Archive for the Godstuff Category

Someone said,

The opposite of faith is not doubt. It’s cowardice.

What are you reading?

I’m reading a book.

Yup. Who is in the book?

Well. Um. Krister Stendahl.

Yup. Krister Stendahl. He’s like Mister Bean.

Byron Smith is writing a 3 part blog series on Ecology and the Gospel. Reviewing the catalogue of contemporary environmental horrors – Climate change. Biodiversity loss and habitat destruction. Resource depletion. Desertification. Overfishing. Ocean acidification… – he asks:

Is concern about such matters a distraction from the gospel or even a dangerous false agenda proposed by pantheist environmentalists?

The whole thing is worth reading, but I particularly liked Byron’s way of articulating part of every generation’s “greatest moral question” as,

whether we will love our neighbour as ourselves, or love ourselves to the harm of our neighbour.

I think that pretty much sums up for me the profound connection between our ecological and inter-personal ethics. Greenhouse gas emissions from our carbon-intensive economies and lifestyles are crowding the shared sky of our global village and warming the Earth, doing measurable harm to our poorest global neighbours.

A few years ago I fronted a DVD – Climate of Change – produced by TEAR Australia, looking at the impacts of climate change on Bangladesh, and also at the extraordinary community development work of HEED Bangladesh that is helping build community capacity and resilience in the face of climate change. And right now in my work with United Mission to Nepal, we are seeing the impacts of climate change in Nepal and working with poor communities to help them adapt.

Indifference, ignorance, and indulgence should not be options for Christians, but – sadly – they seem to be the default options for most of us most of the time. Our lifestyles, our worship, and our political discourse bear very little evidence that we take creation, new creation, and an other-centred ecological ethic seriously.

Or do you have, and are you part of, a story of change and hope?

Best novel

I couldn’t decide between Shadow Country & The Tutor of History. They’re both chunky, beautifully written door-stops of novels that tell compelling stories through the eyes of multiple characters and bring complex geographies and social realities to life.

Shadow Country, by Peter Matthieson, is a brutal, intricately characterised and stunningly rendered account of turn-of-the-20th-century frontier life, violence, and exploitation of place and people in Florida’s Everglades. It’s a reworking of Matthieson’s Mister Watson trilogy, and – for a novel that starts with its ending (almost) fully revealed – a gripping and suspenseful story.

The Tutor of History, by Manjushree Thapa, is equally beautifully written. It is a quite wonderful account of family and personal struggle set during a fictitious election campaign in Nepal. Her characters are flawed, failing, trapped and yet full of desire and struggling to work out the possibilities for their own personal liberation within a social and political context that is both deeply conservative and also changing beyond recognition. Marvellous.

Best Science Fiction

River of Gods and Cyberabad Days by Ian McDonald. Both to reflect my own reading habits, and the strength of this novel and collection of stories, I needed a separate sci-fi  category. River of Gods couldn’t quite have won in the best novel category, but it would have gone close. Well written (though occasionally just a shade over-written) story of personal, political and environmental intrigue and conflict set in a fractured India in 2047. The big-picture stuff is, indeed, big-picture – India has fractured into multiple smaller and competing states, climate change has weakened the South Asian monsoon, leading to water conflict, various Artificial Intelligences approach break out point only to be put down like rabid dogs – but they never overwhelm McDonald’s gritty depiction of street-level reality, engaging characters and cracker of a story. Cyberabad Days, a collection of short stories, is an edgy, pacy set of snapshots of life in this same setting.

Best Album

Tchamantche. Without a doubt. Rokia Traore is one of two women I have fallen in love with on the basis of their singing voices. The other is Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays. And I can’t understand a word either of them sing.

Best Theology

But possibly worst title: Inhabiting the Cruciform God, by Michael Gorman. And definitely worst subtitle: Kenosis, Justification and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology. Building on an exposition of Philippians 2:6–11 as Paul’s “master story”, Gorman elegantly argues that God’s nature is cruciform – fully revealed in the paradoxically emptying, abasing and negating movement of Christ’s incarnation and crucifixion. And, following this, that to be truly human is to participate in and be conformed to this divine nature in holy communities of self-giving love.

There are lots of insights into Pauline texts – I often found myself seeing familiar passages in new ways – and Gorman’s weaving together of justification and holiness, the crucifixion and resurrection is compelling. His arguments in support of a theologically informed non-violence are  clear and cogent. Though I found his way of preserving the possibility/reality of a future judgement (by arguing that the narrative structure he identifies in Philippians 2 may express the nature of God but does not exhaust it) troubling. Taking this route seems to me to have the potential to undermine much of what Gorman had argued to this point.

