Methodism in the madness

A few weeks ago someone suggested to me what’s needed to make people really wake up to climate change and the root-and-branch alterations to daily life it will inevitably demand is a new religion. I think, in a sense, we already have it.

Last night we went to Tom Dyson‘s excellent talk on climate change, which neatly summarised the main issues, tackled some of the criticisms, and advocated personal carbon rationing. Sitting there in Ramsden Memorial Hall, a beautiful converted barn with ancient beams gnarling across the ceiling, not to mention aided by the local brewery’s imaginative stimulant, I half found myself back in the 1740s. The occasion reminded me (I say ‘reminded’ – I mean, I’m getting on, but I’m not 300 years old) of the early days of Methodism, where small village groups would assemble to hear the new message.

The meeting had a mixture of locals of all ages, plus a bunch of us loyally going to swell Tom’s crowd, where most were already receptive or indeed converted to the message. In the Q&A afterwards, a few theological niceties, as it were, were discussed; and there were only one or two voices of dissent, notably one from a chap who thought the whole thing was highly suspicious, but nevertheless led perhaps one of the least carbon-consumptive lives of us all. I bet John Wesley met people like him too – people already living ‘the Way’ but deeply sceptical of imported justifications for it. One or two in the audience were perhaps even leaning towards the temperance movement in spirit.

Ever since the age of 12 when I harangued our school chaplain with unanswerable questions, I’ve been on the side of unbelief. But now, suddenly, that seems to have changed. All round the country, likeable lay preachers such as Tom are spreading the word; further afield, there are charismatic prophets such as George Monbiot (let’s leave aside Al Gore’s messianic tone for now). The difference, of course, is that the ‘revealed truth’ underpinning this belief system is a set of 928 scientific papers, and not a book written by a motley collection of marketeers a couple of millennia ago.

(I’m going to stop now as I’ve just been invited to expand on this theme in a paid article!)