PEW FORUM ON RELIGION AND PUBLIC LIFE – U.S. Religious Landscape Survey
35,000 Americans were polled about their religious beliefs.
Major Religious Traditions in the U.S. Among all adults %
Evangelical churches 26.3
Mainline churches 18.1
Hist. black churches 6.9
Jehovah’s Witness 0.7
Other Christian 0.3
Belief in God
Americans display a high degree of similarity on some basic religious beliefs. For instance, Americans are nearly unanimous in saying they believe in God (92%), and large majorities believe in life after death (74%) and believe that Scripture is the word of God (63%).
But a closer look reveals considerable diversity with respect to both the certainty and the nature of these beliefs. Americans’ beliefs about God are a good example of this diversity. Nearly all adults (92%) say they believe in God or a universal spirit, including seven-in-ten of the unaffiliated. Indeed, one-in-five people who identify themselves as atheist (21%) and a majority of those who identify themselves as agnostic (55%) express a belief in God or a universal spirit.
Both the certainty and nature of belief in God, however, vary widely across religious groups.
Overwhelming majorities of some groups – including Jehovah’s Witnesses (93%), members of evangelical (90%) and historically black (90%) Protestant churches, and Mormons (90%) – say they are absolutely certain that God exists. Although a large percentage of members of other religious groups also express absolute certainty about God’s existence, they exhibit comparatively less unanimity; for instance, roughly seven-in-ten members of mainline Protestant churches (73%), Catholics (72%) and Orthodox Christians (71%) are absolutely certain that God exists. Like their Christian counterparts, majorities of Jews (83%), Buddhists (75%), Hindus (92%) and the unaffiliated (70%) express a belief in God, but these groups tend to be less certain in their belief; only 57% of Hindus, and fewer than half of Jews (41%), Buddhists (39%) and the unaffiliated (36%) say they are absolutely certain of God’s existence.
Personal Relation with God as a Person
A similar diversity is apparent when it comes to the nature of the beliefs about God that members of different religious groups hold. For instance, the vast majority of Mormons (91%), Jehovah’s Witnesses (82%) and members of evangelical (79%) and historically black (71%) Protestant churches say they view God as a person with whom they can have a relationship. Smaller majorities of members of mainline Protestant churches (62%) and Catholics (60%) also hold this view. By contrast, a majority of Hindus (53%), along with half of Jews (50%) and pluralities of Buddhists (45%) and the unaffiliated (35%), say they view God not as a person but rather as an impersonal force.
Authority of Scripture and Tradition
More than six-in-ten Americans (63%), including majorities of many religious traditions, view their religion’s sacred texts as the word of God. This belief tends to be most common among Christians. More than eight-in-ten Jehovah’s Witnesses (92%), Mormons (91%) and members of evangelical (88%) and historically black (84%) Protestant churches view the Bible as the word of God, as do majorities of Catholics (62%), mainline Protestants (61%) and Orthodox Christians (59%). Muslims, too, hold a high view of Scripture, with 86% viewing the Koran as the word of God. By contrast, Buddhists (67%), the unaffiliated (64%), Jews (53%) and Hindus (47%) are more likely to view the Scripture as the work of men than as the word of God.
While a large majority of Christians believe that the Bible is the word of God, the various Christian traditions are divided over whether or not the Bible should be interpreted literally, word for word. For example, a majority of members of historically black (62%) and evangelical (59%) Protestant churches say the Bible should be interpreted literally. By comparison, mainline Protestants, Catholics and Mormons are more likely to say the Bible, though the word of God, should not be interpreted literally.
Preservation of Traditional Practices
A plurality of adults (44%) who are affiliated with a particular faith say their religion should preserve its traditional beliefs and practices. Roughly one-third (35%) say their religion should adjust to new circumstances, and one-eighth (12%) say their religion should adopt modern beliefs and practices. Majorities of Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of evangelical churches, along with nearly half of members of historically black churches, say their religion should preserve its traditional beliefs and practices. By contrast, majorities of members of mainline churches and Catholics, as well as Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, favor adjusting to new circumstances or adopting modern beliefs and practices.
Belief in an Afterlife
Most Americans (74%) believe in life after death, with an equal number saying they believe in the existence of heaven as a place where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded. Belief in the afterlife tends to be particularly common among the Christian traditions. But the survey also finds that roughly six-in-ten Buddhists (62%) believe in nirvana, the ultimate state transcending pain and desire in which individual consciousness ends, and about the same number of Hindus (61%) believe in reincarnation, that people will be reborn in this world again and again. By contrast, fewer than half of the unaffiliated (48%) and only about fourin-ten Jews (39%) say they believe in an afterlife.