Best Day

Sunday 19 July.

Best Taste

Samosa chat from a street vendor in Surkhet. It’s spicy, creamy, potatoey goop over samosa fragments, served on a banana leaf plate. Delicious. But Urmila’s tomato and coriander achar runs a very close second.

Best Movie

Up (Disney/Pixar).  Gorgeous. Heart-breaking and hilarious animated family feature.

After writing my last post on doing good to all, which was sparked by this post at The Sola Panel, I wondered about a few other dynamics that seem to be at work in the way evangelicals often think about these things. There is this theoretical concern that evangelism should always retain primacy over social concern, which can combine with a boundary-riding kind of groupthink to be multiply counterproductive – not only do we fail to do the good that is right there to do, but we fail even to take up the evangelistic opportunities that could arise. Let me give you some examples of what I mean:

I used to be involved in a tutoring program in Sydney, helping Sudanese refugees develop English literacy and make progress on their school work. It was a real joy for me, and when one of the students and a friend, Akur – who had hardly been to school in Sudan, or in the refugee camps where she had lived – passed her HSC, I was almost inexpressibly happy. At the time, I was also working for TEAR Australia, developing campaign and advocacy resources about refugee and asylum-seeker issues. So I would share about the tutoring work as an example of one practical way that Christians could be involved to support refugees and asylum-seekers. A theological student at Moore College (the evangelical Anglican college in Sydney) was interested in being involved but couldn’t come all the way out to Parramatta where we tutored.

No problem, I said, the Ashfield Migrant Resource Centre was setting up a tutoring and homework program in Sydney’s inner-west, he could be part of that. Later he told me that he wouldn’t join the MRC’s program, and didn’t feel comfortable promoting it to his fellow theological students, because it was run under the auspices of an organisation that was not Christian, working with other tutors who are not Christian. And he didn’t think that he would be allowed to share his faith under those circumstances.

I asked him whether he wanted to help kids learn or wanted to evangelise? “Ideally both,” he said. “OK,” I said, “so what better place could you ask for to do both, than in a place where you are working alongside tutors and migrant resource workers who have the same heart to care for refugees? Where else could you more naturally share about who you are and why you are involved?” Sadly, he wasn’t convinced.* But it struck me that his desire to keep evangelism (albeit in a safe, clubby, enabling Christian environment) ahead of doing good (in some abstract theoretical construct in which these two things are always and only opposing goods in a zero-sum game – the more you do of one, the less you do of the other) actually prevented him from doing either.

A second incident occurred at around the same when we were organising a large-scale awareness-raising and education event for congregations and church leaders about refugee and asylum-seeker issues. We wanted to counter the fear and demonisation that seemed to be directed at asylum-seekers, to offer Biblical reflections on strangers and migrants, and to provide practical ways that congregations could be involved to support them. We had workshops lead by people from Anglicare, Migrant Resource Centre, Pendle Hill Church of Christ, Jesuit Refugee Service, and others, giving really great practical ways for people to get involved – from tutoring, to community settlement support, to visiting asylum-seekers in detention.

When setting up the day, we wanted a couple of keynote speakers. We invited a Bible college lecturer to speak about the Bible’s picture of the place of strangers and migrants. We also invited the Director of the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) to talk about government policy on refugees and asylum-seekers. I didn’t know two people more qualified to give the talks that they gave, and on the day both were passionate, clear and direct.

However, when I spoke with someone in the social issues executive committee of the Anglican Church to get their involvement in helping promote this event to congregations and ministers I was told that they wouldn’t be involved. The Refugee Council director, I was told, was not a Christian and in some meetings with Christian agencies involved with refugees, had been dismissive or rude, so they didn’t feel they could work together.

“OK,” I said,* “but the RCOA director is the best qualified person to talk about these issues, to explain government policy and give suggestions for ways the current laws and policies should change. She’s not going to be talking about faith or religious issues. We’ve got a Moore college lecturer to do that. So I don’t understand what the concern is.”

“We just don’t feel that she has any respect for Christians.”

“But RCOA director has agreed to come and is the best person on the topic to speak at this event. An event that was organised by Christians. For Christians.”

I didn’t convince her.

