Opinion: Daily Journal

Why They Cling to Their Faith

RALEIGH – Earlier this week, I wrote about the futility of the Kyoto Protocols, and more generally of proposals to instigate dramatic reductions in the global emissions of carbon dioxide in an attempt to forestall climate change. In my discussion, I used the term “ecological theology” to describe the position of those who believe, on the basis of rather weak and questionable” evidence, that human-induced global warming poses a major threat to human health and safety.

I used the term for a reason. Those who embrace the global-warming hypothesis do so on faith, not because it truly fits the available data and has the potential of being proven wrong by subsequent data (two elements usually associated with the scientific method). Why would so many people – activists, politicians, journalists, and others – feel such a deep-seated need to believe this?

I don’t think I am mischaracterizing their sentiment. For example, I don’t feel any deep-seated need to disbelieve the existence of dangerous global warming. Provide me with credible analysis suggesting the possibility, and I’ll consider it. That doesn’t mean I’ll automatically agree with draconian measures to head it off – it could still be that the cost of remedying the problem will exceed the cost of adjusting to a somewhat-warmer climate – but I’d be willing to weigh the costs and benefits.

There appears to be no parallel willingness of global-warming apostles to doubt their creed. I think the explanation lies with The God that Failed.

Anti-communists used that phrase for decades to describe how the secular belief system behind socialism rose to the level of a religious conviction. Those who believed in coercive egalitarianism, central planning, the radical eradication of property and hierarchy, the infinite malleability of human nature, and other related concepts had invested government with what amounted to theistic qualities. It would eliminate hunger, homelessness, and poverty. It would erase economic, social, and ethnic distinctions and disparities. It would create worldwide peace and plenty.

Despite their devotion, hymns, pleas, prayers, and (deadly) sacrifices, socialism failed. It accomplished none of these goals. It debased human beings, robbed them of freedom and dignity, while also starving and killing them at a level unprecedented in human history. I have often heard it said that more people have been killed in the service of religion than for any other reason. This is likely true only if you classify (correctly, I’m arguing) secular faiths such as communism, socialism, and fascism as religions.

Faced with the abject failure of big government to deliver on its promises, some adherents have abandoned the faith, at least in part. They no longer believe that high taxes, strict regulations, abolishing private property, and sustaining massive wealth-redistribution schemes will make people healthier or wealthier. But others can’t let go. They still need to believe. And so they cling to the notion that capitalism is still fatally flawed because, despite its manifest economic and moral superiority, it can’t save the Earth from ecological destruction. Only the central planners can.

How does one respond to this fanatical devotion? As we’ve seen with other kinds of religious fanaticism, it is difficult to combat with logic and argument. The best response is probably just to keep these kooks from obtaining political power, and hope that the passage of time will ameliorate the situation.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.