Why tackle apocalyptic mythology?
Apocalyptic-scale threat incites fear that pushes people to coercive activism to save something, and historically that has resulted in eruptions of totalitarianism (see historical sources below). The actual improving trend of life inspires rational hope that affirms democratic cooperation to solve problems, and the result is strengthened freedom.
Climate changes and we adapt to such change just as humanity has done all across history. We cannot “stop climate change” by focusing on one small variable (CO2 at 0.04% of the atmosphere, and human contribution to Earth’s CO2 cycles at only about 3%). CO2 is just one tiny element in the complex mix of things that influence climate change. As a German scientist said, “It is absurd to think you can control climate by turning a CO2 knob”.
Beware the fallacy of “Presentism”.
Our present experience of the natural world and its harsher events may lead us to feel that things happening today are the worst ever because we experience them firsthand. This limited perspective on the natural world distorts the true state of things. Alarmist media add to the distortion with endless claims that extreme weather events are “the worst on record”, meaning the more formal recording of weather over just the last 150 years. Alarmists then use every extreme event to affirm the narrative of looming apocalyptic disaster.
The bigger and longer-term picture (i.e. paleo-climate) gives us the true state of climate. That longer-term record shows that the weather events of our time are not more extreme than ever before. And climate change over our recent history has been much milder than past history. For example, the climate change swings of the last 30,000 years of the Wisconsin glaciation (50,000 to 20,000 years ago) were far more severe than anything in our current inter-glacial. See the graph of the last 50,000 years of climate change in Ian Plimer’s Heaven and Earth.
Remember, we are still emerging out of the bitter cold of the Little Ice Age era of 1645-1715. Earth is still too cold and CO2 levels are still too low. But we are heading in the right direction with some mild warming (about 1 degree Centigrade over the past century) and a small rise in CO2 levels (from 285 to 400 plus ppm). See Basic Climate Facts Project below. See also Patrick Moore’s excellent presentation of climate history at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RR1bDmcNpa8
New comment: The complex of mythical ideas that push societies toward “coercive purging/purification” movements. Threat of apocalyptic-scale catastrophe inevitably unleashes the totalitarian impulse.
“Apocalyptic is the most violent and destructive idea in history”, Arthur Mendel in Vision and Violence.
Quote from below… “We get to the true state of something by looking at the complete big picture and the longest-term trends related to the thing that we want to understand”. Example: Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource. See also ‘Basic Climate Facts Project’ below.
The narrative we embrace and the outcomes.
Apocalyptic-scale alarmism incites survival desperation, anger, and may even push people to violence in order to save the thing that they imagine to be imminently threatened. The outcomes of alarmist exaggeration- i.e. coercive purification movements- have historically been extremely damaging to both humanity and to the natural world.
An entirely different body of evidence tells us the true state of life on Earth today. It shows us that life is not declining toward some great catastrophic collapse or ending. Rather, life is ever improving toward a better future. See, for example, HumanProgress.org for brief summaries of details.
The true state of the world (never perfect, but improving) affirms rational hope and inspires the better human impulses to love, patience, inclusive generosity, and cooperative endeavor to solve problems (i.e. historical gradualism, not the coercive violence of “instantaneous transformation” revolutions).
The apocalyptic complex of themes.
I’ve reduced the larger complex to 5 main themes in order to focus on the potentially most damaging idea in the apocalyptic mix- the advocacy for “coercive purging”. For a full version of the complex of mythical ideas see Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives in sections below.
This complex of end-of-days themes focuses on the potential danger when populations embrace apocalyptic-scale claims of imminent environmental catastrophe, most recently focused on climate change with endless prophecies of some looming collapse and ending of life. It is surprising that so many people still take apocalyptic seriously and seem unaware of the horrifically destructive outcomes from recent historical eruptions of apocalyptic hysteria. Apocalyptic alarmism leads to far more than just personal deformity (i.e. fear, anxiety, guilt/shame, despair and depression- see Zenon Lotufo’s Cruel God, Kind God).
The themes of the apocalyptic complex of ideas continue to dominate modern human consciousness, behavior, and social movements.
I’ve traced the historical descent of these themes to highlight their primitive origins in ancient mythology. Point? These are some of the most juvenile and damaging of ideas that people have embraced in their worldviews and meta-narratives across history.
Note: The myth of apocalypse may have emerged in prehistory, with the belief in an original golden age (better past) and then decline toward something worse. Studies show that the previous inter-glacial, the much warmer Eemian (some 3-5 degrees Centigrade warmer than our inter-glacial), may have ended quite suddenly some 110,000 years ago. That would have left our newly conscious ancestors with the sense of a golden age ending and life heading toward a disastrous future. See, for example, John Pfeiffer’s “Explosion: An Inquiry into the Origins of Art and Religion”.
The historical descent of the complex:
The earliest human writing on Sumerian cuneiform tablets (some 5000 years ago) contains fragments of the Sumerian Flood myth. Later more complete Babylonian versions of this flood myth (i.e. Epic of Gilgamesh around 1650 BCE) also embrace this earliest recorded version of an apocalyptic ending through natural disaster. That belief in a great disastrous end to life, as punishment for human sin, was embedded in human consciousness and narratives at the start of recorded history and little has changed since.
Sumerian/Akkadian/Babylonian mythology also had varied versions of an original paradise that was ruined by ‘bad’ people, followed by the consequence of punishing destruction. For instance, there was the paradise city of Dilmun that was ruined because of the sin of Enki who was then punished with illness. The flood myth expressed the belief in a better past where the gods lived peacefully but then corrupted people increased in numbers and became too noisy and that ruined the peace of the gods. The consequence would be an apocalypse via natural disaster (a great flood) to punish the noisy people.
That early mythology also included the need for sacrifice to appease upset deities and save the ancient world. The full complex noted below was not yet coherently formulated but the basic themes were already present in the earliest mythical systems.
The great world religions still promote this apocalyptic complex of themes and now “secular ideologies” have embraced the same complex of ideas. Young moderns, self-identifying as secular, materialist, and even atheist continue to mouth the very same mythical/religious themes as those ancient Sumerians. Young people today would fit comfortably in a Sumerian temple service chanting the myths of the ancients.
Earliest development of the full complex:
It was about a millennium after the Sumerians invented writing that the Persian sage Zoroaster (roughly 1500 BCE) formalized the Sumerian/Babylonian myths into a more coherent system of related themes. He presented the first full apocalyptic complex of (1) a better past (original paradise world), (2) bad people ruining the paradise and deserving punishment. (3) Life declining toward something worse, toward (4) a great purging of the evil of corrupt/sinful humanity (this is a critical theme in the mix). And after the purging of evil (5) the lost paradise could be restored.
Zoroaster’s religion then shaped the three great Western religions- i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Skip ahead to Christianity and its embrace of that same complex of themes, notably in Paul’s version of Christianity, the one that came down to us in the Western world. The other main branch of early Christianity, Jewish Christianity, was eventually condemned as heresy and almost disappeared by the Fourth Century CE, with remaining adherents (i.e. Ebionites) scattering to places like the Arabian Peninsula. Centuries later, an Ebionite priest, Waraqa, shaped the thinking of Mohammad and his apocalyptic Islamic religion. Yes, Islam is the direct offspring of Jewish Christianity. See detail in ‘The Priest and the Prophet’ by Joseph Azzi.
Paul’s Christianity embraced the above listed complex: (1) The past was better (original Eden paradise), (2) fallen sinful humanity ruined the paradise, (3) life was then declining toward apocalyptic ending, (4) where evil would be violently purged and (5) the lost paradise restored (or a new millennial kingdom of God installed). His letters to the Romans and Thessalonians, among other New Testament books, offer details.
Paul’s apocalyptic Christ and apocalyptic religion then brought the pathology of apocalyptic into Western consciousness to dominate Western belief systems. “Apocalyptic influenced all that Paul said and did…. Paul is the most influential person in human history and he has shaped practically all we think about everything”, James Tabor in Paul and Jesus.
Christianity continued to shape Western consciousness and belief systems down into the pre-modern world and in the 19th Century we find a critical historical shift occurring. During the transitional centuries into our modern era, ancient myth became “secular ideology”. Myth was given new secular expression in ideological systems such as Declinism. See Arthur Herman’s The Idea of Decline in Western History for detail on this shift from mythology to ideology. (Note that the major world religions continue to hold the mythical versions of apocalyptic. Eastern religions also had their own versions of decline and disastrous ending.)
