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Aside from the suffocation of a human soul, no noncorporeal abuse is more unforgivable than the willful suppression of an idea. So it was first encouraging and then frightening to read, in the Tribune, the recent LA Times profile of Katharine Hayhoe, a professor of geosciences at Texas Tech University who is both an evangelical Christian and a climatologist.
“Hayhoe meets with Christian colleges, church groups, senior citizens, professional associations and just about anyone else to explain that Earth's climate is changing and that human beings are behind it,” reporter Neela Banerjee tells us.
“Like any climatologist, she is armed with data. Yet Hayhoe also speaks of climate change in a language to which conservative Christians can relate, about protecting God's creation and loving one's neighbors. Hayhoe is a climate change evangelist in the West Texas Bible Belt, compelled by her faith to protect the least among us by sharing what she knows, even if it's science that many around her reject.”
When science delivers a message we don’t want to hear, we all have a right to reject it. But shooting the messenger is another matter. Banerjee continues:
"Her book for evangelicals, 'A Climate for Change,' sells tepidly because Christian bookstores won't stock it. At a senior citizen center in Lubbock, a man shaking with rage shouted an expletive-studded monologue about how the greenhouse effect doesn't exist. At a talk for Texas Tech business school students, her arguments were simply dismissed. At the end of any given talk, perhaps one person might tell Hayhoe she's convinced him of the scientific consensus on global warming."
My first reaction to the idea of bookstores refusing to carry her book was to despair at fundamentalism run amok: the simple idea that God’s creation is imperiled is anathema to the Christians who most strenuously proclaim their fidelity to God! My second reaction was horror: can our earth and nation peacefully be shared with people who have demonized and forbidden our ideas?
My third reaction was to wonder if the story was accurate.
I e-mailed Hayhoe. She replied:
I would say it's more the case that Christian bookstores don't stock it, rather than that they won't. Many of the largest chains, such as Mardel or Family Christian, list the book on their website but don't carry it in their stores. It's not that the book has been blacklisted. It's more likely a combination of multiple factors: I'm an unknown author to a Christian audience, the topic is controversial so they don't want to bother with it, and/or they don't think there's enough interest to stock it.
She continued in a second e-mail:
Writing a book on climate change for people who already feel it's a problem and want to know more about it—well, then you're writing for an audience who's already there, but you're also preaching to the choir. There are many, many great books on climate change out there for people who want to read them, written by everyone from former ministers like Bill McKibben to a fellow scientist like Richard Alley. But there are no books out there that start where half of America is at, answering the questions my husband and I get asked every day: it's freezing outside—where's global warming now? isn't climate change just a problem scientists have made up to get free money from the government? and how could something like this be happening if we believe God is in charge?
Hayhoe is speaking about climate change to a deeply skeptical audience, but not to an audience that believes shunning and silencing her is doing the will of God. (Except, she tells me, for the small minority that does believe this.)
It’s a small distinction to make, perhaps, but it comes as a relief to me.