Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Global Warming & My Letter to the Editor of Meridian Magazine

Global warming is a topic actively debated in America today. Opinions are divided roughly along party lines.

I am a religious man, and when I read a recent article about global warming from Meridian Magazine (an independent, Latter-day Saint publication), I was skeptical. In summary, Brother Lawrence feels that Global Warming could be a subtle tactic to distract good people from believing in God. I felt inclined to respond to that, feeling that it was more inspired by faction than by God.

Due to my lengthy prose, I rarely get published; but this time the editor put my letter up in full (Why Are We Angry When Others Tell Us To Do Better?).

I was one of only two writers who did not agree with Brother Lawrence's idea. The letter is under-attributed (I always like to source my ideas), but you can see that it is influenced by some of my recent thoughts that I have posted here.

Since this letter was posted to a religious forum, my argument is not as secular as what you might expect to see on this blog. My general opinion is that religious arguments are the poorest and least persuasive (since they require something from the audience in addition to -- or aside from -- pure Reason), but when I speak to the religious, I like to speak on religious terms.


Dave said...

I read your letter.

I agree that religious arguments might not come across as strongly to a secular crowd as one that entreats Reason -- on the other hand, from another perspective, it strengthens a religious writer's voice, because there is no underlying, unsaid assumption in the reader that the writer had unrevealed religious motives. Dumas is unabashedly Christian, and he does Christianity a merit.

I believe it's something of a logical fallacy to discount an idea because of the personal traits of the person who put the idea forward. To do so reveals the insecurity of the audience more than a fault of the author -- and this audience is only likely to listen and support those who support and uphold their own false pretenses, which is like a facade intended to bear the weight of a foundation.

There's certainly a time to be secular, but I don't believe it weakens writing to be otherwise.

Peter McCombs said...

Even my Meridian letter is very secular in tone -- compared to the others. I didn't appeal to any scripture or Church leaders, for instance. However, when I write a talk, it is almost exclusively from doctrinal sources, which is appropriate in that context.

Let me clarify what I mean by secular vs. religious arguments.

An argument must make assumptions about the audience in order to be effective. A good religious argument assumes that the audience has a religious faith, or is at least willing to consider the issue from the viewpoint of religious faith. So, it is valid to talk about "what God wants" and appeal to the authority of a scripture or a prophet.

Even religious arguments need to be reasonable within the context of religion. Which is what I hoped my letter was. It assumed that the audience believes more or less the same doctrines as the author, and then it attempts to be rational within that context by pointing out fallacies and attempting to establish a more "correct" solution. This is a "good religious argument.

To a secular audience, no amount religious language matters at all. If I had been responding to an article on Global Warming, where the writer is coming from an economic position, then it is silly to make religious arguments.

Unfortunately, this happens all the time (if you read letters to the editor much). It is typically a secular humanist on the Left who will write an article about civil rights or health care or environmental issues. The response comes in from a largely religious audience on the Right. It will be full of scripture and preaching about the will of God.

These aren't typically even the rational arguments of religious people, but purely reactionary religious dogma. This is the sort of religious argument that I seek to avoid: preaching. Preaching, by one in authority, is useful in congregations of believers, but rarely as a tool of persuasion outside of that context (except for those who are uniquely sensitive the particular message, as it may be).

The trouble with our discourse today is that it appears very much like all of the arguments from one side of the question (i.e. the conservative Right) are dogmatic arguments, while all of the arguments on the other side (i.e. the progressive Left) are rational arguments. This creates an illusion of irrational faith vs. reason, which is what now polarizes civic discourse.

I feel that this kind of arguing greatly weakens the cause of religious people, to some extent, even within their own numbers (because most of them aren't in authority to "preach" anyway).

In my view, religion often degenerates into superstition or tradition. It is not actively owned by those who believe in it. It is not "our" religion anymore, it is "our fathers" religion -- the non-thought of received ideas.

From this type of system arise all of the poor religious arguments that I like to completely avoid (which, of course, are not limited to "theistic" religion; even the secular make them quite frequently).

I like to avoid even the "good" religious arguments much of the time, since I think that most or all of our morality can be reasoned about in the context of Natural Law.

That brings me to the next topic...

So, tell me more about "unrevealed religious motives."

Dave said...

That's a good addendum to your post.

By "unrevealed religious motives" I mean the deeper motives of a person. As you say, there's the "non-thought of received ideas" and dogmatic reaction in some who have not given much thought to their inner motives; and there are others who are more aware, yet still react in an emotional way, or out of the sway of a belief system.

This belief system is a foundation of thought and (at least to some extent) reality.

As far as politics, the devout belief in Armageddon and the end of civilization surely affects their world-view. Same with atheists who believe there's no meaning to life, we are a minuscule moment, and why care about the environment when humanity as a whole is powerless to it's own genetic proclivities no matter the rhetoric we use to rationalize it.

Is the argument out of defense for one's beliefs -- the innate desire to make one's beliefs real? What is the real reason, what really moves a person to want to be acknowledged, even empowered? Is it the words of a True Believer, or an expression of authenticity and awareness?

The motive should go deep and have no pretenses and claims to be anything more than an honest expression of True Will and unguarded human emotion.

I think "... morality can be reasoned about in the context of Natural Law" comes close -- it doesn't claim to be God's will, or what's best for everybody, or what the Bible says, etc.

The motive should be pure, the emotional context admitted, as well as what is not known.

I'm not pointing fingers (although, Bill O' Reilly and similar figures popped to mind, as well as letters to the editor, or posts on a news story, etc.).

Why can't anyone say, "I'm afraid about all this global warming talk, because I don't like the idea of my life being disrupted, and I don't like to think about having to take responsibility for the condition the environment is in -- plus how do I know global warming isn't a device to enthrone new authorities to dictate new restrictions on my life? My existential needs come first, and I don't want to sacrifice anything!"?

Something like that.