Belief in hell
Where people who have led bad lives and die without repenting are eternally punished, is less common than is belief in life after death or heaven, with about six-in-ten Americans (59%) expressing belief in hell. In every religious tradition, including all the Christian traditions, belief in hell is at least slightly less prevalent than belief in heaven. Belief in hell tends to be most common among members of the various Christian traditions, with relatively few Hindus (35%), Buddhists (26%), unaffiliated (30%) and Jews (22%) saying they believe in hell.
Belief in the Supernatural
As with belief in life after death, belief in the supernatural is also quite common. Nearly eight-in-ten American adults (79%), for instance, agree that miracles still occur today as in ancient times. But here again, the intensity with which people hold these beliefs varies considerably across religious groups. For instance, eight-in-ten Mormons completely agree that miracles still occur today, as do large majorities of members of evangelical (61%) and historically black (58%) Protestant churches. Members of other religious groups, on the other hand, are less certain, with fewer than half saying they completely agree that miracles still occur today.Summary of Key Findings
Belief in the existence of angels and demons
Nearly seven-in-ten Americans (68%) believe that angels and demons are active in the world. Majorities of Jehovah’s Witnesses (78%), members of evangelical (61%) and historically black (59%) Protestant churches, and Mormons (59%) are completely convinced of the existence of angels and demons. In stark contrast, majorities of Jews (73%), Buddhists (56%), Hindus (55%) and the unaffiliated (54%) do not believe that angels and demons are active in the world.
Great Diversity of Religious Practices As Well
The great diversity of religion in the U.S. is also reflected in religious practices. For instance, most Americans (54%) say they attend religious services fairly regularly (at least once or twice per month), with about four-in-ten (39%) saying they attend worship services every week. Frequent church attendance is particularly common among Jehovah’s Witnesses (82% of whom attend church at least once a week), Mormons (75%) and members of historically black (59%) and evangelical (58%) Protestant churches. By comparison, attendance at religious services is a less common practice among Catholics (42% of whom say they attend church at least once a week) and members of mainline Protestant churches (34%). Even smaller numbers of Hindus (24%), Buddhists (17%), Jews (16%) and the unaffiliated (5%) say they attend religious services at least once a week
Congregational involvement outside of worship
services. Majorities of Mormons (77%), Jehovah’s Witnesses (76%) and members of historically black (60%) and evangelical (54%) Protestant churches, for example, participate at least once or twice a month in congregational activities such as musical programs, volunteering, working with children or social activities. Members of these religious traditions also tend to be most likely to participate regularly in prayer groups, Scripture study groups or religious education programs. Catholics and members of mainline Protestant churches, by comparison, tend to be less connected to their congregations in these ways, as are Jews, Buddhists and Hindus.
Private Devotional Activities
Americans also engage in a wide variety of private devotional activities. Nearly six-in-ten (58%), for instance, say they pray every day, with majorities of most religious traditions saying they pray daily. Daily prayer is most common among Jehovah’s Witnesses (89%), Mormons (82%) and members of historically black (80%) and evangelical (78%) Protestant churches. A smaller number of Catholics and members of mainline Protestant churches, though still a majority (58% and 53%, respectively), say they pray daily. By contrast, only 45% of Buddhists, 26% of Jews and 22% of the unaffiliated say they pray daily. Roughly six-in-ten Hindus (62%) say they pray at a shrine or other religious symbol in their home at least once a week, as do one-third of Buddhists (33%).
Meditation is a less common practice than is prayer, with four-in-ten adults (39%) saying they meditate at least once a week, compared with three-quarters of Americans who say they pray at least once a week. But meditation is a regular practice among most Buddhists (61% meditate at least once a week) and is also practiced on a weekly basis by majorities of Jehovah’s Witnesses (72%), Mormons (56%) and members of historically black churches (55%). Fewer members of other religious traditions meditate on a weekly basis, including just 26% of the unaffiliated and 23% of Jews.