Frustrated, as we walked away from the meeting, I told the person from the social issues executive that I thought evangelicals were in danger of being like the priests and levites in the story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan. The kind of people who have the right theology, the right doctrine and the right worship, but who fail to do the right thing when they have the chance.

She didn’t take that particularly well and reminded me that there were a lot of congregations doing good things to help people in need – a fact I hadn’t forgotten. But I thought then, and still think now, that yet another opportunity to witness to the goodness and grace of God to somebody who was (in her view) hostile to Christianity had been missed, and with it the opportunity to encourage and equip congregations to practically minister to the needs of refugees and asylum-seekers.

*Conversation abbreviated, but this was its gist to the best of my recollection – more likely than not, though, I’ve remembered my words in the best possible light.

This postWe must focus on the Christian poor – at the Sola Panel (Sydney’s reformed Anglican online discussion shop) promulgates the notion that Christians ought to focus more on, or give a higher priority to, their care for other Christians – in some sort of distinction from or opposition to their care for others outside the family of faith. I’ve heard others (including lecturers at respected Evangelical theological institutions) arguing the same case. Personally, I don’t have much time for the argument.

Insofar as it’s a restatement of the Biblical truth that we should care for our brothers and sisters in faith just as if they were our brothers and sisters (and especially when they are behaving towards us just like our brothers and  sisters often do – siblings, you know who I’m talking about) and we should care for all others as we are able, then I’m for it. Insofar as it is used to make any other point and to call for some sort of (renewed) bias towards believers (in distinction to those outside the faith) in contemporary Christian ethics and behaviour, then I think it’s rubbish.

It’s got some (but only some) Scriptural warrant – and massively overplays a few verses while steadfastly refusing to engage with the Scriptural evidence that points in another direction.

It depends on positing some sort of zero-sum trade-off between caring for Christians and caring for others that has no sound logical basis nor grounding in reality.

Insofar as it is theologically coherent (and as with its exegetical base it has some coherence, but only some) I find it aberrant to the point of being heretical.

And, as for the practical outworking of the argument – when its application is given any real hard edges I find it about as unappealing as naked bigotry.

I find the notion confused and confusing; the people I’ve heard getting most worked up about it don’t want to stop caring for the non-Christian poor altogether (or at least they say they don’t) – they just want (they claim) to focus on or prioritise care for the Christian poor.

At this point the notion gets a bit vague and its advocates tend to get a little sketchy in its defence. It’s not that they don’t have some Scriptural evidence to support them. They do have some (but only some). But they certainly don’t seem to take the whole Bible witness on the matter into account, and even the bits they do enjoy quoting don’t give any concrete guidance on what this would actually mean in practice. It’s left to posts like Andrew’s to suggest that you give only (or mostly) to Christian NGOs that work only (or mostly) with and for other Christians. Which isn’t something I recall reading in the Bible.

Conversations on the topic tend to run something like:

“I just think there’s a clear priority in Scripture in favour of the Christian poor.”

“Which means that we shouldn’t care for poor people who aren’t Christians?”

“No, of course it doesn’t mean that. The Bible clearly tells us we should do good to all. But especially to the family of faith.”

“So, does that mean we should care less for poor people who aren’t Christians than we care for believers?”

“Not exactly. But we should have a priority for other believers.”

“A priority in the sense of giving more time or money or effort to care for them?”

“Yes. We can’t give to everyone at all times. So we have to focus on other Christians.”

“But don’t you think that the people who are trying to “do good to all” will also be helping other Christians out when they get the chance? So, aren’t they doing exactly what Galatians 6:10 asks them to do?”

“Well, maybe. But it’s a matter of priorities.”

“They shouldn’t be helping non-Christians so much?”

“No, but…”

The title of Andrew Barry’s post – “We must focus on the Christian poor” – sounds like a call to arms and his article (as these arguments always seem to) starts with Galatians 6:10:

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

In defence of his position, Andrew puts forward four reasons he says Christians should focus on “the Christian poor”:

  • It preserves theological truths as the grounds for generosity. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ (i.e. it is particularly Christian to give to other Christians with whom we have no other relationship than calling on the same Father). At least in rhetoric, Muslims have a much more global sense of brotherhood and looking after each other than we do. It should be the other way around.
  • It follows the pattern of the Scriptures (as has been shown above).
  • It helps ensure that giving to the poor does not become a public relations activity to give us a hearing for the gospel!!!! We should do good because it is good. Our public generosity to outsiders should be an overflow of the way we look after our own, not a outward sham to make ourselves look good.
  • And yet, it shows the whole world that we are Christ’s disciples. The missing words from the verse above were “if you have love for one another”.

