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Satan in the driver's seat

Every Good Friday since 2004, I remember the crucifixion by watching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ on DVD. Since becoming aware of Peak Oil, something about the movie really stands out. It’s the way Gibson portrays Satan. It’s totally different than Hollywood’s typical depiction of evil. Gibson’s interpretation of Satan isn’t a little girl with her head spinning around, hissing and vomiting pea soup, but an androgynous character who is attractive to both men and women. Gibson’s Satan doesn’t announce a demonic presence by the smell of brimstone or some gaudy, outlandish attire. He isn’t shrill or threatening and doesn’t menace or portend harm. He lurks around unnoticed in the crowd, blending into the background. He whispers gently in your ear instead of shouting. He is the seductive voice telling you that you really need that Hummer H3, the compact model that gets 13 miles per gallon instead of 8 mpg. Gibson’s Satan is the one in the driver’s seat of our modern, petroleum-based civilization careening toward the cliff that is Peak Oil while we all look out the window and enjoy the scenery.

Since I became aware of Peak Oil and accepted it as reality, I see Gibson’s Satan everywhere.

Today, most politicians tout their pro-growth economic policies. Can you imagine a politician running for office on a no-growth economic plan? Of course you can’t. Why? Because the assumption of economic growth underlies everything we do today and how we plan for tomorrow. The term “investment” would not exist if we took away the assumption of continual economic growth. Without economic growth, entire industries go away. Corporations disintegrate. Millions of jobs and family nest eggs disappear. It’s no wonder almost all politicians are afraid of Peak Oil. Our leaders in Washington and the corporate special interests who keep them in power can’t even imagine a no-growth economy let alone start planning for it.

When I see politicians talking about pro-growth economic policy as the Peak Oil clock approaches midnight, I see Satan smiling.

We recently moved into a new house and we had to transport all the “things” we have accumulated over the years. Of course, we “needed” many more “things” after we settled into our new nest.

I heard Satan whisper in my ear, “you deserve more nice ‘things’ Neal. Go out and accumulate more material goods. That’s what will really make you happy.”

Today, we debate the teaching of “intelligent design” in our schools. How did it all begin? Our earth is too unique, too perfect for life to be an accident. God must be the creator. No! Keep God and religion out of our schools! Don’t distort science with religious ideas! But wait. The Book of Revelations talks about a judgment day where wars, famine, pestilence and natural disasters bring the human race to its knees. Hey, isn’t that exactly what Peak Oil and Climate Change will do to us? Why aren’t we talking about how it might end for us in the classroom? It seems like the Bible and science are on the same page there.

When I hear rancorous political debates about teaching “intelligent design” in our classrooms, I hear Satan laughing.

Many Evangelical Christians believe abortion is THE political issue of the day. Should abortions be legal before the first trimester? No way! That’s a baby! That’s murder! Life begins at conception -- the moment the sperm and egg meet. But why not before conception, when the sperm is trying to find the egg? It intends to find it. That must be life. Hey wait, the first time I looked into my wife’s eyes, I wanted to have a child with her. Doesn’t life begin there? Let’s get real. We are never going to figure out what to do about abortion. There are way too many grey areas to get entangled in – rape, incest, birth defects and the mother’s health come to mind. Not to mention that making abortion illegal will not necessarily even reduce its incidence. I admire people’s compassion for innocent, unborn life. But context is everything. A world without fossil fuels can’t support anywhere near the 6.5 billion people on the planet today. I’m not saying we should abort more babies to reverse population growth. My point is the abortion issue is a gross misallocation of our time and energy considering the future we are heading into. Why can’t we all agree on some common sense ideas to reduce unwanted pregnancies so we can devote the bulk of our energy toward saving our civilization from collapse?

When I hear Evangelicals obsess about abortion, I hear Satan whispering “rock-a-bye baby” in their ear.

Then there’s the Terri Schiavo case. I’m confused. Were those political charades about keeping one clinically brain dead person alive? Or was that about keeping all clinically brain dead people alive? No? But I thought it was about the sanctity of life. What about clinically brain dead people with no health insurance? Should we keep them alive? If so, where should hospitals send the bill? Given the immanent baby boomer demographic bomb, the rising cost of healthcare and growing ranks of the uninsured; that’s going to be one humungous hospital bill.

