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Bad Faith

The Republican presidential candidates’ refusal to believe in things like global warming isn’t just bad science; it’s also very poor religion

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Rick Perry at the Iowa State Fair last month. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The most entertaining reality television show in America follows a bunch of tanned, temperamental buffoons, each trying to outdo the other with preposterous catch phrases and flowery shows of ignorance. With apologies to the upstanding men and women of MTV’s Jersey Shore, I’m talking about the Republican candidates for president.

Taking the stage frequently in a recent series of televised debates, the contenders clawed at each other and growled at President Barack Obama. An ambitious group, they also took the time to contest reality. Take, for example, Rick Perry. “The fact is,” the Texas governor said when asked about global warming, “to put America’s economic future in jeopardy, asking us to cut back in areas that would have monstrous economic impact on this country, is not good economics and I will suggest to you is not necessarily good science. Find out what the science truly is before you start putting the American economy in jeopardy.”

And what might the science truly be? Perry claims to have found out. In an August town hall meeting in New Hampshire, he sang his gospel. “There are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling in to their projects,” he said, “and I think we’re seeing weekly or even daily scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.”

Just where these intrepid scientists air their grievances daily, Perry didn’t say. It certainly isn’t in any credible academic publication: According to a study published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, between 97 and 98 percent of the world’s 1,372 scientists “most actively publishing in the field” of climate research are quite certain of the idea of anthropogenic climate change, or climate change brought about by human actions.

But don’t expect the candidate who doesn’t lose sleep over the possibility of executing the innocent to lose heart when faced with the facts. And don’t expect his fan base to let science get in the way of a good story, either: As a survey released last week by the Yale Project on Climate Change shows, supporters of the Tea Party aren’t too troubled by global warming because a majority of them, 53 percent, believe it isn’t happening at all.

None of this, of course, is new. Radical ignorance has been in vogue with Republicans at least since a George W. Bush aide mocked his political foes for belonging to the benighted “reality-based community” while Bush and his followers answered to a higher power. “We are not this story’s author, who fills time and eternity with his purpose,” Bush said in his first inaugural address, referring to God. “This story goes on. And an angel still rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm.”

And herein, precisely, lies the problem. The Republican insistence on rejecting this reality for another, intangible one isn’t just bad science; it is, quite literally, bad faith.

Moses knew all about it. In this week’s parasha, he delivers yet another fiery speech to the Israelites, who are now standing on the doorstep of the Promised Land. But Moses isn’t interested in the immediate future; he’s more concerned with the recent past. “You have seen all that the Lord did before your very eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, to all his servants, and to all his land,” he says, “the great trials which your very eyes beheld and those great signs and wonders. Yet until this day, the Lord has not given you a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear.”

It’s an odd epistemological argument: Even though you’ve seen God’s miracles with your own eyes, Moses tells the people, it is only now that you’re capable of true knowledge. And forget about the yiddisher kop; true knowledge comes not from the head but from the heart.

At first glance, Moses’ speech reads a bit like Stephen Colbert’s introduction of his famous term, truthiness. “I don’t trust books,” Colbert said in one of his show’s more memorable segments. “They’re all fact, no heart.” But Moses is smarter than that, and he knows that facts and heart work best when they work together. It’s not hard to guess how the Israelite leader came by his views. We can only imagine what went through his head when he descended from the mountain only to witness the golden calf; here, after all, were people who, just a few weeks before, had witnessed with their own eyes the glories of God, but, impatient with their absent leader, waited barely a month before fashioning a more tangible deity out of precious metals. In Sinai, the Israelites knew God with their minds, but not with their hearts. They realized that the Almighty was real and present, but they did not yet believe in him.

We mustn’t blame them. God is a mighty difficult idea to grasp. Proof of his existence doesn’t make it any easier. Faith is required. Because faith, Moses knows, is more than believing in things we’ll never know for certain exist; faith is also the wisdom to believe in things we know for certain do.

Which brings us back to the Republicans. The adherence of so many in the party to counterfactual narratives is often explained away by faith. Just what kind of faith Rick Perry repeatedly makes clear. In a speech in Virginia earlier this week, he said that his “faith journey is not the story of someone who turned to God because I wanted to. It was because I had nowhere else to turn. I was lost spiritually and emotionally.”

Perry, then, assumes that if he trusts in God, God will tell him what to do. He believes, if we take him at his word, that he is capable of interpreting the precise and unerring will of the Creator. This is the opposite of Moses’ brand of faith. For Perry, faith comes first, and proof is unnecessary; for Moses, proof comes first, and faith must follow. Perry was lost until he found God; Moses found God first and then made his people wander in the desert for 40 years, until they were ready—intellectually as well as emotionally—to embrace what faith meant.

And what faith really means is responsibility. Because we are incapable of knowing God’s mind—and by “we” I mean decent people of all political persuasions who are humbled by their belief in God—we’re left grappling with life’s greatest mysteries by ourselves. We try, like children playing a game with rules they don’t entirely understand, to make sense of what might seem, to the unbelieving, like a cruel and random existence. All we can do is our best, and our only guide is our heart and its call for compassion.

