Religious faith is a source of strength in many people's lives. But religious faith when taken too far can prove ludicrous -- or disastrous.
On Oct. 22, 1844, thousand of Millerites, having sold all their possessions, climbed to the top of hills in Upstate New York to await the return of Jesus and the end of the world. They suffered "the great disappointment" when it didn't happen.
In 1212, or so the legends go, thousands of Children's Crusaders set off from France and Germany expecting the sea to part so they could march peaceably and convert Muslims in the Holy Land. It didn't, and many were shipwrecked or sold into slavery.
In 1898, the cavalrymen of the Madhi, ruler of Sudan for 13 years, went into the Battle of Omdurman armed with swords, believing that they were impervious to bullets. They weren't, and they were mowed down by British Maxim guns.
A similar but more peaceable fate is befalling believers in what I think can be called the religion of the global warming alarmists.
They have an unshakeable faith that manmade carbon emissions will produce a hotter climate, causing multiple natural disasters. Their insistence that we can be absolutely certain this will come to pass is based not on science -- which is never fully settled, witness the recent experiments that may undermine Albert Einstein's theory of relativity -- but on something very much like religious faith.
All the trappings of religion are there. Original sin: Mankind is responsible for these prophesied disasters, especially those slobs who live on suburban cul-de-sacs and drive their SUVs to strip malls and tacky chain restaurants.
The need for atonement and repentance: We must impose a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system, which will increase the cost of everything and stunt economic growth.
Ritual, from the annual Earth Day to weekly recycling.
Indulgences, like those Martin Luther railed against: private jet-fliers like Al Gore and sitcom heiress Laurie David can buy carbon offsets to compensate for their carbon-emitting sins.
Corporate elitists, like General Electric's Jeff Immelt, profess to share this faith, just as cynical Venetian merchants and prim Victorian bankers gave lip service to the religious enthusiasms of their days. Bad for business not to. And if you're clever, you can figure out how to make money off it.
Believers in this religion have flocked to conferences in Rio de Janeiro, Kyoto and Copenhagen, just as Catholic bishops flocked to councils in Constance, Ferrara and Trent, to codify dogma and set new rules.
But like the Millerites, the global warming clergy has preached apocalyptic doom -- and is now facing an increasingly skeptical public. The idea that we can be so completely certain of climate change 70 to 90 years hence that we must inflict serious economic damage on ourselves in the meantime seems increasingly absurd.
If carbon emissions were the only thing affecting climate, the global-warming alarmists would be right. But it's obvious that climate is affected by many things, many not yet fully understood, and implausible that SUVs will affect it more than variations in the enormous energy produced by the sun.
Skepticism has been increased by the actions of believers. Passage of the House cap-and-trade bill in June 2009 focused politicians and voters on the costs of global-warming religion. And disclosure of the Climategate emails in November 2009 showed how the clerisy was willing to distort evidence and suppress dissenting views in the interest of propagation of the faith.
We have seen how the United Nations agency whose authority we are supposed to respect took an item from an environmental activist group predicting that the Himalayan glaciers would melt in 2350 and predicted that the melting would take place in 2035. No sensible society would stake its economic future on the word of folks capable of such an error.
In recent years, we have seen how negative to 2 percent growth hurts many, many people, as compared to what happens with 3 to 7 percent growth. So we're much less willing to adopt policies that will slow down growth not just for a few years but for the indefinite future.
Media, university and corporate elites still profess belief in global warming alarmism, but moves toward policies limiting carbon emissions have fizzled out, here and abroad. It looks like we'll dodge the fate of the Millerites, the children's crusaders and the Mahdi's cavalrymen.