Thursday, March 10, 2005

Bill Moyers on mainstreamed delusions

Here is another article from Bill Moyers about the challenge with which conscientious journalists are confronted when crackpot ideas become commonly accepted as mainstream: Welcome to Doomsday by Bill Moyers New York Review of Books 03/24/05 issue.

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. We are witnessing today a coupling of ideology and theology that threatens our ability to meet the growing ecological crisis. 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.  [my emphasis]

Moyers has been discussing this issue in particular with relation to how the Christian Right apocalyptic view of the end of the world is influencing American foreign policy:

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. (The British writer George Monbiot recently did a brilliant dissection of it and I am indebted to him for refreshing my own insights.) 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.

I'm not making this up. Like Monbiot, I read the literature, including The Rapture Exposed, a recent book by Barbara Rossing, who teaches the New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and America Right or Wrong, by Anatol Lieven, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. On my weekly broadcast for PBS, we reported on these true believers, 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. To this end they have declared solidarity with Israel and the Jewish settlements and backed up their support with money and volunteers.

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. ...

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." Rossing 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. [my emphasis]

Moyers in this piece goes on to describe a number of ways that this particular religious view serves and facilitates the agenda of other factions of the Republican Party who are more interested in making an easy buck than in pushing forward the Second Coming of Christ.


ibspiccoli4life said...


I love Moyers. It's hard to argue with what he's saying here but part of me thinks we give too much credit to these people. Old Ronald Reagan believed he was going to bring Jesus back by having it out with the Soviet Union. I think this element has always existed in our society (Salem?) and at times they seem to gain more power but even now I think that power is margenilized. And I think debates like these take focus off the truly pragmatic and imperialistic motives surrounding this war and our current foreign policy. It's like the oil. Sure the oil plays a part in this war, but it's not the only reason, and it may not even be the main reason. And so I'm sure this superstitious nonsense helps win supporters and to that end it is important.


purcellneil said...


This stuff is very real to a lot of people, and although they may represent a small part of our society, they are increasingly active in politics and vocal about their beliefs and policy positions -- and in recent elections they have shown that an energized, organized and passionate minority can be very effective.  It is a mistake to underestimate the influence these people have in the halls of power in this country.

Yes, they get used a lot -- but they also know what they want and are increasingly getting what they demand.

It is very scary.


judithheartsong said...

very interesting entry. judi