End-Time for Locusts, Frogs, and Republicans
The delusional is no longer marginal... A powerful current connects the administration's multinational corporate cronies who regard the environment as ripe for the picking and a hard-core constituency of fundamentalists who regard the environment as fuel for the fire that is coming.-- Bill MoyersWhile traveling through Nevada a few years ago, I happened across a convoy of 15 or so rusty, decrepit cars and pickups chugging along, filled with adults and children, household goods, clothes, and personal effects. Something or someone had been jammed into every available space, so that as I came up behind the last car in this long and ragged line it was impossible to see daylight through the windows. Every one of the vehicles had been sprayed with messages announcing the imminent return of Christ and the approaching end of the world. One sign confidently gave the convoy's destination as 'Heaven.'
I thought of that odd group of wayward fatalists today as I read Bill Moyer's featured article in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, titled Welcome to Doomsday. No Waco ending for them. I rather imagine that when the End Times didn't arrive as predicted, they simply re-grouped, readjusted their Armeggedon calendar, registered as Republicans, and now they are holding down cushy jobs in the Bush administration's Environmental Protection Agency.
Moyers begins and ends his article with an intensely personal reflection. He starts --
"There are times when what we journalists see and intend to write about dispassionately sends a shiver down the spine, shaking us from our neutrality. This has been happening to me frequently of late as one story after another drives home the fact that the delusional is no longer marginal but has come in from the fringe to influence the seats of power.As Moyers points out --
"Theology asserts propositions that need not be proven true, while ideologues hold stoutly to a world view despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. The combination can make it impossible for a democracy to fashion real-world solutions to otherwise intractable challenges."No domestic issue, he goes on to argue, is 'otherwise' made more intractable by religious excesses than preserving a healthy environment. He points out that these days "millions of Christians" subscribe to the fantastical theology "concocted in the nineteenth century by two immigrant preachers" that forms the basis for "the twelve novels in the Left Behind series by Christian fundamentalist and religious-right warrior Tim LaHaye, a co-founder with Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority."
"The plot of the Rapture — the word never appears in the Bible although some fantasists insist it is the hidden code to the Book of Revelation — 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 transported to heaven where, seated at the right hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents writhe in the misery of plagues —boils, sores, locusts, and frogs — during the several years of tribulation that follow.It's easy to dismiss such nonsense and make fun of the fundamentalists who put their faith in such fairy tales. (As my quirky wife does when she asks, "Hey, when the fundamentalists suddenly are whisked out of their clothes and float up to heaven, do we get to keep their jewelry and shoes?")
* * *
For them the invasion of Iraq was a warm-up act, predicted in the Book of Revelation, where four angels "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. [When] the whole thing blows, the Son of God returns, and the righteous enter paradise while sinners will be condemned to eternal hellfire.
What does this mean for public policy and the environment? Listen to John Hagee, pastor of the 17,000- member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, who is quoted in Rossing's book as saying: "Mark it down, take it to heart, and comfort one another with these words. Doomsday is coming for the earth, for the nations, and for individuals, but those who have trusted in Jesus will not be present on earth to witness the dire time of tribulation."
[Barbara] Rossing [author of The Rapture Exposed sums up the message in five words that she says are basic Rapture credo: "The world cannot be saved." It leads to "appalling ethics," she reasons, because the faithful are relieved of concern for the environment, violence, and everything else except their personal salvation. The earth suffers the same fate as the unsaved. All are destroyed.
But Moyers is right when he points out that the fatalist vision of this new American Revivalism has urgent policy implications for our time. The ugly truth is that people "in the grip of such fantasies", as Moyers puts it, have no concern for the state of the environment.
"As Glenn Scherer writes in his report for the on-line environmental magazine Grist, 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? Why bother to convert to alternative sources of energy and reduce dependence on oil from the volatile Middle East? Anyway, until Christ does return, the Lord will provide.Moyers correctly points out that right-wing fundamentalists "constitute a significant force in the coalition that now holds a monopoly of power in Washington" in Congress, the White House, and the federal bureaucracy. (He might have added they have a rather strong presence on the Supreme Court as well.) What scares him about this is that he no longer is sure "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, he wonders, are the fanatics running the country intent on hastening the Rapture? The Bush 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 that requires the government to judge beforehand if actions might damage natural resources;
- 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 equipment;
- wants a new international audit law to allow corporations to keep certain information about environmental problems secret from the public;
- wants to drop all its New-Source Review suits against polluting coal-fired power plans and weaken consent decrees reached earlier with coal companies;
- wants to open the Arctic 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;
- is radically changing the management of our national forests to eliminate critical environmental reviews, open them to new roads, and give the timber companies a green light to slash and cut as they please.
And there's more:
The article ends as it began, with a glimpse into Bill Moyers' personal life.
- "I read the news and learned how the Environmental Protection Agency plotted to spend $9 million—$2 million of it from the President's friends at the American Chemistry Council—to pay poor families to continue the use of 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 concocted a scheme 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 that President Bush has more than one hundred high-level officials in his administration overseeing industries they once represented as lobbyists, lawyers, or corporate advocates—company insiders waved through the revolving door of government to assure that drug laws, food policies, land use, and the regulation of air pollution are industry-friendly. Among the "advocates-turned-regulators" are a former meat industry lobbyist who helps decide how meat is labeled; a former drug company lobbyist who influences prescription drug policies; a former energy lobbyist who, while accepting payments for bringing clients into his old lobbying firm, helps to determine how much of our public lands those former clients can use for oil and gas drilling.
- I read that civil penalties imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency against polluters in 2004 hit an fifteen-year low, in what amounts to an extended holiday for industry from effective compliance with environmental laws.
- I read that the administration's allies at the International Policy Network, which is supported by Exxon-Mobil and others of like mind and interest, have issued a report describing global warming as "a myth" at practically the same time the President, who earlier rejected the international treaty outlining limits on greenhouse gases, wants to prevent any "written or oral report" from being issued by any international meetings on the issue.
- I read not only the news but the fine print of a recent appropriations bill passed by Congress, with obscure amendments removing all endangered species protections from pesticides, prohibiting judicial review for a forest in Oregon, waiving environmental review for grazing permits on public lands, and weakening protection against development 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 the shiver runs down my spine and I am seized by the realization: 'That's not right. We do know what we are doing. We are stealing their future. Betraying their trust. Despoiling their world.'There's more to Moyers' article than what I have liberally excerpted here. It's worth a full read; even a recitation for the children gathered at your knee -- preferably with the lights turned out, an eery wind howling outside the door, and a flickering candle lighting the scary visage of the devil himself.