Receiving Answers to Prayers
A significant minority of Americans say their prayers result in
definite and specific answers from God at least once a month (31%), with nearly one-in-five
adults (19%) saying they receive direct answers to specific prayer requests at least once a week. More than half of Mormons (54%) say they receive responses to prayer at least once or twice a month, as do half or nearly half of members of historically black churches (50%), Jehovah’s Witnesses (49%) and members of evangelical Protestant churches (46%). These are largely the same groups – Jehovah’s Witnesses are the exception – that also are most likely to say they have experienced or witnessed a divine healing of an illness or injury. By contrast, members of most other religious traditions tend to be less likely to report familiarity with this kind of direct interaction with the divine.
Religious Practices with Children
Most parents in the U.S. report engaging in a variety of
religious activities with their children. More than six-in-ten parents (63%) with children at home, for instance, say they pray or read Scripture with their children, while nearly as many (60%) send their children to religious education programs. Mormons and members of historically black and evangelical churches stand out as particularly likely to pursue these activities with their children, though many parents in other religious groups also engage in these activities. Two-thirds of Hindus, for instance, pray or read Scripture with their children, and roughly six-in-ten members of mainline churches (62%), Jews (56%) and Orthodox Christians (58%) send their children to religious education programs. Far fewer parents (15%) choose either to send their children to religious schools instead of public schools or to home school them. Interestingly, though, this practice is most common among Jews (27%) and Orthodox Christians (30%), two groups that do not tend to stand out for high levels of religious involvement on many other measures.
Sharing Faith With Others
About one-in-three affiliated adults (36%) say they share their faith with others at least once a month. Nearly half (47%) say they seldom or never share their faith or views on God with people from other religious backgrounds, and an additional 14% say this is something they do only once or twice a year. Here again, however, certain groups stand out for the emphasis they place on sharing their faith. More than eight-in-ten Jehovah’s Witnesses (84%) share their faith with others every month, as do 55% of members of historically black churches, 52% of members of evangelical churches and 47% of Mormons. This practice is less common among most other religious traditions.
Religion, Moral Values and Modern Society
More than three-quarters of American adults (78%) believe there are absolute standards of right and wrong, with a majority (52%) saying they rely primarily on practical experience and common sense for guidance regarding right and wrong. Far fewer say they rely mainly on their religious beliefs (29%), and fewer still say they rely on philosophy and reason (9%) or scientific information (5%). Only among Jehovah’s Witnesses (73%), Mormons (58%) and members of evangelical churches (52%) do majorities say they rely primarily on their religion for guidance about right and wrong.
Religion and Society
A solid majority of Americans (62%) reject the idea that religion causes
more problems in society than it solves. This figure includes majorities of most Christian traditions and more than two-thirds of Muslims (68%). In contrast, nearly half of Jews (49%) and more than half of Buddhists (56%), Hindus (57%) and the unaffiliated (59%) say religion causes more problems than it solves. Indeed, more than three-quarters of atheists (77%) believe religion causes more problems than it solves, with nearly half (49%) of atheists completely agreeing with this statement.
Although a majority of Americans (54%) who have a particular religious affiliation say they do not see a conflict between being a devout person and living in a modern society, a substantial minority across nearly all religious traditions believe that such a tension exists. This view is particularly prevalent among Jehovah’s Witnesses (59% say there is a conflict between being devout and living in a modern society) as well as members of evangelical and historically black Protestant churches, among whom 49% and 46%, respectively, share this view. Overall, those who attend religious services at least once a week (44%) or who say religion is very important in their lives (44%) are more likely to say there is a conflict than those who attend worship services less often (35%) or who say religion is less important in their lives (31%). Interestingly, a substantial number of adults who are not affiliated with a religion also sense that there is a conflict between religion and modern society – except for them the conflict involves being non-religious in a society where most people are religious. For instance, more than four-inten atheists and agnostics (44% and 41%, respectively) believe that such a tension exists.
Religion and Popular Culture
Many Americans also see a conflict between their values and
popular culture, as is evident in people’s views of Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Although a majority of adults (56%) reject the idea that Hollywood poses a threat to their values, a significant minority (42%) perceives such a threat. Among adults who are affiliated with a particular religious tradition, nearly half (45%) say Hollywood threatens their values. Concern with the values of the entertainment industry is particularly high among Mormons (67%), Jehovah’s Witnesses (54%) and members of evangelical Protestant churches (53%). The level of concern tends to be strongest among the most religiously active adults, as measured by such factors as frequency of prayer and attendance at worship services.
