Monthly Archives: September 2015

Cool Pope Runs Afoul of America’s Religion


One of Cool Pope’s early U.S. emissaries

The cool pope’s in town, guys. He thinks atheists can be good people! He admits capitalism’s flaws! He wants churches to aid the poor and refugees! And he sees combatting human-caused climate change as a moral and religious mission — something he reiterated on the White House lawn as his most excellent adventure in America continues.

“It seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation,” the awesomest pope ever said, whipping off his wraparound Ray-Bans. Proving that even Cool Pope (TM) can pander to the local audience, he quoted one of America’s favorite sons to rope into one’s particular worldview. “To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it.”

Added Cool Pope the First, “Anyone here go to GEORGETOWN!?”

But it’s all still cool, because unlike, say, when Fox News broadcasters invoking Dr. King to say that Black Lives Matter protestors should behave differently, climate change action seems like something the Reverend would have actually supported. Yet and however, such pro-science proclamations from Buddy Pope have upset many religious leaders in the U.S.

That was glib. The reflexive disapproval by many U.S. conservatives of Good-Guy Pope’s statements on climate change seems, superficially, like anti-science religiosity. People upset about climate science seem to walk and talk like anti-evolutionists, those who oppose what Darwin wrought because it opposes their understanding of the Bible.

In both cases, opponents of a politicized area of science must go through some weird contortions. They live in a world defined by science and technology, but cannot accept a core finding of modern science. Thus, in the case of anti-evolutionists, you get Intelligent Design, an attempt to distort the logical-scientific enterprise so that it somehow arrives at the preconceived notions derived from religion.

Climate-change deniers commit similar deformations of science and logic, but here the preconceived conclusions are not religious. Sure, you can derive Bible-based arguments to oppose climate action — e.g., God gave us this planet to use, and so drill (baby, drill) we must. But the major reason for climate-change denial is economic. Fighting climate change means thinning the wallets of fossil-fuel companies. It does not, primarily, commit sins against the teachings of the Bible. It commits sins against the tenets of unfettered capitalism.

So Pope Kick-Ass’ statements on a warming planet anger many American conservatives not because he’s a religious figure denying religious teachings in favor of science — but because he’s a religious figure denying capitalism’s teachings in favor of science.

The way the religious right has yoked Jesus to Adam Smith still surprises me sometimes. Here, we see, arguably the most powerful living Christian figure in the world rejected by the most political of Christians in a country, attacked by those same Fox News broadcaster — because he’s not capitalist enough. Christianity was a Jewish religious co-opted by Rome. It now, here at least, seems like a Roman religion co-opted by Goldman-Sachs.


Words Cannot Capture the Holy-Shitness of This Moment

by Michael Dhar

Grabs from BBC YouTube video of Bug Blue Live in which presenter Steve Backshall has to interrupt an interview because a blue whale has surfaced nearby

This guy gets really excited.

But it seems justified. The man totally geeking out over nature in the above video is Steve Backshall, a British naturalist and television host. In this clip, he’s hosting a program for British television called “BBC Big Blue Live,” when that very same “big blue” occurs in a very much “live” fashion. Having just asked a whale expert, “Is this a remarkable moment in time?” (first rule of journalism: ask leading, yes-no questions), the moment in time turns, in fact, remarkable. I challenge you, can you be so snarky as to not smile when that profusion of piping, British enthusiasm declares that a real big blue has surfaced to say hello?

I like this video not in spite of Backshall’s outburst, but because of it. It invites the viewer to imagine the experience of seeing this creature. The emotive force of Backshall’s reaction may not exactly convey what the experience feels like, but I think it inspires the viewer to attempt to imagine it — to put some mental and emotional effort toward conceiving of him or herself in the presence of such a gigantic animal. What must this be like to cause such an outburst?

What that work of imagination, it becomes something more than simply estimating a thing of great size. It becomes an experience of something sub-verbal, an appreciation of the natural sublime: the natural world, so large and awe-inspiring, that it is failed by words. The thing about this gigantic animal is that it cannot be adequately described linguistically. Of course, it can be measured. And Backshall uses his words to do that — it is bigger than any dinosaur; it would be longer than his ship were it to swim up alongside it.

But those are merely words. The *experience* of seeing this whale is in his voice. It is unusual, clearly, to see a grown man emote like a toddler in the presence of a really cool fire truck. One response to seeing this on the Internet would be to toss a snarky grin, and comment accordingly. Another is to see it as evidence of something powerful being experienced, and to wonder at what that must be like.

On the one hand, “This thing is a really big thing,” is an exceedingly boring fact to learn or experience. Some things are bigger than other things. I am aware if this fact. But part of what makes a blue whale so intense, at least for this man (and many others), is that it is living — not only huge, but also alive. It does what we do — breathes, moves, eats, fears, communicates, dies — feels its own mass shift and turn in the cool water. And it does all this at a size that is nearly incomprehensible to us, at a size that leaves this experienced TV broadcaster nearly breathless.

So, that’s what I found myself thinking about. It’s by no means the only way to try to understand what Backshall experiences here, but one way in is to wonder at another experience: the whale’s. What can that be like, to own a body like that, to *be* a body like that? It is a mysterious and transformative question. Maybe that’s what Backshall was experiencing as he went all adorable on national television: a mysterious kinship with a creature that is yet alarmingly alien. His outburst was him expressing the energy of that collision. The presence of that mystery.

Of course, maybe he was just excited because he likes whales, and this was going to be a good moment for his TV show. But I do sense a real desire on his part to express the inexpressible. And simply by making the attempt — and failing — he may have succeeded.