Friday, May 23, 2008

Balaam and the Jawbone of James Dobson

As I have mentioned earlier, the global economic system known as the “official” economy is ruled by leaders who strive to trick or force as many people as possible into dependency on the system while attacking anyone who would seek to create a safety net consisting of alternative systems. Of course, this is done in order to maximize the profits realized by the rulers of the existing official system. And this is being done with desperate zeal even in the face of overwhelming signs that the system is now breaking due to resource peaks and climate change. One of the methods employed by this official system is the takeover and consolidation of ownership of every platform for public speech, as seen in the corporate hijacking of both major political parties in the United States, as well as the massive buyouts of media companies, newspapers, publishing houses and radio/TV stations by a handful of rich interests.

This takeover of public proclamation is also taking place in the Church, especially in America. I described this process on my other blog, TH in SoC, in the posts dealing with evangelicals and Money, and evangelicals and political Power. For at least three decades, and probably much longer, Christianity in America has been undergoing a re-definition – a rephrasing designed to remove the otherworldly, charitable, anti-materialist elements from it, and to equate Christianity with the mere affirmation of Republican Party goals and ideals, the worship of the free market and unrestrained capitalism, and a rabid patriotism and worship of the triumphs of American history. Under the banner of “God, guts and guns,” the Religious Right has promoted such ideals as rugged individualism, opposition to government “charity” or regulation, racial and national pride, and an ever-rising American standard of living, without regard for how achieving that standard might affect others in the world. The leaders of the evangelical Right have thus attacked anyone who has said that America – or the world at large – is facing problems caused by increasing and excessive consumption, problems which require collective rather than individual solutions, and that one viable solution to such problems is for us in the industrial West – or particularly, in America – to choose to live more simply. Such a statement is met with howls of protest about “socialism” or “subsidizing laziness”, or how the American way of life is not negotiable, or how those making suggestions for less consumption and cooperation rather than competition are “weakening America!”

And so we come to the current debates over climate change. I have to confess that I don't like reading about the latest evidence for man-made global warming, because it tends to scare the living daylights out of me. (For instance, see But I am thoroughly convinced of the science behind anthropogenic global climate change, and thoroughly convinced that we need to do something yesterday to stop it. I also see the damage being done to the poor citizens of Third World countries by our Western “free market” policies, which actually guarantee freedom only for the biggest economic players, and which are making more and more Americans poor as well.

Destroying the earth and forcing people into starvation are moral issues, discussed at length in the Bible (for instance, read Exodus 22:21; Psalm 146:9; Jeremiah 22:3; Matthew 25:31-44; Luke 16:19-31, and James 5:1-6). Yet the Religious Right has chosen to define Christianity narrowly in terms of a few issues, and to condemn anyone who speaks of Biblical concerns with larger issues. The Right therefore teaches that in order to be a good Christian, one should oppose homosexuality and abortion, be patriotic, and vote Republican, regardless of Republican Party positions on any other issues. This has the convenient effect of making the Church the defender of large American/European capitalist interests, because such convictions do not threaten the business practices or bottom line of such interests.

Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, and other influential figures in the American Religious Right, have set themselves up as gatekeepers of evangelical thought and policy, the arbiters of what is or is not a legitimate issue for evangelicals to be concerned about. In 2007, James Dobson, with several other prominent evangelical pastors, called on the National Evangelical Association Board to remove its president because of his attention to the issue of global warming. According to Dobson, the issue is not an appropriate focus for evangelicals, who should focus on “…the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children. In their place has come a preoccupation with climate concerns that extend beyond the NAE’s mandate and its own statement of purpose.” (Sources: “Dobson, Others Seek Ouster of NAE Vice President,” Christianity Today, March 2007,; Letter to National Association of Evangelicals, Also, Jerry Falwell claimed that the debate over global warming is a tool of Satan being used to distract churches from their primary focus of preaching the Gospel. When their statements were widely broadcast in the mainstream media there was a predictable and entirely justified backlash, and they seem to have toned down their statements since then.

But it must be asked why Dobson and his cohorts believe that Christians are doing wrong to concern themselves with more issues than just the ones set before them by the leaders of the Right. Why does Dobson believe that defending, maintaining and promoting a lifestyle of continually increasing consumption is a Christian duty? Why is it un-Christian to believe that our excessive consumption is ruining the earth, especially when there is massive evidence to prove this fact? After his letter to the National Association of Evangelicals, Mr. Dobson and his cohorts assumed a low profile, as they saw an awakening to social justice issues among more and more Biblically orthodox evangelicals. But Dobson never abandoned his agenda. Now he and his associates have come up with a new program to protect the overlords of the “official” economy from having to abandon business as usual for the sake of the common good.

