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Trump’s environmental good news

Kathleen Hartnett White

The good news out of Washington is that the White House has withdrawn the nomination of Kathleen Hartnett White to head the President’s Council of Environmental Quality. A leading shill for the carbon industry, the one-time chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality would have joined Energy Secretary Rick Perry and EPA Administrator Greg Pruitt in a troika of climate change deniers driving the Trump Administration’s environmental policies.

Hartnett White’s confirmation hearing in November did not go well, and although President Trump resubmitted her nomination last month, it can be presumed that he reversed course in the face of threats from at least a couple of Senate Republicans to vote her down.

Before she disappears from view, however, it’s worth recalling a blog post she wrote a few years ago in her capacity as Distinguished Senior Fellow-in-Residence at the oil-and-gas industry-funded Texas Public Policy Foundation.

“Sometimes a single voice throws in hard relief the delusion, misanthropy, and unabashedly totalitarian policy of the Left,” the post begins. “These characteristics are particularly embedded in the Left’s secular religion: Apocalyptic Anthropogenic Global Warming.”

The single voice in question belonged to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, who had won a magazine award for an article titled “The New Abolitionism.” It argued that in order to save the planet from global warming, the carbon industry was going to have to surrender an amount of wealth comparable to what slaveowners had to give up when slavery was abolished.

The horror! The horror!

Hartnett White went on to celebrate the boons brought to civilization by fossil fuels in a way that, to be honest, was reminiscent of the praise heaped on slavery by those who once defended it against the old abolitionism. Mutatis mutandis, she went so far as to suggest that coal-fueled textile industrialization in early 19th-century England helped end rather than spur slavery in the American South.

The parallel is exact between her “secular religion” charge and the climax of New Orleans Presbyterian pastor Benjamin Morgan Palmer’s widely circulated 1860 Thanksgiving sermon, which helped bring Louisiana into the Confederacy:

Last of all, in this great struggle, we defend the cause of God and religion. The abolition spirit is undeniably atheistic. The demon which erected its throne upon the guillotine in the days of Robespierre and Marat, which abolished the Sabbath and worshipped reason in the person of a harlot, yet survives to work other horrors, of which those of the French Revolution are but the type. Among a people so generally religious as the American, a disguise must be worn; but it is the same old threadbare disguise of the advocacy of human rights.

Despite the fact that abolitionism was a profoundly religious cause in the North, Palmer portrayed it as anti-religion. Nor was he alone. Throughout the South, abolitionism was equated with the atheistic secular religion of the French Revolution.

Similarly, while the cause of climate change is hardly restricted to religious folks, it is perhaps the most religiously motivated of all progressive social causes today. Leading the way has been Pope Francis, with his great 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’. But it is a cause that has enlisted the full spectrum of the religious community — Jews and Muslims, Eastern Orthodox and Mainline Protestant, Hindu and Buddhist.

Except for white evangelicals. Outliers, they are now in thrall to a political party that over the past decade has increasingly opposed all efforts to address climate change. Their religious rationalization is that they are standing with a God who promised no more floods against pagan “Earth worshippers.”

“Slavery degrades the Religious Activity of the People,” preached Boston’s leading abolitionist minister Theodore Parker on July 4, 1858. Today it is climate change denial that is degrading the religious activity of the evangelical people.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

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