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
Is No Tomorrow"
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 citiziens went to the polls believing
in the rapture index.
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
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?"
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
....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
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
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
How did we get ourselves into this mess, and
more important, how do we get ourselves out of it?
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