by Niall Gooch
Wednesday, 9
November 2022
Idea
15:44

Why I feel sorry for Just Stop Oil activists

Their pain has emerged from a religious vacuum
by Niall Gooch
Credit: Just Stop Oil

Her name is Louise and she is 24 years old. She bears a certain resemblance to Greta Thunberg, or perhaps it is simply her demeanour and her choice of words which create the illusion of similarity. Despite being half a decade older than Thunberg, she exudes the same sense of childlike bewilderment at the complexities and difficulties of the adult world, the same adolescent impatience with the trade-offs and compromises that necessarily characterise supranational policy-making on a planet of eight billion.  

Normally I find Just Stop Oil activists infuriating, possessing as they do the blank-eyed incuriosity of the true fanatic. There is something inhuman about the way they stare fixedly into the middle distance as some poor harassed mum begs them to let her take her daughter to hospital. However, the video of Louise, perched on a gantry above the M25, made me feel very sad.

On Tuesday Louise Perry argued for UnHerd that the green protestors of the modern day are natural successors to a certain Christian tradition. Specifically, according to the piece, they are the new millenarians, whose rhetoric is based on “radical, apocalyptic elements in Christianity that have been with us for two thousand years.”

Watching this young activist, though, I thought it was a tragedy that the decline of Christian practice and belief has left her, and many others, weighed down by despair and misery with little prospect of any kind of existential relief. Her admirable instinct for justice and fairness is being channelled into a campaign which is ultimately anti-civilisation and inhumane, inflicting inconvenience and suffering on ordinary people in the name of an unachievable goal. She has absorbed a narrative of apocalyptic destruction and collapse, which fails to give any kind of real reason for hope or reassurance. 

A typical Marxist-influenced riposte to this idea is to reiterate the old propaganda point about religion being the opiate of the masses, a way to get people to ignore worldly problems in favour of “pie in the sky when you die”. 

But the argument is not that we should ignore climate change, or simply go to church and forget about difficult policy issues. Churches have plenty to say about the moral questions arising from climate change: note, for example, Pope Francis’s teaching document Laudato Si’

Rather, it is that the Christian worldview gives people an ultimate hope which might prevent them from falling into the catastrophising unreality which has consumed Louise. It provides a way of channelling their admirable zeal for the improvement of the world into direct, practical help for real individuals known to them, rather than grandiose gestures in the service of abstract campaigns. 

The Christian emphasis on the importance of each individual, which has so often proved irritating to totalitarians, would benefit those Just Stop Oil activists. They maintain an Olympian disdain for the mundane concerns of others, like getting to work or to hospital or to see their families, but a new focus on selflessness could provide them with the salvation they so desperately seek.

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David McKee
David McKee
20 days ago

I think I might have a little more sympathy with the protestors, if they were aiming their protests at the worst polluters. The worst, by a country mile, is China. It produces nearly thirty times the CO2 that Britain does.
So why is Louise not stopping the traffic in Beijing? Or, at the very least, protesting outside the Chinese embassy?
It looks very like Louise just wants to look good in front of her mates – that her Twitter message was just a glorified selfie.

James Stangl
James Stangl
20 days ago
Reply to  David McKee

Cuz trying to stop traffic in Beijing, let alone get into that country to protest, would be met with a harsh response I suspect.

And if Louise is wearing GoreTex and other synthetic clothing to keep her warm and dry while interfering with other peoples lives, she’s a hypocrite. Petrochemicals, baby.

Jane Tomlinson
Jane Tomlinson
20 days ago
Reply to  James Stangl

And I doubt if she, or the others, see their actions as hypocrisy. They will justify their cars, their international travel, clothes and gas heating/cooking, as ‘essentials’ to keep them strong for the Cause.

Last edited 20 days ago by Jane Tomlinson
Albireo Double
Albireo Double
20 days ago
Reply to  David McKee

The hypocrisy takes some beating as well. I will eat their sweaty bobble hats, if many of these “activists” didn’t drive to the scene of their protest in a rancid old diesel car, (or possibly a shiny new Range Rover), from a centrally heated house.

