by BILL MOYERS
Moyers was host until recently of the weekly public affairs
series NOW with Bill Moyers on PBS. This article is
adapted from AlterNet and is published with the permission
From NOW: And on these
stones is all that remain of conquests, rebellions and battles
- the violent death of rulers - prisoners of war disposed
of by execution. For 5,000 years the story repeats itself,
the victory of one, the defeat of the other. Tribes and
gods turn on each other. Even Genghis Khan met his match
trying to get here. The last word has always been written
in the sand. Cities and states lie buried beneath it. The
great figures who once held sway here - Ashurnasirpal II,
Tiglath-Pileser III, Shamshi-Adad V, King Nino, Queen Semiramis,
King Shar-kali-sharri, Suleyman the Magnificent, the Ottomans,
the British - have all been carried away. Five thousand
years from now, who will be crossing the Euphrates? What
will remain from our time? And what will be remembered?
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
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
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
imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said,
"after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back."
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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?"
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."
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.
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."
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.
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:
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
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
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.
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.
all this in the news.
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."
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.
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."
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
heath Lear asks Gloucester: "How do you see the world?"
And Gloucester, who is blind, answers: "I see it feelingly.'"
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.
me, it does.