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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Is Bill Moyers an origional thinker?

I had this great discourse on Bill Moyers’ article from today’s Star Tribune (first appeared in AlterNet). Moyers references an article written by Glenn Scherer on Grist.

I won’t insult everyones intelligence by asking they read both. They pretty much say the same thing. But, if I were Scherer, I’d be pretty ticked off at Moyers about now.

Here’s why (note, I'm copying from the Star Tribune for Moyers because I have the hard copy sitting in front of me):

Moyers: 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."

Scherer: Odds are it was in 1981, when President Reagan's first secretary of the interior, James Watt, told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. "God gave us these things to use. After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back," Watt said in public testimony that helped get him fired.


OK, so we’re a little questionable here. He cites the on-line journal, not the article or the author. And that is something. But look at the italicized sections, and ask yourself if this is proper citing technique?

Moyers continues his article after doing a poor job of following Scherer’s research into Pre-Tribulation believers, but we’ll save that for the end. However, he does site the article “The Road to Environmental Apocalypse.” Let’s, for the sake of argument, say that he’s referring to “The Godly Must Be Crazy,” the article I link to above. And let’s just call this sloppy research, and be understanding, as Bill Moyers is of “that age.”

Moyers: 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.

Forty-five senators and 186 members of the 108th Congress earned 80 to 100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential Christian right advocacy groups. They include Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Conference Chair Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Policy Chair Jon Kyl of Arizona, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Whip Roy Blunt.
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." He seemed to be relishing the thought.

Scherer: We are not talking about a handful of fringe lawmakers who hold or are beholden to these beliefs. The 231 legislators (all but five of them Republicans) who received an average 80 percent approval rating or higher from the leading religious-right organizations make up more than 40 percent of the U.S. Congress. (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!") These politicians include some of the most powerful figures in the U.S. government, as well as key environmental decision makers: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Republican Conference Chair Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), Senate Republican Policy Chair Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, and quite possibly President Bush. (Earlier this month, a cover story by Ron Suskind in The New York Times Magazine described how Bush's faith-based governance has led to, among other things, a disastrous "crusade" in the Middle East and has laid the groundwork for "a battle between modernists and fundamentalists, pragmatists and true believers, reason and religion.")

Who makes clear? Grist? Grist is the magazine, Scherer is the writer. Is this another case of bad citing technique? I think not. What irks me the most is that Moyers only changed punctuation! If one reads Moyers first, as I did in today’s Star Tribune, one gets the impression that perhaps the paragraph starting “Forty-five senators and 186 Congressman…” is an original thought, or at the very least adding detail to Scherer’s research as there is not the informal “Grist says..” citation that Moyers uses. That entire paragraph is taken straight from Grist’s article.

Scherer: A 2002 Time/CNN poll found that 59 percent of Americans believe that the prophecies found in the Book of Revelation are going to come true. Nearly one-quarter think the Bible predicted the 9/11 attacks.
Moyers: And why not? There's a constituency for it.
A 2002 Time-CNN poll found that 59 percent of Americans believe that the prophecies found in the book of Revelations are going to come true. Nearly one-quarter think the Bible predicted the 9/11 attacks.
Is it really a coincidence that Moyers picks the same Time/CNN poll?

Now for Moyers messing up Scherer’s research:
Scherer indicates that: A plethora of End-Time preachers, tracts, films, and websites hawk environmental cataclysm as Good News -- a harbinger of the imminent Second Coming. Hal Lindsey's 1970 End-Time "non-fiction" work, The Late Great Planet Earth, is the classic of the genre; the movie version pummels viewers with stock footage of nuclear blasts, polluting smokestacks, raging floods, and killer bees. Likewise, dispensationalist author Tim LaHaye's "Left Behind" novels -- at one point selling 1.5 million copies per month -- weave ecological disaster into an action-adventure account of prophesy.
At
RaptureReady.com, the "Rapture Index" tracks all the latest news in relation to biblical prophecy. Among its leading environmental indicators of Apocalypse are oil supply and price, famine, drought, plagues, wild weather, floods, and climate. Rapture Ready webmaster Todd Strandberg writes to explain why climate change made the list: "I used to think there was no real need for Christians to monitor the changes related to greenhouse gases. If it was going to take a couple hundred years for things to get serious, I assumed the nearness of the End Times would overshadow this problem. With the speed of climate change now seen as moving much faster, global warming could very well be a major factor in the plagues of the tribulation."

Moyers: 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.

Look, Moyers, the “Left Behind Series” has little to do with the “Rapture Index.” Infact, at Rapture Ready, they don’t mention a thing about these books. Actually, I would also disagree that the “Left Behind” books are the best selling books in America. In March, when the last book comes out, they’ll probably hit the best seller lists again, but watch and wait for Harry Potter book six to come out July 16, and we’ll see what the best sellers are. Not that I don’t like La Haye and Jerry Jenkins (the co-author) and the books, but face it, Harry Potter is bigger then Pre-Trib theology.

Scherer: Tune in to any of America's 2,000 Christian radio stations or 250 Christian TV stations and you're likely to get a heady dose of dispensationalism, an End-Time doctrine invented in the 19th century by the Irish-Anglo theologian John Nelson Darby.

Moyers: Drive across the country with your radio tuned to the more than 1,600 Christian radio stations, or in the motel turn on some of the 250 Christian TV stations, and you can hear some of this end-time gospel.

OK, let’s give Moyers some credit for coming up with a different number. But I’m highlighting this because it is just too convenient that Moyers used this as an example of the prevalence of pre-trib thought.

All in all, the point of both articles is that fundamental Christians are bad for the environment. Moyers and Scherer do end their article in different directions. Scherer seeks to understand the differences but maintains that we need to be concerned about the environment. To an extent, I agree that we need to be concerned about the environment. God calls us to be good stewards of our resources. We need to take care of the world around us and not be wasteful. But, at the same time, it is not the most important calling of God’s followers. “He has shown you what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8.

Moyers needs to adjust his attitude to evangelical Christians. But, most importantly, he needs to give intellectual credit where credit is due. Thanks for the great work, Glenn Scherer.

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