Herman only notes two Christian themes that were embraced by Declinism- the myth of an original paradise that was lost and the need for violent purging to transform a society. But the full complex of five themes listed above is included in the modern ideological version of the apocalyptic complex known as Declinism that has become “the most prominent and influential theme today” (Herman).
Note that 19th Century Declinism birthed 20th Century environmental alarmism.
Today, many still embrace the myths of (1) a better past, a pristine wilderness world as the original paradise. (2) Corrupt people have ruined paradise through industrial civilization and now deserve punishment. (3) Life is now declining toward collapse and ending (apocalypse). There is the urgent need for salvation via (4) a coercive purging of the evil threat of industrial society so that humanity can save the world and (5) restore the lost original paradise world.
This modern version of apocalyptic uses different terminology but the core themes remain the same old, same old.
Apocalyptic as the most violent and destructive idea? Yes, because apocalyptic-scale alarmism frightens populations and that fear of chaos, destruction, and death incites people’s survival impulse. Populations are then susceptible to offered salvation schemes that promise to purge the evil threat and restore the lost paradise.
The fear-driven embrace of coercive purging proposals then unleashes the totalitarian impulse to ban and silence skeptical voices, to criminalize and persecute opponents. Watch how this erupts and develops. Note, for example, that Obama’s Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, tried to criminalize skeptical science in 2016. Apocalyptics argue that if the end is nigh then there is no more time for debate and democratic processes. That exaggerated urgency becomes a direct assault on freedom. And unleashed coercion can quickly transition to outright violence.
The pattern of the apocalyptic complex played out in Marxism and in Nazism, the other two offspring of Declinism, just as it is now playing out in environmental alarmism. Most critical to watch is the felt need to move toward coercive purging, and even toward violence to stop some threat and save your world. See the good research on the ‘apocalyptic millennial complex’ as it influenced mass-death movements in the last century: i.e. Richard Landes (Heaven on Earth), Arthur Mendel (Vision and Violence), and David Redles (Hitler’s Millennial Reich). Yes, they include environmentalism with the Marxist and Nazi movements. The same old themes and patterns are involved.
Marxist apocalyptic millennialism resulted in some 100 million deaths in the last century (the violent purging of the capitalist threat). Nazi apocalyptic millennialism resulted in some 50-60 million deaths (the violent purging of the Jewish Bolshevist threat). Environmental apocalyptic millennialism has already reached multiple millions of deaths and still counting (the coercive purging of the threat of industrial society and its technological advances, a society that is based on fossil fuels).
The mother of the modern environmental alarmism movement, Rachel Carson, used an apocalyptic narrative in Silent Spring that led to tens of millions of deaths following the ban on DDT (See “The Excellent Powder” for scientific and historical detail.). Other environmentalism salvationist schemes have resulted in additional death counts- i.e. anti-GM foods alarmism, and the bio-fuels fiasco. The most destructive of all environmentalist proposals would be the push for ‘decarbonization’ of our societies. See Basic Climate Facts Project below.
(Insert note: I distinguish between legitimate concern for environmental issues and alarmist exaggeration and distortion of such issues. All of us are concerned to care for the natural world. And evidence supports the fact that wealth creation in industrial society has enabled humanity to better care for the natural world, as well as improve the human condition. See, for example, the research of Indur Goklany on the “Environmental Transition”. Similar research was previously known as the “Ecological Kuznet’s Curve”.)
Apocalyptic is the most primitive and pathological thinking to ever have entered human consciousness, the most dangerous idea ever loosed upon humanity. It distorts entirely the improving trajectory of life- note the research of Julian Simon (Ultimate Resource), Greg Easterbrook (A Moment on the Earth), Bjorn Lomborg (The Skeptical Environmentalist), Matt Ridley (Rational Optimist), Indur Goklany (The Improving State of the World), Ronald Bailey (The End of Doom), Hans Rosling (Factfulness), and Desrochers and Szurmak (Population Bombed), among others.
For detail on the longer-term improving trajectory of our cosmos and life see Brian Swimme’s The Universe Story and Harold Morowitz’s The Emergence of Everything. Robert Hazen’s The Story of Earth focuses the emergence and improvement of life across the history of our planet. For the improving trajectory of our human species see James Payne’s The History of Force or Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature.
Young moderns mouthing the 5 themes listed above may appear as modern cool but are as primitive in their thinking as the ancient Sumerians. Pessimism may seem “cool/deep” (Martin Seligman- Learned Optimism, The Optimistic Child) but it is a profoundly distorting outlook on reality and life.
Conclusion: The complex of most prominent and influential themes today, summarized once more…
(1)Better past (original paradise)
(2)Corrupt people (humanity as virus/cancer on Earth) ruining paradise and deserving punishment
(3)Life declining toward catastrophe and even collapse/ending (apocalypse)
(4)Demand for salvation (save the world) by purging of the evil threat
(5)Promise of restoration of lost paradise (e.g. millennial utopia).
A counter complex or narrative:
The Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives list in sections below affirms that (1) there was never a better past. Earth began in chaotic brutality but has improved ever since with more organization and complexity that maintains parameters within which life can flourish.
(2)Humanity did not emerge in some pristine “noble savage” state but had beginnings in the brutality of animal-like existence (Paul Seabright in Constant Battles). We have improved ever since and that ongoing improvement reveals our essential goodness (James Payne in The History of Force, Stephen Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature, or Julian Simon in Ultimate Resource- “We are more creators than destroyers”).
(3)The long-term trajectory of life is not one of decline, but of rise toward something ever better. There is no looming collapse or ending of life on the horizon.
Consequently, (4)there is no need for a violent purging of some imagined threat to life. Humanity gradually improves life through democratic processes and the advances of industrial, technological society and its wealth creation.
(5)The world never becomes a utopian paradise but gets ever better and this affirms hope that all of our contribution to making life better is effective over the long term. See HumanProgress.org.
Including the myth of a better past in the apocalyptic complex of ideas creates a starker black/white contrast with the present imperfect state of the world and is effective to support prophesies of decline toward a worse future. Embracing the myth of original golden age, or original paradise, makes the present seem even worse than it is and therefore that myth can be used to affirm and highlight how bad the situation is now and it also affirms all the other claims in the apocalyptic complex. Claims that we have ruined paradise, that we are destroyers and we deserve punishment, that things are getting worse, and heading toward collapse and ending.
The entire complex of apocalyptic themes validates the alarmist claim that we must act now to save the world, to purge some great threat to life, and to halt the imagined precipitous decline of life.
But overwhelming evidence exposes this fraud of a better past and decline toward a worse future. Life on this planet began in the chaotic brutality of the early Earth. And human life emerged out of the brutality of animal existence. There never was a better past or original paradise. Life rises and improves over the long-term. It does not decline and worsen. The full and long-term trajectory of overall life, and the trajectory of human civilization, shows ongoing improvement toward a better future. And that evidence overturns entirely this great fraud of apocalyptic decline and ending.
New material: Countering the main features of the catastrophe narrative- i.e. the claim that the two best things happening on Earth today are the two worst things happening.
Imminent catastrophe narrative
Populations across the world have been frightened and even traumatized by alarm over changing climate. Note the rising eco-anxiety among children, the fatalism in young couples afraid to have children, and the widespread despair over the future. The imminent catastrophe narrative incites fear over two specific things- (1)rising temperatures and (2)rising CO2 levels. These are presented as the two worst things that are happening on Earth today and they portend some great collapse and even ending of life. CO2 has even been demonized as a pollutant and poison.
I would upend the imminent catastrophe narrative entirely. Evidence shows that these two trends- warming temperature and rising CO2- are actually the two best things that are happening on Earth today. Contrary to the imminent catastrophe narrative, CO2 is not a pollutant or poison but is the most basic food of all life. Over the past millions of years, CO2 has been dangerously low and plant life has been stressed/starving. With the slight rise of the past century, from 285 ppm to 400 plus ppm, plant life is now thriving with a 14% increase in green vegetation across the world over the past 30 years. “This is equivalent to adding a new continent of green vegetation twice the size of the mainland United States”, Zaichun Zhu of Beijing University .
And more warmth on Earth is benefiting life as we are still in an abnormally cold era that harms both plant, animal, and human life (e.g. 10-20 times more annual deaths from cold than from heat).
