Editor’s Note: HL Rogers is a bloggernacle neophyte, but since he’s a mormon lawyer, he should feel right at home. He suggested this as an idea for a guest post, and we’re more than willing to oblige.
I was sitting in my car the other night driving home from work when I heard a story about global warming on my NPR. The story described how the Bush administration has earmarked $6 billion to prepare for catastrophic events predicted by proponents of global warming. Of course my eyebrows shot up: Bush administration preparing for global warming? This story was too questionable to be believed without some fact checking. Of course, I’m far too lazy for that, so instead I began to wonder about Mormons, eschatology, and global warming.
I think most Mormons enjoy using science theories and/or studies to support our own worldview (for example the UCLA study that found Mormons live longer because of the Word of Wisdom). We usually don’t base our faith upon such science or academic studies but still find them comforting/strengthening/interesting, etc. Some people are big Hugh Nibley aficionados, studying up on his theories of how ancient world texts support a Mormonism that spans the ages. Or, people latch onto chiasmus to show how the Book of Mormon has Middle Eastern origins. Many of us seem to enjoy and/or are comforted by tangible scientific or scholarly findings that support our beliefs (this, of course, is in no way unique to Mormonism).
Global warming seems tailor made for such use. This theory, as currently formulated, includes the proposition that certain selective temperature spikes have been playing, and will continue with increasing frequency and magnitude to play, havoc with global weather patterns. From this proposition comes the prediction that this phenomenon will lead to increasing natural disasters around the world: flooding in coastal regions; more frequent and larger hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.
Mormon eschatology, the beliefs surrounding the end of the world and the Second Coming, has certain universal aspects that I think most Mormons would agree are part of the general belief. Among these universally accepted eschatological beliefs are three main categories of impending future doom that will continue to ramp up until the actual event of the Second Coming. These three main predictors of the Second Coming seem to be: the worsening morality of the world, the increase in wars and rumors of wars, and the most relevant for this particular discussion: the increase in frequency and magnitude of natural disasters. For example in General Conference, April 2004, in his talk entitled "Preparation for the Second Coming," Elder Oaks stated:
For example, the list of major earthquakes in The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2004 shows twice as many earthquakes in the decades of the 1980s and 1990s as in the two preceding decades (pp. 189-90). It also shows further sharp increases in the first several years of this century. The list of notable floods and tidal waves and the list of hurricanes, typhoons, and blizzards worldwide show similar increases in recent years (pp. 188-89). Increases by comparison with 50 years ago can be dismissed as changes in reporting criteria, but the accelerating pattern of natural disasters in the last few decades is ominous.
Elder Oaks refers directly to a text containing empirical scientific data on increasing floods, tidal waves, and hurricanes. Isn’t global warming tailor made to support this Mormon eschatological belief? Why don’t Mormons pull out global warming as one more proof that the Second Coming is on its way, the way we do when we hear of new wars or rising crime? In fact, I have often heard, in relation to the conflicts in the Middle East: "well, there’s not much we can do to stop them, the Second Coming is approaching and these things will happen." Thus members look at the growing wars in the region and see in them (and perhaps also in Bush’s laissez faire policy for Israel) proof of the approaching Millennium.
Some Christian apologists do in fact link global warming and eschatology. One Christian author, Hal Lindsay, has written the popular Left Behind series dealing with this exact issue. While this is certainly not a belief held by Christian fundamentalists and most Christian Evangelicals, it is held by some conservative Christians who are interested in the advent of the Second Coming.
So why don’t Mormons respond to discussions on global warming, with its predictions of increasing natural disasters, the way they do to reports of new wars and hostilities or new surveys showing the rapidly declining morality of the American population? Is it that the general cultural state of Mormon politics being firmly in the Republican camp outweighs the desire that many Mormons have (and Mormon culture generally) to point to support for our beliefs from mainstream media and science? Or is it that global warming is too unsure a theory, too much in debate, too questioned about its scientific validity? Or is it a mix: most Mormons, being Republican, are more willing to believe global warming naysayers, and thus the theory is not enough of a support for our eschatology to be used in general Sunday School discussion? And if politics is in the mix, how much power do our politics, as Mormons, have over our belief system?