No Amount of Reality Can Affect Our Deepest Held Beliefs Unless We Let It

December 23, 2013

I am an armchair scientist. My own brain, body and beliefs are my petri dishes.

So perhaps you can imagine why I have been perplexed by the bizarre issue of global warming. It’s been curious to my scientific brain as to how global warming denial has become a partisan, religious issue - an endless argument of unchanging, emotionally charged, entrenched beliefs. How, or more importantly, why would religious beliefs matter at all when it comes to reality?

It seems that the brain mechanism of denial has wrapped itself around global warming. I’ll explain more about denial in a minute, but first I have to ask this question; why do conservative religious folks even care about denying global warming?

What is really going on?

Cognitive denial, our ability to completely filter out feedback from reality, is a powerful part of our human evolutionary history. Clearly it benefits humans to, at least temporarily, live in a state of denial. But at some point, reality has to be able to enter the human mind and allow for change and adaptation to reality. If reality can't enter, we live in a perpetual state of psychosis. But how can reality enter if our core moral, religious beliefs have closed off all the entry points?

The global warming conversation has been in a stalemate for decades - and will continue to be in a stalemate because we have focused the conversation on an unresolvable issue, which I will share in a minute.

And no amount of reality can affect our deepest held beliefs unless we let it. In fact, research shows that, when faced with evidence of reality that is counter to our core beliefs, we actually dig in and believe our beliefs even more deeply.

In order to understand the underlying issues that have religious and political conservatives so dug in, I had to go to one of my most religiously conservative friends. He finally took me to the bottom line. And this is what I wanted to share with you in this blog, because I believe that we are in a similar type of conversation when it comes to sex, sexual freedom and women’s rights.

Here’s what my friend told me in regards to global warming. First let me say, It sounds absolutely insane to me, and it may or may not sound that way to you. The point is, this is what the conversation of global warming is actually about. Ready?

It all comes down to this one issue: The bible says that man has dominion over the stuff on the earth, plants, animals, etc, but only God has dominion over the entire planet - the "global" part in the discussion of global warming. Let me spell this out. The bible says that the earth is under God’s power and control. Therefore from a religious perspective, it’s impossible for humans to affect the earth. Therefore, it is not possible that our carbon emissions, trash, eating habits, etc can have any effect on the earth because the bible says the earth belongs to god.

And since religion says that it’s essential for humans ultimately to submit to God or burn in hell, then for humans to think they are powerful enough (see the deadly sin of pride) to effect the planet means that they are challenging God’s dominion and will most certainly end up in hell. In other words, accepting global warming is the equivalent of religious suicide.

The bottom line: if you are a conservative person, then the act of believing in “global” warming, that individual human being's behaviors are affecting the overall temperatures of the globe, is an act of treason against god.

So, perhaps you can understand why the discussion of global warming has been stuck for decades. And why it will not change until we change the discussion we are having. We have to empathise with the fact that asking a religious person to believe in global warming is asking them to question, in fact deny, their entire religious belief system.

I feel like this discovery is relevant because it is likely that we are engaged in similar irreconcilable discussions when it comes to women’s bodies, abortion and sexual freedom. And if this is the case, then the harder we “push” for these freedoms, the more deeply true believers will dig in their heels - which may help explain the latest push by the GOP for the most restrictive abortion bill to come to vote in over a decade.

This kind of blowback over-reaction is exactly what has happened with global warming, and unless we change the conversation fairly soon from a religious battle of beliefs, which are irrelevant, to a battle for all of our future quality of life, we will move beyond the tipping point of global warming and into a future that will suck for everybody. That’s not what I want for anybody, including our religious and conservative brothers and sisters, blinded by denial, and heading like a freight train off the edge of a cliff - to the point of no return for us all.

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