I’ll look at argument 2 first, and say straight away that it doesn’t follow the pattern of Scripture, but rather a selective sample of texts Andrew marshals in its support. Sure we need to understand what it means (both in Paul’s rhetoric and in reality) to do good especially to other Christians, but grammatically I can’t work out how the second clause can be used to overpower the clear sense of the dominant clause as Andrew seems to do. We are to do good to all.

Paul’s language about caring for others is far more inclusive than Andrew acknowledges. This is the same Paul who said that God’s abundant blessing was

so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

and who commended the same Corinthians for the generosity of their sharing with “them” (poor Christians in Jerusalem) “and with all others“. He regarded extending hospitality to strangers as part of the Christian life, and instructed the Christians in Rome, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.”

Now you might argue that this universal and inclusive language – every good work, sharing with all others, showing hospitality to strangers and caring for enemies – still applies only (or primarily) to Christians, including Christian strangers and enemies. But, frankly, that seems weird to me.

Jesus taught that an ethic worthy of God’s Kingdom was one that had God’s indiscriminate love at its heart:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

As for argument two, that it “preserves theological truths as the grounds for generosity”, I guess you can see where the Scriptures I’m quoting might suggest some other theological truths that ought to be taken into account. I really don’t know what to do with the Muslim envy in that section, but maybe framing it as a competition, and telling people that right now Muslims are better than Christian (at least “in rhetoric”) in caring for other believers, is good for rebuking and rallying the evangelical troops who have been helping too many non-Christians.

Fundamentally, though, I think Christian generosity is a response to an encounter with God, whose generosity knows no bounds. A God who – as we meet him in Jesus – loves the world to death and beyond. Jesus gave his life not just for his friends but for his enemies, and while we were still enemies. At the heart of God we find indiscriminate, self-giving love. So the most basic ethical commitment that Christians have is to do good to all, for that is in line with the character of God. How that will look for each Christian community and person will vary according to your context, but it’s clear that we all are called to do good to all (including Christians).

In his third argument, Andrew seems to be imputing bad motives to his implicit interlocuters, suggesting that those who show “public generosity to others” do it as a PR exercise or an “outward sham to look good to others”. Now, maybe there are people whose work is all for show and there’s certainly always a danger that people become motivated by the approval of others. But I don’t think that danger is averted by not doing good to others until and unless we have (in some unspecified way) first shown priority to Christians. Perhaps caring for others with only whatever dregs of time, energy, emotion and money we have left after caring for other believers could even become a PR exercise, effectively saying, “Want our help? Convert!”

Frankly, too, it’s never an either-or situation. I have yet to meet anyone whose commitment to caring for people made them unable to care for Christians. I have yet to meet a Christian who was the kind of person who would share a dollar with a stranger on the street and who wouldn’t also share that dollar with a brother or sister in need.

Finally, Andrew argues that giving priority to caring for the Christian poor will show that we are Jesus’ disciples. One of the commenters on his thread has pointed to Matthew 5:16 (“Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to the your Father in heaven”) which I think is to the point. More importantly, however, there are some fundamental differences in what being a disciple in 1st Century Galatia and 21st Century Australia actually entails. Paul was writing to a small, beleaguered sect in the provinces of the Roman Empire. It’s remarkable that he would tell them to care for others at all, let alone tell them to care for all others.

This is the kind of ethic that led a rather peeved, pagan Emperor Julian a few centuries later to complain, “The godless Galileans [Christians] care not only for their own poor, but for ours also”. Christian generosity and social concern was one of the factors, according to Julian’s letters to a pagan high priest in Galatia, that was leading to the abandonment of the temples and worship of the old gods. To argue that 21st Century Australian Christians ought to retreat into a sub-Christian sectarianism is not only to retreat from the Scripture’s clear vision, but also from God’s work in history.

So I say, rejoice whenever you have the opportunity to do good. Do good to all. Give without asking in return. Love, as you have been loved. That’s life.

If you’ve never read – or think you’ve read – the book of Jonah before, you’ll find challenging reflections here and here

If you’ve never read/think you’ve read Paul before, you’ll find challenging reflections here

Quite possibly this is a(nother) post that won’t live up to the grandiosity of the title. Plus it’s a catch-up post, trying to make up for the fact that I’ve neglected the blog for more than a month now. Ah well. Attending the climate change intercessionals in Bangkok reminded me that I really should have posted this already.

