When televangelists talk about apocalyptic narratives, it’s business as usual. But when Pat Robertson, longtime king of the flatscreen gospel, hosted Steve Goreham on the 700 Club a few days ago, the topic was an impending collapse of a different sort.
Goreham is a resident expert at the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank devoted, among other things, to the denial of climate change. With Robertson, Goreham had a lengthy and sympathetic chat about the fetters of scientific orthodoxy and the absurd idea that humans might be warming the climate. The 700 Club producers came through with a nifty bit on “climatism,” described as if it’s some kind of doctrine: “climatism is the belief that man-made greenhouse gases are wreaking havoc with the climate and destroying the planet.”
To which Robertson added: “I understand the temperature on Mars is going up, and we don’t have any SUVs there. What’s causing that?”
“Well, the sun,” replied Goreham, looking slightly uncomfortable.
This isn’t the first time in recent years that Robertson has used Martian warming as proof that climate change on Earth has non-human causes. What makes his comments so disappointing, though, isn’t just that they’re—to put it gently—totally crazy. It’s that, for a little while, Robertson was one great hope for a saner conversation on climate change. Back in 2006, Robertson announced to his viewers that climate change was a real and human-sourced threat (admittedly, he did so citing a single hot summer, and not actual science). In 2008, he even appeared in a climate awareness commercial—with the Reverend Al Sharpton, of all people. Now, it’s clear that Robertson has entrenched himself in more familiar territory.
Robertson may be a dinosaur (not a Jurassic dinosaur created within the last 6,000 years), but he’s still influential. And climate change, which might not seem all that religious, clearly has the ability to incite fundamentalist ire. This makes sense: a secularized apocalypse that requires government intervention might not be appealing in certain Protestant circles. And the idea of a massive world trend that has been created by human beings, and that must be solved by human beings, might seem alien to those steeped in a culture in which God is intimately involved in personal life and everyday events. At the very least, it’s fair to say that the relationship between evangelicals and scientists hasn’t always been especially cozy.
Which isn’t to say that other evangelical Christians aren’t fighting hard for climate action. Over at Religion and Politics, Dorothy Boorse, a biology professor at the evangelical Gordon College, has just published an elegant essay explaining why, when it comes to climate change activism, her “motivation comes from my faith commitment.” Boorse argues that her faith encourages “wisdom, compassion, justice, and stewardship of the natural world”—all attributes that might lead someone to worry about the climate. As Pat Robertson’s own flip-flopping goes to show, traditions can support all sorts of positions.
Meanwhile, the atmosphere is warming. And if Robertson is correct, we can’t even cool down by fleeing to Mars.