"This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through."
Fervently, we sang this hymn in the Southern Baptist churches of my childhood. We also had many sermons about flying up with other righteous believers in the imminent Rapture and cheerfully leaving this "Late, Great Planet Earth" behind.
This pitiless evacuation plan for the Chosen, while leaving the rest of us to suffer Tribulations, is the philosophical back story that drives such Christian evangelical candidates as Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Sarah Palin. If we don't understand the worldview that compels Christian evangelical candidates to attack environmental regulations and dismiss climate change science, we miss the basic plot of any story: character motivation. And until we truly grasp why evangelicals despise environmentalists, we can't effectively dialogue -- or fight back.
Imagine this: From childhood, you are taught that we're all born into a sinful, "skewed world;" that the Garden of Eden is forbidden us. We are in exile here from our heavenly home. If God has thrown us sinners out of His Garden, why become gardeners?
In Southern Baptist sermons I've heard this world called "a waiting room for heaven," and "a concentration camp." It's as if God is a slum landlord who's checked out and doesn't care about doing any repairs. There is, instead, the promise of "many mansions" in heaven and streets paved in gold. So the message to the faithful few is: Just endure this wicked world until we get our reward.
Psychologists call a child's inability to connect to parents or place, an "attachment disorder." Many evangelical Christians have, from childhood, been taught not to connect to the very earth that sustains their lives. God is separate from nature. And so are his believers. They believe their fate is not linked to this earth.Psychologists might also call evangelicals' intense longing to escape this life a serious death wish. It's dangerous to self and others - and to our environment.
You combine attachment disorder and death wish into a religious zeal that wants to convert everyone to "one way"-- and you have a psychological profile of evangelical candidates running for the highest office in the world. You have candidates who announce that they will gut the Environmental Protection Act, deregulate carbon emissions, target the Clean Air Act, and run over the Endangered Species Act like so much road kill.
If the earth has no relevance to one's faith or daily practice, if one's eyes are focused above, then it doesn't matter so much if oil spills in our seas and rivers; if our air is choked with factory fumes; or if nuclear waste lies buried for centuries like a time bomb for our children. Who has to worry about the next generations and leaving them a legacy of healthy ecosystems? As one evangelical boasted to me recently, "There are no shrinking ice caps and drowning polar bears where I'm going."
Until we begin to look behind these candidates' environmental contempt - quite unpopular with most of Americans -- and understand their evangelical mindset, we can't begin to defuse the fundamentalist fire of "EPA Hatred," and argue for going green.
Some Christians are actually making a faith-based case for care-taking this earth as spiritual practice. Jonathan Merritt, a Southern Baptist preacher's kid patiently urges his brethren to be Green Like God. And such organizations as Creation Care and the British group, Christian EcologyLink beseech believers to consider faith and the environment in the same prayers. Even a recent Christianity Today, "Who Gets Left Behind?" asks the faithful, what if God meant this earth "to be something more like a home, and less like a hotel?" With these believers we can build bridges and engage in rational dialogue that embraces ecology and spirituality.
But these far-seeing Christians are a minority, like most prophets. And they don't seem to be so obsessed with worldly power that they run for U. S President. Maybe it's no use to reason or debate the climate change statistics with short-sighted, anti-science, true believers, whose battle cry is simply:" Follow me. We're outa here."
We can simply pose this question: What if we're all left behind? How will our children and their children survive rising seas? You've read in the Bible about God's people wandering in the wilderness. How about a future of environmental refugees?
When I talk to evangelicals, I get downright Biblical. Didn't God make us stewards of creation, I ask? And isn't Christ supposed to return and create "a new heaven and earth," right here? How would Christ feel coming back to a toxic waste dump we've made of this earth?
There's a much-ignored Bible verse. It's from the same book of Revelation, which many of the Rapture-fixated evangelicals cite as their evidence of imminent evacuation. Revelation 11:18. "thou shoudest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth."
Well, Governor Perry, you may doubt global warming or climate change. Your faith may bypass international science and real-life evidence on the ground. That doesn't mean it isn't happening. Texas has had the hottest, driest year on record, with temperatures stalling over 100 degrees day after day. One might even believe that the evangelical worldview has at last become a sadly self-fulfilling prophecy, especially in Perry's state. Drought. Not much green left behind. It's red-hot. It's hot -- as hell.~
Brenda Peterson is the author of 16 books, including the recent memoir I Want To Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth, which The Christian Science Monitor named a "Top Ten Best Non-Fiction Book of 2010." www.IWantToBeLeftBehind.com
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