Reflections by Bill Moyers, famous journalist, on the state of the American society (originally published on January 30, 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
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
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
* 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
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
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.
Copyright 2005 Star Tribune