When I saw the political opportunism in the Terri Schiavo case, I saw Satan conducting an orchestra of the absurd.

What about gay marriage? Marriage is a sacred institution and needs to be protected! How dare them there fags make a mockery of marriage! Hold on a minute. A gay couple can’t reproduce. If there are more gay marriages, won’t that lower the population growth? What was that I said about population pressure, resource depletion and habitat destruction in the Book of Revelations?

When I heard Senator Rick Santorum say that gay marriage was a “threat to our civilization” I knew Satan wrote that speech.

Today, NASCAR is the most popular sport in America. I used to love NASCAR as a kid in the 1970s. I remember watching Richard Petty and Kale Yarborough race on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. But since I discovered Peak Oil, I find NASCAR’s popularity dark and ironic. We are talking about 30 cars plastered with advertisements, driving at insane speeds for 500 miles in a circle and ending up where they started. Usually, at some point in the race there is a spectacular, multi-car crash. Isn’t a NASCAR event the perfect metaphor for the destiny of our consumerist, car-centered culture? By the way, do you think NASCAR will still be the national sport when we are rationing gasoline?

When I see NASCAR on T.V., I see Satan in the stands cheering.

Every day 30 million Americans listen to Rush Limbaugh on the radio. Rush never talks about problems and solutions. He spends most of his show demonizing liberals and cheerleading for his ideological views. Listening to his show is like listening to a 3 hour political commercial. Rush’s popularity has given birth to a counter force in political hack radio – Air America, the liberal, anti-Rush channel. When you consider the tragic costs of bad public policy decisions today, partisan political radio is a disaster for America. It feeds our egos with divisive rhetoric when we desperately need to come together as a country. It is also a vehicle for disinformation about our energy situation. Rush Limbaugh used to say on his show, “There is more oil in the world than we can possibly ever use.” Recently he has backed off that bizarre claim. Now he spreads lies like, “If the wacko environmentalists would let us drill in protected U.S. areas, we wouldn’t be dependent on foreign oil.”

When I hear Rush Limbaugh on the radio blaming our energy problems completely on environmentalists, I hear Satan saying “dittos Rush.”

Speaking of environmentalists, denial is rampant among the hard-core Greens. Do these people really think we are never going to drill in ANWAR so that we can protect the caribou? I’ve got bad news for the Greens. When Americans start loosing their jobs and life savings because of Peak Oil, we will be drilling in the Grand Canyon if there is any oil there.

When I see environmentalists block new oil exploration everywhere thereby giving defenders of the petroleum military industrial complex an easy scapegoat, I see Satan patting them on the back. Now we come to the Devil’s Thanksgiving Day dinner – the “War on Terror.” The Iraq War is the scrumptious, hot gravy poured on top of 9-11 – the delicious, freshly sliced turkey breast. The Middle East is an immaculate table setting for this demonic indulgence with 2/3 of the remaining oil right there where the three major religions started. Hundreds of years of religious conflict combined with a mother-load of the magic fuel that feeds the world economy, a tasty treat indeed for the Prince of Darkness.

When I remember the horrible events of 9-11, I see Satan salivating at the head of the table waiting to feast on more warm flesh.

What are we doing in this supposed war? We have zero chance of rounding up and/or killing all the “terrorists” in the world. This is because they are in every country and we don’t know who they are or where they are hiding. Is there someone with a roster of all the “terrorists” in the world so we can check them off one at a time? If there were such a thing, that roster would be growing like a cancerous tumor. It’s just common sense that the more Arabs hate America, the more terrorist recruits al Queda has available. How is America doing in the polls on the Arab street? And we want democracy in Saudi Arabia? I can just see the al Queda party candidate running against the Bush family friend – Prince Bandar. Can you say ARAB OIL EMBARGO REDUX? With all the blood and treasure we have spent on this project you would think after five years somebody would demand evidence that we are making SOME progress toward SOME goal. Nope, we just let it go like it is somebody else’s problem. Yet at the same time the “War on Terror” consumes the attention of our media and our national psyche. Do we torture or don’t we? Should the government spy on us or not? Should an Arab country run our ports? What about the weapons of mass destruction? Was there a link between Saddam and Al Queda? Our collective energy is getting sucked dry by a phantom menace when at the end of the day it’s about the oil stupid! Where would we be if every word uttered and dollar spent on this Middle East quagmire was instead focused on an Apollo or Manhattan alternative energy project? That is exactly where we would be if Bill Clinton could have kept his inner demon in his pants. I have to believe Al Gore would be leading a “War on Oil Dependence” instead of a “War on Terror.”

