Bill Moyers: There is no tomorrow
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. 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
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 Americans.
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:
� 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.
� 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
� 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
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 California.
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 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
- On Apr 19, 2005, at 12:03 AM, KZK wrote:
> Nick Arnett wrote:From the perspective of the microorganisms?
>> Warren Ockrassa wrote:
>>> That's a good point. I'd ask you to think about something else,
>>> though -- why do you consider yourself religious? I mean, if you
>>> have some kind of faith, *why* do you have that faith?
>> Well, there's the question. An honest answer has to include, "I
>> don't know." I choose to regard it as an undeserved gift. A
>> self-centered answer is, "I'm happier." A non-rational answer is,
>> "It feels true."
>> A quasi-evidentiary answer is that it has survived the millenia.
> So has malaria and the clap. Are they forces of "good" too?
Certainly from the human point of view such things are pestilence. But
from a survival, life-over-all perspective, they're working.
I think it was Carl Sagan who commented that yeast has been very
successful over the millennia -- it's taught the apex predators on
Earth how to replicate itself for myriad purposes, some of which
include intimate infections, some of which we regard as beneficent,
some of which are of debatable value.
Alfred Nobel was forever torn over his invention. Dynamite was -- and
is -- good for lots of positive applications, as well as more than a
few negative ones. Does that mean that dynamite was and is
incontrovertibly evil, or even arguably so? Or is it safer to suggest
that it's the human capacity for finding a cloud in virtually every
silver lining that's really to blame?
I can be very harsh on religion; I know that. But I also recognize that
*faith* -- not necessarily religion -- has been a source of solace for
untold millions, possibly billions, has given meaning to lives that
otherwise might have seemed unnecessarily nasty, short and brutish.
Nick and I have traded a few Buddhist ideas. I'm not officially
Buddhist -- never taken a refuge vow -- but I do like some of the
philosophies of the system; I like how it's non-theist and doesn't have
a specific doctrine of a soul. One of its major adherents has said more
than once that to the extent science uncovers new realities about the
world, it is Buddhism that will have to change to suit itself to our
The reason I bring it up is that a core tenet of Buddhism is that
suffering should be reduced. If someone's faith in a deity reduces that
person's suffering *and* does not contribute to the suffering of
others, I find it hard to see that faith as invalid, worthy of mockery
or something that needs to be "outgrown" or discarded.
Scientific findings have also been used to great evil over the
centuries. Should we argue for discarding the scientific method and its
fruits? In order to be consistent with the message that religion is a
source of evil and should be cast aside, that question becomes very
important, doesn't it?
Warren Ockrassa, Publisher/Editor, nightwares Books
Current work in progress "The Seven-Year Mirror"