Bill Moyers and the Despoiling Christians

| January 31, 2005 | 5 Replies

Cliff May at NRO is asking for some help.

Here’s is Bill Moyers on why “There is no tomorrow,” a howl of anger and despair from the embattled left about the crazy, religious zealots who, Bill & Co. are convinced, are leading America to ruin.

This is going around the web today (by definition, tomorrow will be too late!).

My question: What does one say to such people? And don’t tell me to just say “nuts” or tell them to stuff it. I know I could do that. But I really would like to engage these folks. Years ago, I worked for Moyers. I don’t agree with him, obviously, but he isn’t stupid and he isn’t a bad person. And this was sent to me by one of my oldest and dearest friends who wrote that it is a “must read.” How do I talk him out of believing this nonsense?

I’m not actually goig to get into a bunch of name-calling in this post, but I am going to do my best to answer this “essay”.

Here’s the short answer, though: Mr. Moyers knows little to nothing about “fundamentalist Christianity”.

Here’s the short definition of a fundamentalist Christian, filtered through my own experiences: a member of a Christian religion who believes that the Bible is the one and only “instruction book” for his faith. If a church teaches something that’s not in the Bible, or that is contradicted by the Bible, it’s out.

With that, we can dispense with Moyers’ first gripe – that the Religious Right (which is different from fundamentalist Christians in that one may belong to one and certainly not to the other) believes in the Rapture because of the Left Behind books.

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 citizens went to the polls believing in the rapture index.

That’s right — the rapture index. Google it and you will find that 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 (the British writer George Monbiot recently did a brilliant dissection of it and I am indebted to him for adding to my own understanding): 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. Like Monbiot, I’ve read the literature.

By “the literature”, I hope that he means the Bible, but, to be honest, I’m not sure. If he means anything else though, he’s dead flat wrong.

It’s pretty simple. Christians believe in the Rapture, the Tribulation, the Second Coming of Christ, and all the rest because it is in the Bible, not because Timothy LaHaye decided to dramatize it in a serious of fictional books (and they do indeed say that the books are works of fiction, not wholly clinging to the Bible).

To read this section, you would probably believe that Mr. Moyers has a pretty good handle on the prophecies he’s talking about. He doesn’t. He has them out of order.

First comes the Rapture, then comes the Tribulation. The AntiChrist rises at the end of the Tribulation, essentially taking credit for its ending and gaining the following of the world. The nations of the world gather to wage war on Israel (that stands opposed to the AntiChrist) and the final battle ocurrs at Armageddon. Christ returns in triumph with his holy armies and defeats the enemies of Israel. Then comes the Final Judgement.

It wold help Mr. Moyers as a critic of my religious beliefs if he actually could get get them right before he criticizes them.

But let’s go on.

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 backed 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.

Since Moyers is deficient in his ordering of the events of the End Times, his rationale here pretty much falls apart. Christians do not support Israel because its invasion triggers the rapture. The Rapture happens before Armageddon.

Here’s why Christians generally support Israel. First, the Bible teaches that the Jews are God’s chosen people and that those who find friendship with her find themselves an ally wth God also. Second up until yesterday, Israel ws the only free democratic society in a region teeming with hostile theocracies. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see how a Christian faith with a history in this country of being on the front lines battling for civil and human rights might side with Israel throughout her history.

But let’s get to Moyers’ central thesis – or at least what I think his central thesis actually is.

So what does this mean for public policy and the environment? 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.

Well, you could probably do that. Or maybe you could turn to the Bible again – which is where the fundamentalists turn – to find out what the Biblical view on the environment is. We’ll do that in a minute.

First, I want to deal with the article and Moyers’ frequent quoting out of it. Since this appears to be a speech transcript, perhaps I could forgive the web site for missing the quotation marks. But I’m not willing to do that because this is a print column in a major metropolitan newspaper. Either Moyers or his editor should have made sure to distinguish Moyers’ own words from Scherer’s Grist article. I’m not Moyer’s editor, so I’m not going to do it for everyone. That sloppy editing makes the article even more confusing to read, and it’s the second strike against Moyers.

The third strike (and believe me, there are more) comes from Moyer’s misquoting Scherer’s article in an effort not only to bolster his case, but to make Zell Miller look bad. Remember, the actual point of this article is to say that Christians don’t care about the environment because God’s comng back to get them and he can’t do that until Armageddon, which screwing up the environment will bring on. Here’s Moyer’s quote:

The only Democrat to score 100 percent with the Christian coalition was Sen. 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 in the land.”

See that period at the end of Miller’s quote? That would lead you to believe that this was all that Miller said – the end of the quote. Wrong. Moyers shortened the quote so he could exercise his psychic powers to note that, “He seemed to be relishing the thought”. Since Moyers was half-quoting someone else and apparently didn’t see nor hear Miller make the statement, how could he know? He doesn’t tell us.