Every time I hear President Bush give a speech on the “War on Terror” I see Satan doing an end zone dance and spiking the football.

I could go on with more examples of Satan in the driver’s seat – the national debt, lobbyists run amok in Washington, America’s get rich quick/gambling culture, internet pornography, Fox [propaganda] News – you get the idea.

So when will Jesus take the wheel? That depends entirely on the version of Jesus most of us decide to worship and follow.

Inevitably, Peak Oil means we are headed for some very tough times. History shows us that when societies are stressed, religion is easily perverted and used as a means to control people or advance evil agendas. On the other hand, we can find real answers to our energy dilemma in the teachings of Christ. We will all have serious moral and spiritual choices to make soon. This is especially true for the wealthy, powerful and privileged among us.

I’m not a Biblical scholar but it makes perfect sense to me that a “way of life” that contradicts most of what Jesus stood for is not something that will stand the test of time. God (i.e. nature) simply will not allow us to run an economic system and culture that requires us to live collectively like locusts much longer. Our wakeup call is coming. Peak Oil and Climate Change will force us to spiritually evolve or suffer the inexorable laws of nature until we “get it.” The longer we fight this reality, the greater the cost in human tragedy. We are indeed in a war but the enemy is inside each and every one of us. If we are God’s children and the earth is God’s school, our fossil fuels dilemma is the final exam.

So my fellow children of God, here are the questions for our final exam:

Will we follow the Jesus who defends the wealthy and our materialistic way of life at any cost or will we follow the Jesus who wants us to reassess our definition of success and reinvent a new way of life that bring us in balance with our finite planet?

Will we elect more Tom Delays or more Roscoe Bartletts?

Will we worship the Christian Crusader Jesus or the Prince of Peace?

Will we accept chaotic oil wars in the Middle East hoping for the rapture to save us or will we work together to build a sustainable energy future for our children and grandchildren?

Will we follow Satan’s front man posing as Jesus or will we surrender our heart and soul to the real Jesus and honor his sacrifice with good works and deeds?

How are we doing so far? In my mind, not good but it’s way too early for a verdict. In a strange way watching Mel Gibson’s Passion every Good Friday gives me hope that we will pass God’s test. Much was said and written about the violence in Gibson’s film. There were also fears about the film generating an anti-Semitic fervor among Christians. That fear turned out to be totally unjustified. Every time I watch The Passion I realize why. Gibson’s choreography of Christ’s suffering gives me an overwhelming feeling of humility and sense of self-reflection. After experiencing on film the price paid for my sins, as a Christian the last thing I think about is passing judgment on someone else. I think about how I might live more like Christ lived. This is exactly what Gibson intended. It’s also a timely reaction to a work of art in today’s world.

Symbolically, Gibson’s fist is shown in The Passion nailing Jesus’ hand to the cross. He did this to show his own culpability for Christ’s suffering and death. This movie was obviously very personal for Mel. He believes Satan had the upper hand in his personal battle with addiction. Overnight, Gibson was handed what most Americans dream of – a lifestyle of the rich and famous. But the more he ate of the good life the emptier he felt. There just wasn’t enough. Deep down Mel must have felt we all need to be saved from ourselves or he wouldn’t have risked millions of his own money to make this powerful movie. The popularity of Mel Gibson’s Passion has made him a cult hero among Evangelical Christians. Gibson’s next movie to be released the summer of 2006 is Apocalypto, about the collapse of the Mayan Civilization. Here are the quotes from the trailer:

“A great civilization is not conquered from without”

“Until it has destroyed itself from within”

“When the end comes”

“Not everyone is ready to go”

Perhaps this is another timely spiritual message from Mel, especially for all the rapture-ready Christians in America: An up close and personal view of what a collapse of a civilization looks like. Hope lives fellow Peakniks!

Editorial Notes: Also by Neal Brandvik: Death of the Petro-Confederacy Osama's Secret Weapon -BA

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