The long-term historical record also affirms that life always flourished with more warmth and more CO2. CO2 levels during the Cambrian Explosion were around 5000-plus ppm and often in multiple thousands of ppm over the past 500 million years. Temperatures over the same 500 million year period have often been much warmer than today (5-10 degrees Centigrade warmer) and there was no climate catastrophe. See ‘Climate Facts Project’ below.
There is no “settled science consensus” that CO2 is mainly responsible for climate change. Many other natural factors show stronger and clearer correlations to the climate change we are observing.
This site tackles the apocalyptic myth behind alarmist narratives.
Contrary to a common media meme, it is not true that scientists on the skeptical side of the debate deny that climate change is occurring. Labelling someone a “Denier” tends to shut down discussion and avoid dealing with real content and evidence. Climate, as a complex and dynamic (i.e. no stasis) system, is always changing. That is not the core issue of disagreement.
The core issue is how much does humanity really contribute to the rise of atmospheric CO2 and will the rise of CO2 (now 400 plus ppm) lead to catastrophic outcomes? We still do not know how much humanity in industrial civilization has contributed to the CO2 budget on Earth, what with other natural sources- i.e. submarine volcanoes, land plant decay, ocean release, etc.- that appear to overwhelm the human contribution.
And we still do not know how much CO2 itself actually influences climate change in light of the discovery of other natural factors that show stronger correlations to the climate change that we have seen over past centuries (e.g. cosmic ray/sun/cloud interaction, ocean/atmosphere interaction, etc.).
Public discussion needs to move beyond the endless claims, regarding skeptics, that “they don’t believe in climate change”. That shows either outright deceitfulness or, more generously, profound ignorance of the basic issues of the debate over climate.
Basic Climate Facts project– a list of the most basic climate facts that overturn more extreme scenarios and apocalyptic narratives on climate and give the true state of climate history. Intent: To counter the distorting “climate crisis” alarmism of today. And to affirm hope based on the best evidence available. Overall point? Earth today is in an abnormally cold, and therefore sub-optimal and unhealthy state for life.
“We get to the true state of something by looking at the complete big picture and the longest-term trends related to the thing that we want to understand”. Example: Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource.
We are currently in one of the coldest ice-age eras in Earth’s history- the Quarternary ice age with repeated cyclical patterns of extended glaciation and inter-glacial periods. We are now in the coldest 1% of this ice age era.
Average global temperatures today are only 14.5 degrees Centigrade which is 5 degrees C below the normal and optimum temperatures of the past 500 million years at 19.5 degrees C (67 degrees Fahrenheit). (see https://wattsupwiththat.com/2020/01/03/earths-ice-ages/, “The Earth’s normal or optimum global average temperature over the past 550 million years is about 19.5 degrees Centigrade… this is over 5 degrees C. warmer than today”). There was no climate crisis during those warmer periods.
For most of the past 500 million years (roughly since the Cambrian Explosion of life), over 90% of this 500 million year period, the Earth has been entirely ice free. That is a normal, optimal world- with no ice. Researchers have discovered the stumps of tropical trees in the Arctic, showing that during warmer periods animal and plant life enjoyed extended habitats that covered most of the Earth’s land area. https://www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/throwback-thursday-canadas-tropical-arctic
CO2 levels during this ice-age era have been dangerously low. Some 350,000 years ago we just missed a real potential catastrophe as CO2 levels descended below 200 ppm, reaching a low of 180 ppm. Plant life dies at 150 ppm. See https://wattsupwiththat.com/2020/01/06/climate-alarmists-winning-the-war-of-words-despite-evidence-that-nothing-unusual-is-happening/
For much of Earth’s history, CO2 levels have been in the healthy range of 1000-2000 ppm (and often higher, with no catastrophic impact on life). To the contrary, plant life has thrived under such conditions of more plentiful plant food. CO2 is the basic food of plant life. It is not a pollutant or poison. I suffer an embarrassing “Duh” in stating this Grade One science fact.
“Present-day CO2 levels are about five times lower than the levels that existed during the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods when many of our most useful plants evolved… Both temperature and CO2 are lower today than they have been during most of the era of modern life on Earth since the Cambrian Period. Also, note that CO2 and temperature are not highly correlated, therefore this does not indicate a lock-step cause-effect relationship between the two parameters.” http://co2coalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Rising_CO2__Food-Security-2-21-19-1.pdf
Ice core samples show that rises in atmospheric CO2 levels follow climate warming. CO2, a small greenhouse gas (0.04% of the atmosphere) does not drive warming as much as varied other natural factors do (see, for example, Henrik Svensmark’s ‘The Chilling Stars’ on the cosmic ray/sun/cloud interaction, or Michael Hart’s ‘Hubris’ on the ocean/atmosphere interaction). Historically the CO2 influence on climate is consistently overwhelmed by other natural factors that show stronger correlations to climate changes. https://wattsupwiththat.com/2017/10/06/news-from-vostok-ice-cores/
Today there is no “climate crisis or emergency” with the slight warming (about 1 degree C. over the past century) and slight increase in plant food (CO2 at just over 400 ppm). These two rising features of life are also part of the more recent natural recovery from the bitter cold of the Little Ice Age of approximately 1645-1715.
Contrary to much climate alarmism, the two best things happening to life today are more warmth and more CO2. The outcome of these two improving features is that life is now thriving and Earth is much greener. The planet has gained 14% more green vegetation over the past few decades. This is the equivalent to adding green vegetation twice the size of the mainland US. The planet is overall healthier today. See Matt Ridley’s “Rejoice, the Earth is greener today” at https://humanprogress.org/article.php?p=2018&fbclid=IwAR2DhS7FGEgzdR0XQp5iFNGZOUcofy8FhUrgJJ6CFfuwE8tV-rxRkb6x3jQ.
Agricultural crops have also experienced additional growth from more aerial fertilizer- i.e. CO2- adding an estimated $3 trillion in additional farm income over the past 30 years. There will be further massive gains in crop and overall world plant growth with more food.
Animal life is also thriving with access to more plant food. However, temperatures and CO2 levels are still too low and not yet normal or optimal for life to flourish even more.
Further, we do not know what actually contributes to the rise in Earth’s current CO2 budget. Alarmists have claimed that the rise over the past two centuries is due mainly to industrial society emissions (i.e. the claim that human use of fossil fuels in industrial civilization is responsible for about 45-50% of the rise in CO2 levels). But research shows other natural sources that overwhelm the human contribution, such as submarine volcanic emissions (some 3.47 million undersea volcanoes as well as separation ridge emissions), and other natural land sources (e.g. plant decay) and ocean sources. See, for example, https://principia-scientific.org/volcanic-carbon-dioxide/?fbclid=IwAR3ScJMbDRoVmr2lSmr5jkPBR1RmV60ibhTIOYQUSxuNc5VjLqgIuIyeZSY
Quotes from above paper: “Volcanic CO2 emission raises some serious doubts concerning the anthropogenic origins of the rising atmospheric CO2 trend… volcanogenic CO2 emission is on the order of 121-163MtCpa… Volcanic CO2 emission is a significant if not dominant contributor to atmospheric CO2 levels… the amount of CO2 from volcanoes is enormous… and suggests that it dwarfs anthropogenic contributions…”
Just to show the state of uncertainty as related to climate science, “There are simply too many volcanoes to deny that the atmospheric concentration of the most erupted gas next to water is predominantly controlled by the balance or lack thereof between volcanic activity and photosynthesis… There is simply no established volcanic CO2 fingerprint by which we may distinguish atmospheric proportions of anthropogenic and volcanic contributions. This leaves us with no empirical method by which we may attribute the 20th Century rise in CO2 to human energy consumption”.
Add here the constant exchange of CO2 that occurs between land and atmosphere (photosynthesis and respiration/decay), along with the exchange between oceans and atmosphere (absorption/expelling). These cycles are never in perfect balance but are shifting in response to longer-term influences, among other natural influences. This impacts CO2 budgets and overall cycles and appears to overwhelm any human influence in the mix.
Insert: The size of the CO2/carbon cycles on Earth are as follows- Plant respiration puts out about 60 billion tons annually. Soil microbial respiration and decomposition put out about 60 billion tons. On the other side, plant photosynthesis absorbs about 120+3 billion tons annually. Oceans expel about 90 billion tons but absorb about 90+2 billion tons annually. Human emissions are about 6-9 billion tons. The human input to Earth’s carbon/CO2 cycle is about 3%.
