The Limits of Religion and How It Informs the Religious Response to Climate Change

Part of addressing climate change is the technical challenges. The methods of science and engineering have proven themselves to be far more capable in providing probable solutions to climate change than religion. The sacred foundational texts and the subsequent holy documents were never envisioned as scientific directives. Even when droughts threatened and bubonic plagues charged down the Silk Road, all the religions from China to Europe were not capable of investigating the sources and resolving the crises. Modern science and engineering are late in the history of religion, and all our technical solutions are recent.

Another part of addressing climate change is a question of which government policies to implement. The Hebrew Bible knew only kings and tyrants, judging monarchs good or bad based on their worship of Adonai God. Solomon is mentioned as imposing heavy taxes and forcing onerous conscription to build his temple, but he is judged as a good king based solely on his choice of building a temple to Adonai God. Economics and government policies are not part of the religious foundations.

When a recession descends upon a country, whether the country is Iran, Saudi Arabia, India or Italy, there are only a few reasonable choices the government has available to effectively address the crisis. Bringing a country out of recession looks similar around the world and the dominant religion of the country has no bearing on the government course of action. Certainly, believers pray to God that the policies work, but the choice of policies is not a religious call.

Religions are at its best when they identify the sacred values of solving a crisis such as global warming. Religion has always had a unifying power, bringing people together for a cause. Religion at its best creates identity and nobility of the cause. Religion can drive the conversation in the public square and religion can reframe cacophony of self-interested voices (such as the fossil fuel industry), giving clear perspectives on the choices we must make.

The world does not need or want a Jewish, a Muslim, or a Christian solution to the global climate pandemic. The world needs a religious voice clarifying the sacred tasks that must be undertaken. The world needs a clear moral direction that can overcome the forces of greed and nationalism at this critical juncture.

Raising a religious voice in a time of unchecked nationalism and political partisanship is daunting. Religious people are dismissed with causal disdain, which is why the moral vacuum must be reclaimed. We must raise our religious voices in the public square and in our legislator’s offices (even if remotely). What good is all our protestations and claims of piety if we do not speak our faiths to our governments and our fellows to address the climate?

A Prayer for these Times

 “Every hand that we don’t shake must be a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern.

Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another, must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise. 

So, as we keep a level of social distance, let us all remain spiritually near to each other, by responding to this health emergency with love and care for everyone’s well-being. 

May Adonai give us the wisdom to continue to react appropriately to this crisis and heal those who have been infected.” 

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

B’nai David-Judea Congregation

Los Angeles, CA