Among many other global catastrophes, religion does cause climate change. It also causes war, illiteracy and the spread of disease.
How does religion cause climate change? The answer is manifold. Firstly, with the example of Abrahamic religions, the eschatological worldview presents a serious problem. The sad irony of having a belief that the world will end (and many believe that this will happen within their lifetime), is that it acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why should we care if we are polluting the atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere? The end is coming when we will all be judged anyway, so there is no purpose preserving this planet. It’s God’s will. The result is that there is no strong environmentalist movement stemming from churches, synagogues or mosques. The focus is on the present and the end times. The idea of sacrificing for the future of our planet is not a hot topic amongst the religious. Yet, something that would seem to be a parallel, the idea of sacrificing for the future in heaven, is a hot topic.
Secondly, we have seen that historically, religion typically has not aligned itself with science – especially recent science. Science that is very old, such as the heliocentric conception of the solar system, is accepted; science that is new, such as climatology, is scoffed at. Yet, turn the clock back a few hundred years, and the heliocentric view of the solar system was also scoffed at. As a result, many religious people do not believe in climate change, or at least that humans are causing climate change. Many of these religious folks have found their way into political positions: these are the policy makers for the rest of us. If a policy maker does not believe in climate change, of course they will vote for and press for policies that may harm the environment – God will take care of us, there’s no need to worry about the planet.
As for war, it is simply a fact for any historian that religion causes war. The problem with religion is that it is nonnegotiable. One religious group will never make concessions on behalf of their religion. Therefore, whenever two religions live within close proximity – that is, either multiple religions within one country, or two countries with different dominant religions adjacent to one another – there will always be unnecessary political and social tension. The topic of holy wars is one which has been discussed in great detail by many others, so I will not delve deeply into this topic since few will deny this corollary of religion.
Malala yousafzai paints the best contemporary picture of the repression of literacy by religion. If religion is not controlled by secular powers, the result has always been a repression of knowledge. Christianity also went through a period like this in Europe. There is a very specific reason why the Bible wasn’t translated from Latin for a long time: to suppress questioning of the Bible. Although modern theists like to claim that questioning their religion is important; this is only the case because religious authorities cannot control knowledge of the Bible, or suppress opinions, as they once did. So what is the best alternative? Let people ask questions and hope they don’t convert. Why are people able to read the Bible? Because a heretic known as Martin Luther dared to translate the Bible into German so that the common people could understand it. You may say, “But Luther was a Christian!” Well, not according to the Church. As I stated above, he was considered a heretic – he was excommunicated by the Pope. Further, his desire to spread the word of the Bible to the masses was not received from the church, but from his own desire to interpret the Bible in his own way and let others know about this interpretation. In other words, the secular concept of freedom of speech. This is the point: religion has always repressed literacy and the only antidote to this repression has been secular values.
These same secular values have also lifted the human understanding of morality. It is not enough that we treat the people who we know around us well; we should also strive to help the whole of humanity. The fate of smallpox demonstrates this virtue. The persistence of polio and the spread of AIDS across Africa demonstrate the opposite: religion works very hard sometimes to prevent the eradication of disease.
In the case of polio, Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, have been dedicating their lives to the honorable goal of eradicating polio. There have been some roadblocks, however. Some are geographical, but most are religious. In Nigeria, the conspiracy theory that the polio vaccine creates infertility in young Muslim girls, in an effort to prevent Islam from spreading, was the reason why in 2003 the polio vaccine was halted by local government. Of course, this stoppage led to an outbreak of polio shortly thereafter.
On another continent, in Pakistan’s remote region of Northern Waziristan, the Taliban used the potential of a polio outbreak among their own people as a threat against the United States. The Taliban told the U.S. that they would not allow the polio vaccine to be administered until drone strikes abated. Their statement that polio is bad but drone strikes are worse is a clear example of how the dogma of the Taliban has distorted their view of the world and allowed for the proliferation of polio.
Back in Africa, the example of the spread of AIDS is a very sad story. The Catholic Church’s stance on AIDS and condoms echoes the absurdity of the aforementioned Taliban statement: AIDS is bad, but condoms are worse. The Catholic faithful in Africa, as a result, refuse to use condoms because this is decreed by their religious leaders. The Catholic Church has even proclaimed that a husband who knows he has AIDS is not allowed to use a condom to have intercourse with his wife! The choice he has is either don’t have sex ever again, or have unprotected sex with your wife and risk the transmission of AIDS. As any rational and informed person knows, the best hope we have in the fight against the proliferation of AIDS is condoms. Any person who encourages unprotected intercourse in a continent plagued by AIDS has given up their morality in place of their religion.
Yet, morality is rarely connected with religion, as the principle of eschatology – the judgment of some humans to be forever punished in hell (an unbelievably unfair punishment for a crime) – demonstrates. Still, eschatology is a driving force for many believers around the world. In a strange twist of fate, it is this fatalism itself that will quite possibly bring about the end of the world for many of the aforementioned reasons, provided that the forces of secularism stand by and do nothing.