Bad religion reverses the biblical imperative to protect the powerless in favor of guarding the powerful. Rather than following Jesus’ manifesto of bringing good news to the poor, some conservative Christians are delivering good news to BP. They are shielding BP from criticism by blaming every conceivable source – God, nature itself, cosmic randomness, environmentalists.
Two weeks after the BP eruption in the Gulf of Mexico, Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) blamed God at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce meeting, defending Big Oil and opposing government regulation.
“From time to time there are going to be things that occur that are acts of God that cannot be prevented,” said Perry, a Methodist, who added later that “It could have been an act of God, it could have been, you know, who knows?”
Perry’s well-publicized remarks got a second from another Big Oil Republican and a Methodist, who blamed God a few weeks after Perry in a radio interview with an Oklahoma City station.
Noting that BP should have been forced to take more action, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said, “But again, acts of God are acts of God.”
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) didn’t blame God. He blamed nature.
“This is not an environmental disaster, and I will say that again and again because it is a national phenomena. Oil has seeped into this ocean for centuries, will continue to do it,” said Young, who identifies himself as an Episcopalian.
Rand Paul, Kentucky’s Republican senate nominee, criticized the harsh comments about BP made by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Paul said Salazar sounded “un-American in his criticism of business.”
Criticizing society’s need to play the blame-game, Paul, who was endorsed by James Dobson, said that “sometimes accidents happen.”
Another advocate of cosmic randomness was a senior fellow with the James Dobson-founded Family Research Council. Ken Blackwell had a column titled “Slick Happens.”
But in his column he blamed environmentalists and government regulations.
“Could it be that our extra-stringent government regulations have created the conditions for this first class environmental emergency?” asked Blackwell. “Could anything imaginable in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have a worse environmental impact than what we are seeing in the Gulf of Mexico? Could it be more difficult to handle a blowout of an oil well up there, even in mid-winter?”
Taking a cue from Rush Limbaugh’s slap at the Sierra Club, Blackwell asked, “Is drilling that far out and that far down necessitated because Sierra Club senators won’t tolerate the sight of oil rigs closer to shore?”
Limbaugh had said on May 17, “When do we ask the Sierra Club to pick up the tab for this leak? Everybody is focused on BP and Halliburton and Transocean. Let me connect the dots here for you. The greeniacs have been driving our oil producers off the land from offshore to way offshore to way, way, way out there offshore, from low risk to higher risk to higher risk. We are now forced to drill one mile under sea.”
Repeating Limbaugh’s attack on the environmentalists was the Southern Baptist Convention official Richard Land, who, on June 5, asked, “Why were we drilling in 5,000 feet of water in the first place? Well, one of them [the answer] is the environmental movement.”
Land complained a few minutes later that drilling was taking place in populated areas like the Gulf of Mexico rather than remote areas. Again, he blamed “the environmentalists.”
He claimed that “environmentalists have succeeded in rendering the Pacific and nearly all of the Atlantic coast off-limits to oil production.” He, too, played the cosmic randomness card, claiming that “there will always be catastrophic oil spills” and that BP was a victim of “an amazing string of perfect storm engineering lapses.”
Rather than acknowledge BP’s responsibility for oil gushing into the Gulf, those with bad religion shield BP from criticism by blaming every other conceivable source.
That’s too bad for the hard-working, blue-collar church members who see their livelihoods stripped away and ways of life wiped out. When they need a constructive word of theological reflection, they get ideological misdirection. When they need a moral critique about the misuse of corporate power, they hear a message that safeguards corporations.
That’s what bad religion does. It protects the powerful from accountability. It guards corporations from serving the public good.
Conservative leaders of faith push bad religion to prevent good public policy – policy that protects the poor, safeguards the environment and demands social justice.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.