A kind of secular apocalyptic sensibility pervades much contemporary writing about our current world. Many books about environmental dangers, whether it be the ozone layer, or global warming or pollution of the air or water, or population explosion, are cast in an apocalyptic mold.
– Historian Paul Boyer
When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale; the sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place …
– Revelation 6:12-14
Abortion. Same-sex marriage. Stem-cell research.
U.S. legislators backed by the Christian right vote against these issues with near-perfect consistency. That probably doesn’t surprise you, but this might: Those same legislators are equally united and unswerving in their opposition to environmental protection.
Forty-five senators and 186 representatives in 2003 earned 80- to 100-percent approval ratings from the nation’s three most influential Christian right advocacy groups — the Christian Coalition, Eagle Forum, and Family Resource Council. Many of those same lawmakers also got flunking grades — less than 10 percent, on average — from the League of Conservation Voters last year. (See the numbers laid out in graph form, for the Senate and the House — and note how often lawmakers with high Christian-right scores of 80 to 100 percent get abysmally low environmental scores of 0 to 20 percent, and vice versa.)
These statistics are puzzling at first. Opposing abortion and stem-cell research is consistent with the religious right’s belief that life begins at the moment of conception. Opposing gay marriage is consistent with its claim that homosexual activity is proscribed by the Bible. Both beliefs are a familiar staple of today’s political discourse. But a scripture-based justification for anti-environmentalism — when was the last time you heard a conservative politician talk about that?
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.
Today’s Christian fundamentalist politicians are more politically savvy than Reagan’s interior secretary was; you’re unlikely to catch them overtly attributing public-policy decisions to private religious views. But their words and actions suggest that many share Watt’s beliefs. Like him, many Christian fundamentalists feel that concern for the future of our planet is irrelevant, because it has no future. They believe we are living in the End Time, when the son of God will return, the righteous will enter heaven, and sinners will be condemned to eternal hellfire. They may also believe, along with millions of other Christian fundamentalists, that environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded but actually welcomed — even hastened — as a sign of the coming Apocalypse.