Few American Christians let their faith get in the way of their politics. They simply ignore church teachings or find creative ways to interpret biblical passages to justify their political views. That is why I don’t expect the new encyclical from Pope Francis to cause much of a shift in people’s opinions about climate change.
The pope says human activity is causing a calamitous spike in global temperatures. The climate shift is melting polar ice, causing sea levels to rise, creating destructive extremes of weather, destroying ocean ecosystems and generally making a mess of the planet. The culprit in this assault on God’s creation is unfettered industrial activity driven by short-sighted greed, the pope asserts, and those who will suffer the most from this are the world’s poor.
“Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods,” Francis wrote in his encyclical. “It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades.”
If you are a Christian who already accepted the overwhelming scientific consensus about climate change, you are, of course, cheering for Francis. You believe that he is expressing the true ethic of benevolent Christianity. But, if you are a Christian whose conservative political views put you in the same political camp as the climate change deniers who control the environmental policies of the Republican Party, you are not going to have a sudden conversion, like Paul on the road to Damascus. No, you are going to reject Francis and take your cues from more reassuring spiritual guides — such as Rush Limbaugh.
In the gospel according to Rush, environmentalism is the new home of communism and Pope Francis is a fellow traveler. During his radio show on June 16, Limbaugh — not for the first time — said the pope “sounds like a Marxist”.
“But he doesn't even disguise it, folks, in this encyclical,” Limbaugh said. “Doesn't even disguise it! Every other word seems to be about how unfettered capitalism is destroying the world and how the rich countries have to give more money to the poor countries to make amends. I mean, that's -- call it what you want -- Marxism, socialism, what have you.”
Limbaugh declared climate change a hoax, made the preposterous claim that global temperatures have been falling for a decade and then questioned why the pope would make a big deal of this issue.
“Is climate change an enemy of the Catholic Church?” he asked. “Is climate change an enemy of Catholics? Even if it is happening, as they say, is climate change a matter of faith? Is it something that the church believes is a weapon being used against the faithful? I don't know, folks. It just doesn't wash here. And that's why when I first heard the pope start talking about economics, just like in this encyclical on global warming, it just sounded like pure, not even diluted, Marxism.”
Soon, a woman called in expressing deep concern that her church was in the hands of a bad man. “I am a Catholic, and I'm in so much pain today at the possibility that my pope is spreading Marxist error,” the caller said.
“But I want to point out that there is precedence for this in the Catholic Church all the way back from its inception,” she went on. “Judas was an apostle who chose politics and power over God, and he ended up betraying our Lord with a kiss. And if the pope chooses Marxism over the mystical body of Christ, this is indeed a betrayal on a scale that we haven't seen before.”
And, if some Catholics choose Rush Limbaugh over Pope Francis, that only proves they have placed their faith in someone who reinforces their fears and political biases rather than in the leader of their church who said in his encyclical: “Ecological sin is due to human greed, which blinds men and women to the point of ignoring and disregarding the basic truth that the happiness of the individual depends on its relationship with the rest of human beings.”
Does that sound like Karl Marx, or a guy named Jesus? The way you answer that question quite likely depends far less on the word of God than on the level of faith you place in the voices you hear on the radio.