The Israelites at Sinai didn’t understand this idea at first. They yearned for a god they could grasp, a shiny golden god, a god they believed could redeem them. It took them four decades in the wilderness to learn that only they could redeem themselves, and that faith isn’t, in itself, salvation, but merely its engine. The Republicans are now learning the same lesson. Let us hope that they, too, are headed to the wilderness, where they can wander and wonder about the true nature of faith and the dictates of personal responsibility. If they don’t, if they allow the Tea Partiers in their midst to prevail, we are all looking at decades of false idols and bad faith.

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This has to be one of the most far left wing extremist boneheaded articles I’ve read in a while–worse than a typical Paul Krugman piece.

I’m a layman, not a scientist. However there are a few indisputable truths that I suggest Mr Leibovitz grasp before his next tree and polar bear hugging piece.

One, we aren’t sure if we’re really even in a global warming period.
Two, if we’re in global warming we aren’t sure we’re in a permanent global warming period.
Three, if we’re in a global warming period we aren’t sure if we’re in a temporary period of warming surrounded by or within a much larger global cooling period.
Four, if we’re in a global warming period is it caused by man, sun spot activity, volcanic activity, or even cow flatulence.
We’ve had global warming periods pre industrialization.
Five, If we’re in global warming what consequence would altering human activity or instituting radical cap and trade requirements impact the situation? Could we reduce our global temperature at all through man made action? Could we lower it no more than a .01 degree? If so, would that have any effect?
Six, if we’re in global warming what good is it if we radically alter our behavior to combat it while China, the largest global polluter, does nothing? Why try to pay completely altering our lifestyles solving a problem others contribute to and do nothing about, themselves, with inconsequential results?

Before Mr Leibovitz rations toilet paper, tells us how many times we can flush the toilet or fire up our gas grill, what kind of cars we can drive, what evergy we can use, and nanny states to death our lives I suggest we continue to study the issue…..long before we take action. As I’m sure he’d hate to see us economically impoverish ourselves fixing a problem which either doesn’t exist, or can’t be cured by human beings.

I will trust in the Lord. True sience has proven to me without a doubt that “global warming” is a demonic constrived false scare. The Lord God is in Charge and any contribution to nature is garbage. If you want real facts go to a good sience website like Institute for Biblical
& Scientific Studies

I don’t know about the person that wrote this article, but he needs to get wisdom. The article is in very bad taste and has no backing from the sane world. I will trust in the Lord and no worry about the false published night mare’s that come from the santic world of darkness. My God is in Charge and will always be.

Steph F. says:

G-d willing, everyone will learn the lesson, no matter what political persuasion, that “faith isn’t, in itself, salvation, but merely its engine.” (I would say “redemption” rather than “salvation” by the way — that would put your argument more in line with the way these concepts are usually discussed in Jewish thought.) The quick fix and the shiny, tangible idol too quickly appeal to all of us, and that is how knuckleheads like Perry and W come into power.

‘Free to Choose?’
Graphic Commentary on Insensitivity


william Engledow says:

Nuckleheads like W and perry come to power the same way nuckleheads like obama and gore come to power. They are groomed by the elites and use media control to get the person they want in office elected to help destroy western culture and bring on one world satanic culture.

ho hum. another pathetic Jewish liberal ranting away at the demonic right. by the way Leil, it is the “theory” of global warming, not the “fact” of global warming.

Cut your hair, take a shower, change out of your tie dye shirt…

I feel I must point out the fact that Liel is a “visiting” assistant professor at NYU (see the NYU faculty directory). This is a non tenure track position, commonly referred to as “instructor” at other schools. I would ask that in fairness to all tenured and tenure track intellectuals, that this be corrected at once in Liel’s bio, at the end of all his articles. I must add,as well, that this is just so typical leftist puffery. Perhaps Liel is also a Professor of Meteorology at MIT perhaps? Maybe he is a Rocket Scientist at NASA too? Perhaps he and Al Gore share credentials to comment so intelligently on the “facts” of global warming. Liel, first represent yourself honestly, then start preaching.

An interesting interpretation but it is a bit anachronistic. Until the 17th century CE it was believed that the seat of intelligence was the heart, not the brain which was thought to serve only to cool the blood. So when Moses says “a heart to know” he isn’t talking about emotions, he’s talking about the yiddisher kop.

@Bucky: Kindly, in your own words, explain to me when a scientific theory becomes a scientific “fact”.

If you could, please trim any ad hominem attacks in your reply.

Shabbat Shalom!

Bucky’s knowledge of academic ranks is as poor as his or her knowledge of science. A Visiting Assistant Professor is still an Assistant Professor and that’s a higher rank than that of a lecturer–visiting or otherwise.

Bob Schwalbaum says:

I was just becoming truly interested in TABLET.. a recent discovery for me.

Why in the blue blazes would you print such an article that flies in the face of all reason??

Stay out of politics!

You have lost me

Beatrix says:

The scientific part, I’m not qualified to comment on. The political part is lefty. But the religious part was interesting and well thought out. I loved it.

