I am flattered to have been asked by Kristine Haglund, editor of Dialogue (an independent quarterly established to express Mormon culture and to examine the relevance of religion to secular life) to review Edwin Firmage Jr.'s article "Light in the Darkness: Embracing the Opportunity of Climate Change" published in a recent issue of Dialogue. Here goes...
As a blogger who writes about the environment from an LDS perspective, it will not come as a shock that I enjoyed reading Mr. Firmage's article. The article rises above the rhetorical banter that is ever present in discussions of climate change. The author skips debating about the reality of climate change, and jumps straight to discussing the implications of climate change. This will, no doubt, infuriate the climate change skeptics and deniers. The article is not for them. Rather than trying to convince the unbelievers, Mr. Firmage's essay is a challenge to religious communities to step up and seize the opportunity that climate change presents:
"Indeed, it is in addressing [climate change]...that churches will find a moral purpose and a relevance that they have lacked now for many years."
The quote above gives some clue that Mr. Firmage is writing from the perspective of a lapsed Mormon, though one who appears sympathetic to the LDS Church. He is also quite the Biblical scholar. In the first third of the article the author gives a lengthy discussion on the theme of "Zion," found throughout the Old Testament. For the remainder of the article, he contends that because religious communities have a tradition of seeking Zion and rigorousness, that they are the best hope for starting the collective action required to address climate change.
Some quotes that give a flavor of the author's thinking:
"The biblical paradigm of Zion is a way of life that knows contentment. It's a way of life that is at peace with the world..."
"Our way today seems to me to embody precisely that worship of the self and of the selfish that is the great sin in biblical thinking..."
"If there is any hope for our civilization, it is the hope that inspired the biblical tradition of Zion."
As I see it, the heart of the conflict surrounding climate change can be understood by examining (stereotyping?) the first principals of those entrenched in the issue. For some people, collective action is the panacea that will cure all of the world's ills. For others, collective action is ripe for abuse and necessarily limits personal freedom. Thus, depending on one's perspective, climate change is just another problem that needs collective action, or it is a excuse to remove personal freedom. By proposing Zion as the model for addressing climate change, Mr. Firmage suggests a solution that may appease both camps:
"Standing against [selfishness and idolatry] is the biblical concept of Zion, the good society that embodies our deepest aspirations for individual and social transcendence."
"And the scope of the intended redemption is universal: government, religious life, and civil life as well as individual behavior must all be transformed."
I too see that the Zion longed for in religious communities is the key to addressing climate change. Zion requires that we collectively solve the problem of climate change, and that we solve it without abusing individual freedom. Zion also tempers the individual shortcomings of greed and selfishness that are the cause of climate change.
I believe in religion. After reading this article, I have new hope that society will embrace religious concepts as relevant and powerful vehicles for addressing the world's problems. After all, even Mr. Firmage, a secular environmentalist, sees church as the answer:
"Looking at American society, the only place I see communities that could rally around the idea of Zion is our churches."
Amen Brother Firmage.