"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."


December 9, 2004

As 2004 draws to a close, thousands of scientific experts, politicians, and lobbyists from the nations of the earth are gathering in Buenos Aires to begin the difficult process of laying the groundwork for a strategy to combat global warming. The tenth such meeting in the framework laid out by the 1992 United Nations Convention on Climate opened on December 6. Thanks to Russia's ratification of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on November 18, the 55 signatory countries now encompass more than 55% of the total greenhouse gases that were emitted by wealthy nations in 1990 ― the threshold needed to give the text legal effect. As a result, on February 16, 2005, the Kyoto Protocol will legally bind the nations that signed it with the force of law.

True, the hostility of the U.S. Congress and the administration of President George W. Bush to the Kyoto agreement is a major impediment to international efforts to restrain global warming. Denial of the problem, skepticism about the state of scientific knowledge, and doctrinaire rejection of the presuppositions of the Kyoto document are the pretexts that U.S. authorities have used to justify their rejection of cooperation. But the fact that some progress toward agreement has been made is said to have buoyed the mood of those attending the meetings in Buenos Aires, which will culminate in a round of discussions at the ministerial level on December 15-17. The informal goal in Buenos Aires is to lay the groundwork for discussions that will lead to agreement on a common strategy to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere by half by the year 2050.

American opposition to cooperation is usually described as based on economic, political, or scientific differences. But another factor exists: religious ideology. Bill Moyers called attention to this problem last week while accepting the Global Environmental Citizen Award from the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. "One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal," Moyers said. "For the first time in [American] history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington."

The chief source of Moyers's remarks was an article by Glenn Scherer entitled "The Godly Must Be Crazy" and published by Grist, the online environmental magazine, on Oct. 27, and now posted on the UFPPC web site. Scherer argues that a delusional mix of ideology and theology has moved from the wacko fringe of American life to some place near the center of power. Tom DeLay in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma are perhaps the best known examples of this, but by Scherer's count, before the 2004 election nearly half of the United States Congress ― 231 out of 535 legislators, 45 out of 100 senators and 186 out of 435 representatives ― scored 80-100% approval ratings from the three most influential advocacy groups of the Christian right. The number will soon be higher, in the aftermath of the November 2 elections.

The belief that these events are imminent naturally leads to a profound contempt for environmental problems. Today politicians of the Christian right are more circumspect, but Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, stated the consequences of their worldview succinctly in 1981: "After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back."

In foreign policy, too, politicians who believe in the End Time disbelieve in the possibility of achieving peace in the world through international cooperation, and accept the need to prepare militarily for impending catastrophes. To the Christian right, the plight of the peoples of the Middle East and the war in Iraq are principally of interest as problems of Scriptural interpretation. Tom DeLay, for example, who keeps a marble replica of the Ten Commandments in his Capitol Hill office near a wall poster that reads "This Could Be the Day," referring to the Last Judgment, is one of an estimated 20 million American Christian Zionists who believe that the foundation of Israel in 1948 started what Hal Lindsey in his 1970 best-seller The Late Great Planet Earth called the "countdown to Armageddon," and who are committed to speeding up the clock.

For many years it has been considered unseemly in the United States to criticize individuals' religious beliefs, even when those individuals are important public figures. The prestige of the First Amendment has been such that many Americans have come to consider religious belief a completely private matter. But now that the Christian right is injecting its delusional world view and literalist interpretation of Scripture into the realm of public policy, and especially now that these dangerous doctrines are being listened to in the White House, they can no longer be allowed to pass unchallenged.

The political values of the believers in the End Time are not fully consonant with the principles of modern democracy, to say the least. That these groups and these legislators have the ear of the White House is well-known, and they are a key factor in the U.S. government's hostility to international institutions, resistance to multilateral cooperation, and indifference to the environmental problems that press upon the planet as industrial civilization runs up against the limits of the Earth's atmosphere and oceans.

Modernity, and post-modernity, are pluralistic historical conditions. Religious freedom is an inherent human right and a cornerstone of American liberties. But when a United States senator says in a Senate floor speech, as James Inhofe has, that the United States should ally itself unconditionally with Israel "because God said so," when he quotes the Bible as the revealed Word of God to justify permanent Israeli occupation of the West Bank and aggression against the Palestinians, citing Genesis 13:14-17 ― "for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever" ― then it is time for Americans to cry halt. It is time to revert to the preamble of the United States Constitution, and to recall that the aims of our government are not to bring about the End Time, the Rapture, the Great Tribulation, the battle of Armageddon, and the millennium, but "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." The United States can best do this by working in cooperation with other nations in multilateral initiatives through international institutions to achieve peace through cooperative diplomacy, to address the outrageous inequities of extreme global poverty, to promote an equitable sharing of resources, and to address the urgent problem of global climate change by bringing to bear what human beings have learned through empirical science.

Bill Moyers is right: not to do this is to betray our children, our grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren. We must not allow the zealous convictions of the Christian right to compromise the future of human life ― indeed, all life ― on this planet. The Christian right may be correct in believing that we are living in what some theologians call a "hinge time," upon which our future salvation depends. But human salvation is more likely to come through our own efforts and knowledge, together with the hope and will that spring from a vision of our common humanity, than from some cosmic recipe book divulged to the Prophets that it is our all-important task to decipher. Such, at any rate, is our belief, and together with people all around the world who believe likewise, we intend to defend it.

As Bill Moyers concluded last week while accepting his award, "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. And the will to fight is the antidote to despair, the cure for cynicism, and the answer to those faces [of Moyers's five grandchildren] looking back at me from those photographs on my desk. What we need to match the science of human health is what the ancient Israelites called 'hochma' ― the science of the heart . . . the capacity to see . . . to feel . . . and then to act . . . as if the future depended on you. Believe me, it does."


"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."