- One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime
is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe,
to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in Congress. For the
first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power
- Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true;
ideologues hold stoutly to a worldview despite being contradicted by what
is generally accepted as reality. When ideology and theology couple, their
offspring are not always bad but they are always blind. And there is the
danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts.
- Remember James Watt, President Ronald Reagan's first
Secretary of the Interior? My favorite online environmental journal, the
ever-engaging Grist, reminded us recently of how James Watt told the U.S.
Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of
the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony, he said, "after
the last tree is felled, Christ will come back."
- Beltway elites snickered. The press corps didn't know
what he was talking about. But James Watt was serious. So were his compatriots
out across the country. They are the people who believe the Bible is literally
true - one-third of the American electorate, if a recent Gallup poll is
accurate. In this past election several million good and decent citizens
went to the polls believing in the rapture index.
- That's right - the rapture index. Google it and you will
find that the best-selling books in America today are the 12 volumes of
the "Left Behind" series written by the Christian fundamentalist
and religious-right warrior Timothy LaHaye. These true believers subscribe
to a fantastical theology concocted in the 19th century by a couple of
immigrant preachers who took disparate passages from the Bible and wove
them into a narrative that has captivated the imagination of millions of
- Its outline is rather simple, if bizarre (the British
writer George Monbiot recently did a brilliant dissection of it and I am
indebted to him for adding to my own understanding): Once Israel has occupied
the rest of its "biblical lands," legions of the antichrist will
attack it, triggering a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon.
- As the Jews who have not been converted are burned, the
messiah will return for the rapture. True believers will be lifted out
of their clothes and transported to Heaven, where, seated next to the right
hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents suffer
plagues of boils, sores, locusts and frogs during the several years of
tribulation that follow.
- I'm not making this up. Like Monbiot, I've read the literature.
I've reported on these people, following some of them from Texas to the
West Bank. They are sincere, serious and polite as they tell you they feel
called to help bring the rapture on as fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
That's why they have declared solidarity with Israel and the Jewish settlements
and backed up their support with money and volunteers. It's why the invasion
of Iraq for them was a warm-up act, predicted in the Book of Revelations
where four angels "which are bound in the great river Euphrates will
be released to slay the third part of man." A war with Islam in the
Middle East is not something to be feared but welcomed - an essential conflagration
on the road to redemption. The last time I Googled it, the rapture index
stood at 144 - just one point below the critical threshold when the whole
thing will blow, the son of God will return, the righteous will enter Heaven
and sinners will be condemned to eternal hellfire.
- So what does this mean for public policy and the environment?
Go to Grist to read a remarkable work of reporting by the journalist Glenn
Scherer - "The Road to Environmental Apocalypse." Read it and
you will see how millions of Christian fundamentalists may believe that
environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded but actually welcomed
- even hastened - as a sign of the coming apocalypse.
- As Grist makes clear, we're not talking about a handful
of fringe lawmakers who hold or are beholden to these beliefs. Nearly half
the U.S. Congress before the recent election - 231 legislators in total
and more since the election - are backed by the religious right.
- Forty-five senators and 186 members of the 108th Congress
earned 80 to 100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential
Christian right advocacy groups. They include Senate Majority Leader Bill
Frist, Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Conference Chair Rick
Santorum of Pennsylvania, Policy Chair Jon Kyl of Arizona, House Speaker
Dennis Hastert and Majority Whip Roy Blunt. The only Democrat to score
100 percent with the Christian coalition was Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia,
who recently quoted from the biblical book of Amos on the Senate floor:
"The days will come, sayeth the Lord God, that I will send a famine
in the land." He seemed to be relishing the thought.
- And why not? There's a constituency for it. A 2002 Time-CNN
poll found that 59 percent of Americans believe that the prophecies found
in the book of Revelations are going to come true. Nearly one-quarter think
the Bible predicted the 9/11 attacks. Drive across the country with your
radio tuned to the more than 1,600 Christian radio stations, or in the
motel turn on some of the 250 Christian TV stations, and you can hear some
of this end-time gospel. And you will come to understand why people under
the spell of such potent prophecies cannot be expected, as Grist puts it,
"to worry about the environment. Why care about the earth, when the
droughts, floods, famine and pestilence brought by ecological collapse
are signs of the apocalypse foretold in the Bible? Why care about global
climate change when you and yours will be rescued in the rapture? And why
care about converting from oil to solar when the same God who performed
the miracle of the loaves and fishes can whip up a few billion barrels
of light crude with a word?"
