I Want to Be Like Bill; Religious Anti-Environmentalism
December 15, 2004
Updated 12/19. This Friday (12/17/2004) will be the last broadcast of Now with Bill Moyers on PBS, a fantastic show that takes journalism seriously and brings insightful — and sometimes harrowing — news to its viewers. I have often found myself unable to watch Now, knowing that what Moyers uncovers would only ruin my weekend (by usually confirming already held fears or introducing new ones). But like Moyers himself, I am an optimist in the end — I refuse to give in to despair at the condition of the world. Do you remember those "I want to be like Mike" Gatorade commercials with Michael Jordan? Well, I don't want to be like Mike. I want to be like Bill.
First, let me step back from the demise of Now: Moyers is retiring from the show he created, but it will be carried forward by David Brancaccio, whose Marketplace broadcasts (on NPR) I had grown to enjoy. I'm confident that Now will continue to be an insightful and influential source of in-depth and original reporting, though it will be shortened by half an hour and sandwiched between Tucker Carlson and some Wall Street Journal guy. Now back to Moyers.
I've seen a number of articles in recent days by and about Moyers that are truly inspirational and/or informative: Battlefield Earth (by), PBS' Future Post-Moyers (tangentially about), Our Debt to Bill Moyers (about), Bill Moyers Leaves PBS in the Middle of a Rebalancing Act (tangential).
I want to draw particular attention to the Battlefield Earth article, which is actually the text of a talk given by Moyers upon receiving a Global Environment Citizen Award. The main thrust of his speech is the relationship between the religious right and continued refusal by the U.S. government to adequately deal with environmental issues: "millions of Christian fundamentalists may believe that environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded but actually welcomed — even hastened — as a sign of the coming apocalypse." For more exploration of the depth of the problem faced by the environmental movement, see The Godly Must Be Crazy (author referenced by Moyers).
So add another ill-effect of the Left Behind series to my post of 11/28/2004. This is precisely why the religious non-right* needs to get together with each other and with the scientists if we are to accomplish anything meaningful in the fight to create a sustainable civilization, as I hinted at in Reforming the Environmental Movement (11/30/2004).
Finally, though there is much that one can find inspiring in Moyers' work over the years, I leave you with the final paragraph from Battlefield Earth, the proximate cause of "I want to be like Bill:"
The news is not good these days. I can tell you, though, that as a journalist I know the news is never the end of the story. The news can be the truth that sets us free — not only to feel but to fight for the future we want. And the will to fight is the antidote to despair, the cure for cynicism, and the answer to those faces looking back at me from those photographs on my desk. What we need to match the science of human health is what the ancient Israelites called "hochma" — the science of the heart ... the capacity to see ... to feel ... and then to act ... as if the future depended on you. (emphasis added)
* I say "non-right" because I don't believe it is helpful to cordon off politically liberal and centrist religionists from conservative ones. One can be a conservative Christian without being a part of the religious right, for instance Jimmy Carter: politically left but personally conservative and evangelical. I would prefer to say "non religious right" but that would sound like non-religious instead of non-"religious right."
The last episode of Now was of course brilliant as usual. Yes, Bill Moyers goes out on a limb and editorializes (that's why he's not a news anchor). But he backs everything up with facts, something you won't find Bill O'Reilly doing.
Read a great article at the Times: Moyers Leaves a Public Affairs Pulpit With Sermons to Spare, with a perfect summary of his mission: "The gospel of Mr. Moyers — an unreconstructed progressive — warns against the danger of media consolidation, the growing links between conservative government and conservative media and the threat of information control by government."
If you missed his last episode, the transcript should be posted soon.