After posting four or five consecutive entries about politics around the time of last month’s UK general election, I thought I’d take a break from writing about politics on this blog for a while. However, I now feel compelled to put pen to paper — or put fingers to keyboard — and comment on the reactions by certain politicos in the USA to the release on June 18th of Pope Francis’s 192-page document about the environment.
This papal document – to give it its technical term, this ‘encyclical letter’ – argues for “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet”, most importantly with regard to climate change, which it says is “aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is the heart of the worldwide energy system.” In other words, the Pope is saying man-made climate change is real and we’d better get serious about dealing with it.
The reactions to the encyclical that compel me to write have come from some leading lights in the American Republican Party. The Republicans are not known for their enthusiasm in telling their big-business backers to go easy on the extraction and burning of fossil fuels for the sake of combatting climate change. They also, currently, have five practising Catholics vying to be their nomination in the 2016 presidential contest, namely Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio. In fact, how a few of those nomination-seeking Catholic Republicans responded to their Pope’s words left me in fits of laughter. Bitter laughter, but laughter nonetheless.
Firstly, Jeb Bush, who in 1995 converted from Episcopalianism to Catholicism and is now a Fourth Degree (as opposed to a fourth-rate) Knight of Columbus, gave his Religious Head Honcho short shrift for his intervention in the climate-change debate. “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope,” he snorted. “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up in the political realm.”
Well, that’s odd. The Republicans have never seemed reluctant about applying religion to the political realm before. Indeed, they usually insert God, scripture and the church into American political discourse with the subtlety of a bulldozer. They bleat about their credentials as good Christians, who pray ten times a day and read the Good Book ten times a year, and then cite the Big Man Up There to justify their stance on just about everything: war, guns, abortion, gays, censorship, etc. This has especially been the case since the 1990s, a period when, to quote the US satirist Bill Maher, the Democrats under Bill Clinton moved to the centre-right while the Republicans “drove the crazy bus straight to Nut Town.”
So yes, it’s a bit rich for Jeb Bush to be suddenly warning the clergy away from politics.
And then there’s Rick Santorum, a man who in the past has vowed never to attend a same-sex marriage because it would be “a violation” of his faith; has condemned contraception as “dangerous” because it gives “licence to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be”; and has said that he doesn’t “believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” But as soon as Pope Frank started airing his views on man-made climate change, Santorum suddenly lost his enthusiasm for all things Catholic and religious too.
Hilariously, Santorum told the Pope not to stay out of politics, but to stay out of science. “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science,” he declared, “and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.” Now Santorum and the Republican Party generally saying that science should be left to the scientists is about as convincing as Idi Amin saying in 1972 that Uganda’s banking and tailoring industries should be left to the Gujarati Indians.
I haven’t seen Republicans pay any attention to the near-absolute consensus that exists among climate scientists about the reality of man-made climate change. NASA, a respected American institution that’s done far more for its country’s standing in the world than any recent Republican politician, including Jeb Bush’s hapless dad and his idiot brother, states baldly that “(m)ultiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.”
When Santorum talked about leaving science to the scientists, I presume what he really meant was leaving it to the handful of so-called scientists financed by Shell to propagate the idea that you can tear fossil fuels, which took from 50 to 350 million years to form, out of the ground and pump them into the atmosphere during the space of two-and-a-half centuries and expect this to have no effect on earth’s climate whatever.
(c) The Huffington Post
Oh, and Santorum, the man who believes that the Catholic Church has got it wrong about science and that science should be left to scientists, opposes the teaching of evolution in schools. I’m confused now.
Make no mistake. I’d be far happier if all popes, cardinals, bishops, archbishops, patriarchs, vicars, priests, rabbis, imams, muftis, ayatollahs, monks, nuns, etc., kept out of politics entirely. They’re mouthpieces for different forms of organised religion, which to me are simply systems of mass control – control over how people think, how people behave and how people reproduce. Of course, normally, right-wing politicians approve of this because control, over the less-well-off oiks who form the majority of their countries’ populations, is one of the main things they’re concerned with. (The other main thing they’re concerned with is making the rich and powerful interests in their countries even richer and more powerful.)
But it seems illogical and dishonest for Republicans to cherry-pick pieces of the church’s teachings when it suits them, but then to react with disdain to those pieces that don’t suit them: “Abortion? It’s bad because the Pope says so! Gay rights? They’re bad too, because the Pope says so – right on, Pope! Climate change? Ugh, don’t listen to the Pope! He’s an idiot!”
In the whacky world of US right-wing politics, though, the rules of logic do not apply. The Pope-right / Pope-wrong approach of the likes of Bush and Santorum is no more irrational than, say, the attitude of the National Rifle Association executive who claimed that the shooting / slaughter of nine people last week at the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, was the fault of one of the victims, the pastor – because, as a state senator, that pastor had once opposed a new law that’d allow the concealed possession of handguns in churches. No, the shooting to death of those nine people certainly wasn’t the fault of America’s gun laws (or lack of gun laws). And presumably it wasn’t the fault of the w***er who shot them, either.
Still, you can’t expect America’s right wing to have any glints of logic, or rationality, or intelligence in its soul. Not when it exists as a paranoid, delusional mass that listens only to its own babbling voices and is deaf to anything emanating from the outside world; a mass bobbing about in the sense-depriving flotation tank of hysteria, fear, pseudo-science, superstition and ignorance that is Fox News, the only TV news channel that conservative America seems to tune into these days.
Incidentally, as an indicator of I.Q. levels at Fox News, here’s a clip of its infamous political commentator Bill O’Reilly arguing how the movement of the tides explains the existence of God. Apparently, Bill has never heard of a large celestial object called the moon.
“Tide goes in, tide goes out…” What a thicko.