Short-sighted selfishness rules, OK?

This is the Cabinet of the Australian Government. These people lead the Government, develop policy, plan legislation and lead the various Government Departments which have responsibility for (among other things) trade, commerce, agriculture, social services and foreign affairs. The Government also has a role in health and environmental issues (which are more directly the responsibility of the states).

So the government is responsible to care for the people, the country and the economy.

Yet it is clear they are not doing this with due diligence, and are gambling with Australia’s future for the sake of short term political and financial gain.

Let me explain why I say this. (Those of you from other countries will find plenty here that applies to you too!)

Short term gain (for a few) leading to long term pain (for the many)

I’m talking about the Government’s inaction on climate change. This post can only be a brief summary, but I am documenting all of this in a series of pages on Climate change.

The galling truth seems to be that the Government, supported by sections of the media, are lying to the Australian people about the evidence for climate change and the inadequate actions they are taking. As a result, they are playing their part in condemning Australia to a bleaker future than need be.

And yet they could be responding constructively for the people, the land and the economy, as I’ll also show you.

Here’s the evidence.

It’s getting hot in here!

Incredibly, there are still those in the government who profess to believe that climate change is a hoax. My local member is one of them, and it seems whenever there is some colder weather, he puts out a Facebook comment about how the drop in temperature shows the folly of global warming. He ignores the obvious trend of sharply rising temperatures and the fact that one of the predictions of climate science is that there will be greater variability in the weather as well as rising temperatures.

Global temperature graph

Global temperatures compared to 20th century average

By allowing climate change deniers in the Government to be so vocal, the Government continues to allow the issue to appear to be uncertain (when in fact the science is very clear), which means its inaction doesn’t appear to be quite so foolish.

Damaging Australia ….

The Government’s inaction, combined with slow action globally, is already harming Australian farmers, businesses and ordinary people.

Killing agriculture

A large proportion of Australia’s productive agriculture occurs in the south east of the continent. It is currently significantly affected by drought, made worse by climate change. Climate models predict that the same area, especially in the south, will experience reduced rainfall in the future. Droughts will be longer, rainfall will tend to occur in shorter, more intense, events, and more extreme and detrimental temperatures will be experienced. These changes will make farming even more uncertain than it currently is.

Traditionally, farmers receive government “drought relief” when things are tough, to enable them to stay on their feet until better days come. But the reality is that better days are going to be less and less, and many farmers will need to change their operation and likely change their business to survive in drier times. To do this, they will need government assistance. So drought relief ought increasingly be used to develop new business models and farming methods. But the lukewarm response to climate change by our government doesn’t provide enough leadership and encouragement for farmers to make the necessary changes.

As a result, I think it is fair to say that the government coalition, which includes a party supposed to represent farmers and other rural residents, is allowing a situation to develop where the farmers will face more difficulties and heartache than they need to.

Worse bushfires

Summer bushfires are a part of Australian life, and Australia’s emergency response is now well-tuned. But the worst fires can still be disastrous – the “Black Saturday” fires of 2009 killed 180 people. But because of climate change, the bushfire season is getting worse, starting much earlier (in the middle of winter!) and producing more intense fires. The former NSW Fire and Rescue Commissioner, Greg Mullins, has said:

“This is part of a long-term trend, being driven by climate change. Australia’s bushfire seasons are starting earlier, becoming more severe and lasting longer than ever before …. The burning of coal, oil and gas, is warming the world, worsening extreme weather and putting people in danger – and Australia is ill prepared.”

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of northern Australia, is the world’s largest coral reef system, 2,300 km long, and reputedly the only living organism visible from space. It is a hugely important ecosystem, habitat to a large number of birds and fish, including some threatened species, and has been given World Heritage status. It also generates important tourism income, so that reef’s economic contribution has been valued at $6.4 bn each year.

Yet more than half the reef coral has been lost in the past 3 decades. There are many causes of this (e.g. pollution, over-fishing), but the largest problem is considered to be climate change – the warming waters bleach and eventually kill the coral. Yet the Australian and Queensland governments are willing to put the reef at risk by allowing new mining and port facilities in the area, and by their inaction on climate change.

