Science and Religion and Climate Change


I have seen some recent research data comparing religious beliefs with acceptance of basic scientific standards.  For instance, when it comes to climate change, people in the US are split as to the level of concern they have for it.  However, when broken down into categories, Hispanic Catholics by a wide margin, 73 percent, are very concerned or somewhat concerned about it, but white Catholics much less so, only 41%.  White evangelicals voice the least concern, 35 percent, but white mainline Protestants are not much higher, 43 percent.

As a mathematician, I look at this data, and it is obvious that race plays a huge role.  What the data doesn’t tell me is why?  What is it about religious practices or beliefs of white people in general, that allows for such a laissez-faire attitude about climate change.

I am speculating at this point, but I think it comes down to a couple of things.  One, due to our overall privileged status in our country, I think we simply believe that for some reason, it just doesn’t affect us.  This is of course, demonstrably false, but coming from a place of privilege, I think it is easy to ignore climate change issues and consequences. 

Secondly, noting that Hispanic Catholics show the most concern, I believe there is also a religious perspective at play.  Pope Francis has been very engaged in climate change conversations, even writing an encyclical on it.  I have no doubts that this impacts the concern from the Hispanic Catholic demographic group.  Why doesn’t have more impact on white Catholics?  See reason No. 1 above.

I also believe religious beliefs come into play with the lack of concern among white evangelicals.  As one congressperson committed just this week, “God will take care of it.”  I have heard that among my own evangelical family members.  So, even if climate change is real, even if it is caused by human factors, we still don’t have to worry about it because God will fix our mess.  

That’s an interesting theology.  I tend to believe that good can come from chaos, or bad situations, or heartaches, but I also believe in stewardship.  In other words, I have a responsibility to the planet on which I live to care for it, much as I have a responsibility as a parent to care for my children.  We wouldn’t neglect or actively cause harm to our children and suggest it okay to fall back on, “God will fix the mess I made with them.”

Let’s not use our religious faith as an excuse to ignore our stewardship.  Let’s not use our religious convictions to ignore our religious responsibilities.  And let’s not use our religious beliefs to suggest that science is our enemy.  Quite the opposite, science is a grand vehicle for helping us understand how to be good stewards, how to be faithful, and how to live in communion with creation.

Rev. Mary Wilson is pastor of Church of the Savior in Cedar Park, which is affiliated with The United Church of Christ, American Baptist Churches - USA and The Alliance of Baptists.