They can go to hell. The faster the better.

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
20 days ago

She seems full of self-pity, aggression, and misplaced arrogance to me. Sorry – Not interested.

These are very nasty people. they are hard-left activists disguised as “caring” while their actions kill, maim, injure and hurt others. I wish they’d just left them all up there until they came down of their own volition then arrested them. I hope they will get the maximum available jail term.

Last edited 20 days ago by Albireo Double
Daoud Fakhri
Daoud Fakhri
20 days ago

I’m reminded of the words of Blake: “He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars: general Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer, for Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars.”

David Giles
David Giles
20 days ago
Reply to  Daoud Fakhri

Oh that’s good. I may be confessing a terrible level of ignorance, but I had genuinely not heard that before.

Terry Davies
Terry Davies
19 days ago
Reply to  David Giles

Me too

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
20 days ago

On the other hand, letting her fall off the gantry would more quickly release her from her existential pain.

It might also have the useful side effect of sparing the rest of us the juvenile tantrums of her and her sect.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
20 days ago

I don’t care whether they’re jihadist Muslims awaiting the 13th imam, fundamentalist Christians trying to rebuild the Jewish temple to bring about the second coming, or greenies convinced that we “only have 10 years” before we all melt… they’re all dangerous. They should be feared, not pitied.

Apocalyptic thinking ought to disqualify anyone from getting anywhere near real power.

Last edited 20 days ago by Brian Villanueva
willy Daglish
willy Daglish
20 days ago

They should be met with the profound contempt they merit, not fear.
99% of them will grow up and grow out of these juvenile fashions eventually.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
20 days ago
Reply to  willy Daglish

I think the problem today is that this is not happening. I know people in their 50s and 60s who act like this too.

Paul Walsh
Paul Walsh
20 days ago

Well I wasn’t stuck in a massive traffic jam, so I have to admit that I do feel a bit sorry for her. If everyone tells you something is true all your life, a lot of people will believe it. I have less tolerance for those over 30, who might have thought about the trade-offs by then.
I am not religious myself, but I have to admit that she might be in a better place if she attended a nice warm church.
Currently she is doing very well in several social media comedy clips, which might prove hard to live down.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
20 days ago

There is a religion shaped hole in society filling up with all kinds of toxic nonsense. I went to religious schools and had a young persons rage at the church. But now I realize that although most religious people are hypocrites – so are the rest of us. At least the basic goals of Christianity – and I assume their equivalents in other religions – aspire to good and sensible things.

Kevin Dee
Kevin Dee
20 days ago

I’ve seen a lot of these climate change is a religion arguments and yea there is probably some truth in that but 90% of this issue is that these people are 100% believing exactly what they’ve been told by all of their education, news sources, celebrities, governments etc … I suppose most people just just don’t believe it or don’t care about the world ending? These people believe what they are being told. They don’t see any alternative view because they have never heard one. Their actions are perfectly understandable in this context and if the government actually wanted to stop it than they have to deal with this issue and try to get to the truth of the matter – like maybe present both sides or something like that? Instead every arm of the state propagandizes its own people into believing the world is about to end and then acts surprised that some people are actually taking action on it.

Cassander Antipatru
Cassander Antipatru
20 days ago
Reply to  Kevin Dee

I feel like one of the big problems in modern society is that various cultural organs produce over-the-top propaganda to try and “shock people out of their complacency” (on topics like the environment, racism, sexism, etc.), but then some people don’t recognise the hyperbole and end up adopting extreme positions as a result.

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
20 days ago

Twenty-four-year-old Louise is a terrorist. She sounds just like many other terrorists, like Jihadi John, who tell us their cause justifies their criminal action against innocent people. It never does.
I have no use for the equally deluded Greta Thunberg, but at least she confines herself to verbal shouting and peaceful protest.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
19 days ago
Reply to  Carlos Danger

Greta Thunberg is a disgusting racist. Her comments about white people are a disgrace.