A majority of Americans (59%) are very satisfied with their personal lives. Those who are affiliated with a religious tradition are somewhat more satisfied with their lives than those who are not (60% to 54%). And people who attend worship services at least once a week report higher levels of satisfaction with their personal lives (65%) compared with those who attend religious services less often (55%). Despite their overall feelings of satisfaction with their personal lives, and even higher levels of satisfaction with their family lives, only about a quarter of U.S. adults (27%) say they are satisfied with the way things are going in the country (as of the summer of 2007 when the survey was conducted). Members of historically black churches (17%) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (10%) are among the least satisfied with the overall direction of the country.
The Landscape Survey also finds that about one-quarter of the public (27%) is satisfied with the way the political system is working. No more than a third of any religious group expresses overall satisfaction with the way the political system is working, with the exception of Mormons (36% of whom are very or somewhat satisfied).
Religion Helps Shape Political Views
Relatively few adults (14%) cite their religious beliefs as the main influence on their political thinking – about the same number as cite their education as being most important (13%). Far more cite their personal experience (34%) as being most important in shaping their political views. An additional 19% identify what they see or read in the media as the most important influence in shaping their political views.
But despite Americans’ general reliance on practical experience in shaping their political thinking, the Landscape Survey confirms that there are strong links between Americans’ views on political issues and their religious affiliation, beliefs and practices. In fact, religion may be playing a more powerful, albeit indirect, role in shaping people’s thinking than most Americans recognize.
Affiliation Helps Shape Views
When it comes to religious affiliation and basic political outlook, for instance, Mormons and members of evangelical churches are much more likely than other religious groups to describe their political ideology as conservative. Not surprisingly given these ideological leanings, Mormons and members of evangelical churches are also by far the most Republican religious groups in the population; roughly two-thirds of Mormons and half of members of evangelical churches describe themselves as Republican or leaning toward the Republican Party.At the other end of the political spectrum, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and the unaffiliated are much more likely than members of most other religious groups to describe their political beliefs as liberal. When it comes to partisanship, more than three-quarters of members of historically black churches favor the Democratic Party, as do two-thirds of Jews and Buddhists and majorities of Muslims (63%), Hindus (63%) and the unaffiliated (55%).
The connection between religious affiliation and politics appears to be especially strong when it comes to certain issues, particularly those that have been at the forefront of the “culture war” controversies of recent years. Some religious traditions, for instance, are overwhelmingly opposed to abortion; seven-in-ten Mormons and six-in-ten members of evangelical churches (61%) say abortion should be illegal in most or all circumstances. On the other side of the issue, six-in-ten members of mainline churches (62%) and seven-in-ten of the unaffiliated say abortion should be legal in most or all instances. A similar divide exists on the question of whether homosexuality is a way of life that should be discouraged or accepted by society.
Aid to the Needy, Environmentalism, Militarism
On the question of government’s role in providing aid to the needy, for instance, large majorities of most religious traditions agree that the government should do more to help needy Americans, even if it means going deeper into debt. A similar consensus exists across the board with respect to basic views on the environment, with majorities of most religious groups saying that stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost. And majorities within most religious traditions say that diplomacy rather than military strength is the best way to ensure peace. Religious Beliefs and Practices Also Help Shape Views
U.S. Remains Highly Religious, Though Some Secularization
The U.S. has largely avoided the secularizing trends that have reshaped the religious scene in recent decades in European and other economically developed nations – but not entirely. The Landscape Survey documents, for example, that the number of Americans who are not affiliated with a religion has grown significantly in recent decades, with the number of people who today say they are unaffiliated with a religious tradition (16% of U.S. adults) more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with a religion as children (7%). It remains to be seen how this trend toward secularization will ultimately impact religion in the U.S. But what is clear is that religion remains a powerful force in the private and public lives of
PROBLEMS WITH RELIGIOUS THINKING – Grist article
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.
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.
Environmentalism and extreme religious thought
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?*
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.
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.”)
And those politicians are just the powerful tip of the iceberg. 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.
Like it or not, faith in the Apocalypse is a powerful driving force in modern American politics. In the 2000 election, the Christian right cast at least 15 million votes, or about 30 percent of those that propelled Bush into the presidency. And there’s no doubt that arch-conservative Christians will be just as crucial in the coming election: GOP political strategist Karl Rove hopes to mobilize 20 million fundamentalist voters to help sweep Bush back into office on Nov. 2 and to maintain a Republican majority in Congress, says Joan Bokaer, director of Theocracy Watch, a project of the Center for Religion, Ethics, and Social Policy at Cornell University.