Point? With no “settled science consensus” and with more obvious benefit than harm from more warmth and CO2, there is no good reason to “decarbonise” our societies- i.e. stop using fossil fuels. That would devastate our economies and harm the poorest people the most. This has already happened with rising energy costs from anti-fossil fuel policies, fuel poverty, and consequent increased deaths from cold. Over ten times more people die every year from cold than die from warm events. https://notrickszone.com/2019/09/12/new-studies-cold-temperature-deaths-rising-and-10-20-times-more-common-than-heat-related-deaths/
We do better to adapt to climate change rather than try to mitigate climate change itself. As one scientist said, it is absurd to think that we can control climate (i.e. the claim that we must keep warming to only 1.5 degrees) by turning a CO2 knob. Again, CO2 makes up just 0.04% of the atmosphere and is one small variable among myriad other natural factors that influence climate.
Note: Even if we are responsible for much of the rise in CO2 levels, this is to be celebrated because CO2 has been dangerously low over previous millennia. See a great summary of these issues by Patrick Moore at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RR1bDmcNpa8
Added notes on main claims of alarmists: Extreme weather events occur endlessly across Earth during all periods of climate change. Such events show no worsening trend today. https://www.thegwpf.com/ipcc-report-extreme-weather-events-not-getting-worse/
Ocean rise is occurring at the same slow rate that it has across this inter-glacial, the Holocene. Oceans have risen about 120 meters since the beginning of this inter-glacial, and are rising today at a slow rate of about 4 mm per year. https://wattsupwiththat.com/2019/06/05/new-policy-brief-shows-no-evidence-of-accelerated-sea-level-rise/
Droughts, and related fires, are not more severe or frequent than during the long-term past. Media claims of “worst on record” are referring to the past 150 years of record-keeping, and often refer to even shorter time periods of just a few years. This distorts the true state of climate issues.
“Presentism” is the intensely felt sense that our current experience of something must be the worst ever. But Presentism must look at the bigger picture of anything. It must consider the fullest long-term record (i.e. paleo-climate evidence) in order to put our experience into proper context.
19.5 degrees Centigrade as normal and optimal? Higher temperatures will not “fry the planet” as alarmists claim. Earth has an efficient heat or energy distribution system. Great upwellings of warm air at the equator carry heat to the poles. https://scied.ucar.edu/learning-zone/how-weather-works/global-air-atmospheric-circulation This leads to the spread of warmth to colder regions. The equator does not get hotter but the poles get warmer. The result is less temperature differences between higher latitudes and tropical regions, less difference between seasons, and less difference between day and night temperatures. These “less severe gradients” mean less severe storminess. Things like tornadoes arise from the sharp differences between hot and cold air fronts. Does the slight warming of the past half century or so explain the recent decades of flat trends for hurricanes and tornadoes?
Climate change over the last 30,000 years of the Wisconsin glaciation (50,000 to 20,000 years ago), just previous to our Holocene inter-glacial, shows severe swings often in the range of 12-plus degrees Centigrade (from lows during cold periods to highs during warmer periods). During our inter-glacial of the past 15,000 years, climate change swings have been mild- i.e. only around 4 degrees Centigrade from colder to warmer periods. See graph of the past 50,000 years of climate change on page 33 of Ian Plimer’s Heaven and Earth.
Scientific, political, and media elites have convinced many across the world that the two best things that are happening on earth today, i.e. (1) more warmth in this cold ice-age era, and (2) more CO2, the basic food of life… alarmist scientists and alarmist news media have confused many with claims that these two improving trends are the two worst things that are happening on earth today, that they portend the “end of days” just up ahead. That is irresponsible and immoral inciting of apocalyptic hysteria, and it is entirely unhinged from reality. Frightened populations are now willing to embrace alarmist salvation schemes like “decarbonization” that will devastate economies and the lives of the most vulnerable people, the poorest. https://wattsupwiththat.com/2020/02/10/we-must-fight-climate-extremists-before-they-upend-society/
As the paleo-climate evidence above shows, these two rising factors in nature- more warmth and more CO2- are signs of a return to a more normal and optimal state for life, and life is flourishing in response (i.e. increasing plant mass by some 14% over the past four decades). The world is greener and healthier due to these two things rising toward a more normal state for life.
And behind the promotion of public alarm over these two features of life, we see the re-emergence of last century’s great battle between Collectivism and the free individual model for organizing human society. Collectivism has reframed itself with new claims to “honor the consensus science”, which is just more of the same old Collectivist anti-freedom of speech as before. And it claims to be the crusade that will “save the world” from industrial society (i.e. capitalist society), a crusade that is fundamentally anti-human progress.
But keep these two improving trends in sharp focus as key to the public narratives of today- warming temperatures and more CO2. These improving features of life have been demonized as great threats to life. Even a usually sharp mind like Bill Maher has called CO2 a “poison gas”. Sheesh. Anti-scientific lunacy gone insane, eh.
One more: Fear of change in nature/climate
Fear of change in nature should be considered some sort of pathology, or at least, certainly profoundly anti-science. Change, especially in climate, is fundamental to such a complex, dynamic system. Climate is influenced by a still-hardly-understood myriad of natural elements. There is never the possibility of stasis in climate, especially not through the proposals of climate alarmists (e.g. the irrational claim that we can turn a CO2 knob and thereby control temperatures, holding climate change to only a 1.5-2.0 degree C. rise).
Irrational fear of change has resulted in the embarrassing claims of alarmists that every twitch in climate (especially every extreme weather event) portends the apocalypse. A notable example: During the filming of The Revenant, Leonardo DeCaprio was subject to freezing Alberta temperatures but was fortunate to experience the beautiful, and fairly common to Alberta, phenomenon of a “chinook”- a sudden warming front moving in. Startled, he told the film crews that this warming was a “terrifying sign” of dangerous, apocalyptic climate change. Huh? Warm air saving you from freezing to death and it is the harbinger of catastrophe? Sheesh. https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/leonardo-dicaprio-witnesses-a-terrifying-sign-of-climate-change-in-calgary-a-chinook
The best evidence that we have shows that the change that we have seen, notably over the past few centuries, correlates most clearly with natural influences that consistently overwhelm the CO2 influence on climate. CO2 is a minor player in the climate drivers mix.
Why tackle apocalyptic mythology, and its Johnny-come-lately offspring- environmental alarmism?
Notes below are based on research of apocalyptic millennial historians Richard Landes (Heaven on Earth), Arthur Herman (The Idea of Decline In Western History), Arthur Mendel (Vision and Violence), and David Redles (Hitler’s Millennial Reich), among others.
Mendel said that “apocalyptic was the most violent and destructive idea in history”. How so? The threat of the end of the world (destruction and death) incites the basic survival fear in populations and the demand for salvation, for action now before its too late. Inciting apocalyptic hysteria then leads to rationalization for abandoning democratic processes just as too many are arguing today. If we are about to pass the final “tipping point” to catastrophe (“imminent apocalypse”), then there is no more time for debate or argument. We have to act now to save the world and this panicked urgency becomes an assault on freedom and democracy. Example: Former US AG Loretta Lynch, among others, has tried to criminalize skeptical science https://www.wsj.com/articles/punishing-climate-change-skeptics-1458772173. The ongoing efforts to silence critics and healthy debate over climate science are no different from the Medieval Church trying to silence the skeptics to the Medieval consensus, Galileo and Copernicus.
Arguments for silencing critics, based on disproven claims to “settled science” and “97% consensus”, are evidence of humanity’s age-old totalitarian impulse emerging once again. Disproven? Check the list of almost 32,000 scientists that signed the Protest Petition- http://www.petitionproject.org/ and note how the 97% figure was arrived at- https://www.thegwpf.org/…/Warming-consensus-and-it-critics1…..
Media that self-identify as “Truth-tellers” ignore the robust disagreement over the actual causes of climate change and almost exclusively take the alarmist/apocalyptic side. For detail, see David Altheide’s “Creating Fear: News and the manufacture of crisis”. Altheide says that news media are not truth-tellers but are entertainers that are competing with the rest of the entertainment industry. And what dominates entertainment? Apocalyptic. Someone noted that over a recent short period Hollywood put out 100 major movies that embraced some version of apocalypse.
Once the apocalyptic narrative takes hold in public consciousness, you also then begin to see arguments for the “instantaneous transformation” of society, for “coercive purging” of some imagined threat to life. This illustrates Mendel’s point on apocalyptic inciting violence and destruction. In Marxist apocalypticism, there was the incited urgency to save the world from “destructive” capitalism. In Nazi apocalyptic narratives it was the urgency to save Germany and the world from Jewish Bolshevism. Now in environmental apocalyptic the demand is for coercive purging of the imagined threat of fossil fuel-based industrial society and the instantaneous transformation of life, as in the push for immediate “decarbonisation” of our societies.