Dave Smith
Dave Smith
20 days ago

They seem very childlike. In the worst possible way. Needy and self absorbed. My first child was born when I was two years younger than her. In those days we just got on with life and were glad to do so. Those were the dark days of the Cold War but that made no difference.
I felt no pity for her. She has chosen her course and must live with the consequences.

Jonathan Sidaway
Jonathan Sidaway
20 days ago

I take the Gareth Roberts class-line abt these folks and feel nothing even resembling sorrow for them. But this is a good article. The focus on localised goodwill that the Church recommends can itself, however, become a bit of a problem when one imagines the situations that might arise from it: precious little India, or blank-eyed Poppy visiting the lonely, Brexit-voting pensioner, for instance. Perhaps the latter will be able gently to inculcate some genuine tolerance. Certainly some properly grounded altruism has got to be better than the God-awful s***e recently visited on art galleries, petrol stations, et bloody cetera.

Emre S
Emre S
20 days ago

Funny. 100 years ago working men were told they hold the key to higher morals and they were burdened with being examples to the rest of humanity. We know how it ended after 1918 in the gulags. These days women (and LGBTQ) are being told they hold the key to higher morals, and we’re now beginning to see how they’re being burdened by trying to be the examples for the rest of humanity. Will be interesting to see where this one goes.

Last edited 20 days ago by Emre Emre
Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
19 days ago
Reply to  Emre S

The upper middle class white woman’s burden?

willy Daglish
willy Daglish
20 days ago

They deserve neither sympathy nor support. Their sole motivation is vanity.
What is acceptable about their narcissistic nihilism which does the environmental cause far more harm than good?

Ian Denno
Ian Denno
20 days ago

lI understand the position that is often made that religion instills structure, discipline and selflessness in people’s lives, and that secular people, in a general sense, have ended up psychologically unmoored and often live with a very nihilistic and cynical point of view.
But there’s an issue with the idea that religion can bring purpose and hope back into people’s lives, in that it requires belief in scripture. I feel like I’ve just written something pretty obvious, but I don’t see it acknowledged in articles like this very often. I empathise perfectly well with people who do accept the claims that they’re expected to to join in and worship, but it’s not exactly something that a person can just decide to do if they reckon it’ll make them feel better.

Carol Gregorioius
Carol Gregorioius
19 days ago

 When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing. They then become capable of believing in anything. Emile Cammaerts

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
19 days ago

Just Stop Oil activists never make any sense. They had a posh girl on Sky News a couple of days ago ranting and raving about the iniquities of pensioners freezing this winter because of the increase in fuel prices, which is exactly what their demand for a reduction in the supply of oil is designed to exacerbate. Economics 1.0 duh!

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
20 days ago

These people will soon be run over my motorists… perhaps I see a new televised motor sport at its birth?

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
20 days ago

Niall-ism? Their actions are not their responsibility, the government is forcing them up gantries, onto works of art and into the supermarkets spilling milk on the floor. Not me guv…

Last edited 20 days ago by Martin Smith
J Leigh
J Leigh
20 days ago

They remind me of the religiously addled who used to wander around with sandwich boards shouting repent your (climate) sins the end is nigh!
Many of These activists have been inducted into climate cults but are to clever and morally superior to ever see that they have manipulated this way!