- Because these people believe that until Christ does return,
the Lord will provide. One of their texts is a high school history book,
"America's Providential History." You'll find there these words:
"The secular or socialist has a limited-resource mentality and views
the world as a pie ... that needs to be cut up so everyone can get a piece."
However, "[t]he Christian knows that the potential in God is unlimited
and that there is no shortage of resources in God's earth ... while many
secularists view the world as overpopulated, Christians know that God has
made the earth sufficiently large with plenty of resources to accommodate
all of the people."
- No wonder Karl Rove goes around the White House whistling
that militant hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers." He turned out
millions of the foot soldiers on Nov. 2, including many who have made the
apocalypse a powerful driving force in modern American politics.
- It is hard for the journalist to report a story like
this with any credibility. So let me put it on a personal level. I myself
don't know how to be in this world without expecting a confident future
and getting up every morning to do what I can to bring it about. So I have
always been an optimist. Now, however, I think of my friend on Wall Street
whom I once asked: "What do you think of the market? "I'm optimistic,"
he answered. "Then why do you look so worried?" And he answered:
"Because I am not sure my optimism is justified."
- I'm not, either. Once upon a time I agreed with Eric
Chivian and the Center for Health and the Global Environment that people
will protect the natural environment when they realize its importance to
their health and to the health and lives of their children. Now I am not
so sure. It's not that I don't want to believe that - it's just that I
read the news and connect the dots.
- I read that the administrator of the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency has declared the election a mandate for President Bush
on the environment. This for an administration:
- a.. That wants to rewrite the Clean Air Act, the Clean
Water Act and the Endangered Species Act protecting rare plant and animal
species and their habitats, as well as the National Environmental Policy
Act, which requires the government to judge beforehand whether actions
might damage natural resources. b.. That wants to relax pollution limits
for ozone; eliminate vehicle tailpipe inspections, and ease pollution standards
for cars, sport-utility vehicles and diesel-powered big trucks and heavy
equipment. c.. That wants a new international audit law to allow corporations
to keep certain information about environmental problems secret from the
public. d.. That wants to drop all its new-source review suits against
polluting, coal-fired power plants and weaken consent decrees reached earlier
with coal companies. e.. That wants to open the Arctic [National] Wildlife
Refuge to drilling and increase drilling in Padre Island National Seashore,
the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world and the
last great coastal wild land in America.
- I read the news just this week and learned how the Environmental
Protection Agency had planned to spend $9 million - $2 million of it from
the administration's friends at the American Chemistry Council - to pay
poor families to continue to use pesticides in their homes. These pesticides
have been linked to neurological damage in children, but instead of ordering
an end to their use, the government and the industry were going to offer
the families $970 each, as well as a camcorder and children's clothing,
to serve as guinea pigs for the study.
- I read all this in the news.
- I read the news just last night and learned that the
administration's friends at the International Policy Network, which is
supported by Exxon Mobil and others of like mind, have issued a new report
that climate change is "a myth, sea levels are not rising" [and]
scientists who believe catastrophe is possible are "an embarrassment."
- I not only read the news but the fine print of the recent
appropriations bill passed by Congress, with the obscure (and obscene)
riders attached to it: a clause removing all endangered species protections
from pesticides; language prohibiting judicial review for a forest in Oregon;
a waiver of environmental review for grazing permits on public lands; a
rider pressed by developers to weaken protection for crucial habitats in
- I read all this and look up at the pictures on my desk,
next to the computer - pictures of my grandchildren. I see the future looking
back at me from those photographs and I say, "Father, forgive us,
for we know not what we do." And then I am stopped short by the thought:
"That's not right. We do know what we are doing. We are stealing their
future. Betraying their trust. Despoiling their world."
- And I ask myself: Why? Is it because we don't care? Because
we are greedy? Because we have lost our capacity for outrage, our ability
to sustain indignation at injustice?
- What has happened to our moral imagination?
- On the heath Lear asks Gloucester: "How do you see
the world?" And Gloucester, who is blind, answers: "I see it
- I see it feelingly.
- The news is not good these days. I can tell you, though,
that as a journalist I know the news is never the end of the story. The
news can be the truth that sets us free - not only to feel but to fight
for the future we want. And the will to fight is the antidote to despair,
the cure for cynicism, and the answer to those faces looking back at me
from those photographs on my desk. What we need is what the ancient Israelites
called hochma - the science of the heart ... the capacity to see, to feel
and then to act as if the future depended on you.
- Believe me, it does.
- Bill Moyers was host until recently of the weekly public
affairs series "NOW with Bill Moyers" on PBS. This article is
adapted from AlterNet, where it first appeared. The text is taken from
Moyers' remarks upon receiving the Global Environmental Citizen Award from
the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School.
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