Bill Moyers: Losing It
February 1, 2005
That liberals are unhinged is demonstrated every day in print and in the actions of certain public officials. Bill Moyers provided further proof a few days ago in an hysterical article titled, “There is No Tomorrow.” The article was adapted from Moyers’ remarks upon receiving the Global Environmental Citizen Award from the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. Boy did he play to their fears — to borrow a phrase from fellow environmental hysteric Algore. The basic premise of Moyers’ rant is that Luddite, apocalyptic, anti-environmental Christians are running the country today who believe we can abuse our environment because they are going to be “raptured out” of here soon anyway and it doesn’t matter what happens to the earth. Moyers’ says:
One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in Congress. For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington.
Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a worldview despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. When ideology and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad but they are always blind. And there is the danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts.
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.”
I don’t know about you, but I know a lot of Christians who believe in the Rapture, but not one of them who believes that it cancels out the Christian’s duty to be a responsible steward of the earth’s resources — which is also Biblical, Reverend Moyers.
Beltway elites snickered. The press corps didn’t know what he was talking about. But James Watt was serious. So were his compatriots out across the country. 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. 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.
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.
As Grist makes clear, we’re not talking about a handful of fringe lawmakers who hold or are beholden to these beliefs. Nearly half the U.S. Congress before the recent election — 231 legislators in total and more since the election — are backed by the religious right.
I’m not going to get into an elaborate theological discussion here or even say much about Moyers’ obvious seething contempt for Bible-believers, but I do want to address one thing I found particularly interesting in the diatribe. I call your attention to this sentence quoted above: “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.”
This struck me as rather odd, since I know the Bible itself talks about the Rapture — though the actual words are “caught up.” See (JN 14:1-3; 1 CO 15:51-57; 1 TH 4:13-18). There is no way this is some far-fetched theory concocted by some imaginative people in the 19th Century. Just for fun I did some checking. I checked some of the writings of the Early Church Fathers to see if they discussed the Bible text that includes the Rapture.
Before citing a few of these early Christian writers, let me share, as background, a few things Dr. Charles Ryrie says about the Rapture in his Survey of Bible Doctrine (you can skip all this if you’re not interested in the theological background of the Rapture, but I cite it here to show that when the early church fathers wrote about believers being “caught up,” they were referring to what is now called “The Rapture,” even though they apparently did not use the word “Rapture.” After the Ryrie quotes I will cite some of the early church fathers on this subject. Here are the Ryrie quotes:
The Rapture of the Church
THE DESCRIPTION OF THE RAPTURE (JN 14:1-3; 1 CO 15:51-57; 1 TH 4:13-18)
The title “rapture” comes from the Latin word used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 which is translated in English “caught up.” The rapture of the church is the catching up or translation of the church. It is the catching up to the dwelling place promised in John 14:1-3. In the Corinthians passage Paul says this is a mystery. That word “mystery” ought to be like a red flag reminding us that this is something not known before but now revealed. Resurrection was no mystery, for the Old Testament taught clearly that men would be raised from the dead (Job 19:25; Is 26:19; Dan 12:2), but it did not reveal that a number of people would go into God’s presence without experiencing death. That is why “we shall not all sleep” is a mystery (1 Co 15:51). At the rapture some mortals (living) will only need to put on immortality, while those whose bodies have seen corruption (dead) will need to put on incorruption through resurrection. Both routes to heaven involve change–the living need to be translated and the dead raised. The last generation of Christians will not experience death.
These changes will occur “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” The rapture will be instantaneous, not gradual, for the Greek word translated “moment” is the term from which our word “atom” comes. Because when the atom was discovered it was thought to be indivisible, it was named “atom.” Even though the atom has been split, the word still means “indivisible,” and indicates that the rapture will occur in an indivisible instant of time. Furthermore, Paul says that we shall all be changed, not part of the company of believers. Thus 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 teaches three things: (1) The rapture will include not only the bodily resurrection of those believers who have died, but also the changing of the bodies of those who are alive at the time it happens. (2) It will be instantaneous. (3) It will include all believers, not simply some of them.
But it is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 that gives the most detail about what will happen when the Lord returns. Four things are featured in this passage:
1. Christ Himself will return (v. 16), and the attendant circumstances will include all the grandeur His personal presence deserves. There will be a shout of command, the voice of an (not the) archangel, and the trumpet of God.
2. There will be a resurrection (v. 16). The dead will be raised and the living changed, all in the twinkling of an eye. However, only the dead in Christ and living Christians will experience the rapture, not all people. There is not one general resurrection, but several, this one involving only believers.
3. There will be a rapture (v. 17). The word means the act of conveying a person from one place to another, and is therefore quite properly used in this passage of conveying living persons to heaven (see 2 Co 12:4).
4. There will be reunions (v. 17) both with loved ones who have previously died in the Lord and with the Lord Himself. And all these reunions will be forever.
THE TIME OF THE RAPTURE
Almost all agree that the rapture is to be distinguished from the second coming in the sense that the former is when Christ comes for His own people and the latter is His coming with them in triumph and glory. Ryrie, C. C. 1995, c1972. A survey of Bible doctrine. Moody Press: Chicago
Irenaeus wrote in the 2nd Century:
And therefore, when in the end the Church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, “There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be.” 251 For this is the last contest of the righteous, in which, when they overcome they are crowned with incorruption. Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. 1997. The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol.I : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. The apostolic fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Logos Research Systems: Oak Harbor
Tertullian wrote between [a.d. 145-220.]:
For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we be ever with the Lord.” 166 Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. 1997. The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian. Logos Research Systems: Oak Harbor
Origen, who lived from [a.d. 185-254.]:
“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them who are asleep; for the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.” Then, again, after this, knowing that there were others dead in Christ besides himself and such as he, he subjoins the words, “The dead in Christ shall rise first; then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.”
Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. 1997. The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second. Logos Research Systems: Oak Harbor
I could go on with many more sources, but I would be amazed if any of you have read all the way to this point.