Carol Platt Liebau

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

A dear friend sent Bill Moyers' outrageous op/ed in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune for my reaction. The piece is one long secularist shriekd of fear against the rise of fundamentalist Christians to alleged national and cultural centrality.

The piece is an outrageous one, dripping with contempt and the kind of petty name-calling (fundamentalist Christians are "delusional") that should be beneath someone of Moyers' stature. That being said, there are some points about the piece that are worth making -- so here goes. Moyers' quotes are in ital, with response below.

(1) 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.

Mr. Moyers should have checked his sources more carefully. Grist has now corrected its assertion about Secretary Watt (see this, right at the end, and Secretary Watt himself has talked to Powerline (see here) to set the record straight. Moyers is simply wrong -- Watt wasn't "serious" about a remark that he never made.

(Note: As of 8:22 a.m. on 2/9: according to Powerline, Bill Moyers has contacted Secretary Watt to apologize for the misstatement -- and has offered to try to find a way to make his retraction as public as the original allegation.)

(2) 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 . . .: 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.

. . .

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.

I myself have not read any of the "Left Behind" series -- but I know several of "these people" (as Moyers condescendingly calls them) who have. They realize it is FICTION; they don't take it any more seriously than adult readers of Harry Potter take the idea that there are witches running around in England being educated at a secret school called Hogwarts.

(3) They [fundamentalists] are sincere, serious and polite as they tell you they feel called to help bring the rapture on as fulfillment of biblical prophecy. . .. 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.

. . .

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.

I have known many very conservative Republicans, and fundamentalists, and known them well. I have never heard any of this sort of "lust for the rapture" that seems to have Mr. Moyers so enthralled. In fact, many of those who contributed most generously to the tsunami have done so through fairly fundamentalist Christian groups like World Vision. If fundamentalists were hanging around slavering for rapture, what would be the point in helping anyone suffering anywhere? It would , instead, be logical to conclude that perhaps the flood would lead to the famine which would lead to the other disasters enumerated in Revelations and would be happy to have it occur.

As for the Iraq War being a "warm-up act,"frankly, the quickest way for all of us to have gotten Armageddon would have been for Saddam Hussein to have given the WMD that everyone believed he had to Al Qaeda to use against the United States. The fact that anyone was advocating the use of force against Saddam Hussein was the expression of a preference that Armageddon come later, not sooner.

(4) 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.

This statistic is misleading. The groups -- one of which, I would assume, is the Christian Coalition -- do not "grade" people on adherence to specific beliefs. They take several of the most important issues and go from there. Probably in the last Congress, three of them had to do with gay marriage, partial birth abortion and leaving "God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. The fact that almost the entire Republican leadership would agree on such matters doesn't mean that they are one-eyed, six toed fire breathing mutants that people Moyers' fevered imagination . . . it means that there are not that many votes in the Congress to be graded that would actually separate, say, Jerry Falwell from Bill Frist.

(5)A 2002 Time-CNN poll found that 59% of Americans believe that the prophecies found in the book of Revelations are going to come true.

As any non-propagandizing journalist or thinker would realize, that number cannot be true. It implies that an overwhelming majority of Americans are familiar with all the prophecies in the Book of Revelation -- the figure would have to exceed something like 70%, if even a lowly 11% disagreed with a literal interpretation of the Bible's most apocalyptic book.

It's more likely that the poll asked, "Do you believe the book of Revelations is true?" and numerous people who don't even know the book's contents said "yes" -- being understandably reluctant to allow the Bible to be characterized as a lie.

(5) [T]hese 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."

What in this quoted statement is so bizarrely frightening to Bill Moyers? (Granted, the book shouldn't have the editorial characterization of the secular mindset, but that's small potatoes compared to the left wing editorializing in textbooks like, for example, Howard Zinn's). The statement is actually true -- socialists do tend to see societal organization as a zero-sum game; if the "rich" have more, the "poor" have less; we are destroying the environment; there is going to be a population explosion and we must conserve. Those on the other side note the earth's power to regenerate itself, and have fairly effectively rebutted all the claims of peril resulting from a population explosion -- from Thomas Malthus on. And, in fact, our society is now threatened primarily by underpopulation.

Bill Moyers intended this article to serve as a warning against the danger of compounding ideology with theology -- and I believe he succeeded better than he intended, for he has provided an abject example of the ignorance that can result from that combustible combination. After all, all "theology" need not be secular; some environmentalists, feminists, and yes, secularists hold to their creeds with a stubbornness and intolerance that would do the most unkind and militant fundamentalist proud. Bill Moyers is a prime example.


Blogger Bachbone said...

Moyers has been a self-righteous blatherer for years, if not for decades. But until one realizes all his financial connections and wealth accumulation at public (PBS) expense, his true self-unworth isn't apparent. Nice to see chickens coming home to roost at last.

8:54 AM  

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