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Bill Moyers: Many Americans Welcome

Environmental Destruction for Religious Reasons


"You will see how millions of Christian fundamentalists may believe that environmental destruction is to be welcomed -- even hastened -- as a sign of the coming apocalypse." 

--  Bill Moyers


Dec. 17, 2004

Dear friends,

You may have heard that Bill Moyers is retiring from three decades of TV journalism. He was most renowned for his incisive program Now on CBS. Below are important excerpts from a speech he gave shortly after announcing his retirement. Parts of the speech were even reported in the Miami Herald, though sadly no other media gave coverageMoyers' thought-provoking words are well worth consideration. Did you know that, as he mentions, millions of Americans are eagerly anticipating the apocalypse and the imminent return of Christ.


It is most unfortunate that in this speech Mr. Moyers doesn't acknowledge the many fundamentalist Christians who are dedicated to being good stewards of the environment. It is akin to lumping all fundamentalist Muslims in with terrorists. Yet Moyers' message is important because, as shown in surveys, many millions of fundamentalist Christians are being led to believe the environment is no longer important. The best-selling Left Behind book series he mentions is a clear example of this. Not in the least wanting to infringe on anyone's beliefs, I agree with Moyers that it is the consequences of these beliefs on our environment that are most concerning. Please help to spread the word on this most important matter.

With best wishes,
Fred Burks for (excerpts of speech in Miami Herald) (full speech)

The Environment in Serious Trouble

Below are excerpts from PBS public-affairs host Bill Moyers' speech accepting the Global Environmental Citizen Award at the Harvard Medical School.

The journalist who truly deserves this award is Bill McKibben. He enjoys the most conspicuous place in my own pantheon of journalistic heroes for his pioneer writing about the environment. His best seller The End of Nature carried on where Rachel Carson's Silent Spring left off.

Writing in Mother Jones recently, Bill described how the problems journalists routinely cover may be about to convert to chaotic, unpredictable, unmanageable situations. The most unmanageable, he writes, could be the accelerating deterioration of the environment, creating perils with huge momentum like the greenhouse effect that is causing Arctic melting to release so much fresh water into the North Atlantic that even the Pentagon is growing alarmed that a weakening Gulf Stream could yield abrupt, overwhelming changes, the kind that could alter civilizations.

That's one challenge journalists face -- how to tell such a story without turning off the people we most want to understand, who must act on what they read and hear. As difficult as it is, however, for journalists to fashion a readable narrative, there is an even harder challenge -- to pierce the ideology that governs official policy today.

Ideology and theology

One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. 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. Remember James Watt, President Reagan's first secretary of the Interior? The online environmental journal, Grist, reminded us recently of how Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. He said, ``after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.''

[Editorial note: Moyers had since conceded that James Watt never made this comment in public. Also please remember that many fundamentalist Christians do not embrace these beliefs.]

Watt was serious. So were his compatriots 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.

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 anti-Christ 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 Glenn Scherer's The Road to Environmental Apocalypse. You will see how millions of Christian fundamentalists may believe that environmental destruction is to be welcomed -- even 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 the U.S. Congress before the recent election -- 231 legislators in total -- are backed by the religious right.

Christian stations

Drive across the country with your radio tuned to the more than 1,600 Christian stations, or in the motel turn some of the 250 Christian TV stations and you can hear some of this end-time gospel. You will 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?''

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 that requires the government to judge beforehand if actions might damage natural resources.

That wants to relax pollution limits for ozone; eliminate vehicle tailpipe inspections; and ease pollution standards for cars, sports 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 plans 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 can see in the look on your faces just how hard it is to report a story like this with any credibility. So let me put it on a personal level. I have always been an optimist. I once agreed with the belief 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.

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 to match the science of human health 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.

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