But here’s what Miller really said, as quoted by Scherer:

(The only Democrat to score 100 percent with the Christian Coalition was Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, who earlier this year quoted from the Book of Amos on the Senate floor: “The days will come, sayeth the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land. Not a famine of bread or of thirst for water, but of hearing the word of the Lord!”)

Makes a difference, doesn’t it? Instead of apparently rooting for a literal famine on earth, Miller was talking about a dearth of Biblical preaching. But that really won’t support Moyers’ thesis of a Christian juggernaut tearing up the planet to bring about the End of the World, will it?

So, having lied to try to reinforce his point, Moyers goes on.

And why not? There’s a constituency for it.

Who is the constituency? Moyers quotes Scherer (up to the sentence that ends “the 9/11 attacks”). He notes how many gospel radio stations and TV stations there are in the US, almost quoting Scherer directly, but gets the number of radio stations wrong (Scherer puts the number at 2000 though Moyers says it’s 1600).

The people who Moyers (via Scherer) are talking about are called “Reconstructionists”. Scherer describes them as “a smaller but politically influential sect, put the onus for the Lord’s return not in the hands of biblical prophesy but in political activism. They believe that Christ will only make his Second Coming when the world has prepared a place for Him, and that the first step in readying His arrival is to Christianize America”. Now there’s no evidence that they are politically influential. In fact, in the fundamental Baptist church in which I grew up, beliefs like this were decidedly un-Biblical and on the fringe. We knew folks like this. We considered them loonies who had long ago forsaken the primary Christian task of spreading the Word of God for the more base pursuits of political activism. But, in any case, Scherer himself notes that they are a “smaller…sect” of fundamentalist Christians (which aren’t a particularly large group in the overall umbrella of Christianity anyhow). But these are the folks of whom Moyers is scared.

He needn’t be. As I noted earlier, the belief Scherer and Moyers attributes to fundamentalist Christians is explicitly un-Biblical and, since it is, isn’t part of their belief structure.

So what does the Bible teach about the environment? It’s pretty simple. God gave the Earth and everything in it to Adam and Eve and their descendants (that’s us) to take care of. He didn’t give us ownership over it, but stewardship over it. In fact, you can find pretty clearly (Exodus 19:5, for instance: “…the earth is mine”) that God retains ownership over everything in the Universe. But it is also clear (from, say Luke 19:12-17 – the Parable of the Nobleman and His Servants) that he expects us to make wise and productive use of what he has left in our care.

No one who believes the bedrock Biblical teaching of stewardship could ever act as do the Reconstructionists that Scherer talks about.

But it’s not even clear that Scherer or Moyers has that belief correct either. I’m not surprised since Moyers has managed to screw up three big things in one column. Why not four?

Because these 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.”

That’s a pretty damaging quote, on its face. It’s especially damning if you’re willing to attribute the most sinister interpretation to it you possibly can. Moyers and Scherer certainly are (withour supporting proof, by the way). Consider, though, that there’s another interpretation altogether. Let’s look at what’s being discussed: secularism versus Chrstianity. The secularist believes that we’re too crowded while the Christian sees vast areas where we’ve only beging to explore, much less live, and sees gret potential in God’s creation. Less sinister, huh? Less scary?

Let me toss it at you another way. How responsible would you consider a steward if he underestimated the assets entrusted to him which kept him from making efficient and wise use of those assets? Not very, I’d imagine. You’d probably be ticked off if you left a 100 acre lot for someone to use wisely, came back, and found that he had restricted himself to ten acres of that, left the other 90 acres fallow, then complained that he was too crowded.

Well, that’s where the Biblical teaching lies. God gave us to earth for our wise use and it only make sense to most Christians that we find the best and most efficient use of those resources. Sinster? Well, to Moyers and Scherer, yes.

Their prime example is the alleged weakening of environmental laws proposed by legislators who are also devout Christians (of various religions, might I add). Nowhere in their calculations is there room to allow that just perhaps an important reason they want those laws changed is because they have a better way of conserving the natural resources while giving humanity better and more efficient use of those same resources. No, that’s not plausible because they’ve already decided that these people are living under a delusion tht they have to destroy the Earth in order to gain their Eternal Reward in Heaven.

Well, if you’ve already judged their motives, it’s child’s play to explain everything they do in light of those motives. That’s what Moyers (and to a lesser extent, Scherer) has done here. He’s used some bad theology, a misrepresentation of what fundamentalist Christianity actually is, and a purposefully-truncated quote to build a flimsy case that the evil Christians want to detroy the Earth.

Moyers goes out with some drama (umm…more drama, at least):

The news is not good these days. I can tell you, though, that as a journalist I know the news is never the end of the story. The news can be the truth that sets us free — not only to feel but to fight for the future we want.

It certainly can be the truth, but only if you tell the truth.

Bill Moyers is not telling the truth.

Category: The Good Old US of A

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