So I observe that behavior that shames and threatens is becoming more and more common the more secular we become. This social climate change is destroying our collective capacity to adapt to any challenge. Let me try to be delicate: as a preacher I think some of the well-meant concern for the environment comes off as a little too preachy.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been interested in renewable energy my whole life. I want to see us plan communities where we are not so dependent on the automobile. But I don’t want to hear that I’d better change my environmental footprint or be cast into a world-wide apocalyptic nightmare. This may be true enough. But this kind of fear isn’t the best motivator. I can tell a person with COPD that he’s going to die if he doesn’t quit smoking to calm his nerves, but heaping death threats on him is not likely to calm him down.
Some of this secular, “green” moralizing has all the subtlety of the road-side evangelism of my youth. “Avoid hell.” The signs said. “Repent before it is too late.” One time a youth pastor, a kind of self-appointed John the Baptist, started preaching to me and my 13 year old peers as if we were corrupt officials in Herod’s regime. None of us were innocent, of course, but the dumb stuff we were doing was already caused by fear. Heaping additional fears on us didn’t help.
Only hope helps. Paul tells us that virtues “rest on the hope of eternal life.” People will naturally take care of what they think will always be theirs to enjoy. Christians care for the world with the assurance that God will purge the world of all deathly elemental forces. (2 Peter 3:12) This hope is not extinguished by bad human behavior, for our hope is not rooted in science or human strategy, but in God. It seems that once society is cut off from such joyous hope, we inevitably grow fond of pestering and fear-mongering.