March 15, 2016

Fighting climate change with a religious ritual (SATIRE)

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Aisha, 11, carries coal to be used for cooking and heating from a brick-making factory in Jalalabad, Afghanistan on December 17, 2013. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Parwiz
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-CLIMATE-MUSLIMS, originally transmitted on August 18, 2015.

Aisha, 11, carries coal to be used for cooking and heating from a brick-making factory in Jalalabad, Afghanistan on December 17, 2013. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Parwiz *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-CLIMATE-MUSLIMS, originally transmitted on August 18, 2015.

The sun is seen through the steam and other emissions coming from funnels of the brown coal Loy Yang Power Station in the Latrobe Valley near Melbourne in this December 15, 2008 file photo. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mick Tsikas/Files

The sun is seen through the steam and other emissions coming from funnels of the brown coal Loy Yang Power Station in the Latrobe Valley near Melbourne, Australia, in this Dec. 15, 2008, file photo. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mick Tsikas/Files

The Literalist Guthrie

(Editor’s Note: The following is a satirical news column and the events it depicts are fictional.)

“It makes people feel virtuous, especially affluent people who feel guilty about their enormous environmental footprint. It is less an ethical activity than a religious ritual, like the ones performed by Catholics to obtain indulgences for their sins.” — John Tierney, writing in The New York Times.

CLYDE HILL, Wash. (RNS) Linda and Jon Murphy are upper-middle-class corporate executives with a four-car garage and hundreds of thousands of air miles logged annually between the two of them. And their life has become so much happier and carefree since they began buying indulgences from their priest.

“We realized a few years ago how we were contributing to the ongoing destruction of our planet,” Linda began as our interview opened with a few sets of tennis on their private court.

Last October, when the weight of the global capitalist machine on their consciences became unbearable, Linda and Jon visited their parish priest.


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“We spilled our hearts out that bright fall morning,” Jon said, holding back tears. “But Father Mike didn’t even hesitate when I told him about watching the trailer for An Inconvenient Truth and wanting to help the polar bears.

“He went to a room back behind the sacristy and brought back two large recycling bins. He told us, ‘Take these.’”

Later, standing in her garage with four SUVs (one for each family member), Linda pointed at two recycling bins in the corner. “We promised to say a short prayer every time we put our plastic water bottles in them. And we use a lot of plastic water bottles, you should know. Each bin cost us five bucks.

“We connected a lot of dots in our lives,” she said, as she went upstairs to her guest bedroom and opened a closet full of (PRODUCT)RED apparel from the late 2000s. “Bono helped us get through all that media coverage of AIDS in Africa. We just didn’t know calling that an indulgence was socially acceptable again.”

Indulgences were popular in medieval Catholicism as a remission of punishment for sin, but fell out of favor during and after the Protestant Reformation of the early 1500s.

But five centuries later, as humanity hurls itself toward its own destruction, the guilty classes are primed for an easy pardon. Indeed, greenhouse gas emissions by Americans are about 10 times per capita that of Moroccans or Indians, according to the World Bank (this is not a joke).

“We didn’t know it’d be that easy to reduce the amount of guilt we feel for our immense environmental sins, but it was,” Jon said. “I felt better immediately after the indulgence.”

Jon, a successful tech entrepreneur, is looking for ways of capitalizing on that good feeling.

“Startup kind of feels like the wrong word. It’s more a tech-innovation-product-driven revival of solution to a problem as old as sin itself. We are going to dominate the indulgence market and begin opening local dispensaries in select cities during the first quarter of 2017.

“There’s a market here,” he said, “and not just for the 1 billion Catholics on the planet.”

(Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons writes The Literalist, a twice-weekly satirical news column for RNS. His writing on faith and public policy has appeared in Sojourners, The Washington Post, Texas Tribune and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @guthriegf)


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