The eschatology of secular humanism can be summarized as everything goes to pot in the end. Even if we survive whatever environmental doomsday scenarios are thrown at us, at some point in the future the sun will burn out, go supernova, and destroy planet earth along with the rest of our ill-fated solar system. If humanity manages to develop technology to populate other worlds and solar systems before that our future descendants will have to keep planet-hopping to avoid a similar fate on those other worlds until it all comes crashing down with the ultimate end of the universe, whether by heat-death, Big Crunch, or some other similarly sad fate.
The current alarmism about the environment in the form of Climate Change (formerly and more falsifiably Global Warming) is thus a bit puzzling from the secular standpoint. We’re supposed to be alarmed because the earth is going to pot. But the only difference between this and the scenarios sketched out above is how soon it all happens. Why anyone should care about that? If the earth goes to pot in 10 generations or 10,000,000 generations, it still all goes to pot. Secular humanists might pretend they have some reason to think that matters, but in fact there isn’t one in the secular worldview. They might even claim some sort of moral imperative to do something to help ensure that it goes to pot in 10,000,000 generations instead of 10, but where would this moral imperative come from?
Christian eschatology on the other hand holds forth the promise that everything turns out right in the end. Justice is ultimately done, God is vindicated and glorified in all of his works, and it will all be good. This will be the case no matter what human beings do. God’s plans cannot be thwarted. In secular eschatology salvation comes through the wise use of technology combined with good government. It is up to us to save the earth but even this salvation is, in the end, only temporary. In the Christian vision salvation is not temporary; it is permanent and comes through the divine action of God in history. The appeal of secular eschatology lies here. Rather than depending upon God and waiting for him to do something, we get to save ourselves. We are the change we have been waiting for, to quote a progressive politician.
But what happens when Christians embrace all or part of secular eschatology? You end up with “progressive” Christians who believe that it is part of working for the kingdom of God to cut carbon emissions and save the earth from the shorter-term catastrophe of the secular view. In this view God has given us a mandate to save the earth, so it is still up to us to do so through technology and wise government. This is a striking reversion to the Old Testament model of salvation through law. It doesn’t work and can’t work because it doesn’t deal with the central problem that is the root of all others, the condition of the human heart. Nevertheless, the unholy matrimony between secular and Christian eschatologies has become a feature of various contemporary theological fads, even in certain conservative evangelical seminaries.
It was with some concern, then, that I read reports that the Pope is preparing to weigh in on Climate Change, apparently hoping to use his influence to bring international agreement on taking action to fight . . . well, the climate changing I guess. Presumably there will be something in his upcoming statement about reducing CO2 emissions in industrialized nations, and various other pet hobby horses of progressives.
Never mind the increasingly thin ice on which the doctrine of Global Warming/Climate Change stands (no pun or reverse pun intended). Never mind the irony of thinking technology can save us from the alleged problems that technology created in the first place. Never mind the high probability that proposed solutions will create as many, if not more, problems than they solve (a little ethanol, anyone?). This is a conflict between two different eschatologies, one secular and the other sacred – two different visions of the future, two different views of salvation, and two different concepts of divine sovereignty. They are not compatible, and the secular must be firmly rejected. It is not up to us to save the earth. From the secular view, there is no point. From the Christian view, there is no need. So let’s hope the Pope shows some restraint, even if a more radical statement might curry political favor with people who are unlikely to return it.