The outcomes of contemporary environmental apocalyptic have already been equally destructive as the previous apocalyptic alarmism in Marxism and Nazism. Examples: Rachel Carson’s apocalyptic narrative in Silent Spring led to tens of millions of deaths, many children, in the wake of the ban on DDT (‘The Excellent Powder’ details the history of DDT). Add here anti-GM alarmism and the deaths of 8 million children over a recent 12-year period (see Lomborg article https://nationalpost.com/opinion/bjorn-lomborg-trashing-rice-killing-children). Anti-fossil fuel activism has already resulted in rising fuel prices and fuel poverty, with related rising mortality rates among the most vulnerable people, the poor (Global Warming Policy Forum reports on fuel poverty and rising mortality in countries like England, Germany, and US).
Climate scientist Roy Spencer in a recent article (Nov. 18/2019) bemoaned the fact that science does not appear to be winning the battle with climate alarmism https://www.drroyspencer.com/2019/11/climate-extremism-in-the-age-of-disinformation/. While good science is still critical to counter the exaggerated apocalyptic scenarios of alarmists, it will not likely be the deciding factor to change minds. Because we humans are emotional creatures and we are swayed more by the core beliefs that we hold. This applies everywhere, even in the “hardest science”, the most fundamental science of all- physics. See, for example, Sabine Hossenfelder’s Lost in Math, or Jim Baggot’s Farewell to Reality.
Even hard-core materialist types tend to cross the science/philosophy boundary in their search for answers. This is because we are most essentially beings that are oriented to a primal meaning impulse. That impulse, along with the beliefs that we choose to affirm our personal sense of meaning, determines what evidence we will accept as credible and what we choose to downplay, discredit, and dismiss outright (i.e. confirmation bias).
For this reason, this site goes after the core ideas/themes that have always dominated human consciousness across history and across all the cultures of the world. Note Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives below. The alternatives respond to humanity’s undeniable orientation to Mind, Consciousness, Self/Personhood, and Purpose/Meaning, as vital to our understanding of greater reality.
And yes, climate alarmism, as part of a more general environmental alarmism, is history’s latest outbreak of apocalyptic madness.
The real battle today, in the marketplace of ideas, is between the old apocalyptic narrative of life as defined by primitive themes like punitive, destroying core reality (e.g. angry God, vengeful Gaia, angry Planet, payback karma), bad people deserving punishment through nature (for ruining some original paradise), and the trajectory of life as defined by the distorting mythology/ideology of Declinism- i.e. life declining toward disastrous collapse and ending.
And on the other side, we have the new narrative of life that is backed by amassed evidence affirming that life is rising and improving. We reason from that evidence to the conclusion that there is no core punitive, destroying reality and that we are more creators than destroyers- more good to the bone than bad to the bone.
Big picture, long-term trends
Look beyond today’s climate alarm debate, and even beyond the more general environmental alarmism movement. Note the themes that you hear repeatedly coming from these movements. This will get you to the real issues behind such movements- the meaning and belief issues.
The more prominent themes: The past was better (original paradise mythology), but bad people have ruined the better past (e.g. industrial civilization as the great destroying evil). Life is now heading toward some great disastrous collapse and ending (i.e. outbreaks of apocalyptic-scale alarmism in the global cooling alarm, mass starvation and resource depletion alarms, and now warming apocalypse). Frightened populations, feeling intensely the alarmist inciting of their survival impulse, now feel obligated to embrace the salvation schemes offered by alarmist prophets- i.e. to “save the world”.
The salvation schemes involve “instantaneous transformation of societies through coercive purging” of some imagined threat because the end of days is always imminent, and the crisis is so bad (note the endless date-setting of apocalyptic prophets). This panic-driven sense of urgency results in the unleashing of the totalitarian impulse and the undermining of freedom/democracy. All such crisis-driven narrative claims to restore some imagined lost paradise (better past world).
But the alarmist narrative is completely wrong, upside down, backwards, an Alice-in-Wonderland distortion of the true state of life. Life has never been better and the great trajectory of life has been improving over the long term. Amassed evidence and good science has affirmed the rising/improving trajectory of life and human civilization. See, for example, Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource, Greg Easterbrook’s A Moment on the Earth, Bjorn Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist, Indur Goklany’s The Improving State of the World, Ronald Bailey’s The End of Doom, Szurmak and Desrocher’s Population Bombed, and Hans Rosling’s Factfulness, among others.
They all show that good science does two basic things in order to get to the true state of things. It (1) looks at the complete big picture of evidence, and (2) it look at the longest-term trends (e.g. paleo-climate evidence as the real historical record of importance). See also HumanProgress.org for good updates on the ever-improving state of life.
Evidence also shows that rising average world temperatures and rising levels of CO2 (the basic food of plant life) are the two best things happening now to nature. For the past millions of years we have been in an abnormally cold ice-age era (average world surface temperatures today at 14.5 degrees Centigrade, barely above ice-age averages). And CO2 levels have been dangerously low for plant life. Just 350,000 years ago CO2 dipped below 200 ppm and we missed a real disaster as plant life would have died if CO2 had continued down to the 150 ppm level. So both trends today- rising temperatures and rising CO2- are beneficial to life and both need to rise even more toward more normal and optimal states in order for life to flourish more. Past optimal temperatures for most of the past 500 million years were temperatures at 19.5 degrees Centigrade. And plants prefer levels of CO2 in the 1000-1500 range.
I just watched a couple of interviews with Christopher Hitchens, from the last year or so of his life, that included his expression of doubt that his consciousness would survive the death of his brain. I would have told Chris to relax because good evidence affirms that his consciousness does survive the death of his brain.
Aside from other points, also reason from the negative: There is not a shred of good evidence that the meat in our heads produces the wonder of mind, or the human self. Despite the dogmatism from some that the matter is settled, it is not. Consciousness is still the greatest mystery in the Cosmos.
And quantum mechanics, along with other areas of science, opens the way to rational speculation that consciousness is the fundamental reality behind all other reality. Science will never be the final truth-teller on these issues. It only takes us so far. Then we all have to make our own conclusions about this profoundly mysterious reality that we inhabit and what it all means.
Further Christopher, as for your fear of a Christian after-life, an eternal religious service shaped by features like tribalism (i.e. humanity divided eternally into saved and lost groups), by eternal slavery to Lord Christ, and eternal destruction in fire, well relax. That too would be my vision of hell. Fortunately, there is no such thing. Its just mythology, bad mythology.
Also, take some anecdotal input- i.e. from the NDE. The vast majority of these experiences speak to one consistent discovery- that the Light, God, or Ultimate Consciousness is an inexpressible ‘no conditions love’. Infinite unconditional love.
That single insight overturns most religion from across history. Because most religion has been about conditions, presenting God as the great Source of conditions- conditions of right belief, demanded sacrifice/payment, right ritual, and lifestyle, and more. Conditions, conditions, conditions.
And because all religion across history has been highly conditional, therefore religion cannot present the reality of an unconditional God. Religion has never presented this truth to humanity. That means the unconditional God that exists has never been a religious reality. So Christopher you have been right about religion, however, wrong about your final conclusion- atheism. We can do better with alternative god theories, more humane god theories. And you did admit Chris, in one of your final interviews, that you were open to surprises (i.e. the continuing existence of consciousness).
But hey Chris, having already crossed over to the other side, now you know all this, don’t you.
An affirmation: Hitchens said that his battle with religion was about “Freedom from mental slavery”.
Dawkins on Rogan- The religion issue
Joe Rogan had Richard Dawkins as a guest on his podcast and their discussion veered toward the question of Why religion exists?
Dawkins was right that one reason for religion was power over others. Prehistorian John Pfeiffer argues this point in his book ‘Explosion: An Inquiry Into the Origin of Art and Religion’. He suggests that the earliest religion arose when some people in ancient tribal groups (original shaman/priests) claimed to know the secrets to the invisible world and would tell others what offerings/sacrifices to make, in order to get the goods from the gods or to appease upset deities. Those early self-appointed mediators of the divine secrets became history’s first powerholders over others in the earliest human societies.
