The second most fun thing about starting a cult is that you getting to make up a cool title for yourself, something like “the Reincarnate Lord,” “Scion of the Ages,” or “Hank the Demigod of South Dakota.” The most fun thing about a starting a cult, however, is that you can make yourself seem really holy by saying God told you to do all the sinful stuff you had pretty much already decided you were going to do.
For example, Joseph Smith wouldn’t have seemed terribly sanctified if he’d told people, prior to founding the Latter Day Saints, that he really wanted to invite countless women into his bed. But after several years of convincing the Mormon faithful that God was speaking through him, it sounded way holier when he told a few high-ranking Mormons that God’s newest commandment was for him to begin practicing polygamy.
Like most sinful men, Smith surely spent years of his life filled with the desire to sleep with multiple women. Considering that the first-century apostles were called to endure beatings, imprisonment, and death, I’m sure it was nothing but good luck and pure coincidence that God’s cross of choice for the Mormon prophet to bear just so happened to be hewn from the stuff of his lustful fantasies.
The Cult of Doomsday Environmentalism
One of the most thriving cults in the world today is the cult of doomsday environmentalism. By “the cult of doomsday environmentalism,” of course, I don’t mean those who desire less worldwide dependence on fossil fuels or those who are convinced that anthropogenic climate change is a real and serious issue. Rather, I mean those who treat the topic of climate science like a religion, where environmental stability is God, the various methods that serve this stability are the Ten Commandments, their interpretation of climate data is the Bible, and all who reject this divine revelation should be punished.
In many ways, doomsday environmentalism shares key features with more explicitly religious cult groups. The green cult has its own worship practices similar to those of other devotees, chief among them screaming that we’ll all be underwater by tea time next Tuesday even after they’ve falsely predicted the death of the inhabitable earth more frequently than the Jehovah’s Witnesses have falsely prophesied the end of times. Likewise, followers of this cult also share an affinity for using religion as a way to bless one’s less-than-holy desires, namely the selfish desire to not mess up your perfect life with needy, money-and-time-consuming offspring.
In a recent article for NPR, Jennifer Ludden profiles several people who have “reconsidered” their procreative plans due to the environmental disaster they believe is rapidly approaching. Chief among her subjects is Berman Institute of Bioethics philosopher Travis Reader, who talked his wife out of her lifelong desire for a big family based on the belief that climate change will reduce the earth to an uninhabitable hellhole as early as 2036.
Speaking of his proposed tax penalties for having children, Rieder says, “Children, in a kind of cold way of looking at it, are an externality. We as parents, we as family members, we get the good. And the world, the community, pays the cost.” In other words, “I’ve read the latest climate data given from the Almighty and the new revelation is that not having kids makes you righteous.”