Bill Moyers scares me
He generally doesn't, but when he accepted the fourth annual Global Environment Citizen Award from the Center for Health and Global Environment at Harvard Medical School (presented by board member Meryl Streep), he said some things [HTML, PDF] that disturbed me [via Dave Farber's IP list].
Remember James Watt, President Reagans 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." [Link added.]
I well remember Watt, and have made reference to his ummm... rather, shall we say, interesting philosophy, several times to friends. I always thought of him as a sort of aberrant exception, but if Moyers is accurate this philosophy is much more mainstream than I had thought.
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 world view 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....
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....
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 follow.
I'm not making this up.... 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 Revelation 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.
As Grist makes clear, were 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 — 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 Senator 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 Senator 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? Theres a constituency for it. A 2002 Time/CNN poll found that 59 percent of Americans believe that the prophecies found in the Book of Revelation 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 to 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 put 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?
I consider myself a Christian but I most assuredly do not read the Bible, especially books like the Apocalypse literally. I feel what Moyers expresses near the end of his acceptance speech.
This brings me back to the Center, to Dr. Chivian, and to all of you gathered here this evening. You are the antidote to despair, the cure for cynicism, the answer to the faces of my grandchildren looking back at me from those pictures on my desk. Your work for the science of human health is reinforced by what the ancient Israelites called hochma — the science of the heart — the capacity to see, feel, and then to act as if the future depended on you.
Because it does.