Like many churches around the world, our church has just celebrated Epiphany — the time when the magi or wise men visited the baby Jesus.
The word epiphany has been defined in the following ways,
- An appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being;
- A sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something; or
- An illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.
In the Biblical context the magi suddenly realize who it is that they have been directed to visit. That is their epiphany.
The theme of this site is to provide thoughts as to how we might develop a new theology — a theology that is appropriate for the world that we are entering. The three theological points presented for discussion are,
- Understand and tell the truth.
- Accept and adapt.
- Live within the biosphere.
I have highlighted the first of these because it is the one I would like to consider in this post. Specifically, I would like to consider whether or not we, as a society, will have an epiphany regarding climate change. Will there be a moment when people suddenly “get it”, a time when “it clicks” that something is going on, that the world is changing? And, were such an epiphany to occur, would it be followed by decisive action?
Let’s think about these questions in context of this week’s news: the appalling wildfires that are consuming so much of Australia. Have the people of Australia had an epiphany where they, as a nation, understand the threat that climate change poses? Furthermore, has the Australian government recognized the error of its ways such that it is now doing everything that it can to slow down the rate at which the climate is changing? For example, has it stopped the export of Australian coal to other countries? The answers to the above three questions are “No”, “No” and “No”. The fires have not led to a nation-wide “illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure”? They may have led some Australians to consider a new way of thinking. But there has been no nation-wide change.
Why not? Why has there not been an Australian epiphany? Two possible reasons come to mind.
The first reason is to do with “normalization of the news”. The wild fires in Australia (or California or the Arctic or anywhere else, for that matter) are, by definition, only news when they are new, when they capture people’s attention as being something out of the ordinary. As soon as they become routine or long drawn out affairs they are, by definition, no longer news. Hence, they no longer grab our attention. Once the fire season is behind them, people switch their attention to other matters of more topical concern.
The second reason that the Australian fires are not an epiphany is that the Australian government understands that, were they to restrict coal mining, then many individual Australians would lose well-paid jobs. Even those who understand the magnitude and seriousness of climate change will, for the most part, continue with the same way of life. After all, they have children to raise, mortgages to pay and a retirement to save for. Epiphany or not, most people will not be prepared to make radical personal sacrifice in order to “save the world”. Or, to put it another way, they have not repented, as discussed in a recent post in this series.
So, with regard to the first of the three theological points — Understand and tell the truth — we can conclude that there will be no nation-wide epiphany. There will be not be a time when the world as a whole “wakes up” and “gets it”.
If this conclusion is correct then it is, to say the least, a discouraging conclusion. Maybe this is where people of faith and the church overall can provide leadership. Secular politicians cannot ask people to voluntarily reduce their standard of living. If they do, they soon become ex-politicians. But faith is not about material prosperity — so the leaders of the church can talk about a society in which people make voluntary cut backs in their standard of living for the greater good of all. People of faith can help bring about an epiphany, for at least some members of the population.
The day after I published this post Reuters published an article Australia’s leaders unmoved on climate action after devastating bushfires.
While the fires are still burning the ‘Emissions Reduction Minister’ said,
In most countries it isn’t acceptable to pursue emission reduction policies that add substantially to the cost of living, destroy jobs, reduce incomes and impede growth.
This is a remarkably candid statement — he is not fudging around with “green growth’.