By Dr Ian Bayly
At the start of the late Peter Sculthorpe’s composition, “Earth Cry”, we can hear an ominous, discordant roar of anger. If he imagined the Earth to be crying out in 1986, he would, if he were still alive, be telling us that it is now screaming for help at the top of its voice. He would be dismayed to find himself living in a country wracked by fire and drought. As a scientist myself, I find it very heartening to read that “Science is the best tool by which we can listen to the cry of the Earth”. But where did this statement come from? A secular advocate for urgent, drastic action on global warming? No, it comes from an official Catholic Church summary of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato si’: On Care of our Common Home. Then there’s the statement that “For human beings — to destroy the biological diversity — by causing changes in its climate —; to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins.” This is not a part manifesto of the green left environment movement but, again, it comes from paragraph eight of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’.
Perhaps the most important question posed in Laudato si’ is: “What kind of world do we want to leave those who come after us, to the children who are now growing up?”. Here Pope Francis fully accepts the reality of climate change and confronts the issue head on: “Climate change is a global problem with serious implications, environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods.” To Francis the preservation of climate “represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” Climate change denialism is seen as the servant of society’s powerful economic forces which try to “mask the problems — and conceal the symptoms.” The encyclical praises the science of ecology and the environmental movement: “Worldwide, the ecological movement has made significant advances —Thanks to their efforts environmental questions have increasingly found a place on public agendas.” Climate-induced loss of biodiversity is of great concern: “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever.”
Pope Francis considers that any environmental impact study for a proposed new project “demands transparent political processes involving a free exchange of views” and that “forms of corruption which conceal the actual environmental impact of a given project in exchange for favours usually produce specious agreements which fail to inform adequately and allow for full debate.” This will be uncomfortable reading for those Australian Catholics (especially those in Queensland) supporting the opening of the Adani and other coal mines which will undoubtedly have a significant adverse impact on the future lives of our children and young adults.
Five years after releasing his landmark encyclical, Pope Francis told those attending the recent COP25 climate change conference in Madrid that: “We must seriously ask ourselves if there is the political will to allocate with honesty, responsibility and courage, more human, financial and technological resources [to the climate crisis].”
As an atheist (but a spiritualist, especially via sacred music), I feel no discomfit in saying I greatly admire the uplifting spiritual aspects and humanity that permeates Pope Francis’ encyclical; there is much in it with which I can closely identify, and I admire the great beauty of his language. At the same time, I must criticise his failure to deal with contraception, and birth and population control. Specifically, in dealing with global inequality, I cannot agree with the Pope’s statement that: “The solution is not in reducing the birth rate, but counteracting ‘an extreme and selective consumerism’ of a small part of the world’s population.” Control of birth rate must surely be at least as important as the control of consumerism. Neither can I agree with his stance that: “Concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion.” Nevertheless, I acknowledge that much of the encyclical is highly rational, promotes sound ecological principles, and provides a blue print for the enhancement of humanity and its future survival.
Let’s now turn to the beliefs espoused by Pentecostalism regarding the future of life on Earth. Why single out Pentecostalism? Because this is the religion of which Australia’s PM, Scott Morrison, is an avowed adherent, and which many, me included, believe is strongly influencing his policies and inactions regarding global warming. There is no place for science and no recognition of human-induced global heating in Pentecostal theology. There would apparently be no point in mortal Pentecostals trying to listen and respond to the cry of the Earth because the fate of our planet and its life is considered out of their hands.
