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Evangelical environmentalism again

Here’s the latest, via The Revealer. We’ve discussed this before here, here, and here. Lest you think that the National Association of Evangelicals is about to get into bed with the Sierra Club, here’s Ted Haggard, President of the NAE: "We want to be pro-business environmentalists."

And lest we forget the zany Bill Moyers angle in all this, about which more
here, as well as in the posts linked above, this NYT article pretty much undercuts--if they really needed it--the silliest and most sinister elements of Moyers’s "new and improved" NYRB argument. Now, if only the folks at
The Revealer would put two and two together, or rather take two and two apart:

more important is Moyers’ implied argument about why there’s no need for such a neat connection between the anti-environmentalism of the fundamentalists and that of run-of-the-mill big business. Whether or not the White House is talking Revelation, many of those who helped elect Bush are. But in either case, this conflation of ideology with theology leads down the very same path. Talk of Bush following "God’s master plan," writes Moyers, "will mean one thing to Dick Cheney and another to Tim LaHaye, but it will confirm their fraternity in a regime whose chief characteristics are ideological disdain for evidence and theological distrust of science. Many of the constituencies who make up this alliance don’t see eye to eye on many things, but for President Bush’s master plan for rolling back environmental protections they are united. 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. Once again, populist religion winds up serving the interests of economic elites."

According to The Revealer’s people in New York, the good people of Kansas are still victims of false consciousness.

Discussions - 7 Comments

Joseph,
It’s my understanding of the NYRB article that Moyers was writing not about evangelicaldom as a whole, but about a segment within (and outside) of it which is anticipating the Rapture, and the relation of that belief to their attitudes towards environmentalism. I don’t agree with all of his terminology in discussing these believers, nor necessarily with his conclusions about their influence, but he is talking about a specific group, and it’s not the NAE. Tim LaHaye and Ted Haggard aren’t saying the same things, and probably don’t have the same motives or beliefs. So discussing two different articles talking about two different sets of Christian conservatives reacting to environmentalism seems pretty valid to me. I don’t think we’re the ones lumping two and two together here.

Ms. Joyce,

You make finer distinctions than Moyers does in any of the several versions of the article I’ve read. His basic argument seems to be that conservative evangelicals support Republicans (shocking!!), and that some conservative evangelicals seem to believe in the Rapture. He never makes a clear connection between attraction to Rapture theology and practical environmental indifference, especially in the way that one’s position regarding the Rapture actually yields support for pro-corporate environmental indifference (a characterization of the Bush Administration’s position which I, btw, happen to reject). He does imply, as I recall, that the same groups that provide political ratings of members of Congress also take this theologically peculiar anti-environmental stance.

I would venture to guess that Republicans in Congress would pay much more attention to statements by the National Association of Evangelicals than to positions taken by avid readers of Tim LaHaye’s fiction.

Actually, Moyers uses the term "fundamentalist," which you should know from pasting in the excerpt we published above. There’s many a difference between fundamentalists and evangelicals, and for what overlaps there may be, they are two separate groups. Lots of conservative Christian groups of all stripes are involved in politics and campaigning. But they’re not all the same. As for whether or not Moyers "made clear" the connection...well, that was kindof the point of our comment: that the connection need not be A-to-B, cause and effect, but can instead be the connection between two different groups with different belief systems and motives (see above, the "ideology" and "theology" of Moyers’ article) who are nonetheless helping make the same end. You don’t have to agree with it, but that’s the argument.
In any case, as we probably won’t agree about Moyers, I was responding to the rubber bands you shot at us for treating two different stories about conservative attitudes towards enviromentalism as two different stories. So, yeah, that was dumb.

Ms. Joyce,

You may distinguish carefully between evangelicals and fundamentalists and, for all I know, even Moyers is aware of the distinction, but I’m not convinced that he makes it carefully in the NYRB article. Here is what is for me the operative paragraph, which has appeared in much the same form in every version of Moyers’s article:

The corporate, political, and religious right’s hammerlock on environmental policy extends to the US Congress. Nearly half of its members before the election—231 legislators in all (more since the election)—are backed by the religious right, which includes several powerful fundamentalist leaders like LaHaye. Forty-five senators and 186 members of the 108th Congress earned 80 to 100 percent approval ratings from the most influential Christian Right advocacy groups. Not one includes the environment as one of their celebrated "moral values."

I confess, I don’t know which "influential Christian Right advocacy groups" he has in mind, but I’d be surprised if all of them were self-consciously "fundamentalist," as opposed to evangelical. In fact, I suspect that the National Association of Evangelicals is one of them and the others may well include Focus on the Family and the American Family Association. A cursory search of the latter’s website yields lots of references to our "moral environment" and this critique of globalist environmentalism. I also found at least one positive reference to a film based on LaHaye’s books, but no connection to any sort of public policy conclusions. (Is there a secret part of the site to which I don’t have access?)

Here’s something from the Focus on the Family site:

It’s not that we should be irresponsible with environmental concerns. Of course not. But too many discussions in classrooms and elsewhere and too many published articles treat human interests as somehow shameful - as if all were born of greed and characterized by waste. Actually, the question of what should be done often boils down to one of responsibility. We acknowledge God’s creative hand in nature by being responsible stewards.

