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
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
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
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:
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
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
That wants a new international audit law to allow corporations to keep
certain information about environmental problems secret from the public.
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. 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
On the heath Lear asks Gloucester: "How do you see the world?" And
Gloucester, who is blind, answers: "I see it feelingly.'"
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.