On 25 May 2019, exactly one week after the federal election on 18 May, the following letter was published over my name: “Scott Morrison said on election night: “I have always believed in miracles.” That is precisely why he represents a danger to Australia’s future. Morrison regards his religion as a “private matter” but happily allows the media to show him in church. He is an avowed adherent of Pentecostalism some tenets of which many would regard as extreme, and, in the context of his lack of enthusiasm for effective action on climate change, highly dangerous if not sinister. Pentecostals believe in the existence of the Devil and Hell, and that the Bible is literally true and inerrant. Key elements of their eschatology are that we are living in End Times (nearing the end of history) and that the Second Coming is imminent. They envisage a continual tension between the forces of good and evil but Jesus will soon return bringing Rapture to Christian believers and consigning Satan (and non-believers) to Hell. What should be of great concern is that Morrison may well believe it is pointless to try and save the Earth as “The Lord” has other plans. He may well consider there is no point in mere mortals like you and me campaigning for greenhouse gas abatement because the fate of the Earth and humanity will be determined by the interaction of such supernatural forces as the Devil and the imminent return of Jesus Christ. These are very disturbing thoughts and provide a good reason to ask: is our Prime Minister a closet doomsday cultist?”
Here is Richard Flanagan’s recent (25/11/2019) take on the same issue: “Morrison’s Pentecostal religion places great emphasis on the idea of the Rapture. When Rapture arrives, the Chosen – that is those Pentecostalists with whom the prime minister worships and their controversial pastor – will ascend to Heaven while the rest of us are condemned to the Tribulation – a world of fires, famine and floods in which we all are to suffer and the majority of us to die wretchedly, while waiting for the Second Coming and Scott and co wait it out in the Chairman’s Lounge above. Could it be that the prime minister in his heart is – unlike the overwhelming majority of Australians – not concerned with the prospect of a coming catastrophe when his own salvation is assured?”
I would not be unhappy about meeting Pope Francis, and even submitting myself to his judgement. It would be a meeting of two rather world-weary octogenarians. I imagine that we would smile at each other, have a handshake, and perhaps shed a couple of tears over the deplorable state of the world. We could then have a yarn about the achievements and misuse of science and technology, and other matters. He would doubtless be very displeased to discover my atheism and my more relaxed attitudes to birth control and abortion. But I think his warm humanity would shine like a bright light, and I am confident that he would not be so unkind as to advocate my consignment to hell. However, I would not want to meet Morrison’s intolerant and vengeful God because he/she is conceived as an agent committed to send all non-believers like me to the eternal torments of hell. Why should those who wish to heed the cry of the Earth deserve to cry out from hell?
About the author: Ian A.E. Bayly
Formal qualifications: M.Sc.(Hons)(NZ); Ph.D.(Qld); D.Sc.(Monash)
Ian Bayly held the position of Reader in Zoology at Monash University from 1971-1995. He was a Vice-President of the Australian Conservation Foundation from 1973-1975, and played a prominent role in the conservation struggles to save Lake Pedder and Fraser Island.
Ian holds the rare degree of Doctor of Science and in the course of a six-decade career authored or co-authored of over 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers and four books*, He is the recipient of the Australian Society for Limnology Medal. During the 1980s he spent two periods in Antarctica researching the ecology of planktonic animals. Bayly Bay in the Vestfold Hills is named in recognition of his published contributions (12 papers) to Antarctic science. He is still publishing scientific papers, being co-author of a chapter in the book Plankton published by CSIRO in March 2019.
In October 2018 a major “popular” essay of his entitled “Our Climate-Change Apathy: gifting our grandchildren a living hell” was published in Arena Magazine #156. This article attracted favourable comment from Prof. Peter Doherty, Prof. David Karoly and Dr Joelle Gergis.
[In the contemporary world the term “Reader” has become largely an anachronism. It was awarded for high excellence in research and at Monash University it ranked between Associate Professor and Professor].
* (1) Bayly, I.A.E. and Williams, W.D. (1973). Inland Waters and their Ecology. (Longman: Melbourne). 316 pp. Reprinted 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977 & 1981.
(2) Bayly, I.A.E. (1999). Rock of Ages: Human Use and Natural History of Australian Granites.(Univ. W.A. Press: Perth.) 132 pp.
(3) Bayly, I.A.E. (2009). Len Beadell’s Legacy: Australia’s Atomic Bomb and Rocket Roads. (Bas Publishing: Seaford). 144pp. Reprinted 2010 & 2018.
(4) Bayly, I.A.E. (2011). Australia’s Granite Wonderlands: Rock of Ages’ Intriguing
Landscapes and Life. (Bas Publishing: Seaford). 168 pp.
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