We are not, however, just like the rest of creation. Many have elevated nature to the same level as humanity, saying such things as: "The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth." Some theologians are calling nature itself "sacred," but that blurs the distinction between Creator and creature. The logical conclusion of such thinking brings dramatic practical consequences when conflict arises over the value of an animal or a tree versus the value of human lives. Key to our thinking on this issue is the unique way man was created versus all other natural things.

This is not anti-environmental; it emphasizes responsible stewardship, but it doesn’t commit what they’d regard as the theological sin of deifying the environment. So I ask again: where is there any evidence that any conservative Christian group actively involved in politics takes a position on the environment that follows in the way Moyers says from some stance regarding the "end times." Moyers certainly doesn’t provide the evidence, preferring to paint with a very broad brush. You like Moyers’s false consciousness argument--an accidental confluence of Christian environmental indifference and the nasty corporate agenda of the secular Republicans. I think there are many possible visions of stewardship, one of which is expressed in the passage quoted above. That vision indeed owes more to secular conservative thinking than it does to the Bible, but that doesn’t make it un-Biblical. God, one could say, gave human beings reason and judgment, which will of course be exercised fallibly and to some degree sinfully. They nevertheless remain our best guides in fulfilling the responsibilities we’re called to fulfill. How to be environmental stewards is, in other words, a judgment call. The Sierra Club doesn’t have a monopoly on wisdom. Nor, I would be the first to concede, does the Bush Administration. But I will not attribute to either the Bush Administration or their conservative Christian supporters the "demonic" motives or the false consciousness that Moyers (and, apparently, you) attribute to them. So I shot my "rubber bands" to complicate and contest a picture that Moyers had grossly misrepresented and that you, apparently, endorsed.

I agree with you that Moyers didn’t distinguish the groups enough. That’s why, in my first comment here, I wrote that I didn’t agree with all of his terminology. But I’ve never labeled Bush, Focus on the Family, or other Christian conservative groups "demonic." I’ve called each by other (sometimes many other) names, and I’d be glad to argue those points with you another time. But try not to attribute to me words that aren’t mine (or Moyers’, from what I’ve read, though I refuse to be his stand-in in this debate). It seems you’ve taken yourself pretty far astray from your original criticism of The Revealer here -- that we weren’t properly distinguishing between "two and two" -- by instead turning me into a Moyers apologist. And in all of this back-and-forth, you’ve failed to respond to my defense.

Ms. Joyce,

Let me quote the portion of your post that set me off:

The Rapture-ready anti-environmentalists section is expanded and more measured, but more important is Moyers’ implied argument about why there’s no need for such a neat connection between the anti-environmentalism of the fundamentalists and that of run-of-the-mill big business. Whether or not the White House is talking Revelation, many of those who helped elect Bush are. But in either case, this conflation of ideology with theology leads down the very same path. Talk of Bush following "God’s master plan," writes Moyers, "will mean one thing to Dick Cheney and another to Tim LaHaye, but it will confirm their fraternity in a regime whose chief characteristics are ideological disdain for evidence and theological distrust of science. Many of the constituencies who make up this alliance don’t see eye to eye on many things, but for President Bush’s master plan for rolling back environmental protections they are united. 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. Once again, populist religion winds up serving the interests of economic elites."

Yes, my principal beef is with Moyers, but in that passage you seemed to endorse Moyers’s view. And Moyers’s argument moves from describing one of a range of conclusions that could be drawn from one possible "end times" scenario (a scenario which I doubt is even fully endorsed by all the readers of LaHaye’s books; I’ll confess to being a fan of Mel Gibson’s "Mad Max" movies without endorsing the vision of the future they present) to the assertion that an indefinably large portion of Bush supporters (represented by the groups who positively evaluate the Republicans in Congress) wish to use up the environment before they’re raptured away. This is sloppy argumentation, and in the quite favorable Revealer post, you seemed to endorse it. I took the post on the NAE’s flirtation with environmentalism (your’s too, or someone else’s?) as complicating Moyers’s vastly oversimplified picture and shot my "rubber bands" to provoke whoever had gone so easy on Moyers. I seem to have succeeded in provoking you.

Here’s my final point: what I like about The Revealer is its take no prisoners toughness, even when it’s directed at people and positions I support. You ask hard questions and
don’t accept easy answers. But Moyers deserved a tougher treatment than he received, not just for his slander of James Watts (and also, btw, of Zell Miller, which didn’t make it into the NYRB either), but for the very sloppy and/or misleading argumentation that is at the center of the article. My point is not that the Bush Administration’s environmental policy is not open to criticism (that’s a different issue), but that this is an uncommonly bad angle from which to criticize it. If you had been as hard on Moyers as you and other posters are on, say, the Bush Administration’s faith-based initiative, we wouldn’t be having this colloquy.

I guarantee you that the readers of the "Left Behind" books have many different beliefs of the end times and do not endorse the complete vision laid out in the books.


Most of them do have the same belief on how to get through them though.

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