Because of its power as a voting bloc, the Christian right has the ear, if not the souls, of much of the nation’s leadership. Some of those leaders are End-Time believers themselves. Others are not. Either way, their votes are heavily swayed by an electoral base that accepts the Bible as literal truth and eagerly awaits the looming Apocalypse. And that, in turn, is sobering news for those who hope for the protection of the earth, not its destruction.
Once Upon End Time
Ever since the dawn of Christianity, groups of believers have searched the scriptures for signs of the End Time and the Second Coming. Today, most of the roughly 50 million right-wing fundamentalist Christians in the United States believe in some form of End-Time theology.
Those 50 million believers make up only a subset of the estimated 100 million born-again evangelicals in the United States, who are by no means uniformly right-wing anti-environmentalists. In fact, the political stances of evangelicals on the environment and other issues range widely; the Evangelical Environmental Network, for example, has melded its biblical interpretation with good environmental science to justify and promote stewardship of the earth. But the political and cultural impact of the extreme Christian right is difficult to overestimate.
It is also difficult to understand without grasping the complex belief systems underlying and driving it. While there are many divergent End-Time theologies and sects, the most politically influential are the dispensationalists and reconstructionists.
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. Dispensationalists espouse a “literal” interpretation of the Bible that offers a detailed chronology of the impending end of the world. (Many mainstream theologians dispute that literality, arguing that Darby misinterprets and distorts biblical passages.) Believers link that chronology to current events — four hurricanes hitting Florida, gay marriages in San Francisco, the 9/11 attacks — as proof that the world is spinning out of control and that we are what dispensationalist writer Hal Lindsey calls “the terminal generation.” The social and environmental crises of our times, dispensationalists say, are portents of the Rapture, when born-again Christians, living and dead, will be taken up into heaven.
“All over the earth, graves will explode as the occupants soar into the heavens,” preaches dispensationalist pastor John Hagee, of the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. On the heels of that Rapture, nonbelievers left behind on earth will endure seven years of unspeakable suffering called the Great Tribulation, which will culminate in the rise of the Antichrist and the final battle of Armageddon between God and Satan. Upon winning that battle, Christ will send all unbelievers into the pits of hellfire, re-green the planet, and reign on earth in peace with His followers for a millennium.
Dispensationalists haven’t cornered the market on End-Time interpretation. The reconstructionists (also known as dominionists), a smaller but politically influential sect, put the onus for the Lord’s return not in the hands of biblical prophesy but in political activism. They believe that Christ will only make his Second Coming when the world has prepared a place for Him, and that the first step in readying His arrival is to Christianize America.
“Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land — of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ,” writes reconstructionist George Grant. Christian dominion will be achieved by ending the separation of church and state, replacing U.S. democracy with a theocracy ruled by Old Testament law, and cutting all government social programs, instead turning that work over to Christian churches. Reconstructionists also would abolish government regulatory agencies, such as the U.S. EPA, because they are a distraction from their goal of Christianizing America, and subsequently, the rest of the world. “World conquest. That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish,” says Grant. “We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less.” Only when that conquest is complete can the Lord return.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
People under the spell of such potent prophecies cannot be expected to worry about the environment. Why care about the earth when the droughts, floods, and pestilence brought by ecological collapse are signs of the Apocalypse foretold in the Bible? Why care about global climate change when you and yours will be rescued in the Rapture? And why care about converting from oil to solar when the same God who performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes can whip up a few billion barrels of light crude with a Word?
Many End-Timers believe that until Jesus’ return, the Lord will provide. In America’s Providential History, a popular reconstructionist high-school history textbook, authors Mark Beliles and Stephen McDowell tell us that: “The secular or socialist has a limited resource mentality and views the world as a pie … that needs to be cut up so everyone can get a piece.” However, “the Christian knows that the potential in God is unlimited and that there is no shortage of resources in God’s Earth. The resources are waiting to be tapped.” In another passage, the writers explain: “While many secularists view the world as overpopulated, Christians know that God has made the earth sufficiently large with plenty of resources to accommodate all of the people.”
