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Our selfishness is sheer defiance of God

There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.

-- C.S. Lewis

Let’s stack what C.S. Lewis said up against the new report from scientists of 99 nations that the threat of global warming is far worse than previously anticipated.

The scientists predict a possible 10.9 degree temperature rise that will actually wreck the global climate, bring drought and flooding at unprecedented levels guaranteeing disastrous consequences.

The paraphrase might be: “There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second is claimed by God and counterclaimed by humanity, often through its corporate face.”

It is not too far a stretch to see the demonic in our insatiability.

And we can paraphrase without necessarily labeling the corporate world satanic (William Blake got there first, anyway, with “dark, Satanic mills”).

To a greater or lesser degree, the megacorporations -- through having lives, powers, greeds, politician-buying deep pockets and consumer-swaying advertising budgets of their own -- act as our agents.

They are a reflection, however murky, of us.

They exist because we buy whatever it is they sell. In this case, whatever it is they sell that pollutes: autos and coal- and oil-generated electricity.

We buy, in part, from necessity, but the bulk of what we buy is for our own comfort. We buy because we are affluent and can -- and do -- select simply based on our wants, even worse, our whims.

The demonic is contained in the cultural distortion, in the commodification of everything. Every square inch, every split second is given a dollar value. And traded.

In the seductive world of being able to more easily please ourselves we have transformed our notions of worth, of human values.

The dominant theme in the culture is consumerism.

We are what we buy. What we drive. What we wear. What we eat. We buy convenience. We buy comfort. We buy efficiency.

We are prosperous. We are the wealthy facing the eye of the needle.

We also are facing global warming.

When the Shanghai report was released, Dr. Robert T. Watson, chairman of the UN-affiliated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stated, “This adds impetus for governments of the world to find ways to live up to their commitments to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Alas, it won’t provide much impetus for the United States. We’re not only the ones most mired in our own consumer comfort, we’re the ones who don’t really believe in multinational action that curbs the freedom to pollute.

We’re the nation that created a Marshall Plan after World War II to rebuild our enemies’ shattered economies, yet haven’t the foresight to help build the structures to rebuild the shattered climate on which our lives and futures depends.

This has become a Teflon environmental issue. All concern simply slips off. All is lip service. We are wary of any foreign entanglements that do not redound to our capitalistic, geopolitical way of seeing things.

We have no sense of the common good at home -- we keep buying more and bigger cars, burning more fuel -- and even less sense of common good on a global scale.

As a nation, we haven’t the forum, we haven’t the mind-stretching moral vision, we haven’t yet the first evidence of global catastrophe that would cause us to gather, to debate, to counteract in order to create other ways, ways that start with our total interdependence on one another.

As a family of faiths united with others of faith universally, we do have a forum. The forum opened in Assisi in 1986 when the World Wide Fund for Nature for the first time in history brought the five major world religions together to declare how their faiths lead them to care for nature.

It is a weak lobby often with a plaintive voice.But difficult moral choices are central to what religion is about. And those voices of faith will not go away.

The Interfaith Partnership of the Environment is one deeply concerned group attempting to convince the world of the importance of interdependence.

This, however, is America. We don’t believe in interdependence. Only being personally independent.

The demonic is in the selfishness. In the willful blindness. In the sheer defiance of God.

National Catholic Reporter, February 16, 2001