In July I attended the Micah Network Consultation on climate change and stewardship of creation in Kenya. And yes, I’m fully aware of the irony of emitting CO2 to be at meetings discussing climate change. Until maritime and aviation fuels (bunker fuels as they’re known in the business) are taxed properly and their emissions incorporated into a global emissions reductions deal then their environmental externalities won’t properly be factored in. Until that happens, I’ll keep on offsetting as much as I can…

Anyway, it was a joy to be with so many great people, talking, sharing and learning, but a painful joy. There were so many hard stories, particularly relating to the enviromental hazards that a life in poverty exposes people to – from trying to farm marginal and unproductive land, to facing and contributing to increased deforestation and the changes to local climate, livelihoods and flood risk that can bring, to being without resources and supports to prepare for and recover from extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and severe storms. Climate change will make many of these hazards worse.

But I was also on a drafting team putting together the conference’s theological statement. It was a beautiful, tiring and democratic process that involved the drafting team taking the collaborative work of all the participants who met during the day in 15 separate groups, and drafting a new statement for consideration the next day. We generally were able to start our work around 9 or 10pm and finished up around 2am most mornings. However, the result of the work was a text that I really felt didn’t belong to the drafting team, but represented the collective thought, work, wisdom and prayer of the whole group.

It was a privilege to have been part of it. The statement is available for download here, and reads:

We, members of the Micah Network , gathering together from 38 countries on all 5 continents, met at Limuru, Kenya from 13–18 July 2009 for its 4th Triennial Global Consultation. On the matter of Creation Stewardship and Climate Change, we sought God’s wisdom and cried out for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we reflected on the global environmental crisis. As a result of our discussions, reflections and prayers, we make the following declaration:

1. We believe in God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit in community – who is the creator, sustainer and Lord of all. God delights in His creation, and is committed to it.

2. In the beginning, God established just relationships amongst all of creation. Women and men – as image-bearers of God – are called to serve and love the rest of creation, accountable to God as stewards. Our care for creation is an act of worship and obedience towards the Creator.

3. We, however, have not always been faithful stewards. Through our ignorance, neglect, arrogance and greed, we have harmed the earth and broken creation’s relationships. Our failure to be faithful stewards has caused the current environmental crisis, leading to climate change, and putting the earth’s ecosystems at risk. All creation has been subjected to futility and decay.

4. Yet God remains faithful. In Christ’s incarnation, life, death and resurrection, God is at work to reconcile all of creation to Himself. We hear the groaning of creation as in the pains of childbirth. This is the promise that God will act, and is already at work, to renew all things. This is the hope that sustains us.

5. We confess that we have sinned. We have not cared for the earth with the self-sacrificing and nurturing love of God. Instead, we have exploited, consumed and abused it for our own advantage. We have too often yielded to the idolatry that is greed. We have embraced false dichotomies of theology and practice, splitting apart the spiritual and material, eternal and temporal, heavenly and earthly. In all these things, we have not acted justly towards each other or towards creation, and we have not honoured God.

6. We acknowledge that industrialization, increased deforestation, intensified agriculture and grazing, along with the unrestrained burning of fossil fuels, have forced the earth’s natural systems out of balance. Rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions are causing the average global temperature to rise, with devastating impacts already being experienced, especially by the poorest and most marginalized groups. A projected temperature rise of 2°C within the next few decades will significantly alter life on earth and accelerate loss of biodiversity. It will increase the risk and severity of extreme weather events, such as drought, flood, and hurricanes, leading to displacement and hunger. Sea levels will continue to rise, contaminating fresh water supplies and submerging island and coastal communities. We are likely to see mass migration, leading to resource conflicts. Profound changes to rainfall and snowfall, as well as the rapid melting of glaciers, will lead to more water stress and shortages for many millions of people.

7. We repent of our self-serving theology of creation, and our complicity in unjust local and global economic relationships. We repent of those aspects of our individual and corporate life styles that harm creation, and of our lack of political action. We must radically change our lives in response to God’s indignation and sorrow for His creation’s agony.

8. Before God we commit ourselves, and call on the whole family of faith, to bear witness to God’s redemptive purpose for all creation. We will seek appropriate ways to restore and build just relationships among human beings and with the rest of creation. We will strive to live sustainably, rejecting consumerism and the resulting exploitation. We will teach and model care of creation and integral mission. We will intercede before God for those most affected by environmental degradation and climate change, and will act with justice and mercy among, with and on behalf of them.

