Welcome to Doomsday
New York: New York Review Books
The “culture wars” that pit secular humanists against the religious faithful have been simmering in the United States for decades. Don’t expect these tiny publications from New York Review Books to offer any sort of philosophical reconciliation. But they do offer desperate pleas to revisit our reasons for separating church and state, with each essay arguing convincingly that the current Bush administration has been mixing its politics with faith to an unprecedented degree.
In Bush’s Fringe Government, Garry Wills identifies the origin of the administration’s overwhelming religious support: the recent pragmatic alliance between evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics in the United States. Although differing on many theological issues, both groups are at least politically aligned. Wherever religious faith differs from the secular consensus – on abortion, stem-cell research or birth control, say – these institutions are sure to agree. This is no mystery, although Wills argues persuasively that it’s the most conservative factions of each – the “fringes” – that have been increasingly influential in political power structures. Indeed, herein lay Karl Rove’s successful master plan for planting George W. Bush in the seat of presidential power for two terms.
Supporting his claims by running through a litany of governmental abuses, Wills says the administration “secretly meets with religious and business supporters” and favours “lobbyists who hold extreme views on education, the environment, the family, gun control, regulation of any kind.” Wills makes only passing mention of the environment in this broader context of political ideology run amok, though he sets the stage perfectly for Bill Moyers’ Welcome to Doomsday.
Moyers is less concerned with describing how this fringe coalition came about than he is in probing the resulting environmental ramifications. Now retired from decades of politically informed television journalism, Moyers was originally ordained to be a Baptist preacher. He writes of a dangerous “coupling of ideology and theology that threatens our ability to meet the growing ecological crisis.” His focus is primarily on the Rapture, a “bizarre” belief espoused by many fundamentalist evangelicals.
This obscure theology dreamed up by two 19th century preachers is very loosely based on the Book of Revelation and is now inspiration for the hugely successful Left Behind novel series, which has sold over 60-million copies. True believers are certain that Israel will one day occupy all its “biblical lands” and that “legions of the Antichrist will attack it.” According to the Rapture, this would begin a catastrophic battle to herald the end of the Earth. Truly devout Christians would be transported safely to heaven while the rest of humanity would suffer through years of tribulation and worldly chaos.
Moyers is careful to stress that this belief is as extreme for most Christians as it is for secular humanists. However, the essay in no way minimizes his shock that many holding prominent positions within the US government – some genuine believers in the Rapture – seem to be gradually blurring their political roles with their religious conviction. Moyers’ concern is expressed in the following question: If one truly believes that worldly catastrophe will signal a free ticket to heaven, why strive to stave off ecological collapse? As Moyers points out, anyone viewing the Rapture literature online or in print will plainly see that catastrophic events such as climate change are actually welcomed as prophecy fulfillment.
Moyers recognizes that oil lobbyists and climate change naysayers are also complicit “in a regime whose chief characteristics are ideological disdain for evidence and theological distrust of science.” A broad alliance comprising these energy interests and the conservative faction of the religious right may be all over the map in terms of priorities, but they often stand united on the environmental file. The reason is disturbing. Both groups might choose to ignore the ominous signs of global environmental catastrophe – one eager for profits and the other eager for heavenly escape.
Both Moyers and Wills are religious insiders with long political memories. They are known for neither hyperbole nor alarmist thinking. Consequently, their immediate concerns here seem to trump any worries of exaggerating the case. The ultimate power of these essays resides in their implied sense of urgency, coming as it does, from such sober and experienced minds.
Fraser Los is a program manager of Earth Day Canada’s national environmental scholarship program.