Natural-resource depletion and overpopulation, then, are not concerns for End-Timers — and nor are other ecological catastrophes, which are viewed by dispensationalists as presaging the Great Tribulation. Support for this view comes from an 11-word passage in Matthew 24:7: “[T]here shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.” Other End-Timers see suggestions of ecological meltdown in Revelation’s four horsemen of the Apocalypse — War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death — and they cite a verse mentioning costly wheat, barley, and oil as foretelling food and fossil-fuel shortages. During the End Time, the four horsemen shall be “given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” Some End-Timers note that Revelation 8:8-11 predicts a fiery mountain falling into the sea and causing great destruction, followed by a blazing star plummeting from the sky. This star is called “Wormwood,” which dispensationalists say translates loosely in Ukrainian as “Chernobyl.”
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. RaptureReady 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.”
Another prophecy index points to acts of nature (drought in Ethiopia, famine in South Africa, floods in Russia, fires in Arizona, heat waves in India, and the breakup of the Antarctic ice shelf) as proof of the approaching doomsday, noting that “When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28).
According to a chart on the End-Time website ApocalypseSoon.org, we are at “the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:3-8) marking the Great Tribulation. The site links to a BBC News article on infectious diseases and a chronicle of extreme weather events on Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ross Gelbspan’s climate-change website as evidence of those unfolding sorrows. However, it adds a stern disclaimer regarding these external links: “We do not, by any means, approve or recommend some of the sites that this page links to. They were chosen simply because they document literally what the Word of God prophesies for the End Days.”
If I Had a Hammer
To understand how the Christian right worldview is shaping and even fueling congressional anti-environmentalism, consider two influential born-again lawmakers: House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair James Inhofe (R-Okla.).
DeLay, who has considerable control over the agenda in the House, has called for “march[ing] forward with a Biblical worldview” in U.S. politics, reports Peter Perl in The Washington Post Magazine. DeLay wants to convert America into a “God centered” nation whose government promotes prayer, worship, and the teaching of Christian values.
Inhofe, the Senate’s most outspoken environmental critic, is also unwavering in his wish to remake America as a Christian state. Speaking at the Christian Coalition’s Road to Victory rally just before the GOP sweep of the 2002 midterm elections, he promised the faithful, “When we win this revolution in November, you’ll be doing the Lord’s work, and He will richly bless you for it!”
Neither DeLay nor Inhofe include environmental protection in “the Lord’s work.” Both have ranted against the EPA, calling it “the Gestapo.” DeLay has fought to gut the Clean Air and Endangered Species acts. Last year, Inhofe invited a stacked-deck of fossil fuel-funded climate-change skeptics to testify at a Senate hearing that climaxed with him calling global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”
DeLay has said bluntly that he intends to smite the “socialist” worldview of “secular humanists,” whom, he argues, control the U.S. political system, media, public schools, and universities. He called the 2000 presidential election an apocalyptic “battle for souls,” a fight to the death against the forces of liberalism, feminism, and environmentalism that are corrupting America. The utopian dreams of such movements are doomed, argues the majority leader, because they do not stem from God.
“DeLay is motivated more than anything by power,” says Jan Reid, coauthor with Lou Dubose of The Hammer, a just-published biography of DeLay. “But he also believes in the power of the coming Millennium [of Jesus Christ], and it helps shape his vision on government and the world.” This may explain why DeLay’s Capitol office furnishings include a marble replica of the Ten Commandments and a wall poster that reads: “This Could Be The Day” — meaning Judgment Day.
DeLay is also a self-declared member of the Christian Zionists, an End-Time faction numbering 20 million Americans. Christian Zionists believe that the 1948 creation of the state of Israel marked the first event in what author Hal Lindsey calls the “countdown to Armageddon” and they are committed to making that doomsday clock tick faster, speeding Christ’s return.
In 2002, DeLay visited pastor John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church. Hagee preached a fiery message as simple as it was horrifying: “The war between America and Iraq is the gateway to the Apocalypse!” he said, urging his followers to support the war, perhaps in order to bring about the Second Coming. After Hagee finished, DeLay rose to second the motion. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “what has been spoken here tonight is the truth from God.”
With those words — broadcast to 225 Christian TV and radio stations — DeLay placed himself squarely inside the End-Time camp, a faction willing to force the Apocalypse upon the rest of the world. In part, DeLay may embrace Hagee and others like him in a calculated attempt to win fundamentalist votes — but he was also raised a Southern Baptist, steeped in a literal interpretation of the Bible and End-Time dogma. Biographer Dubose says that the majority leader probably doesn’t grasp the complexities of dispensationalist and reconstructionist theology, but “I am convinced that he believes [in] it.” For DeLay, Dubose told me, “If John Hagee says it, then it is true.”
