Gods, Superstition and Climate Change

by George Hatjoullis

The ancients of all civilisations believed in Gods that caused natural catastrophes. Somehow they concluded that some form of sacrifice would appease the Gods and ward off further catastrophe. The belief in sacrifice as a solution to catastrophe persists today even though the nature of sacrifice has changed. The ancients resorted to human sacrifice. This was eventually reduced to animal sacrifice. Today we limit ourselves to crossing ourselves, prayer, hail Marys and abstinence. The latter is widely practised and preached and by people who would be horrified by the accusation of superstition.

The conclusion that sacrifice would please the Gods was a natural one given the evident nature of human psychology. Human beings seem to have an inherent need to be in control. The more alarming the situation, the greater the urge to experience control. A belief that sacrifice will appease the Gods is a very comforting belief because one can control sacrifice. Alarmed humans will grasp at and internalize whatever gives them some sense of control. They will be very hostile to anyone that undermines the belief system because it also erodes their illusion (delusion?) of control. This psychological structure lends itself to a particular form of social structure; priesthood.

The priests represent the deities on earth. They are special people and afforded great authority in society. They make observations of natural phenomena and predict pending disaster. They then ask the people for sacrifice to appease the Gods. Sometimes these sacrifices can be justified in other practical ways as well, such as fasting for lent. However, the force behind the sacrifice comes from the authority of the priest as the representative of the deity and the assertion that sacrifice will appease the Gods. Anyone challenging the priests is guilty of blasphemy and with this usually comes social penalty. Periodically the priests are overturned and new Gods and priests installed and a new dogma demands new sacrifices. The previous priests are seen as ignorant, brutal, superstitious and primitive.

All priests claim that their predictions and prescriptions are based on observation and ‘revelations’ that are not obvious to the layman or in which the layman has not been privileged by the Gods. The layman, needing to believe in order to have sense of control, laps up the wisdom.The layman never challenges the priest because he cannot. The ‘evidence’, asserts the priesthood, is only apparent to those inducted into the society of priests. Only those so inducted can ‘see’ the truth. Indeed the nature of truth is revealed in the process of induction. Laymen just accept the authority of the priesthood.

Problems arise when priests disagree. Who to believe? The layman believes the priest that allows her/him to act on her/his worst fear. Hence, thousands believe the one doctor that suggests a link between the MMR vaccinations and autism, despite the vast weight of the doctor-hood rejecting his claims (and many still do even after his ‘observations’ have been discredited). The majority of laymen believe that climate change is man-made even though they have never seen the evidence nor feel themselves capable of judging it. A minority of scientists question the evidence and conclusions, and are condemned as heretics (climate change deniers). It is necessary to believe that climate change is man-made so that man can have control. By sacrificing our way of living (and inflicting the sacrifice on already poor people in other countries) mother nature will relent and revert to the climate that we have come to expect and prosper under.

Climate change may well be happening. It has happened before so why not now? The evidence that it is man-made may well be compelling but how would I know (or you for that matter)? I have not looked at the evidence and who cares what I think as I have not been inducted into the scientist-hood. Indeed even those that have been inducted and question it are condemned as heretics. The main sacrifice demanded is to cut back on our consumption of fossil fuels. Now I can think of many reasons why this might be a good idea and I am happy to oblige, much like fasting for lent. There is also a wider implication that less materialism is good and that I should sacrifice material consumption. No argument from me for any number of reasons, though I am less convinced that I should be imposing this on people who already have a very low material consumption. I am a contented and devout member of the man-made climate change church. I am also a sort of Christian, partly for cultural reasons, but largely because I find the philosophy embedded in the four gospels compelling rather than any belief in God or resurrection.