In the Church Executive magazine article dated 16 May 2008 (, there is an article titled, “Christians Launch Campaign Against Global Warming Hype.” It appears that James Dobson, along with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, radio host Janet Parshall, and U.S. Senator James Inhofe, have launched a national campaign to gather one million signatures for a statement that says “Christians must not believe in all the hype about global warming.” The statement is titled, “We Get It!”

According to the article, the backers of the statement seek to inform Christians about the “Biblical” perspective on the environment and the poor, while questioning the science used to prove anthropogenic global warming. One of the statement's backers, Dr. Barrett Duke, vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty commission, asked, “How can you create policies on uncertain science? How can you say what it is that needs to be done when you don't really know and you don't really have real consensus on the state of the problem or what is causing the problem?”

But these people go beyond questioning the science behind climate change. They have seen that evangelicals – especially younger evangelicals – are increasingly becoming concerned about issues of social justice and the environment, and are abandoning the leaders of the Religious Right as irrelevant and clueless. Therefore these leaders are repackaging their message, talking about all the “harm” that will come to citizens of Third World countries if mandatory caps on carbon emissions are placed on the global economy. They issue dire warnings about premature deaths, starvation, diseases and harm to the human economy in America and abroad, if big businesses are forced to reduce CO2 emissions. Such a message strongly implies that big business and neoclassical free market capitalism controlled by Western multinationals is a good thing for all the world's people.

It's just too bad that the people spewing this nonsense haven't talked to such figures as Vandana Shiva, an Indian activist who is fighting to protect her people from multinational agribusiness corporations who are taking land away from poor Indian farmers. It's just too bad that James Dobson and Tony Perkins didn't check their facts by talking to some of the people at OXFAM before they opened their mouths. It's too bad that Senator Inhofe doesn't listen to Deconstructing Dinner, or that he didn't talk to Dr. James Hanson of NASA. Oh well, maybe these guys don't have links to these valuable sources of information, so here they are: for OXFAM; for Deconstructing Dinner; and for information on Vandana Shiva. Oh, and I have many more sources if these people need them. These sources will all tell how “wonderful” these Western multinationals have been for the people of the Third World, and for the rest of us as well.

The most amazing statement in the Church Executive article, though is this one: “Signers of the declaration said while they do acknowledge, in varying degrees, that global warming is real and humans are partly to blame for the earth’s warming, they believe that for the most part the heating of the earth is due to the natural warming and cooling cycle of the planet.” Even if it were true that global warming is due to natural climate cycles, they acknowledge that humans are partly to blame. Then they excuse themselves from any need to reduce human impacts based on their belief that the main driver of warming is natural cycles. This is as stupid as saying, “Forest fires are mostly caused by lightning. Therefore, I am not hurting anything if I play with matches in this dry meadow!”

The We Get It campaigners are taking their show on the road, having “begun a national outreach to pastors, people in the pews, African-American and Hispanic church leaders, youth, artists, homeschoolers, evangelical scientists, congressional and state policy-makers, and other Christian leaders in their effort to gather one million signatures for their declaration on the environment and poverty.” If they come to my town, I'm letting them know in advance that I won't be signing their declaration. In my opinion, Dobson, Perkins and the rest of them are like the prophet Balaam in the Book of Numbers – preachers whose message is based on who will give them the most money. Balaam was blessed with a donkey whom God used to talk some sense into him, but Dobson does not appear to be similarly blessed. It seems instead that just as the jawbone of an ass was used to kill many people in Biblical times (Judges 15:15-16, King James Version), a few jawbones are being used by the rich today to do harm.

Meanwhile, where I live, gas is solidly over $4 a gallon for all grades at several stations in the area. Even Arco is now selling unleaded premium for over $4. I was in the bike shop today getting my bike checked out and saw several people talking about commuting and high prices. The cost of commuting is on everyone's mind. “For Sale” and “For Rent” signs are starting to multiply from East Portland all the way to Lake Oswego. The City of Vallejo, California just declared bankruptcy. This week I did an informal “brown bag talk” at work during lunch on the subject of Peak Oil. Around nine or ten people showed up, and most of them stayed awake while I was talking :). I'm starting to see fewer new monster trucks on the road. Grocery prices are rising, but I now have six fava bean plants in my garden, along with 15 or 20 lentils, some garlic, a few onions, one potato plant and several sunflower sprouts. I'll be busy planting more this weekend...

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