But more broadly, mythology and religion emerged and developed in human history due to the primal human meaning impulse. From the beginning people have wondered about such things as why we exist. And we are consciously aware that nature and life can be both wonderful and horrible at times. That rouses our curiosity. Why? What is the point of it all? The purpose? The meaning? Especially the meaning of suffering.
We are curious beings and we have to know, we have to understand, and we must explain it all. Hence the long histories of mythology, religion, and philosophy/science.
Most human beings that have existed (the roughly 100 billion in our line of humanity) get that this material reality/world is only part of something much greater. Science has also discovered that our four dimensions are a small part of something much greater, our visible material realm being only 4-5% of a larger reality that includes Dark matter and energy (perhaps more correctly- Light energy and matter).
Most people across history have intuitively understood that the greater surrounding/interpenetrating reality had to do with more than just energy, natural law, quantum forces/reality, or whatever. Even the early Quantum theorists, with their rational science backgrounds, concluded that the greater reality was better understood as more than just energy or natural law and suggested that “the universe looks more like a great Thought than a machine” (James Jean). Other scientists state that mind and matter are inseparable (the conscious observer and observed reality).
Point? Most humans across history have understood that the greater surrounding reality was more about Mind, Consciousness, Self/Personhood, Intelligence, Purpose, and Spirit, among other things.
During the millennia-long process of personifying elemental forces (creating gods or god theories), early people went wrong when they projected the worst of human features out to define the greater reality. Those were subhuman, inhuman, even animal-like features employed to define what would eventually become viewed as deity or gods (personified forces, realities, and objects). And with their base projections those early people thereby created monsters. And those monstrous early features, once embedded in divinity theories, have remained largely untouched in world religions even today with their monotheistic deities. After all, immutability is a notable attribute in varied religious God theories.
The worst features employed to define deity would include: God as dualistic or tribal reality favoring his chosen tribe and excluding enemies/unbelievers. God as dominating (i.e. Judge, Lord/King, Ruler) with humanity as subservient (i.e. people created to serve the gods, feed the gods). And worst of all- God as punitive and destructive (i.e. the threat theology myths of apocalypse and hell).
I would argue that most critical to note regarding the nature of religion, and its earliest emergence, is that religion from the beginning was about the creation of conditions deemed necessary to access spiritual reality and benefits. And that was the beginning of salvation mythology (i.e. conditions to appease/please upset divinity and thereby avoid negative blow-back from the gods).
From the beginning religion has been most essentially about conditions as related to greater reality. The conditions to get favors from the gods (i.e. offerings), conditions to appease upset gods that would harm one (i.e. sacrifices, payment), and conditions of salvation from temporal world misfortune or after-life harm. This made God out to be most essentially about conditions. Religion presented God as the ultimate conditional reality (the Source of conditions for inclusion, forgiveness, salvation, paradise).
Ask yourself: How do the above features in humanity’s highest ideal and authority- deity- influence human thought, emotion, response/behavior, and treatment of others? Is it any wonder that a highly conditional ultimate reality (i.e. humanity’s highest ideal and authority) would influence people to treat one another in the same manner?
Religion will not go away anytime soon in history. And atheism is just too incoherent and irrational for most people to seriously consider as an alternative. Though we should applaud materialists for their innovative and inventive creation of more “secular” deities like “Self-Organizing Principle” with the many god-like features that are attributed to that in order to help explain the obvious creation of the cosmos (i.e. Big bang) and the stunning complexity that has emerged in the development of life (i.e. the astounding complexity of DNA, cells, and many other things in life that are impossible to understand or explain solely in terms of natural law and randomness).
So what are other possible alternatives? Reform religion? Yes, anything that moderates the nastier features and outcomes (e.g. religious violence across history) is welcomed and affirmed. But most religious reform is just timid tinkering around the periphery and does not get to the root of the problem. That problem being the long history of religious gods validating the worst impulses in people- i.e. to tribal dualism and violence between groups, domination by religious authorities (God’s representatives on Earth), and the deforming influence of threat theology (unnecessary fear, anxiety, and shame/guilt deforming human personality- see Zenon Lotufo’s Cruel God, Kind God). Add here the horrific burden of demanded salvation schemes.
My solution? To solve the problems that religion has produced across history, you need to go to the root or core idea that anchors all other bad religious ideas- Deity. You need to purge the deeply embedded pathologies there and, quite simply, put love in its place. Not the “cognitive dissonance-generating” love of much religion with its confusing mixture, or merger, of humane ideals with the primitive dehumanizing features of the past. Example: God is love and so therefore God had Jesus sacrificed to pay for human sin. This confusing mixture of opposites claims that love can be defined in terms of the primitive practice of human sacrifice- i.e. torturing and killing an innocent victim in order to placate an angry God (see Paul’s letter to the Romans for detail). Love engaging violence as an ultimate solution?
We ought to reject such primitive definitions of love and replace them with the highest form of love that humanity has discovered- no conditions or unconditional love. This no conditions love is the best of human goodness and so we may assume that divine reality, as ultimate Goodness and love, would be transcendently better- i.e. unconditional as infinite degree of goodness or love. Something better than the best that we could imagine.
Unconditional as our highest ideal and authority will orient consciousness to the best of human impulses. It will overturn the primitive features of past God theories that have long validated humanity’s worst impulses. To the contrary, unconditional orients us to inclusion of all, respect for the equality and freedom of all (no domination/control), and to restorative treatment of all. Unconditional eliminates the primal human fear of divine threat (this life or after-life threat). It overturns completely the ‘threat theology’ of religion, the source of unnecessary fear, anxiety, and guilt/shame at human imperfection.
The authority on unconditional, as the new core of deity, is not some religious holy book or religious authority figure. We see this “best of humanity” feature in the behavior of ordinary parents, spouses, friends and neighbors, as well as in common human rights codes and restorative justice approaches. These advocate for full inclusion, equality and forgiveness, and the humane treatment of all, including offenders/enemies. We then project these features out to define God but as transcendently better than the best that we can imagine.
God as ultimate Good and Love has to be the best or highest type of love- no conditions love.
No religion has ever communicated this essential unconditional nature of deity because all religion is most essentially about conditions- i.e. right beliefs, correct rituals, demanded sacrifice/payment, and necessary religious lifestyle.
A new God theory will recognize that God is not a religious reality, a conditional reality. God is love. That is the highest form of love, no conditions love.
Note: No conditions love is self-validating as the highest good or love. It needs no outside authority to validate it as good and true. Nelson Mandela affirmed it with the reasoning that “It brings out the best in others (not all, but most)”, and “It turns enemies into friends (not all, but most)”.
Further note on Pfeiffer’s book Explosion: Pfeifer also suggests that the myth of an original golden age may have originated some 100,000 years ago. I took a closer look at that in terms of the previous inter-glacial, the Eemian, and the following glaciation, the Wisconsin, that preceded our current Holocene inter-glacial. Some research suggests that the Eemian may have ended suddenly (over a few centuries or an even shorter time). Ancient humans, already conscious, would have remembered the warmer past as a golden age or past paradise. They may have then viewed the descent into colder climate some 100,000 years ago as a loss of paradise and a decline toward disaster. That may be the origins of the apocalypse myth in human thinking. Decline toward disaster and ending.
More on God theories…
Mind brain- Harris
I want to respectfully disagree with neuro-scientist Sam Harris regarding something in brain/mind issues. Contrary to Sam’s point that brain damage, and the related hindrance to human expression, is evidence affirming that the brain produces mind, other neuro-scientists argue that the opposite theory is just as rational and valid- that the brain transmits mind or consciousness. Therefore, brain damage hinders that normal and full expression.
Transmission theory is more in line with Nobel laureate John Eccles’ “Dualist interaction”. Joseph Campbell also noted a scientist who said that the brain is a limiting organ that enables our greater consciousness to perceive material reality in a limited fashion and that enables us to function in this limited material realm (four dimensions out of possibly many more).
Science only takes us so far on these issues and then we are left to make our own conclusions. Dogmatism on any side (religious or atheist/materialist) cannot be validated by science. And while science will continue to uncover mystery and explain much past religious irrationality, science also fosters a parallel and non-converging trajectory. It continues to uncover ever more mystery about reality, ever more profound mystery. Surely quantum mechanics shows us this (and things like dark energy/matter, multiple invisible realms, and more).
Central site point- the great struggle with the real monster and enemy of humanity.