Jim payne
Jim payne
19 days ago

I find it so strange that you can be so very angry with these people.
Couldn’t you spare a bit of anger for the oil companies which have known about overheating the world for a long time yet have done next to nothing about it? That for nigh on 40 years we’ve had umpteen reports about the state of the world and people just shrug their shoulders and say it’s difficult and do nothing.
The world is a very complicated place with no straight forward solutions to any of its problems: I’ve just been reading a book about the negative aspects of electric cars
Yet all of the people here ( writing comments) are very hot under the collar and seek simple soltions to protesters – “lock’em up!” This is not very democratic.- you’re allowed to be angry in front of your keyboard but they are not allowed to make you late for work because there is nothing more important than your individual confort.
You remind me of the criticism of suffragettes at the beginning of the 20th century, of the contempt trade unionists faced when striking for decent working conditions.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
17 days ago
Reply to  Jim payne

This is not very democratic.- you’re allowed to be angry in front of your keyboard but they are not allowed to make you late for work because there is nothing more important than your individual confort.
Stopping and preventing your fellow citizens from going about their lives in order to exploit their capture for political activism, reveals a complete disregard for their own interests, attitudes and feelings – in other words a contempt for others that belies the claimed intent of the activism.

Last edited 17 days ago by michael stanwick
michael stanwick
michael stanwick
17 days ago

Normally I find Just Stop Oil activists infuriating, possessing as they do the blank-eyed incuriosity of the true fanatic. There is something inhuman about the way they stare fixedly into the middle distance as some poor harassed mum begs them to let her take her daughter to hospital.
The expressionless faces and body posture seem to me to be more akin to sulking. As the Cambridge dictionary states for sulk; to be silent and refuse to smile or be pleasant to people because you are angry about something that they have done.
If this is the case, and including the full ‘sack of spuds’ body posture, this becomes a performative demonstration to show us theirs is the superior morality and theirs is a justified self righteous anger.

Last edited 16 days ago by michael stanwick
Sam Holland
Sam Holland
19 days ago

This is a nasty piece of writing – an arrogant and condescending piece of writing. And it in fact gets the issue completely backwards. The woman exuding a sense of ‘childlike bewilderment at the complexities of the adult world’ is a Cambridge University graduate sacrificing her freedom to protect the hundreds of millions in the Global South that are going to be slaughtered as a result of the climate crisis. Incredible that you try and twist people putting their lives on the line to protest against our governments genocidal disregard for life as having a ‘disdain for the mundane concerns of others’. Why would someone go to such extreme lengths to ensure that we have a future if they were in it for their own vanity? This is the opposite of virtue signalling. This is ‘everything, including my liberty, is on the line, because I’m standing up for what I believe in’.
Can you not see that yours is an incredibly reactionary and conservative argument, at odds with progress in the world? That your ideas put you in the camp with those who condemned the Suffragettes, the Civil rights movement, the abolitionists, the trade unionists, when all these groups were trying to fight for a fair world to live in? You are on the wrong side of history my friend. I hope that as the heat and crop failure gets worse, you realise before it’s too late. For all our sakes.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
16 days ago
Reply to  Sam Holland

Ignoring your hyperbole in this quote – Incredible that you try and twist people putting their lives on the line to protest against our governments genocidal disregard for life as having a ‘disdain for the mundane concerns of others’. Why would someone go to such extreme lengths to ensure that we have a future if they were in it for their own vanity? – this quote does not negate the point that there is a “disdain for the mundane concern of others”. In fact, it seeks to justify that disdain by offering the reason that such extreme lengths [are] to ensure that we have a future.
Personally, I think the attitude is one of contempt – disregarding the interests of fellow citizens who wish to go about their lives freely. As I replied to a similar comment above, this is done by stopping and preventing others from going about their lives in order to exploit their capture to blackmail those in authority, that is, for political activism.

I do not share the hypothetical genocidal disregard for life vision, and since we live in a society guided by democratic norms, it is perfectly reasonable to question those whose actions disregard those norms for their own consequentialist morality.

Phil Bolton
Phil Bolton
20 days ago

Unfortunately Christianity is a lie, as are all religions. They seek to indoctrinate, control and manipulate. Saying that this protester would not be there or have those beliefs and would be a better person if she were Christian is also a fallacy.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
20 days ago
Reply to  Phil Bolton

you miss a key point.. religion requires faith, precisely because we do not know: different to ” belief”…