Methodism in the madness

Posted on 14/06/07 | in ideas, society, work

A few weeks ago someone suggested to me what’s needed to make people really wake up to climate change and the root-and-branch alterations to daily life it will inevitably demand is a new religion. I think, in a sense, we already have it.

Last night we went to Tom Dyson‘s excellent talk on climate change, which neatly summarised the main issues, tackled some of the criticisms, and advocated personal carbon rationing. Sitting there in Ramsden Memorial Hall, a beautiful converted barn with ancient beams gnarling across the ceiling, not to mention aided by the local brewery’s imaginative stimulant, I half found myself back in the 1740s. The occasion reminded me (I say ‘reminded’ – I mean, I’m getting on, but I’m not 300 years old) of the early days of Methodism, where small village groups would assemble to hear the new message.

The meeting had a mixture of locals of all ages, plus a bunch of us loyally going to swell Tom’s crowd, where most were already receptive or indeed converted to the message. In the Q&A afterwards, a few theological niceties, as it were, were discussed; and there were only one or two voices of dissent, notably one from a chap who thought the whole thing was highly suspicious, but nevertheless led perhaps one of the least carbon-consumptive lives of us all. I bet John Wesley met people like him too – people already living ‘the Way’ but deeply sceptical of imported justifications for it. One or two in the audience were perhaps even leaning towards the temperance movement in spirit.

Ever since the age of 12 when I harangued our school chaplain with unanswerable questions, I’ve been on the side of unbelief. But now, suddenly, that seems to have changed. All round the country, likeable lay preachers such as Tom are spreading the word; further afield, there are charismatic prophets such as George Monbiot (let’s leave aside Al Gore’s messianic tone for now). The difference, of course, is that the ‘revealed truth’ underpinning this belief system is a set of 928 scientific papers, and not a book written by a motley collection of marketeers a couple of millennia ago.

(I’m going to stop now as I’ve just been invited to expand on this theme in a paid article!)

16 Comments on “Methodism in the madness”

  1. htfb Says:

    Well thunk, that man. A word you might find useful, with care, is “apocalyptic”.

  2. hatmandu Says:

    Yes, good point.

  3. vardebedian Says:

    I remember the last time I called christianity an apocalypse cult in public I got a lot of Americans sending me nasty emails. So you should probably do that.

  4. undyingking Says:

    Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending. Especially if you live in Vanuatu.

  5. addedentry Says:

    Our thought had been to treat it like wartime – make do and mend, dig for victory. But wars end; religions don’t have to.

  6. barnacle Says:

    Well done, you clever bugger. These crossover things tend to go down a treat. Just don’t fall into the social-constructivist trap, is all I’m saying, or you’ll have Alan Sokal after you, which is worse than Roger Cook off the Cook Report.

    Meanwhile, LJ and Google have conspired to suggest to me an advert: “Paris on hunger strike Star scared to use cell toilet.” Wherever they’re keeping the artificial intelligence, it ain’t here.

  7. barnacle Says:

    “We have always believed in homoousios.”

  8. hatmandu Says:

    These crossover things tend to go down a treat.

    You’re kind, though I should probably explain that said commission is for a website I write loads for and happens to be edited by a mate – it wasn’t even my idea to write it, but I was mentioning my observation to him and he suggested a piece on it. I’m not very enterprising – I suppose bigger fish might be interested, but, well, um.

  9. hatmandu Says:

    Well, in a spirit of optimism I’ve just pitched this to The Guardian…

  10. i_ludicrous Says:

    Momentarily, I read that as Peter Cook…

  11. drcosmos Says:

    Aren’t you a bit early? I thought that you were only supposed to form a new religion in 2017?

  12. lisekit Says:

    You may or may not find it interesting that the very same organ today ran thius article about faith and the environment. It’s takes the angle that Christian faith has a role to play in protecting the environment, so it’s not your angle, but it might tie in somehow. Or it might not.

  13. hatmandu Says:

    Thanks – indeed yes I’ve seen it. I ran out and bought the paper before emailiing them. Silence so far, unsurprisingly. Though I’m quite pleased with what I’ve written, I guess.

  14. sillage Says:

    …whilst I don’t take issue with the risks and future impact of Climate Change I guess I get a little irked (okay, okay, a lot irked) by the extent to which the issue (which will undoubtedly cause deaths in years to come) is starting to overshadow preventable causes of death now. I would love his evangelic spirit to be equally applied to the fight against malaria, preventable blindness, HIV, tyrants (Zimbabwe etc), famine etc.

    These are by no means either/or choices, but I guess I think in terms of readily achievable material difference taking the priority. £17 spent on low energy lightbulbs (of which my house is filled) will reduce carbon emissions, but as an individual act will not make a material difference. £10 donated to Sightsavers (www.sightsavers.org)can restore someones sight through a cataract operation.

    My point, I guess, is that we should be equally – if not more – passionate and active about making changes to benefit human lives now as about avert the risk of potential problems. We should be having slide shows about preventable blindess and steps we can take (financial, I know) to make a difference. I have some thoughts on why climate change has such a buzz about it, but I think I will save those until another post – certainly after House…

  15. hatmandu Says:

    I suspect can offer a better answer to this than I, but… You make it sound as if people all round the world haven’t been campaigning to ameliorate all those things for many years. True, it’s difficult when the charity pot is thinly spread, and I’m sure no-one here would say that the causes you list aren’t deserving. Climate change is weirdly less tangible at the moment (though apparently becoming less so), but at least from a coldly utilitarian point of view preventing global disaster must have some importance.

    Admittedly a lot of the impetus behind the climate change movement is because our own comfy lifestyles are threatened, which blindness etc don’t do; it’s always going to be easier for people to think of what’s near to them. Also, individual actions do seem minuscule. But part of it’s about trying to engender a sea-change of attitude. The heretic in the audience the other night in a way holds part of the core message: even if climate change isn’t a real threat, why are we wasting resources so much anyway?

    In theory, carbon rationing systems would also provide more money to the poorer parts of the world that you mention, too, and hopefully help those other issues. If we forgot the climate aspect and simply proposed a redistribution of global wealth, might you be in favour?

    Also, if you think preventable blindness is a cause to be more championed – what’s to stop you giving your own slide show, eh?!

  16. sillage Says:

    I didn’t mean to suggest that these issues haven’t been highlighted – it is more that in my experience nothing has reached the same level of social awareness, being so widely discussed with such passion. You are completely right of course that I could do a slideshow on preventable blindness – but I fear that without the awareness and media coverage few people would be interested in attending, so I simply give cash to Sightsavers