Monday, August 9, 2021

We are the Reason I'm Depressed

(A person whose opinion I respect has told me that this post comes off as me being self-righteous and condescending. I don't know how else to respond except to say that it I do not see myself as being more righteous than anyone else and I don't look down on anyone who disagrees with me. I've been on the opposite side of the climate change debate and I certainly don't think I was a bad person because of it. But, I'm glad that people cared enough about me to appeal to my understanding of Scripture and my logic to help me come to what I believe is a better understanding of things. That's what I am trying to do below).

I have said something about myself for years now that I'm no longer sure is true, and that is that I'm a relentless optimist. I always believe that we're going to figure our way out of the messes we make, and find a way to become better, kinder people. But, to come clean with all of you, after the experiences of 2020-2021, I'm struggling to hold on to my relentless optimism.

I think that Christians are, at their core, pro-life. And, I don't mean that in the sense of where someone stands on policies around abortion, but that people who follow Jesus would do anything they could to help people live - whether they are unborn people or elderly people, whether they are innocent toddlers or prodigal sons of death row, whether they are soliders in the U.S. Army or Muslims in the Middle-East, Christians want people to live so that they can have a chance at redemption.

I have been struggling with anger and grief over the past year over the realization that many Christians whom I love and respect have been willing to believe lies about the COVID-19 pandemic and the vaccines that were developed to end the pandemic. Rather than say, "Oh, hey, geez, 1-3% of people dying from an extremely transmissible disease is way too many people," some Christians were content to describe COVID-19 as a flu, to quote inaccurate statistics about its fatality rate, and some even laugh-face reacted to stories about people dying after refusing to believe COVID-19 was dangerous. Some even insulted my wife for being a nurse and saying that the pandemic is real and dangerous, and some mocked people for wearing masks, and, generally, acted about masks like spoiled children being asked by their parents to wear a jacket when it was cold outside. This has caused me immense grief. I have seen people get very sick and die from COVID. The death rate in the U.S. over the past year clearly shows how devastating the pandemic has been... and yet, many people whom I know love Jesus cannot seem to realize that this is serious. Jesus blessed us with scientists researching mRNA vaccines for decades who could put that research into action to give us a safe and effective vaccine so we could go back to a normal life... and people would rather find a YouTube doctor or a fringe Facebook post that backs up their fears about a vaccine than receive the blessing God has given us in the scientific and medical community that has researched and developed this vaccine.

All this makes me sad. It also makes me angry, but not so much at Christians, as at the sources of authority who have manipulated Christians into believing these dangerous lies. Many of the Christians who don't get the vaccine or don't wear masks are sincere, faithful followers of Jesus whom I love with all of my heart. Which makes the fact that we are so divided on something that seems so obvious to me even more distressing! And, my depression about the pandemic deepens when I think about another issue that is going to become more and more prominent every day of our lives in the years to come... climate change.

The United Nations released a report today on climate change and the future of our planet. It makes clear that human activity is a driving force behind the climate changes we are experiencing, and outlines what needs to happen to arrest those changes and save our planet. I was reminded of a great article from Jesus-lover and Scientist, Dr. Richard Lindroth, of BioLogos, on what we need to know about climate change. Dr. Lindroth, who very kindly did an interview with me last summer, shares about our need to embrace strategies that require mitigation, adaptation and suffering, saying that if we do enough mitigation and adaptation, we can reduce the amount of suffering that we all have to experience. BioLogos has many great writers on this subject, who talk about how to frame conversations on climate change, about why Christians should care about climate change, and what practical things we can do to help with climate change. I love BioLogos because the scientists who write here are believers in Jesus. They are not part of some Marxist/Socialist plot to take over world. They care about human life, human souls, and the planet God has given humans to steward.

I have felt for the past 18 months that the pandemic is a preview of how we will handle the climate change crisis. Many of us will take it seriously. We will try to listen to the government and experts on the sacrifices we can make to help. We will think about the precious sanctity of human life and try to do what we can to protect and preserve the planet that sustains that life. I hope I can be part of this group. But, some of the rest of us will continue to doubt scientists, and I fear I may find myself in this group. We will find scientists outside the consensus of the scientific community who say what our itching ears want to hear. We will refuse to hear the earnest plea of Christians who are scientists who ask us to see the theological and Biblical reasons to care about climate change. We will dismiss stories of climate change natural disasters, climate change refugees, and climate change-related causes for things like pandemics, famines and building collapses out of a desire to ignore the evidence staring us in the face that the planet is being negatively affected by human activity that we can change. Many of us will say, "The planet has always experienced change, this is nothing new," instead of saying, "If there is anything we can do that can possibly help save human lives, please tell me what it is, and I will do it." We will do so without intent to hurt anyone, but also without a sincere desire to have our beliefs challenged by scientists who understand the data and have spent lifetimes studying what it means (I am not one of these scientists, just to clarify).

Instead of being depressed about this, I know what I need to do. I need to work on my conservation habits. I need to eat less meat, ride my bike to work, go on fewer long trips, and do all I can to reduce my carbon footprint. But, the reason why the pandemic was so divisive is the same reason I'm experiencing apathy about doing things to combat climate change - this only works if at least 75-80% of us are on the same team, pulling in the same direction. If 40-50% of us can't even admit that there is a game being played, so-to-speak, we are all going to lose. THAT'S why people are angry when we don't wear our masks when asked to do so, and when we cite personal freedom (which, of course, we have freedom to do what endangers others) as our reason for not getting vaccinated. We are telling people that we are not on the team, and, in fact, we are playing for the opposing team. The same reality is going to take place with climate change, and I just don't know what is going to change that reality. THAT'S why I'm depressed about the pandemic and climate change.

So, I'm going to start small... if someone told me that I could cut my meat consumption by 40% and give Elliot and Auggie, our two toddler sons, a less dangerous future, I'd do it in a heart-beat. If someone told me that by riding my bike to work, I could save a child I'll never meet in an island nation threatened by rising sea levels, I'd do it without a second-thought. Now, I know that my small decisions don't have that power... we ALL will have to make sacrifices, together, as a team. But, if I want to be a relentless optimist, if I want to be a pro-life Christian, I need to worry about me doing what I can, first.

If you have read this, thank you. If you are still skeptical about climate change, please check out Skeptical Science which is a website designed to help those who are skeptical work through their questions and concerns. If you are interested in seeing how faith and science work together to glorify God, PLEASE visit BioLogos's website. Google practical ways that we can all help with Climate Change.