The single worst idea that has been beaten into human consciousness across the millennia is the myth that God is a punitive, destroying reality (i.e. ultimate Judge meting out rewards and punishments). This worst of all bad ideas anchors an entire complex of supporting bad ideas- e.g. tribalism (humanity is separated into opposing good and bad people factions), eventual domination of the bad guys by the “true believers and true religion”, and the threat of after-life harm (i.e. eternal exclusion of the bad, with punishment and destruction via apocalypse and hell). Add here the demand for human sacrifice to appease a wrathful God, and so much more.
The single most liberating insight ever offered to counter the above is the insight that Ultimate Reality (Ultimate Consciousness, Mind, Self, or God) is a stunning no conditions Love. This single insight overturns most religious belief from across history. As essentially a conditions-oriented social institution, religion has always been a tradition that tells humanity the required conditions to appease and please the divine- i.e. right beliefs, proper rituals and sacrifices, and the necessary religious lifestyle. Religion affirms the ancient myth that humans were created to serve the gods.
But God as unconditional reality sets an entirely new ideal before humanity. An ideal that inspires the most humane impulses of our consciousness and human spirit. Unconditional points us to authentically humane behaviors that will include all in the one human family, that will not dominate others but will respect the equality and freedom of all other members of this family, and that will not threaten anyone with punishment or destruction. This unconditional approach to all people rests on the assurance that despite human failure and suffering here, in the end everyone is safe in the inexpressible Love that is God.
Unconditional at the core of reality changes everything in human consciousness, emotion, response and behavior. Profoundly so.
The point of this? Mental slavery is the worst form of slavery and the above bad ideas continue to dominate human narratives in both religious and secular versions. The influence of bad ideas continues to wreak harm among people with unnecessary fear, anxiety, guilt/shame, and even violence. Reform of religion needs to move beyond tinkering at the periphery to tackle the core bad idea of deity.
Love and justice issues– Maintaining our humanity in a messy world.
Joseph Campbell said that we all face a test in our human journey, what we call a “righteous battle against evil”. If, during our battle, we lose the principle of “love your enemy”, then our humanity is also lost. We maintain our humanity by remembering our oneness with even our enemy, by loving our enemy.
Leo Tolstoy said (speaking to the criminal justice system), “The whole trouble is that people think there are circumstances when one may deal with human beings without love, but no such circumstances ever exist. Human beings cannot be handled without love. It cannot be otherwise because mutual love is the fundamental law of human life”.
Preface: Human life too often involves an apparent conflict between our more noble ideals and the hard, common sense choices necessary to deal with the messiness of imperfect life. For example, between conventional views of love and the need to use force to protect the innocent and to restrain evil. How do we maintain our ideals of being decently human and yet stay practical in dealing with the harsh realities of life?
Any discussion of justice usually brings up a complex of concerns/issues such as punitive versus restorative approaches. Psychology studies may be useful here, notably those showing that punitive approaches do not work well with children or criminal offenders https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00050069608260200. Punitive approaches “do not teach alternative human behaviors”.
And restorative approaches need to emphasize clearly that victim concerns and restitution/healing are paramount and the approaches should be engaged voluntarily. Another useful input would be the psychology studies that question things like whether the death penalty really affords any final “closure” to victims (pardon the use of “closure”, a word that some victims detest). https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/talking-about-trauma/201610/death-penalty-may-not-bring-peace-victims-families
Other considerations- i.e. Early life trauma and abuse of offenders. This information can temper justice (i.e. mitigation) with some understanding of culpability issues. And most useful are the personal stories of struggles with vengeance and holding offenders responsible, such as illustrated in Holocaust survivor Simon Weisenthal’s book “Justice, Not Vengeance”.
Ultimately, victim’s concerns should always be central. It is entirely human to feel horror, outrage, and even hate toward the brutality of offenders and to do so without guilt, shame, or reprimand. And the choice to engage any sort of restorative justice, if ever, is entirely the free choice of the victim. Yet, having said this, even victims may benefit by wrestling with the issue of what it means to maintain one’s humanity in the face of human brutality.
Note: We hold ideals like love at its highest and best as unconditional, and we should embrace its power to push us toward something ever better, while at the same time trying to balance that with practical common sense in a messy world of reality. May the tussle continue.
Justice as inclusive love
Any advocacy for the ideal of no conditions or unconditional treatment of people as a mature stage of human development evokes the immediate comeback of “What about justice?” Meaning justice as some form of fairness (i.e. reward the good, punish the bad). Justice as deserved payback or revenge, justice as making wrongs right (see comment at the end). Such are commonly embraced views of justice.
Note the teaching of a respected religious icon on this issue- i.e. Historical Jesus- and the ongoing debate over what he meant.
In one of history’s most famous statements, known as “the hardest saying” ever, Jesus had said that we should not engage “eye for eye” response toward offenders/opponents (i.e. punitive retaliation in some form- history’s long-term conventional view of justice). Instead, we should “love our enemy”. Why? Because God did that. How so? Jesus then illustrated his behavioral standard with the supporting belief that God generously gave the good gifts of life- i.e. sun and rain for crops- to all people alike, to both to good and bad people. We should do likewise.
Historical Jesus presented a “stunning new theology of a non-retaliatory God” (James Robinson). A God that did not exclude or punish the bad guys. Instead, the God of Jesus was generously loving toward all (i.e. universal love), treating all with the same unlimited forgiveness. Jesus was pointing to a new way of treating human failure/offense in this temporal world based on a new way of viewing ultimate reality (i.e. all- both good and bad- are safe and included in the end).
The hardest saying ever is the best insight ever offered on how to protect and maintain our humanity in the face of human cruelty and brutality.
But love your enemy appears just too generous to many people, and it raises questions of what then about conventional justice? In varied parables Jesus illustrated the sense of scandal and offense that good, moral people felt toward his rejection of conventional punitive/retaliatory justice for the new restorative justice that forgave all, included all, and loved all, both good and bad people, unconditionally.
In one story- the vineyard workers and the owner- Jesus said that all the workers got the same ultimate outcome and that generous response offended the hard-workings guys, the all-day guys who had put in the most hours and expected fairness as getting more reward than the latecomers.
In the Prodigal Son story, Jesus included the older brother who was offended at the generous, unconditional mercy of the father that did not demand punishment or payment for the wrong done by the younger wasteful brother. Instead, the father called for a feast of celebration.
Further, at community meals Historical Jesus offended the moral sense of good, religious people by freely including the local outcasts (hookers, thieves, mafia or gang-types), people who were despised by the more upright citizens.
I would suggest that if we are not offended by Jesus’ advocacy for “no more eye for eye justice but instead love your enemy” then we have not fully understood how scandalously forgiving, inclusive, and generous this unconditional approach really is.
And if we embrace this ideal of unconditional love toward all, then how does it work in the often messy and harsh reality of imperfect daily life? How do we actually treat all unconditionally? I would be careful here because this is where the qualifiers start and usually weaken the offensiveness of the love that was taught by people like Jesus.
The qualifiers are necessary because too many people dismiss outright the hard saying of “love your enemy” as too impractical, too soft and too mushy for the harsh reality of life and crime. It appears to let offenders off too easy. And what about victims?
In response, some rightly point out that unconditional love is not about feeling mushy, fuzzy, or warm toward offenders and their horrific crimes. Unconditional is more like the “agape” love of religious traditions. It is more about choice and not emotion/feeling. It is more about the choice to treat offenders humanely no matter their offenses. It embraces the ideal that we should be something better than offenders. Kind of like the restorative approach that is used in Norway’s prisons. Others add that this separation between how we view the offense and the offender is expressed in the religious maxim to “hate the sin but love the sinner”.
Even our basic human rights codes urge that we treat all humanely, including the worst of offenders (i.e. prisoners of war and criminal offenders). But few would question that it is only common sense that we restrain violent people and protect the innocent (i.e. the use of police and military force).
So without weakening the scandal and offense of this advocacy for the unconditional treatment of offenders, I would add that the unconditional treatment of all is not advocating for pacifism or letting wrongs slide in this life (i.e. ignoring or downplaying evil). Despite the horrific offenses that some people commit, unconditional is still a healthier way to shape our attitude and approach toward all people, including enemies (think Mandela and Railway Man as examples).
It is helpful to hold the background distinction that unconditional does define the ultimate treatment of all people by God, no matter the failure of people to live as human in this life. But in this life, we hold offenders responsible to pay debts and to make restitution as part of healthy human learning and development. Even restorative justice is victim-centered and involves offenders taking full responsibility toward victims (i.e. making things right, restitution, reparations).
