04/17/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Myth-Taking Reality: How Propagandists Make So Many Deny Climate Change

"We thank you, Lord, for every success which, through your grace, you have so far granted him for the good of our people." -- Bishop Meiser

These banal, commonplace words might well have been spoken about George W. Bush when he was president, and could, though with somewhat less likelihood, be spoken today about President Barack Obama. They were, however, uttered by Bishop Hans Meiser of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria. He spoke them in 1937, and the object of his praise, apart from God, was Adolph Hitler.

Bishop Meiser, having been arrested by the Nazis only three years before, had decided belatedly to play his part in the myth-making apparatus that elevated Hitler from elected politician to anointed and infallible Fuhrer. Meiser's part was small but significant, considering that Hitler had already won over many of the Catholics in his country. The symbol-laden 1936 Berlin Olympics did wonders for Hitler's image. Indeed, no one has ever made such dramatic and successful use of myth as the Nazis did in consolidating absolute power.

I mention this not to make some outlandish comparison between Hitler and either Bush or Obama, but to drive home the point that when myth ties together religion and politics, bland-sounding words can easily turn combustible. And what goes up in flames first is reason.

We see this, retrospectively, in the rush to invade Iraq. George W. Bush believed that God had chosen him to be His scourge in Babylon, and much of the nation joined in that belief. The storyline was that, once the devil Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction had been routed, peace and prosperity would blossom in the deserts of the Middle East. Pure myth.

Now, a different and even more dangerous myth is taking hold. It appears, on its face, to be purely secular, even scientific. It is, at root, mythological. Here's how it goes:

There are some errors in a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This constitutes proof that the whole program is a massive hoax intended to support a liberal political agenda for robbing taxpayers blind. Therefore, global warming research is not science and should be defunded. That is the gist of the deniers' latest sally. And who better to deliver the thrust than Fox News?

Global warming skeptics are agog that President Obama is seeking to dramatically increase federal funding for global warming research in the wake of the Climate-gate scandals that have emerged during the last three months.

It's not every day that a Fox propagandist gets to trot out the word "agog." It has a fine biblical resonance, recalling Gog of Magog, the evil prince against whom the Lord commanded we set our face. Applying his own special brand of exegesis to work, President Bush told his French counterpart that Gog and Magog were hard at work in the Middle East, fulfilling the ancient prophecies -- or so President Jacques Chirac recalled.

But not all deniers are so coy about connecting the dots. In the tradition of rabble-rousing mythmakers everywhere, they have three messages for the audience:

1) We've been duped, cheated and humiliated.
2) "They" are evil, subhuman creatures.
3) "We" are the pure, long-suffering, righteous ones.

This does not always have to be a religious message. But it works best when infused with religion. Get God's imprimatur for your position, and it becomes unassailable. And so, it comes as no surprise to find religious language creeping into the deniers' canon. After hammering home the claim that climate change is all about theft-by-taxation, here's how conservative writer and talking head Selwyn Duke links global warming concerns with Islamic terrorism:

In the case of the climate con artists, the pain would be great and the price steep. Their creed has been likened to a religion, and in many ways it is. They aren't global-warming theorists. They are global-warming fundamentalists. ...[T]o relinquish it would be to relinquish themselves; to call it a lie is to call their lives a lie. It's just a bit like asking a Jihadist to give up Islam.

The flip side of the coin is that the righteous have nothing to worry about. Not long ago, Congressman John Shimkus, R-IL, read into the record Bible passages that say God has promised he will never harm the Earth again until the End of Days. So, Rep. Shimkus tells us, the claims of danger from global warming could not possibly be true. "I believe that's the infallible word of God, and that's the way it's gonna be for His creation," the congressman concluded. Case closed!

Now, let me be clear: I don't know precisely what dangers climate change poses. Neither does anyone else. Maybe we'll be lucky. But climate science gives us a rough approximation through the aggregate of a lot of different streams of evidence. Taken together, they give cause for concern.
How reliable is that evidence? How likely is it that the whole thing could be a hoax perpetrated by socialists out to steal the wealth of hard-working free-enterprisers?

The fact that some scientists cheat, lie, and say mean things about people they disagree with should come as no surprise to any of us. Science is a human undertaking. What differentiates science from, say, religion, is that science has a self-correcting mechanism, inasmuch as its object of study is the natural world and its rules require full revelation of data and method, peer review, and most important, that competing teams of scientists get a crack at the same phenomena.

It doesn't always work perfectly. Mistakes are made. Frauds are perpetrated. But over time, the evidence always wins. You can't keep a good fact down. That is especially true with climate, which is accessible to everyone and yet requires international scientific studies, involving lots of competing interests, personalities, and cultures. The notion that scientists from many disciplines, languages, nations, and political orientations could forge a conspiracy to perpetrate a global climate hoax is, well, insane. The risk of simply dismissing rather than carefully evaluating the risks implied by climate change data is even more insane.

But history shows that myth can make people insane. Don't take my word for it. Ask the Germans.