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David Jenkins

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Santorum's Impious Denial Theology

Posted: 02/27/2012 3:41 pm

As Rick Santorum has tried to explain his "phony theology" comment aimed at President Obama, he has revealed some radical ideas of his own. They not only seem to reflect a breathtaking lack of knowledge about basic ecology, but also run equally afoul of both conservatism and Biblical teaching.

While Santorum articulates his total rejection of scientific consensus on climate change, which he refers to as "junk science" with fervor and conviction, his certitude is not supported by either evidence or Christian theology. It can only be chalked up to ideology, misinformation or a too-generous helping of both.

He recently argued that man's dominion over the earth must be used "for our benefit, not for the Earth's benefit." He seems oblivious to the fact that the two are inseparable, that a healthy earth is essential to human life.

The symbiotic relationship between our environment and human life is not typically lost on genuine conservatives, only on right-wing ideologues. The conservative author Russell Kirk, whom Ronald Reagan referred to as "the prophet of American conservatism," wrote "Nothing is more conservative than conservation."

It was Reagan himself, heeding warnings from climate scientists about how man's use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) was depleting the earth's protective ozone layer, who pushed though the Montreal Protocol Treaty to phase out the use of these chemicals.

If conservatism is about anything, it is about prudence and rational, informed decision-making. Santorum's dismissal of scientific evidence and closed mind regarding climate change and other environmental concerns preclude prudent decision-making.

From a faith perspective, Santorum's ideas are no less disturbing. He said, "...we should not let the vagaries of nature destroy what we have helped create." Referring to the sublime actions of God's creation as "the vagaries of nature" and implying that man's creations should somehow take precedent over -- as opposed to existing in harmony with -- God's creation, seems impious.

Santorum's total rejection of climate science, in its own way, is also dismissive of God's design.
In the book of Genesis (3:19), God told Adam that his body would return to the ground when he died, saying, "...out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And unto dust you shall return." What Santorum overlooks is that God was describing a fundamental part of the carbon cycle.
The carbon cycle is a miraculous process by which trees and other plants, animals, people, and the ocean remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and transfer it into the ground where the excess is sequestered. This is how nature maintains the proper balance of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere that is required for sustaining life.

The designed resting place for a significant amount of that excess carbon is deep underground in the form of oil and coal.

When we extract oil and coal from the earth and burn it in ever increasing quantities, we throw a monkey wrench into the operation by releasing excess carbon from bygone eras back into the atmosphere.

Does it not then stand to reason that God, after designing the earth's processes to sequester excess carbon, would prefer that we respect His creation and work to reduce our carbon emissions?

Santorum, like some of the climate skeptics on talk radio, peddle the notion that the earth was created on such a grand and complex scale, it is impossible for mankind to mess it up. In other words, we can do anything we want without serious consequence.

Does that really sound like something God would say?

Actually, it sounds a lot more like something the snake in the Garden of Eden would say.

Is there any aspect of our spiritual or physical life where our actions are without consequence? Everything we do has consequences -- and the earth's life-sustaining ecology was not designed to be immune from our actions and choices.

Too much accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere disrupts the climate and causes the earth to overheat. This build-up also forces the oceans to absorb extra carbon, which makes the waters more acidic and less hospitable to marine life.

A good and faithful steward of God's creation will be in tune to how man is impacting nature, and sensitive to the ecological web of life that sustains all of us, not be dismissive of it.

Before accusing others of subscribing to a "phony theology," Santorum should first follow Jesus' advice and take the plank out of his own eye.

He would do well to consider the words of conservative author and poet T.S. Eliot.

Eliot pointed out that, "Religion, as distinguished from modern paganism, implies a life in conformity with nature," and then he wisely concluded:

"A wrong attitude towards nature implies, somewhere, a wrong attitude towards God."