Tourism

Tourism is Australia’s second largest export earner, employing more than half a million people. But many tourist destinations are threatened by extreme temperatures, increased flooding, rising ocean water levels and a shortened ski season.

Health

Climate change is having a discernible effect on Australians’ health. Heatwaves cost more lives than all other natural hazards combined, and they are becoming “longer, hotter, and more frequent”. And rising temperatures increase the prevalence of some infectious diseases.

Biodiversity

Local and even total species loss is another likely effect of climate change. Even small changes in temperature and rainfall can have significant impacts on the viability of many species in an area. Habitat is likely to be affected by rising ocean levels, changes in flooding regimes and vegetation changes. In addition to the effects on coral in the Great Barrier reef, scientists have concluded that many vegetation and animal species will have to adapt, relocate or face extinction.

Sea level rise

Rising sea levels threaten many costal ecosystems and development. Increased storm severity resulting in wave damage will affect, and even destroy, much coastal development.

See no evil, hear no evil?

The government professes to be concerned about the impacts of climate change, and claims to have an effective plan to address it. But whatever else we can say, we can know they are not actually addressing the problem. This graph shows that the Coalition parties have presided over increases in emissions, and only the Labor government of 2007-2012 has reduced emissions.

Graph from Renew Economy

Short term gain

The government’s response to the climate facts and predictions has been varied. Some parliamentarians say it isn’t happening, contradicting their own government’s position and information. The most common claim is that they are addressing the problem adequately, and will meet all necessary targets – Prime Minister Scott Morrison said recently: “Australia is doing our part to cut global emissions”. We have seen that neither of these two claims stacks up and the government’s response is misleading the Australian people. This graph shows the present trajectory of emissions (in green and blue) and the trajectory necessary to meet our targets (red and purple).

Graph from Climate Council

A more honest response has been for several prominent members of the government to say that the government is not willing to harm the Australian economy and shut down the coal industry to combat climate change, despite that being the most important step in cutting carbon emissions.

There would obviously be an economic cost to achieve adequate climate targets, but cynics point to a cosy relationship between the coal industry and the Prime Minister, who has several former coal industry figures among his senior staff, and who once carried a lump of coal into parliament to “prove” it wasn’t a dangerous mineral.

The opposition party has similarly refused to support a wind-down of the coal industry.

The Prime Minister’s Liberal Party has the slogan Building our economy, Securing your future on the front page of its website, yet all the scientific predictions point to an accurate statement being Building our friends’ finances, ruining your future.

It is a difficult position for a government, because taking anything other than the selfish short term course would bring down the ire of the poisonous conservative Australian media. Nevertheless, it is short term thinking, when the government should be caring for the long term interests of the country.

Climate change is a real global emergency, and Australia, though a small country in population, is one of the highest per capita carbon emitters in the world. The only solution is for all countries to play their part, and the biggest emitters must set the example.

Not acting now really will cause serious problems later.

Is this an issue for christians?

This is God’s world we are so profligately destroying, and God’s people in at-risk locations who we are condemning to death, dislocation or severe poverty. Jesus commands us to love our neighbour (Matthew 22:37-40), not destroy their lives, and he says if we love him we’ll keep his commands (John 14:15).

It is particularly galling to me that our Prime Minister professes to be a committed christian, yet seems willing to be part of inflicting such harm on his neighbours and the world.

Read more

Next post, I’ll examine the impacts globally, and look at what can and should be done. You might also like to read more in these pages:

Photo: The Cabinet of the Australian Government, from the website of the Prime Minister.

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How evangelical doctrine and Biblical inerrancy can distort the Bible and Jesus

Most christians have been taught to reverence the Bible. This has been especially true of Protestant christianity. The Reformation was built on the doctrine of sola scriptura (by scripture alone). And when conservative christianity felt threatened by evolution, liberal theology and modernist thinking in the 19th century, it developed a statement of “the fundamentals”, one of which was the inerrancy of scripture.

