by Bill Moyers
In These Times magazine, February
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 in Washington. Theology
asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold
stoutly to a worldview despite being contradicted by what is generally
accepted as reality. The offspring of ideology and theology are
not always bad but they are always blind. And that is the danger:
voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts.
Remember James Watt, President Reagan's
first secretary of the interior? 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, L Christ will come back?'
Beltway elites snickered. The press corps
didn't know what he was talking about. But Watt was serious, as
were his compatriots across the country. One-third of the American
electorate, if a recent Gallup Poll is accurate, believes the
Bible is literally true. This past November, several million good
and decent citizens went to the polls believing in what is known
as the "rapture index?'
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 Americans. Its outline is rather simple, if bizarre: 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
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 is why they
have declared solidarity with Israel and the Jewish settlements
and backed up their support with money and volunteers. That is
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:' For them a war with Islam in the Middle East
is something to be welcomed-an essential conflagration on the
road to redemption. The rapture index-"the prophetic speedometer
of end-time activity"-now stands at 153 (jwww.raptureready.com/rap2.html).
So what does this mean for public policy
and the environment? As Glenn Scherer reports in the online environmental
journal Grist, millions of Christian fundamentalists believe that
environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded but hastened
as a sign of the coming apocalypse.
We're not talking about a handful of fringe
lawmakers who hold or are beholden to these beliefs. Nearly half
of the members of Congress 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 before his recent retirement 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 relish the thought.
Onward Christian soldiers
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. Tune in to any of the more than 1,600 Christian
radio stations or flip on one of the 250 Christian TV stations
across the country 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?"
'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, which contains
the following: "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 in
this past election, including many who have made the apocalypse
a powerful driving force in modern American politics.
Once upon a time I thought that people
would protect the natural environment when they realized 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.
Mike Leavitt, the former administrator
of the US. Environmental Protection Agency, declared the election
a mandate for President Bush on the environment-a mandate for
an administration that wants to rewrite the Clean Air Act, the
Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, as well as the
National Environmental Policy Act, which requires the government
to judge beforehand if actions might damage natural resources.
The Environmental Protection Agency had
even planned to spend s 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 and then look at the pictures
on my desk, next to the computer-pictures of my grandchildren:
Henry, age 12 Thomas, age l0; Nancy, 7; Jassie, 3; Sara Jane,
nine months. 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?
The news is not good these days. I can
tell you 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-free
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 "hocma"-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 is the president of the Schumann
Center for Media and Democracy. This article was adapted from
a speech, posted on TomPaine.com, which Moyers gave on December
1 upon accepting Harvard Medical School's Global Environment Citizen
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