Sanctimony Vs. Science
Religion & Liberty Online

Sanctimony Vs. Science

If one were to pinpoint the epicenter of sanctimonious behavior the past two weeks, he or she look no further than Paris. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, or COP21) has been a magnet for shareholder activists, nuns, clergy and other religious intent on furthering agendas ostensibly geared toward mitigating manmade global warming, but in reality promote hardship and energy poverty across the economic spectrum.

Mind you, this writer grew up under the tutelage of nuns, and found many of them to be knowledgeable in their respective subject matter while witnessing all of them as paragons of morality. But more and more, I’ve come to find this anecdotal evidence nothing more than a flawed syllogism. Simply because nuns are somewhat knowledgeable and almost always moral doesn’t necessarily add up to the equation nuns are always moral because they are, to a person, knowledgeable.

Your writer has pondered this epistemological conundrum since beginning high school 40 years ago, and the question rears its head time and again: What happens if the knowledge of activist nuns is flawed? Does it then render the morality of their conclusions suspect?

If readers answer the second interrogative in the affirmative, they also recognize the sanctimoniousness of both the nuns and those who point to their opinions as morally superior. I’m not attempting to throw nuns under their vaunted bus, however, inasmuch I’m pointing out they are as subject to buying into bad science and the passions of activism as the next person. Take for example, Sr. Aine O’Connor of the Sisters of Mercy, one of several orders of nuns belonging to the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a progressive shareholder activist group.

Whatever course of study Sr. O’Connor pursued, science apparently wasn’t included. In a National Catholic Reporter article titled “Religious sisters ‘lament the reality’ of fracking in demonstration outside COP21,” the nun resorts to extreme hyperbole to make her point she thinks hydraulic fracturing harmful to Earth and its inhabitants:

“We are hearing and heeding the cry of persons and earth impacted by fracking,” she said of peoples in Argentina, Australia and the U.S. who have reached out to the Sisters of Mercy.

“What do we say to the seven-year-old child whose ears now bleed, who has difficulty breathing as a result of living near a gas field; to the mother who must travel miles to the town in order to have her doctor review and treat her child objectively for gas-related medical conditions; to the farmer who has no voice with his government when his bore hole has run dry and he can no longer farm; and to his family, who cries out in desperation after he takes his own life?

“These cries of people and earth are our shared concern today, because we believe and insist on the dignity and the promise of abundant life for all,” she said.

The article continues that Sr. O’Connor’s group was joined by far-left environmentalist groups and Food & Water Watch as well as “three Catholic religious orders: Franciscans International, Mercy Sisters, and the Medical Mission Sisters” in sponsoring the anti-fracking panel.

“We think that today, of all times, the climate leaders need to actually look at what is being promoted as myths to certain climate solutions,” said O’Connor, speaking of the Mercy sisters.

“Such as in the case of fracking, they’re pushing the myth that it will give jobs, that it’s a clean energy, and when you see today the facts, the science, the health data that’s there, it absolutely needs to be stopped in the names of the people and for future generations,” she told NCR.

The perspective draws from the sisters’ experiences with people they work with worldwide who have seen the impacts of fracking on their land and lives.

Mercy Sr. Bridget Crisp of New Zealand said her community’s concern with fracking and the whole extractive industry ties to concern for island people in the South Pacific.

“You’ve got Tuvalu, you’ve got Kiribati, you’ve got a number of islands who in 50 years, their whole culture could be under water,” she said.

Your writer must confess this last assertion elicited a “Wait? What?” moment. I assume Sr. Crisp was attempting to make the case that continued use of cheap and plentiful fossil fuels results in higher concentrations of carbon-dioxide and methane – two greenhouse gases – in the atmosphere, which – the theory goes – increases the Earth’s temperatures, melts polar ice and causes sea levels to rise. That would be a discussion on science.

Srs. Crisp and O’Connor, however, abjure a scientific discussion in order to demagogue the issue with passionate appeals to the emotions of their audience. The women forego consideration of the moral case for fossil fuels (to borrow a phrase from the title of Alex Epstein’s wonderful book), which actually make the world a better place, especially for the poor (as noted here and here). That’s sanctimony rather than science.

Bruce Edward Walker

has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. He was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News from 2010-2012. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2011 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past five years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Flint, Mich., with his wife Katherine.