9. We join with others to call on local, national, and global leaders to meet their responsibility to address climate change and environmental degradation through the agreed inter-governmental mechanisms and conventions, and to provide the necessary resources to ensure sustainable development. Their meetings through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process must produce a fair, comprehensive, and adequate climate deal. Leaders must support the efforts of local communities to adapt to climate change, and must act to protect the lives and livelihoods of those most vulnerable to the impact of environmental degradation and climate change. We recognize that among the most affected are women and girls. We call on leaders to invest in the development of new, clean technologies and energy sources and to provide adequate support to enable poor, vulnerable and marginalized groups to use them effectively.

10. There is no more time for delay or denial. We will labour with passion, persistence, prayer and creativity to protect the integrity of all creation, and hand on a safe environment and climate to our children and theirs.

For those with ears to hear, let them hear.

17 July 2009

I’ve been staying for the last week or so with a Nepali family near Bhaktapur – about a 45 minute bus trip from the office (in good traffic and with no bandhs) – and it’s been a beautiful thing. My own peoples are away for a few weeks, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to get to know a family better, practise Nepali and avoid the soul-destroying loneliness of our empty flat.

The family (parents and younger brother of a friend of mine) have been very kind to me, I’ve heard a lot of Nepali and have spoken a little, and I’m extraordinarily encouraged by their faith in God and care for others.

What did I learn?

Language learning: I say la a lot – which means yes. Apparently I say it quite naturally and it sounds fine when I’m using it with friends, peers and younger people. But I need to learn to be a little bit more respectful when agreeing with older people: hos is better. Plus, I’ve learned lots of new words and have a better grip on how everyday conversation works.

Also, I discovered who easily a painfully executed discussion about how many people I’ve met during the day and how much I’ve eaten, and therefore, how I am not very hungry can be sent off the rails merely by mistakenly asking for much more to be put on my plate, rather than much less. थुप्रै (a heap) instead of (थोरै) a little – easy to see how that mistake was made!

New skills: baking a chocolate cake in a “miracle oven”. As with my dancing, I set my expectations fairly low and aimed to not ruin Keshav’s birthday and bring everlasting shame upon myself and, again, managed even to exceed these lofty ambitions.

But tonight, I’ll be back in the flat, getting ready to head off to Kenya for 10 days. I’ll miss my Nepali family.

I wouldn’t ordinarily venture to dispute Sydney Cardinal, George Pell (that’s the Catholic dignatory, not a pitcher for a minor-league baseball team), but it can’t be a good sign of the quality of the Cardinal’s thinking that he’s quoted approvingly by Andrew Bolt.

Shorter Pell: people I like to read say that climate change isn’t happening. I’m sure they’re right.

There are a number of fundamental errors in the piece which have been addressed over and over again by others who are actually qualified in a way that I, along with the good Cardinal, am not. (The medieval warm period wasn’t warmer. Warming didn’t stop in 1998.) But I was saddened by this childish attempt to use basic confusion about definitions as what is, apparently, meant to be a devastating attack on the scientists who understand climate change.

Originally we were warned about the “greenhouse effect”; then it was “global warming”, followed in turn by “climate change”. Now we talk about reducing the “carbon footprint”.

Um. No. These are not four separate “scares” dreamed up by global warming fanatics, each one supplanting the preceding when it had failed to generate sufficient panic. These are definitions of inter-related aspects of a physical reality.

The greenhouse effect is a term that metaphorically denotes how greenhouse gases in our atmosphere keep the Earth at a fairly constant, and life-friendly, temperature.

Global warming is what happens when additional (human-caused) greenhouse gases in the atmosphere shift the Earth’s energy balance, leading to increased surface temperatures.

And when the average global temperature increases, we don’t only get warmer weather. There are multiple impacts on the climate system, including sea level rise, and changes to precipitation patterns. Climate change seems like a good term to describe that.

And as for reducing our carbon footprint.  Since carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas and we’re releasing gigatonnes of the stuff right now, that sounds like good advice.

And does the Pope know what his Cardinal is up to? Caring for people and the planet, according to Benedict XVI, requires us to be concerned about climate change:

Care of water resources and attention to climate change are matters of grave importance for the entire human family. Encouraged by the growing recognition of the need to preserve the environment, I invite all of you to join me in praying and working for greater respect for the wonders of God’s creation!