse between private citizens is that these people, having elected to believe in a ‘Bronze Age Fairy Tale’, are simply incapable of rational thought so what the hell are you surprised about?

This doesn’t work. It’s probably going to be controversial for me to say this here, but the simple fact is that cognitive dissonance is not the especial reserve of the faithful. We’re all more or less as stupid and irrational as each other – it’s just a question of what flavour of idiocy we prefer. Which means that a belief in God doesn’t actually warrant an assumption of mental and moral incapacity – if it did, we would most of us have to discount any and all beliefs held by our pre-atheist selves. All of them.

It’s not all that relevant to my argument – I just found this uplifting and thought you might too

No. Where the answer lies is in the far more worrying intersection of religion/culture/politics. And especially identity politics. The relevant narrative here is one of victimhood. Many conservative Christians of all denominations see themselves as heroically holding the line on a kind of cultural Alamo. The loss of practising or church-directed Christianity’s grip on our culture and norms is something churches, established and fringe alike, naturally find deeply worrying. And the 101 playbook for churches for millennia has been to mobilise the base when under threat.

Many conservative Christians of all denominations see themselves as heroically holding the line on a kind of cultural Alamo.

So this is how we arrive at a situation where a biblical literalist like Scomo, who supposedly must believe that stewardship of the planet is a sacred duty handed down to him by Yahweh, can deny climate science, promote coal, and attack a sixteen year old girl for speaking her mind. And what’s worse, for capturing the attention and imaginations of the untold masses in a way that he could never dream of achieving.

For a Christian of Scomo’s ilk, ‘globalists’ (which is now a blanket term of abuse for anyone who attempts to be an intellectual and believes in the international system) are godless technocrats who want to dissolve all national and moral borders and create a kind of Huxley-esque Brave New World. What makes this vision of the world so compelling for so many is that it’s half right. ‘Globalists’ do see the second order effect of hard sovereignty and nationalism as catastrophic war, so they want to erode it a little. They do want to create a set of universal norms that are emphatically free of any single religious ideology. I mean, that’d actually be the definition of ‘universal norm’. And ‘globalists’ do definitely want to destroy the Christendom that so many Pentecostals, Evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox, etc. created over millennia of hatred, bloodshed, exploitation, and forced conversion.

The reason they want to do this is because they understand that as miraculous as the west’s achievements have been, they have been intermixed with shameful atrocities to a morally unacceptable level. That the only way forward is to create a world which is like the one where the west was the best, only with room for ‘the rest’. To move past the old gods and old ways which helped to get us here, in the same way that most societies tend to prefer their veterans and their past leaders to live quietly on a farm somewhere instead of remaining obnoxiously visible.

Church leaders have sold this narrative of secular attack so successfully that not only have their faithful bought it, but so have secular progressives.

So of course the Christians cannot suffer Greta Thunberg. She is the figurehead of a movement that they see as aggressively and deliberately sidelining them. The tragedy of it all is that it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s no actual corollary between climate activism and disdain for the religious, in the same way that there is no necessary contradiction between religiously-based social activism and inclusion of secular ethicism. It’s just another case of The Establishment vs The People. Church leaders have sold this narrative of secular attack so successfully that not only have their faithful bought it, but so have secular progressives. We’re now in a situation where both sides of this argument think the other beyond redemption/reason.

Which is a kind of genius, really, as it’s the only way I can think of for nervous power elites to create a situation in which we all fragment to the point of ineffectuality, thus helping them to maintain the particular status quo in which they remain on top.