Onward Christian Senators
James Inhofe might be an environmentalist’s worst nightmare. The Oklahoma senator makes major policy decisions based on heavy corporate and theological influences, flawed science, and probably an apocalyptic worldview — and he chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
That committee’s links to corporate funders are both easier to trace and more infamous than its ties to religious fundamentalism, and it’s true that the influence of money can scarcely be overstated. From 1999 to 2004, Inhofe received more than $588,000 from the fossil-fuel industry, electric utilities, mining, and other natural-resource interests, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Eight of the nine other Republican members of Inhofe’s committee received an average of $408,000 per senator from the energy and natural resource sector over the same period. By contrast, the eight committee Democrats and one Independent came away with an average of just $132,000 per senator from that same sector since 1999.
But the influence of theology, although less discussed, is no less significant. Inhofe, like DeLay, is a Christian Zionist. While the senator has not overtly expressed his religious views in his environmental committee, he has when speaking on other issues. In a Senate foreign-policy speech, Inhofe argued that the U.S. should ally itself unconditionally with Israel “because God said so.” Quoting the Bible as the divine Word of God, Inhofe cited Genesis 13:14-17 — “for all the land which you see, to you will I give it, and to your seed forever” — as justification for permanent Israeli occupation of the West Bank and for escalating aggression against the Palestinians.
Inhofe also openly supports dispensationalist Pat Robertson, who touts every tornado, hurricane, plague, and suicide bombing as a sure sign of God’s return; who accused both Jimmy Carter and George Bush Sr. of being followers of Lucifer; and who makes no secret of the efforts of his Christian Coalition to control the Republican Party, according to Theocracy Watch.
A good fundamentalist, Inhofe scored a perfect 100 percent rating in 2003 from all three major Christian-right advocacy groups, while earning a 5 percent from the League of Conservation Voters (and a string of zeroes from 1997 to 2002). Likewise, eight of the nine other Republicans on the Environment and Public Works Committee earned an average 94 percent approval rating in 2003 from the Christian right, while scoring a dismal 4 percent average environmental approval rating. The one exception proves the rule: Moderate Lincoln Chafee (R.-R.I.) last year earned a 79 percent LCV rating and just 41 percent from the religious right.
As committee chair, Inhofe has subtly chosen scripture over science. The origins of his 2003 Senate speech attacking the science behind global climate change, for example, reveal his two masters: the speech is traceable to fossil fuel industry think tanks and petrochemical dollars — but also to the pseudo-science of Christian right websites. In that two-hour diatribe, Inhofe dismissed global warming by comparing it to a 1970s scientific scare that suggested the planet was cooling — a hypothesis, he fails to note, held by only a minority of climatologists at the time. Inhofe’s apparent source on global cooling was the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, a Christian-right and free-market economics think tank. In an editorial on that site called “Global Warming or Globaloney? The Forgotten Case for Global Cooling,” we hear echoes of Inhofe’s position. The article calls climate change “a shrewdly planned campaign to inflict a lot of socialistic restriction on our cherished freedoms. Environmentalism, in short, is the last refuge of socialism.” Inhofe’s views can be heard in the words of dispensationalist Jerry Falwell as well, who said on CNN, “It was global cooling 30 years ago … and it’s global warming now. … The fact is there is no global warming.”
Inhofe’s views are also closely tied to the Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship, a radical-right Christian organization founded by radio evangelist James Dobson, dispensationalist Rev. D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries, Jerry Falwell, and Robert Sirico, a Catholic priest who has been editing Vatican texts to align the Catholic Church’s historical teachings with his free-market philosophy, according to E Magazine.
The ICES environmental view is shaped by the Book of Genesis: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the seas, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on this earth.” The group says this passage proves that “man” is superior to nature and gives the go-ahead to unchecked population growth and unrestrained resource use. Such beliefs fly in the face of ecology, which shows humankind to be an equal and interdependent participant in the natural web.
