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[greenyes] Religion and environment
Since I totally agree with David Biddle¹s posting, I thought I¹d send this
along.

  There Is No Tomorrow
  By Bill Moyers
  The Star Tribune

  Sunday 30 January 2005

  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 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 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 equipment.
    ?      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 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 School.

  -------




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