Chazar Fresser says:

Beatrix, I hate to burst your bubble but the religion part was the religion of self-worship & does not represent Jewish thought. It’s as out of touch with reality as his opinions on science & politics.

H ROSEN says:

let us not dismiss Mr Perry for his religious beliefs or that he does not
believe in global warming.
We now have a president who makes Jimmy
Carter look like Jewish mother. I don’t think Israel could take another 4 years of
Obama..Believe me if he gets another term
he will undoubtedly back a Palestinian state in the security council.
Why isn’t he berating Turkey whose belligerent talk of war with Israel would have even made Hitler uneasy.
The peace accords with Egypt and perhaps Jordan are near flushed down the toilet.
And where is Hillary on this?
I’ll take a chance on Rick Perry or maybe Mitt Romney over another Obama administration’s dangerous foreign policy

H ROSEN says:


Christopher Orev says:

Unlike most of my fellow commenters, I enjoyed the piece. ;)

As you suggest, the scientific myopia of today’s Right wing is disturbing and corrosive. That said, I’d argue that the Left isn’t immune. The hysteria about immunizations (causing autism and other illnesses) comes to mind.

Mekhong Kurt says:

Liel Leibovitz has this exactly right, particularly regarding Perry the Punisher and Bachmann the Bonehead.

JCarpenter says:

Head and heart, mind and soul; love God, love your neighbor(and enemies); love justice and mercy, walk humbly with our God. I’m not seeing this in current political agendas or discourse; let alone God’s first charge to man, to be a good steward of the earth. Is this the best we can do, our best response to God?

JCarpenter, all we can do is the best we individually can. No one controls the thoughts or behavior of others nor can we 100% look into the hearts of anyone else as we’re human and are fallible.

That being said it’s up to all of us to try to leave the world a little better than how we found it, which should rightfully be voluntarily up to each of us.

Lower your expectations of others, and increase your expectations of yourself.


There is nothing scientific in the Global Warming hoax. Most real scientists don’t “believe” in it – you know, science is not about believing. The 98% of scientists supporting AGW is a lie that has been debunked many times.
Anyway, this is old news. The AGW is dead, you should find something else.

It always breaks my heart when Jews, who are supposed to have a Yiddisher kop, argue against the science of climate change and global warming. Such ignorance!

Cathy, such ABJECT ignorance.

As politics should be kept out of religion so should the falasy about global warming. In all my years of study on the matter never has a piece of evidence confirmed the political assumption. Warming spells and cooling spells are cyclical and will be around long after we are gone. If anything for the next 50 years, we will be in a cooling trend.

The Financial Post in Toronto has had a long running series on Climate Change.

The writers deny that it is “anthropogenic”.

A long list of links to their articles can be found here:

Here’s a link to the actual articles on the Financial Post site

Frank Joyce says:

Mr. Leibovitz:

In your article you quote Moses from Deuteronomy 29 where Jehovah Yahweh’s great Jewish leader reminds Israel of all He has done for them.

If you trust in what Moses said, do you also trust in the words spoken by the prophet Isaiah where he spoke of a (the) great healer and sacrifice to all people? If so, please read on:

1 Who hath believed our message? and to whom hath the arm of Jehovah been revealed?

2 For he grew up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

3 HE WAS DESPISED, AND REJECTED OF MEN; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and as one from whom men hide their face he was despised; and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely HE HATH BORNE OUR GRIEFS, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

5 But HE WAS WOUNDED FOR OUR TRANSGRESSIONS, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and WITH HIS STRIPES WE ARE HEALED.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and JEHOVAH HATH LAID ON HIM THE INIQUITY OF US ALL.

Unfortunately, I think, Isaiah had it right when he said “we have turned every one to his own way.”

Thankfully though, Isaiah concludes with the answer to our problem: that being the One who JEHOVAH HATH LAID ON HIM THE INIQUITY OF US ALL – Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Great Healer.


To the author: Perhaps you should have chosen a better example to make your point. There is no consensus among scientists that The warming of the planet is being csused by us. There is ample evidence that demonstrates that the planet has always had warm spells and cold spells, and despite our efforts there isn’t much that we can do about it. That’s why man has always been required to adapt to changing conditions. Unfortunately, there is a lot of self serving conflict of interest in the scientific world, because even a scientist needs to eat and will go where the grant money is. Whether you work in medicine, pharmaceuticals, banking, genetic food industry, it’s all about convincing people that they should give you money. God gave us a nature, he would love if we used io pursue truth instead of money.

Nicky McCatty says:

Leil, please resume writing this column! It’s really the best of all the dvar torah columns I regularly read.

Your statement, “…Moses found God first and then made his people wander in the desert for 40 years, until they were ready—intellectually as well as emotionally—to embrace what faith meant.”, is not accurate. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years as a direct result of their sin when they spied the land for 40 days. The 40 years of wandering was a direct punishment for sin; not a time of figuring out (as you say in your article), but rather a time of punishment and purging of a sinful generation. See also, Numbers 14:32-35.


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Bad Faith

The Republican presidential candidates’ refusal to believe in things like global warming isn’t just bad science; it’s also very poor religion

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