Climate Change Doubting Thomases

Thomas not only needed proof. He not only needed to believe what he was seeing. He needed to touch the obvious. He needed to experience with his sense of touch the truth of the matter – that this was Jesus risen right before him, alive despite crucifixion, alive despite death, alive despite the law of nature that says there is no coming back after death.

I ponder our reading from the Gospel of John this morning. A day after Earth Day, a day after the March for Science, knowing Climate Change is real but hundreds of thousands of people, many if not most of them religious, doubt and deny the science.

When approaching scripture, the tendency for the preacher is to find corollaries for today, to find easy ways to apply what the scripture says and the reality here and now. 

Initially, the parallel between doubting Thomas who doubts what he senses with his eyes and needs to verify it with another sense, his sense of touch, and those who doubt the science when it comes to climate change seems clear. Climate change deniers are doubting Thomas in the story. Thomas doesn’t believe what is clearly reality – that it is resurrected Jesus in front of him.

However, if we delve a little differently into the story, we see that Thomas is actually being a good scientist. He has heard the hypothesis – Jesus is alive. However, he wants to confirm it himself with a couple material experiments. Look and touch. Test and verify the test. Thomas sees what he sees, yes. But sometimes what we see isn’t always so obvious. Our eyes can play tricks on us. There are numerous examples of optical illusions that trick our brain into seeing something that in reality isn’t there. Grief has been known to produce visions and experiences that our material world cannot explain.

So Thomas wants to test the hypothesis. Is this really Jesus. So he asks to touch the wounds of Jesus. Jesus allows this.

And what happens? Thomas asserts that, yes, Jesus is Lord. His tests verify that Christ is risen.

Thomas was a doubter. But he was not a denier. What's more, his doubt led to trust. He came to trust his eyes and his heart and the reality before, and in the end, says, yes, it is true. And Thomas acted accordingly, becoming one of the greatest apostles of Jesus, taking Christianity all the way to India, and eventually becoming a martyr for his discipleship.

How can we stem the tide of doubting thomases becoming denying thomases? What did Jesus do that effectively prevented Thomas from falling deeper into doubt and eventually denying reality?

The answer to this I think can help us speak to folks among us who deny that the climate is changing and that human activity are primarily effecting that change.

First of all, Jesus does not judge Thomas as he is talking to him about his doubts. It would have been easy for Jesus in the story to have said, come on Thomas, don’t be a fool. It is me. All the others are not doubting it! Why do you have to be the party-pooper? Why do you always have to be the sole killjoy?

No, Jesus is pretty matter fact about it. Why? Because he knows Thomas. Thomas himself is a Joe Friday kind of guy – just the facts ma’am.  

That brings us to the second point. The first point when it comes to talking to folks who may deny the reality of climate change is “do not judge.” The second point is “get to know the other.”

In John 14, Jesus experienced the same Thomas. Thomas in John 14 doubts Jesus, doubts his knowledge of Jesus and of what Jesus is about. Jesus says I am going to prepare a place for you in the realm of God, and explains to Thomas and the other disciples that they know the way. This is what the passage says:

“I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

So Jesus had a relationship, an intimate one, with Thomas. He knew how he ticked. Knew his propensity to doubt and to question and to need proof when it came to things he did not want to face.

The question is how well do we know what makes climate change deniers tick?

Yesterday, in Washington and other cities throughout the country, there was a March for Science. That it was on Earth Day made the point pretty clear – scientists are on the side of the Earth and those who deny science are on the other side.

However, this is not an effective way to approach a climate change doubter.  A March 
for Science will never convince a doubter of anything. A relationship will. Listening will. Speaking their language will.

In the case of climate change, the following is mostly true – liberals believe climate change is real and that human actions have played a primary role; conservatives either do not believe it is real or they believe climate change is real but that it is due to natural changes in the earth and not human actions.

Because there is disagreement, action to deal with climate change and the earth warming is never taken, even with so much is at stake.

The approach of liberals for the most part is to try to convince the doubters of the science. One hears over and over again that 99% of scientists agree that the earth is warming and that humans are primarily responsible for this warming. But it falls on deaf ears.

Why? Because conservatives and liberals simply approach the world differently. Conservatives are from mars and liberals from venus in many ways. To see that the earth is treated responsibly we must first know where conservatives and liberals are coming from.

A few months ago a really interested article in the Atlantic Monthly appeared. It talked about this very thing. Conservatives and liberals value different things. They come at politics from a different psychology framework. Based on psychological and sociological studies, it has been shown that conservatives, more than anything else, value “loyalty, patriotism, and purity.” Liberals’ highest values are “fairness, justice, and no-harm.”

So when it comes to environmental issues, liberals will say, “we are harming the earth when we should be loving and nurturing the earth.” Conservatives don’t respond to this kind of language. Now, we can say, well, they all should. But they don’t.

They do respond to this approach – we are degrading and dirtying God’s creation – and I highlight God’s creation - when we should be cleaning and keeping it pure.

All of this is to say, when it comes to climate change, climate scientists and liberals who care about this issue need to tweak their message. They need to find God in a sense. Or at least they need to seek rapport with those who claim God and feel more comfortable using religious language.

Here is an example of that language. It comes from the Evangelical Environmentalists Network, a group of Evangelicals who back climate science and think we need to do something to stem the tide. Here is their declaration on the care of creation:

“As followers of Jesus Christ, committed to the full authority of the Scriptures, and aware of the ways we have degraded creation, we believe that biblical faith is essential to the solution of our ecological problems.

Because we worship and honor the Creator, we seek to cherish and care for the creation.

Because we have sinned, we have failed in our stewardship  of creation. Therefore we repent of the way we have polluted, distorted, or destroyed so much of the Creator's work.”

I realize many scientists and secularists would cringe at those words, but unless we become more comfortable with them, unless we in fact learn to use this language more, the political divide that now exists will prevent action and lead to further destruction and degradation of the land.

Simply put, learning the Evangelical language of stewardship and creation is pivotal. Yes, it amounts to scientists turning to language art and cultural studies and in a sense learning a second language. However, if it is the language hundreds of thousands of Americans use and it could help stem the tide of our climate change crisis, why not learn that language, the people who use it, and seek relationships, unity, and healing.

Scientists right this moment need to be teaming up with groups like the Evangelical Environmentalists Network to learn the language and speak to climate change doubting thomases among us. We cannot afford to be monolingual.

I close with words I share with climate change deniers:

Maybe you are right. Maybe scientists are overestimating the effect humans have on climate change. But what if you are wrong? For the sake of your children and grandchildren, for the sake of God’s creation and the beauty of America’s land, skies, and waters, isn’t it better to be safe than sorry? Isn’t it better to use less, reuse more, recycle as much as we can just in case the world is in danger of overheating? If your car is running hot in the middle of the desert and you’re not sure why, isn’t it smart to turn off the AC, drive slower and steadier, and stop along the way to let the car cool? Isn’t it better that we protect the air, the waters, the land from pollutants and chemicals, even if it cost a company some extra money, even if it means we have to retrain so we can get a job in the growing industry of renewable energy? Aren’t our children and their children and our towns’ worth being cautious and protective and conservative with how we manage things in this warming world?

What if Jesus was right and prophetic when he said these words: Blessed are the gentle – blessed are the mild, blessed are those who leave a light footprint in the world, for they shall inherit the land.  


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