It was designed to preserve the essentials of evangelical faith from attack. It probably did that for a while. Yet I believe it has contributed to a distortion of the Bible and the message of Jesus.

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Evangelical, Liberal and Progressive Christianity – three diverging paths

There’s a lot of new, and sometimes scary, ideas flying around the christian scene these days. What are we to make of them??

Where is Protestant christianity heading?

If you have doubts and questions about your form of christian belief, perhaps another form has something to offer. Check out a few ideas here.

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Modern western evangelicalism – easy religion for comfortable christians?

I’ve been thinking for a while about modern western evangelical christianity. Not what some people may see as the worst of this belief system – televangelists, conservative politics and a focus on sexual ethics – but the mainstream.

My initial christian experience was in this culture and belief, and while I have moved on in many ways, I still share many of its values. But it’s starting to look way too comfortable to me.

Let me explain.

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Evangelism – learning from unbelievers

There’s a saying in chess that, if you are in doubt about your next move, choose the move your opponent would like least.

I reckon a similar, but opposite, saying might apply to christian evangelism: if you are wanting to evangelise, try to choose the behaviour your friend would most appreciate.

A recent study by the Barna Group in the US provides some invaluable insights from those who are the targets of christian evangelism.

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Church for the 21st century?

This is possibly the most revolutionary, revelatory and important book about the church and mission I have ever read.

If you are interested in how the 21st century church can become a missionary community in first world countries, this book can teach us new ways, and inspire us to new efforts.

If you are tired of the church life that you have inhabited for years, and want something new, effective and Jesus-focused, check out this book.

I learned so much from it. Ideas I have had were confirmed in it. I was inspired by it.

Read on to find out why.

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When thoughtful christians begin to doubt

In my previous post (When sensitive and thoughtful people begin to doubt) I looked at 4 different sets of musicians who were christians earlier in their lives, but had struggled with faith since then. Now I want to share a few thoughts on how churches and parents might help their youth to be able to face doubts sensibly and on a good basis.

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When sensitive and thoughtful people begin to doubt

Do you know someone who appeared to be a strong christian, and then began to doubt the truth of the whole thing?

I’m guessing they were likely someone in their twenties, brought up as believers but suddenly facing questions they didn’t have answers for and issues they couldn’t easily resolve. And I’m guessing many of them ended up either giving up their faith or radically changing what they believed.

It seems to be a frequent occurrence these days. Maybe we can learn something from these musicians who have gone public on their doubts and how their beliefs have changed.

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Which Jesus did you worship this Christmas?

Jesus is such an important and admired character in world history and western culture that everyone seems to want to claim him for their tribe. So there are many different versions of Jesus for us to believe in.

Shopping mall Jesus

This is the most obvious Jesus, and the easiest to see through. Two months before Christmas, supermarkets and shopping malls began stocking Christmas goods and playing the infernal muzak Christmas carols, and it isn’t long before nativity scenes begin to appear. A cute baby, a beautiful madonna mother who can’t find a room at the inn, lots of fluffy animals and a cast of rich kings and poor shepherds – what’s not to like?

This Jesus wouldn’t say anything against the commercialisation of his fake birthday, and he is apparently happy to help move product off shelves and maximise end-of-year profits.

Most of us buy into this monetary worship by spending up big buying presents which are generally in excess of needs, but while we like the story, we know the real story in the gospels has nothing to do with profit. This Jesus is only a faint shadow of the real person.

Cosmic sacred Jesus

The carpenter Jesus of the gospels becomes in Revelation a cosmic Jesus to be worshiped. This Jesus is perhaps best “seen” in grand Medieval cathedrals, with their soaring spires emphasising how far God is above us mere mortals. Inside, the same point is made with the cathedral clearly divided into “God’s end”, where only the priests can minister, and the people’s end.

