Fundamentally Speaking: Moyers and McKibben on religion and global warming

Last night, Bill Moyers (of PBS’s  “NOW” fame) and Bill McKibben (of The End of Nature fame) discussed evangelical fundamentalism, climate change, and our odds for saving the planet from global warming at an event hosted by the New York Public Library and the New York Review of Books. A couple of us from Plenty were lucky enough to be there.

The backstory: Moyers’ new three-part PBS documentary series, “Moyers on America,” focuses on three major issues facing our country: political scandal (“Capitol Crimes” airs tonight, October 4), democracy on the Internet (“The Net @ Risk,” October 18) and the intersection between the evangelical movement and the environmental movement (“Is God Green?,” October 11). The last of these was the topic of yesterday’s discussion, along with an essay Moyers wrote in 2005 called “Welcome to Doomsday.” 

Moyers, who has definitely done his homework on the history of Christian fundamentalism in the United States, described how influential the idea of “the Rapture” has become during the presidency of George W. Bush. The Rapture, which caught on in 18th century America, is an apocalyptic scenario wherein “believers” are called to Heaven while “sinners” suffer famine, disease, and other earthly horrors. Referring to its recent resurgence, Moyers said, “The delusional is no longer marginal.”

And that’s where the environment comes in. Moyers argues that because evangelical fundamentalists believe that they’ll be “saved” on Doomsday (which many of them believe is just around the corner), earthly concerns like global warming are immaterial.

Ironically, McKibben (who is himself active in the Methodist church) pointed out, the earthly horrors that Rapture believers say will befall us during the “end days”—plague, famine, war, and pestilence—sound an awful lot like what might happen if we allow global warming to continue unchecked.  “If global warming is not creating Hell on Earth, it’s creating something of a similar temperature,” said McKibben.

As evidenced by the growing evangelical environmental movement, not all evangelicals believe that global warming doesn’t matter. But as McKibben said, “There is no way we’re going to be able to solve this problem without including Christians.” There were murmurs and nods, but this crowd of NYPLers was about as far away from evangelicalism as could be: When Moyers asked audience members in the packed auditorium to raise their hands if they had read any books in the bestselling series based on the idea of the Rapture, Left Behind, I didn’t see a single hand go up. 

This is not to say that the gulf is so wide between NYPL types and evangelicals that the situation is hopeless. Both McKibben and Moyers made comparisons between the fight against climate change and the Civil Rights movement, which started out as unpopular and fringe-ish. We will refrain from intoning the hackneyed Margaret Mead quote, but really—a small group of committed citizens. Think about it.


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