Responding to a recent article in Nature on the psychology of climate change,  The Guardian ‘s Andrew Brown argues that combatting global warming will require something beyond carbon taxes, recycling programs, and technological innovation:

There may be ways of fixing [the current confusion] and averting catastrophic global warming that don’t make use of religious resources, but I can’t think of any.

It’s important to this argument to understand that religious resources need not be theistic. All they need do is make manifest a higher rationality than self-interest. This isn’t an argument about whether God exists, but about how human beings make up their minds and form their characters. Atheist states based around myth and ritual are not hard to find . . . .

What religious thought — and ritual — can supply is the two things absent from normative consumer liberalism. The first is a belief that the choice between ends is not arbitrary or wholly personal: that there are moral facts of the matter; that saving as much of humanity as possible is an obligation on all of us, and that this is actually true, and not just a matter of preference.

The second is the kind of conformism, reinforced by all kinds of social ritual, large and small, which will enforce the social discipline needed to carry societies through some pretty ghastly changes. Let’s face it, any adjustment to an ecologically sustainable standard of living is going to be a lot nastier than anything Greece is going through now. It will need considerable determination and solidarity.


Even if climate change never becomes a crisis, the resources Brown mentions could be vital if the recent economic stagnation worsens in coming decades. But the idea of a non-theistic religion supplying them seems far-fetched in light of the mockery that greeted Alain de Botton’s proposed religion for atheists .

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