Inhofe’s staff defends his backward scientific positions, no matter how at odds they are with mainstream scientists. “How do you define ‘mainstream’?” asked a miffed staffer. “Scientists who accept the so-called consensus about global warming? Galileo was not mainstream.” But Inhofe is no Galileo. In fact, his use of lawsuits to try to suppress the peer-reviewed science of the National Assessment on Climate Change — which predicts major extinctions and threats to coastal regions — arguably puts him on the side of Galileo’s oppressors, the perpetrators of the Christian Inquisition, writes Chris Mooney in The American Prospect.
“I trust God with my legislative goals and the issues that are important to my constituents,” Inhofe has told Pentecostal Evangel magazine. “I don’t believe there is a single issue we deal with in government that hasn’t been dealt with in the Scriptures.” But Inhofe stayed silent in that interview as to which passages he applies to the environment, and he remained so when I asked him if End-Time beliefs influence his leadership of the most powerful environmental committee in the country.
And the Cow Jumped Over the Moon
So weird have the attempts to hasten the End Time become that a group of ultra-Christian Texas ranchers recently helped fundamentalist Israeli Jews breed a pure red heifer, a genetically rare beast that must be sacrificed to fulfill an apocalyptic prophecy found in the biblical Book of Numbers. (The beast will be ready for sacrifice by 2005, according to The National Review.)
It can be difficult for environmentalists, many of whom cut their teeth on peer-reviewed science, to fathom how anyone could believe that a rust-colored calf could bring about the end of the world, or how anyone could make a coherent End-Time story (let alone national policy) out of the poetic symbolism of the Book of Revelation. But there are millions of such people in America today — including 231 U.S. legislators who either believe dispensationalist or reconstructionist doctrine or, for political expediency, are happy to align themselves with those who do.
That’s troubling, because the beliefs in question are antithetical to environmentalism. For starters, any environmental science that contradicts the End-Timer’s interpretation of Holy Writ is automatically suspect. This explains the disregard for environmental science so prevalent among Christian fundamentalist lawmakers: the denial of global warming, of the damaged ozone layer, and of the poisoning caused by industrial arsenic and mercury.
More important, End-Time beliefs make such problems inconsequential. Faith in Christ’s impending return causes End-Timers to be interested only in short-term political-theological outcomes, not long-term solutions. Unfortunately, nearly every environmental issue, from the conservation of endangered species to the curbing of climate change, requires belief in and commitment to an enduring earth. And yet, no amount of scientific evidence will likely shake fundamentalists of their End-Time faith or bring them over to the cause of saving the environment.
“It’s like half this country wants to guide our ship of state by compass — a compass, something that works by science and rationality, and empirical wisdom,” quipped comedian Bill Maher on Larry King Live. “And half this country wants to kill a chicken and read the entrails like they used to do in the old Roman Empire.”
Those who doubt the dangers of such faith-based guidance need only recall the 9/11 hijackers, who devoutly believed that 72 black-eyed virgins awaited them as their reward in paradise.
In the past, it was not deemed politically correct to ask probing questions about a lawmaker’s intimate religious beliefs. But when those beliefs play a crucial role in shaping public policy, it becomes necessary for the people to know and understand them. It sounds startling, but the great unasked questions that need to be posed to the 231 U.S. legislators backed by the Christian right, and to President Bush himself, are not the kind of softballs about faith lobbed at the candidates during the recent presidential debates. They are, instead, tough, specific inquiries about the details of that faith: Do you believe we are in the End Time? Are the governmental policies you support based on your faith in the imminent Second Coming of Christ? It’s not an exaggeration to say that the fate of our planet depends on our asking these questions, and on our ability to reshape environmental strategy in light of the answers.
Many years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to his “religious grandparents,” who, whenever they were asked about the future, proclaimed, “Armageddon’s comin’!” And they believed it. Christ was due back any day, so they never bothered to paint or shingle their house. What was the point? Over the years, I drove by their place and watched the protective layers of paint peel, the bare clapboards weather, the sills and roof rot. Eventually, the house fell into ruin and had to be torn down, leaving my friend’s grandparents destitute.
In a way, their prediction had proven right. But this humble apocalypse, a house divided against itself, was no work of God, but of man. This is a parable for the 231 Christian right-backed legislators of the 108th Congress. Their constituency’s cherished beliefs may lead to the most dangerous and destructive self-fulfilling prophecy of all time.
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.
In fact, Watt did not make such a statement to Congress. The quotation is attributed to Watt in the book Setting the Captives Free by Austin Miles, but Miles does not write that it was made before Congress. Grist regrets this reporting error and is aggressively looking into the accuracy of this quotation.