This Jesus has risen far above his humble earthly beginnings among farm animals, and is now so distant that many Catholics seem to think that his mother is more likely to hear them, and some Protestant televangelists and megachurch pastors seem to think he isn’t watching their sleazy and materialistic behaviour.

This Jesus certainly reflects some important Biblical teachings, but he’s a long way from the Jesus of the gospels.

Cosmic hippy Jesus aka progressive Jesus

Cosmic hippy Jesus used to be popular, and he still puts in an appearance sometimes today in a new guise as progressive Jesus. This Jesus is all about love, though not always the sort of love described in the Bible; he accepts everyone and condemns no-one. He’s definitely left wing politically, caring for all the alienated and repressed people, such as refugees, the LGBTQI community, oppressed indigenous communities and victims of war and violence. He is much admired by people who are spiritual but not religious. In fact, he never enters a modern western church, and if he did, they wouldn’t recognise him.

The new progressive Jesus is not as extreme as cosmic hippy Jesus, and built on a better understanding of the New Testament. But he still definitely emphasises love and acceptance over judgment.

I have a lot of affection for this Jesus. I share a lot of his values, including most of the ones I’ve just mentioned. And this Jesus can be found in the pages of the gospels. Sort of. But the Jesus of the gospels did judge and criticise, and his love was often a tougher love than cosmic hippy Jesus ever exhibits.

Reformed evangelical doctrinal Jesus

This Jesus is almost the opposite of cosmic hippy Jesus. Sure he loves everyone, but he sends many of them to hell. Yes he loves everyone, but good doctrine matters, and he’s not going to accept any sloppy doctrinal thinking.

This Jesus came for just one thing – to die on the cross to divert God’s righteous wrath from our sinful rebellious selves onto himself, and you might well wonder what the rest of his life was all about – why did he bother with all that teaching about the kingdom of God? He’s a stern and serious Jesus and you’d better get on the right side of him if you want to go to heaven. And it would probably help if you were politically conservative and ignored all that historical Jesus talk against materialism and about non-violence and caring for the poor.

Reformed evangelical doctrinal Jesus is closer to the Jesus of Paul than to the historical Jesus of the gospels. Somehow, this Jesus seems true up to a point, but very truncated and missing so much.

Jesus the apocalyptic prophet

This Jesus is the one believed by many New Testament scholars. He’s based on historical study and is right at home in first century Jewish religion and culture. He fanned the hopes of many repressed Jews that God was finally going to remove the yoke of the hated Romans and bring in his kingdom on earth. And of course this meant the king would be a Jew and rule in Jerusalem, and the Jews would be top nation.

This Jesus envisaged this massive reversal of fortunes happening very soon, within the lifetime of his followers. But it didn’t happen – he failed – and his followers had to invent a new story of atoning death, resurrection and a spiritual kingdom to make sense of this failure.

This Jesus is built on historical facts and makes sense of much of the gospels, but it misses some key gospel hints and is built on naturalistic assumptions – understandable for secular historians but surely an unsafe basis for understanding someone like Jesus. When a man establishes a religious community that goes on to cover a third of the world, you’d want to think twice before you call him a failure – perhaps it is your understanding that has failed.

Will the real Jesus please stand up!

Which of these, if any, is the “real” Jesus?

I want to suggest that all of them contain some truth, but all miss some very important things.

I want to suggest we need to go back to the historical Jesus and understand why so many scholars see him as an apocalyptic prophet, and to find that there is good reason to think he was all that … and much more.

I suggest we all need to see whether the Jesus we worship, or reject, is consistent with the historical Jesus of the gospels, or lacks that fundamental foundation.

Next post I’ll suggest some things we should learn from the scholars, and a few places where we can legitimately and truthfully go beyond their somewhat limited and careful picture of Jesus. And learn why we should be wary of fully embracing any of the pictures of Jesus I’ve outlined here. And hopefully also see a few ways we can each have a more accurate picture of who Jesus is, and can be for us today.

May you ponder these things and grow in understanding this Christmas, so that we may all “see him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly”.

Graphic: Wallpaper cave