And regarding how we should view all human failure, even the worst, it is helpful to engage some introspection and ask ourselves- who of us has not failed in varied ways. Imperfection, in all its degrees and scales, is part of living as human in this world. Note this in the story where Jesus asked the outraged men that had caught the lady with her panties down and wanted to exact harsh punishment on her- “Those of you that are without sin, you cast the first stone” (John 9 in some older New Testament versions). A bit of healthy introspection on personal imperfection will temper outrage and evoke some mercy toward failure in others.
Also, any consideration of why and how offenders turn bad should at least evoke some sympathy for early-life trauma and development pathologies, and related issues (i.e. the speculation that psychopaths may be born with defective brains). What then does culpability mean? And yes, such people still need restraint/imprisonment in order to protect the public.
We all create our personal continuums of good and bad and at some point across our continuum we start to cut off people… the really bad guys. We like to see ourselves at the good end of the human continuum and others, obviously worse than us, as positioned more toward the bad end. God as no conditions love has no such continuum or any cut-off point. Ultimately, all are safe in the end. Feel the offensive scandal of such love. Let your mind toy with that unlimited/universal love of enemies/offenders. Don’t undermine or weaken the offensiveness of such love (offensive to conventional justice).
Varied people note, for example, that forgiveness is not so much about the offender as it is about the mental/emotional health of victims and their families. Are these just meaningless mental tricks or do they speak to something profoundly real in its impact on victims? As one father of a murdered daughter said: I know that my daughter is now in a better place and she would not want me to ruin the rest of my life with hate and bitterness and ruin my family. So I chose to forgive (like the South African mother in the movie Forgiven). The offender is still held responsible and even imprisoned where the safety of others is threatened.
It is not incompatible with love to use force to restrain violence/evil. Some people argue, for instance, that you have to abandon love in order to do the dirty business of war. No. Holding a solid grip on the ideal of love makes a profound difference in how we use necessary force to protect innocent people and restrain violence. This is vital for maintaining one’s humanity in disorienting situations such as in the “fog of war”.
Example: During the WW2 Battle of the Bulge, a German colonel, Joachim Peiper, did not want to take prisoners so he had his men slaughter some 84 American prisoners in a field. Later, when the American soldiers found out what had happened, they retaliated by slaughtering some 60 surrendering German soldiers. Even General Patton, a tough guy soldier, felt that was the wrong response. It was criminal. His soldiers had crossed a line they should not have. The beliefs that we hold do influence how we respond in the crises of life. They help us maintain our humanity. To be something better than our offenders.
So also Simon Weisenthal (Justice, Not Vengeance) argued with a Jewish Holocaust survivor that was planning revenge against an SS soldier on trial. The soldier had killed that man’s son years before at the entrance to Auschwitz. The Father told Weisenthal that he planned to kill the SS guy in the courtroom the next day. Weisenthal reasoned with the man- “Let us not be like them” (i.e. responding to SS atrocity with murder for murder, harm for harm, hate for hate). Our beliefs and attitude toward offenders/enemies will shape our responses and treatment of them. Weisenthal’s point was that this matters for our own wellbeing.
And lastly, is unconditional really practical on a wider social scale as some argue? Richard Stengel (Mandela’s Way) noted that Nelson Mandela’s unconditional approach spared South Africa from civil war. When Mandela was freed from prison, millions of young South African men wanted him to lead them in taking vengeance on their former oppressors. South Africa could have then descended into bloody civil war. But Mandela talked them out of that push for vengeance and urged them with this, “Let us surprise them- our opponents- with our generosity”. He reasoned that mercy, forgiveness, inclusion, and kindness turned enemies into friends (not all, but most) and brought out the best in others (again, not all but most). And to the contrary, look at what abandoning unconditional led to in Rwanda and Serbia around the same time in the 90s. Those situations led to an abandonment of humanity that shames the surviving perpetrators to this day.
And yes, Mandela also held offenders accountable for their crimes. He instituted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that required people to appear and take responsibility for their crimes. Taking full responsibility for failures/offenses and restitution is essential to human learning and development.
One more: Unlimited forgiveness and universal love (i.e. “love your enemy”), contrary to dismissals that such responses are weak and soft, are actually the most courageous things that any human person can engage. It takes an almost supernatural courage and bravery to resist the natural temptation to retaliate when hurt, to break a retaliatory cycle (i.e. hurt for hurt, harm for harm, humiliation for humiliation), and to take human response and relating in a new and better direction, a more humane direction that includes loving one’s enemies. Again, note Mandela on this.
Conclusion: Holding the ideal of God as no conditions love, and as our own ideal for response in this world, does not lessen the need to act forcefully at times to restrain evil and protect the innocent in this life. And on the other hand, imperfection in this life does not lessen the truth that ultimately all are safe- i.e. all are included, all are forgiven, and all are fully embraced by the ultimate love that is God.
New: “Countering the imminent catastrophe narrative- i.e. apocalyptic has re-emerged in the ‘climate crisis’ narrative”. Media and politicians across the planet have embraced the alarmist narrative that rising CO2 levels and rising temperatures are the two worst things happening on Earth today and portend some great collapse and ending of life (the never-ending “end of days” scenarios that traumatize public consciousness). Good evidence affirms the very opposite- that rising CO2 and rising temperatures are actually the two best things that are happening on Earth. See “Basic climate facts project” below.
Apocalyptic mythology distorts entirely the improving trajectory of life.
Site argument: A stunning “no conditions Love” ought to center any new theory of Ultimate Reality, or deity- still humanity’s highest ideal and authority, and still the cohering center of human consciousness and belief systems (yes, even in “secular/ideological” systems). That same love is the essential nature of our human spirit and consciousness. This is all about what ideals should influence and shape our thought, emotion, response and behavior, and thereby our larger societies. It is about that fundamental question- What does it mean to be human?
Intro notes: In line with the overall project to fight the pathology of apocalyptic mythology, this site also tackles the environmental version of apocalyptic mythology (a “secular” expression of this primitive mythology that is now focused on climate alarmism). The core bad idea behind this pathology has long been that of some great punitive Force/deity and the anti-human idea that ‘corrupt’ people deserve punishment for ruining some imagined earlier paradise. Apocalyptic distorts the true state of the world and the actual improving trajectory of life, entirely. The belief in punitive/destroying deity is the single worst idea to confront and overturn in order to solve this mythology of decline and never-ending end-of-days nonsense, and associated hysteria.
Further, my reference to Historical Jesus, in ‘Love and Justice’ just below, is to a person that I view as entirely different from Christian Jesus Christ. I take the position of Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy that the Matthew 5:38-48 section contains “diamonds” such as “love your enemy because God does”. And that is Jesus’ most important contribution to the history of human ideas. But, as Jefferson said, that gem is buried in a context that is “the work of inferior minds”. His reference is to other statements that are attributed to Jesus but that contradict his main message in the 5:38-48 section, statements such as the hate-your-enemies claim that enemies/unbelievers will “be cast into outer darkness” (Matthew 11).
My conclusions on Jesus also draw on general Historical Jesus research, notably, ‘Q Wisdom Sayings Gospel’ research.
Why introduce the contradiction between Historical Jesus and Paul’s apocalyptic Christ myth? Because Historical Jesus had clearly rejected apocalyptic mythology. He had introduced the stunning new theology of a non-retaliatory deity (i.e. “No more eye for eye but instead love your enemy because God does”) that would not engage the ultimate act of eye-for-eye retaliation in an apocalypse.
Paul, to the contrary, embedded the theme of a punitive, destroying God at the heart of his apocalyptic Christ myth and that “most influential myth in history” is primarily responsible for bringing the pathology of apocalyptic into Western consciousness to re-emerge in endless new versions of apocalypse, including in contemporary “secular/ideological” versions like environmental alarmism. Arthur Herman in ‘The Idea of Decline in Western History’ traces the embedding of former Christian themes in the now dominant ideology of Declinism that is the heart of contemporary ideologies of apocalyptic, including environmental apocalyptic. See also Richard Landes Heaven on Earth, Arthur Mendel’s Vision and Violence, and David Redles’ Hitler’s Millennial Reich for good historical detail on how apocalyptic millennial themes have influenced mass-death movements.
The medieval practice of banning of ‘heretics’ continues. The totalitarian impulse did not die away in the past century. https://wattsupwiththat.com/2020/02/09/the-skeptical-science-kidz-go-a-bridge-too-far-with-blacklisting/