Speaking at Harvard recently, Bill Moyers, a preacher in the Church of Unreconstructed Liberalism, painstakingly constructed a straw man and then bashed it to pieces. Moyers has apparently permitted disappointment over the re-election of George W. Bush to push him over the edge into irrationality -- an edge on which he has been teetering for several years.
"One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal," he declared. "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."
Moyers then sketched for his Cambridge audience a scary portrait of these extremists. "In this past election, several million good and decent citizens went to the polls believing in the rapture index ... a fantastical theology concocted in the 19th century ..."
Believers in the rapture, Moyers warned, know that "they will be lifted out of their clothes (after Armageddon) 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."
They do not fear a war with Islam in the Middle East, Moyers claims, because they see it as "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."
Now Moyers has a degree from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, so he must know that the people who believe the rapture is imminent are very few. And he must further realize that there is no evidence whatever that the inhabitant of the Oval Office shares such eschatological views.
No matter. Moyers cheerfully conflates believers in the Rapture Index with all religious conservatives; in fact, with all conservatives. "We're not talking about a handful of fringe lawmakers. ... Nearly half the U.S. Congress before the recent election -- 231 legislators in total, more since the election -- are backed by the religious right."
As the Rev. Moyers surely knows, being backed by the religious right is not the same as believing that Armageddon is around the corner. "A 2002 TIME/CNN poll found that 59 percent of Americans believe that the prophesies found in the Book of Revelation are going to come true." The poll did not ask when.
"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. And you will come to understand why 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, famine 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 then the kicker: "No wonder Karl Rove goes around the White House whistling that militant hymn 'Onward Christian Soldiers.' He turned out millions of the foot soldiers on Nov. 2, including many who have made the apocalypse a powerful driving force in modern American politics."
Someone needs to get this man some Prozac. His imagination is torturing him.
I checked in with Michael Cromartie, author of many books about American Protestantism. He said rapture thinking was much more pronounced during the Cold War. Today, it is greatly diminished. I also followed Moyers' suggestion and looked at Rapture Index on the web. Adorning the site were numerous ads showing the faithful how to make contributions to victims of the tsunami. So if these rapture types believe that the end times are upon us, why would they help tsunami victims? For that matter, as Cromartie points out, why would they support conservative candidates for public office?
One can imagine Moyers' Cambridge audience lapping up his lurid and ignorant portrait of conservative Christians. But if the party of gloom is ever to regain its footing, it will have to start by understanding that those who defeated them are not a bunch of ignorant yahoos looking forward to Armageddon.