It’s hard to write a really memorable anti-Catholic book, as the genre is already so crowded. From Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall to Christopher Hitchens’ book about Mother Teresa — a “thieving, fanatical Albanian dwarf” — to Graham Greene, it’s a category seething with heresy, apostasy and murderous intent. In that spirit, I picked up Ian Plimer’s book Heaven and Hell: The Pope Condemns the Poor to Eternal Poverty with some interest. Plimer, of course, is one of Australia’s greatest contributions to science, a class-A climate change denier. But in this case, could the enemy of my enemy be my friend? In condemning the Catholic Church, could Plimer be revealing hitherto-undetected common sense?

Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Plimer, a professor of geology, has written a whole book criticising the Catholic Church’s only progressive encyclical. In Laudato Si, released in April this year, Pope Francis acknowledged the existence of man-made climate change and called for action to stop it; overnight, he acquired a whole new set of enemies.

In the book, Plimer describes the encyclical (meaning a letter) as a blend of “pseudo-science and green left environmental activism”.

According to Plimer, much of the document is:

“… about environmental popularism, economic ideology with a Marxist bent and language that could have been written by Greenpeace. The two previously competing creeds for popular support in the Western world, Christianity and the atheistic belief system of communism, are both declining and the new religion of green left environmentalism is filling the vacuum.”

Plimer ascribes almost every aspect of human progress to the shiny black miracle that is coal. The basic difference between rich and poor countries is actually the use of fossil fuel resources, he says:

“Humans were once beasts of burden and the Industrial Revolution gave the burden to coal …

“[The] consequences of Laudato Si, I argue, will create more poverty. The Pope does not argue that free markets, personal freedoms, property rights, democracy and cheap and reliable energy will lift billions of people out of poverty.

“This happened in the West, primarily because of the coal-driven Industrial Revolution in Western countries during the Enlightenment. The Pope is ignoring the only tried and proven path out of poverty.”

Plimer also denies statements in the encyclical about species loss, saying that “forest areas of the planet are increasing and there is normal species turnover with no evidence for a significant human-induced extinction”. In fact, “normal species turnover” is what will happen over the next decade as climate change deniers die of old age, leaving the rest of us to live on a burning planet. Clearly, he thinks Jurassic Park is a documentary.

Plimer also says that he’s personally tested the belief of the ancient Greeks that the wearing of amethysts cured drunkenness and madness “and it is not true”.

I could go on and on but I won’t, because this item is a form of public service — I’ve read Heaven and Hell so you don’t have to. The book was launched at a glittering $85-a-head dinner last night, hosted by the Sydney Mining Club. Their upcoming Christmas dinner (dress code: elegant black tie) will feature an address from their spiritual leader, Gina Rinehart, on the topic of iron ore.

I’d hoped for something new from Plimer but as an anti-Catholic document, frankly, it’s a disappointment. If you really want to wallow in the wrongs of organised religion, may I suggest Hitchens equating Christianity with North Korea? Both are mental kingdoms, he writes, which offer their inhabitants the chance to commit “thought crimes” and deliver “everlasting praise” of the leader.

The late author was fond of quoting Sigmund Freud’s The Future of an Illusion, in which he says that “where questions of religion are concerned, people are guilty of every possible sort of dishonesty and intellectual misdemeanor”. Maybe some of our climate-denying politicians should take note.

Peter Fray

Inoculate yourself against the spin

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and protect yourself against news that goes viral.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today to get your first 12 weeks for $12 and get the journalism you need to navigate the spin.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW