Survey: Conflicting Christian Beliefs on Climate Change

hhighly religious people are very likely to believe that the Earth is sacred and that humans have a duty to protect it. Yet many of them — and especially those in certain Christian denominations — don’t think climate change is a big problem or that humans are causing it.

This somewhat paradoxical finding comes from a national survey released Nov. 17 by the Pew Research Center that compared Americans’ thoughts about the climate to their religious beliefs. Pew’s analysis of survey resultswhich focuses mostly on Christian perspectives, tries to unravel why the nation’s most religious are sometimes at odds with climate science.

Among the most devout Americans who pray daily, attend religious services at least once a week and say religion is very important in their lives, 61% are climate skeptics. They either believe that global warming is caused by natural patterns, or they are not convinced by the scientific evidence of human influence. In contrast, 29% of the least religious, who rarely or never pray or attend services and say religion is not important in their lives, hold the same reservations. Joining also matters, as the charts below show. Non-Christians are much more likely than Christians (especially evangelicals) to accept that humans are causing climate change and that climate is a major problem.

Given the levels of climate skepticism and nonconcern among Christian groups, it makes sense that they would have lower levels of civic engagement to address climate change. In the past year, about half of Christians (21%) have donated money, attended a protest, contacted an elected official or volunteered for the cause in some way, compared to non-Christian religious groups (41%), including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus population.

Still, most religiously committed people—including the vast majority of Christians—agree that God has given humans the duty to protect the planet and that scripture contains lessons about the environment. This may seem at odds with high levels of climate skepticism, but the report points out that views on climate change are driven much more by politics than by the pulpit – and that religious affiliation is a strong predictor of political disposition.

“Strongly religious Americans are more likely than others to identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, and Republicans are far less likely than Democrats to believe that human activity (such as burning fossil fuels) is warming the Earth or to consider changing climate a serious problem,” the report states. In addition, many religious Americans report concern about common Republican talking points about the potential impact of environmental regulations on individual liberties, fewer jobs and higher energy prices.

Politics may have more influence on Americans than religion because, according to the survey, climate is generally not a hot topic in congregations. Only 6% of US believers say climate change is an important topic of conversation among fellow parishioners. And only 8% of believers say the sermons they hear discuss climate change “a lot or a lot.”

When it comes to personal spirituality, climate change also takes a back seat. Among those surveyed who pray at least once a month, about half said they prayed about the environment in the past year. That’s less than any other prayer topic in the survey — healing for someone sick (93 percent), peace on earth (83 percent), the poor (76 percent) and their family’s financial well-being (73 percent) — except for for a political party or elected official (43%).

Still, religion plays a role. Different dogmas about stewardship, dominionism, the “end times,” and other spiritual beliefs about humanity’s purpose on Earth can shape opinions about whether or not climate change is a serious issue. For example, almost 70% of Christians believe that God has given humans the right to use the Earth, including plants and animals, for the benefit of humanity, compared to 41% of religious non-Christians.

Among Christians there is a wide range of beliefs regarding apocalyptic events. While most Americans (58%) do not believe the world is facing its last days, 76% of historically blacks and 63% of evangelicals say the end is near. “As the theory goes,” the report notes, “people who believe humanity is living in its last days may be less concerned about the dangers of climate change than those who don’t think the world will end soon.” .

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