Mandatum novum do vobis (iterum)

October 10, 2007 at 7:19 am | Posted in Christianity, Climate change, Context, Judaism, Philosophy, Religious beliefs, Science | Leave a comment

Jesus said,

John 13

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

That was my first response, upon hearing that Richard Lindzen ended his presentation to the European Parliament Temporary Committee on Climate Change, EUROPARL CLIM, on 10 September 2007, with these words:

The use of climate as a threat is hardly new. Here is a somewhat early example:

“The Lord will smite thee … with fiery heat, and with drought, and with blasting (wind), and with mildew; and they shall pursue thee until thou perish. And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron. The Lord will make the rain of thy land powder and dust; from heaven shall it come down upon thee, until thou be destroyed.”

This threat is about 3 thousand years old and is from Deuteronomy XXVIII 22-24. It is more eloquent and powerful than our contemporary threats, but, of course, it is a more serious matter to fail to adhere to the Ten Commandments than to fail to yield control of breathing and combustion to a regulatory bureaucracy putting forth incorrect and/or misleading science.


How did I get to John 13:34-35, from Lindzen’s conclusion?

Well, here we have an atmospheric physicist quoting a passage from Deuteronomy, to explain his philosophy of life, and by extension, to appeal to his audience to place their own climate concerns into his neatly packaged context, which can, of course, dismiss them easily. What a relief!

Lindzen’s reasoning that we should fear God’s power but not man’s authority, makes it clear that, with his stance, he believes he is defying and denying outrageous demands to:

  • yield control of breathing to a regulatory bureaucracy
  • yield control of combustion to a regulatory bureaucracy

These arguments are reminiscent of comments in favour of smoking. How peculiar. Or is it?!

Smoking a cigarette has long been marketed as a sign of freedom. Now, thankfully, lighting up is illegal in public places in many countries. Smoking was first advertised to women as a means of displaying control over their own their lives. It was equated with emancipation.

It just so happens that smoking epitomises the tip of the iceberg for a society based on individual freedoms—breathing and combustion also relate quite conveniently and directly to:

  • air quality standards
  • emissions controls
  • greenhouse gas concentrations

as well as calls to reduce energy use in:

  • heating systems
  • powering engines for transport, military and industrial processes

right through to calls to ban:

  • gas flaring from oil wells, rigs and refineries, chemical plants and landfill sites!


It is as though Lindzen has built up such a resistance to anyone telling him how to live his own life, he cannot bear to yield the two controls that matter most to him, neatly summed up in powerful ideologies associated with breathing and combustion. It appears he sees his own control over these matters as freedoms, and is driven to fight to preserve them, right or wrong.

Unfortunately, the usefulness of such a libertarian approach to life has expired. There are too many people on this planet, and we do not all live in our own self-contained gaseous bubbles. No longer can an individualistic, selfish view of air emissions, air quality, and atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have immaterial consequences.

Lindzen compares anthropogenic climate change (which he believes is not worth worrying about, presumably because his determination to retain free will overrides his objectivity) and the need to address it (which he does not accept, following the same reasoning) with an act of supernatural vengeance!

To make his point, Lindzen chooses a Mosaic quote. It is a text that conjures up images of a vicious avenging god, described by Moses as threatening to inflict horrible punishment upon a people, should they choose to disobey the LORD your God after receiving the Ten Commandments.

What we need to know at this point in the story from which his excerpt is taken, is that the people of Israel have recently become the people of the LORD your God. They are receiving instruction in the form of commandments. These will serve them well if they obey all commands and—this is an important point—early on in this process the people of the LORD your God are instructed to:

Deuteronomy 6:5 (New International Version)

5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

The threats the people are being terrified with come under the heading Curses for Disobedience. There is an alternative, however.

Blessings for Obedience are presented immediately before the curses in Chapter 28 of Deuteronomy. Not surprisingly, blessings include reference to beneficial meteorological matters:

Deuteronomy 28:12 (New International Version)

12 The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.

We could probably spend some time discussing the atmosphere as “the storehouse of His bounty”, but that is not my aim in this post. I am merely trying to provide a little background to Lindzen’s quote for people who may be intrigued by its use and setting in relation to climate change policy matters.

As Year 7 have learned already in their Religious Studies lessons this year, Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Bible, found after Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. These five books comprise the Pentateuch—meaning five containers, vessels, or scroll cases in Greek. The same five scrolls are known as the Torah—meaning law or instruction in Hebrew—and may also be called The Law of Moses, the most important document in Judaism.

In Deuteronomical context, the Ten Commandments were handed down in Chapter 5, after being introduced in Chapter 4 of that scroll or book. Recognised as being amongst the commands that are to be obeyed by all God’s children if they wish to receive His blessings, they provide a widely accepted moral code, persisting for millennia.

Stepping back from the parchment for a moment, and taking a much wider view, we can say the Ten Commandments summarise the moral obligations of love, as does the whole of Scripture. In fact, Jesus articulated priorities perfectly when he replied to those who were testing him:

Matthew 22:34-40 (New International Version)

The Greatest Commandment

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.
35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a]
38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]
40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”


a Matthew 22:37 Deut. 6:5
b Matthew 22:39 Lev. 19:18

See how, tipped off by footnote [a], Jesus’ words recall those of Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy 6:5

5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

The first and greatest commandment was written over three thousand years ago. Now we have the benefit of a clear second commandment from Jesus himself:

Matthew 22:39

39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

and a helpful explanation from Jesus that all the Law and the Prophets hang, i.e. depend, on these two commandments.

Over two thousand years ago, on the night before he was betrayed, Jesus’s teaching culminated in a new commandment, in his final opportunity for instruction:

John 13

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

So, now you can see how mandatum novum do vobis popped into my mind when I read Lindzen’s quote. The ancient supernatural threat of punishment for disobedience—selected in an attempt to belittle honest climate scientists’ efforts to alert us to our deteriorating natural conditions—fails to convince me that Lindzen’s heart is in the right place. And where your heart is, matters more than anything.

I think Biblical quotes need to be used wisely, especially when attempting to persuade policymakers to block a necessary course of action.

Indeed, quoting Scripture does not help a scientist’s case, nor does it further ecumenical efforts to address climate change, unless used within the context of love and stewardship of our planet.

Note: all Bible quotes from New International Version


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