I believe

The Boston Globe published an article this week about how climate change is already being felt in New England. ”

“I tell my students that they’re going to be able to tell their children, ‘I remember when it used to snow in Boston,’ ” said Ray Bradley, an author of the study and director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts. “We’ll have occasional snow, but we won’t have weeks and weeks of snow on the ground.”

I’ve wrestled a lot lately with how – and why – people can vehemently believe something is true when the facts and evidence point to the opposite conclusion. The science has been saying for 30 years that our planet is warming. Walking around in a fifty degree January – the second year that’s been possible. Last year we had 11 straight months of “the hottest year on record”. This graph shows just how fast the change has been occurring, compared to geological normal shifts in temperature. It’s hard to look at these facts and understand how you can reasonably deny that the world is warming. Even if you find it in your heart to say this is totally a coincidence and has nothing to do with human causes (also a real stretch), we can *see* how the climate is changing. It’s literally cracking apart the Antarctic ice shelf. But even people in a position to know otherwise, such as our president-elect, claim that this shift isn’t taking place.

Why? If you don’t realize what’s coming, you can’t plan for it. If you pretend this isn’t happening, and oh, build huge buildings whose foundations are likely to be under water in 20 years, you may lose a lot of money. I get that it may be very expensive to cut CO2 levels, and that some current economic powerhouses will suffer. But it’s another thing altogether to decide not to plan for the inevitable outcome of that decision.

The vehemence with which people *don’t believe this* confuses me. I was thinking about it, and I realized I was missing a critical element. People think that what you believe changes the truth. I wonder if there’s some unspoken conviction that if we all BELIEVE the world isn’t warming, then in fact the world will not be warming. From that perspective, the persistent voices of climate scientists saying otherwise is a threat. They’re disrupting the concerted belief required to make global warming untrue. By disrupting the belief, they’re actually making global warming happen. If we just all believed together it wasn’t happening, it wouldn’t happen.

This explains both the solution they have (prevent global warming by believing it isn’t happening with the assumption that what is believed is true) and why they’re so vitriolic to opposing voices.

As a Christian, I think I understand where this mind set might come from. Christianity is rife with the power of belief. In the Gospel of Mark chapter 9, the very mindset I lay out above is preached:

23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Mark is at it again in Chapter 11:

22“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Let’s not forget walking on water. Peter does the impossible because of the strength of his belief.

But there are some things are, or are not, regardless of your belief in them. God does not require our belief in order to exist (and therefore unbelievers aren’t a threat to God – would you really want to believe in a God who needed us to exist?). This universe does not need to be believed in to keep spinning in its glorious order and chaos. Gravity operated unobserved for millions of years before we believed in it. Believing really hard will not make false things true. And failing to believe – even the most willful denial – will not make unwanted things go away. We need to be more careful in our thinking about where belief matters, and where the world is uncaring about what we believe to be true.

I was about ready to stop my thinking there, when Martin Luther King Day happened. My son came home with a copy of Dr. King’s famous “I have a dream” speech. Was this iconic, inspiring speech the exact same thing, only on the other side of the belief divide? I read it carefully for the word “belief”. And I discovered something remarkable – the difference I would invite you to embrace. What Dr. King believed was that it was possible for this post-racial environment to exist. He dreamed of a day when his four little children would live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. He did not believe we lived in that world already, or that such a world was an inevitable one. He only dreamed that it was possible.

And that difference – between believing that what you want is possible, and believing that wanting it will make it true.

So, let’s believe that it’s possible for us to decide whether to make the sacrifices necessary to not warm our planet any further … or to plan for living in a much warmer planet. But whenever you get angry at someone for not believing the way you do, ask where your anger comes from. If it comes from a conviction that belief will change the outcome, ask yourself if that is really true.


Thoughts? Where are some of the other places in our society where the belief itself is important? What are some things that really do change based on whether you believe? What am I misunderstanding here?

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One thought on “I believe

  1. Interesting post, as always, Brenda. Having grown up without religion, the possibility that people might think that way hadn’t occurred to me. It’s even more scary than what I’ve always assumed to be true: that no evidence is ever enough for people because you can always doubt the data on which that evidence is based and it’s usually too hard to deeply check the data. And if you do try to check the data at some point you have to trust some scientist who says they measured the data. Sort of a grand conspiracy theory, that scientists have an agenda and can make anything look real if they want to. To many, science probably looks as magical as any religion.

    That’s a wonderful xkcd graph; I’ll go over it with the kid.

    -Carl

    Like

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