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Earl Doherty

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And they wonder why we find religion so scary...
(June 18, 2005)

     Unlike most mainstream media, publications of the secular and atheistic community are devoted to exposing the activities and dangers of the Christian evangelical movement which is in the process of trying to take over the soul of the United States of America. One of these, of course, is Free Inquiry, published by the Council for Secular Humanism in Amherst, New York. Of consistently high quality and insight these days, Free Inquiry regularly contains many articles that deserve wider exposure. I would like to highlight one from the most recent issue: June/July 2005. It is an Op-Ed piece entitled "There Is No Tomorrow" by Bill Moyers, an adaptation of an article by Moyers which first appeared on AlterNet. For review purposes, I will quote a portion of the article (hiatuses marked), after which I will make a comment of my own.

an excerpt from
"There Is No Tomorrow" by Bill Moyers

     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 trueone-third of the American electorate, if a recent Gallup poll is accurate. In this past election, several million good and decent citiziens 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 twelve 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 nineteenth century by a couple of immigrant preachers who took disparate passages from the Bible and wove them into a narrative that has captured the imagination of millions of Americans.
     Its outline is rather simple, if bizarre...: 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. ...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 back 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 and 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.
     ...The only Democrat to score 100 percent with the Christian coalition was Senator 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 to 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?"
     .... [Moyers details several initiatives by the Bush administration, such as rewriting the Clean Air and Water Acts to lessen protection for the environment, relax pollution limits for ozone, ease pollution standards for cars, SUVs, trucks, etc., make certain information about environmental problems secret, and so on.]
     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 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?....

      Greed, of course, has a lot to do with it. And it is significant that the heads of corporations who are motivated by greed certainly include Christians, indicating that religious belief is no particular motivator of a higher standard of morality, altruism or concern for the planet's welfare. It can be no coincidence that the most religious, even fundamentalist, government in U.S. history is also responsible for the greatest depradation and disregard for the world's environment at a time when all the signs point to a looming crisis. It is hard not to make the link which Moyers suggests, that in all halls of government the delusional mentality is growing and is helping to determine everything from foreign policy to environmental protection
—or lack of it.
     The insanity of the widespread religious views and expectations that have gripped so many in our society is not a private affair, it is not a right of belief which the more rational of us ought to allow to them, much less refrain from raising our voices against, it is a direct threat to the survival of us all. This is a group that devotes seemingly boundless energy to a maniacal demonization of abortion and the "killing" of those who have "a right to life," and yet they merrily concur and even aid in the destruction of the very world we all have to live that life in. Those "pro-lifers" oppose stem-cell research and other scientific undertakings which promise to improve the health and longevity of our lives, because they are seen as contravening the will of their God, a consideration which overrides everything else. The lives of a sizeable portion of humanity are to be condemned as substandard, and rendered as such by the nation's laws, since gays and lesbians have made evil "choices." They know this, in the face of modern scientific understanding of human sexuality and its expressions, because an obscure passage in a primitive piece of ancient writing says so. Catholics and evangelicals alike largely support or ally themselves with a Papacy which has passed and continues to promote through international pressure and interference a disastrous no-contraception policy which is also helping to dig the grave of the planet through overpopulation and pollution. Those anti-abortion and anti-contraception views have led the U.S. administration to curtail foreign aid to nations and agencies perceived as not being as fundamentalist as themselves, with terrible effects on third-world "lives." And yet the media by and large will not raise a murmur against these sorts of views and actions.
     The majority religious segment cannot understand or accept any questioning of their convictions, any challenge of their right to impose them on all of society, and so we in the secular community are regarded as forces of evil, minions of Satan and destined for Hell, these being further insane companion pieces to the Rapture that have blighted the minds of too many of our fellow-citizens.
     How did we get ourselves into this mess, and more important, how do we get ourselves out of it?

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