April 11, 2006
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Stephenie Hendricks Reminds the Fundamentalists: 'Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit'
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
How is burgeoning fundamentalist extremism related to the heart-breaking weakening of the environmental movement? In Divine Destruction: Dominion Theology and American Environmental Policy, Stephenie Hendricks makes clear the interface. Her thesis is that corporate interests, with all-out government support, have exploited millions of American Christians by linking rampant environmental destruction with visions of Armageddon and the Rapture. Millions are reading and buying into Tim LaHaye's "Left Behind" prophecy-based fiction series, fueling a devil-may-care attitude toward Mother Earth. Why try to save a tree when destroying nature might bring about the return of Jesus? Hendricks' slight volume is chock full of clear arguments – with ammunition to help us all argue the case for environmental stewardship.
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BuzzFlash: You’ve written a very insightful commentary on the influence of the extreme religious right on the Bush administration's anti-environmental policy. On one hand, there are those who benefit by exploiting natural resources, whether they be miners, loggers, or gas companies. They've gone from being lobbyists or heads of industry associations into the regulatory agencies. But that’s coupled with a branch of the religious fundamentalists who support the same policies, but for religious reasons. Why would at least some people think this is a Biblically sanctioned? They claim that the Bible tells them it is okay to use all-terrain vehicles to muck up our national forests, or any beautiful public lands. This is a bit nutty, to say the least.
Stephenie Hendricks: Some of the fundamentalist Christians interpret the Bible to mean that, when God says you have to subdue the earth, it means you have to use up the earth in order for Christ to return. There’s evidence that James Watt, the former Secretary of the Interior under Reagan, believed this. Gale Norton, who just stepped down as Secretary of the Interior, comes from this school of thought as well. And there’s a parallel in the "Wise Use" movement. Among certain right-wing Christian fundamentalists it is considered heretical to say that God does not provide unlimited abundance. To say that we have a contained ecosystem that’s in danger is to be anti-Christian. That’s the propaganda that is going out on the Christian airwaves and among the Evangelicals that worked hard to put Bush and the new Christian right in office. It works to further corporate agendas for those who don’t want to be hampered by environmental protections.
BuzzFlash: The subtitle of your book refers to "Wise Use, Dominion Theology." The biblical quotation from Genesis you give that underpins Dominionist thinking is:
Among the Dominionists, which are an extremist group within the fundamentalists, the belief is that the earth is ever-bountiful and plentiful. Because it’s God’s creation, it will never be exhausted, so it’s foolish to be concerned about things like global warming or strip mining a mountain. Then you also have those who think the destruction of nature is something that hastens the coming of Christ.
Stephenie Hendricks: Within the dominion theologists is a group of people known as "reconstructionists." They’re "reconstructing" the word of the Bible. The scariest ones to me, who enabled Bush and the new Christian right to come to power, are people like Tim LaHaye, who interpret the Bible to mean that Armageddon is prophesied. It’s God’s will. God wants Armageddon to happen before Christ can return. Therefore, when you repeal nuclear proliferation treaties and environmental protections, you’re actually helping God’s will to happen. They believe George Bush is divinely leading us into this.
I actually went undercover to a Republican women’s luncheon in Marin County, which is known for being a liberal community in northern California. The people were there to listen to a Dominionist professor, Dr. Wagner, speak. He actually asserted that George Bush is divinely leading us into Armageddon, and that this is a good thing. It’s like Jim Jones getting people to drink the Kool-Aid.
BuzzFlash: There are fundamentalists who actually believe that the destruction Bush is unleashing, including the Iraq War, may be a positive sign?
Stephenie Hendricks: Right. To me, this is a brainwash on the Christians, and I’ve actually gone on Christian radio to discuss it. I was with the Vice President of the Southern Baptist Conference on his daily radio show, telling the Christians that I feel that they’ve been exploited, and that their religion is being exploited against them for them to support things like war, like repeal of nuclear proliferation treaties, like removing environmental standards. It’s very similar to what Hitler did when he went in with his ideology of cleansing the Jews. In fact, Robert Kennedy, Jr. has written very eloquently on this topic in his own book, Crimes Against Nature. There is a very big parallel between the rise of fascism in Germany with Hitler. It’s really, really happening.
Take, for example, the head of our Environmental Protection Agency. His name is Stephen L. Johnson, and he’s a fundamentalist Evangelical Christian. His minister is a Dominion theologist who has a program in Florida called Cheers. It bribes low-income families to expose their one-and-under infants to poison – to pesticides – for $970 and a new camcorder. Barbara Boxer ferreted out these facts during his nomination confirmation hearings, and so he stopped. Then, as soon as he was confirmed, he went right back to it again. Now he’s got a human testing rule that’s very controversial– intentionally dosing pregnant women and children with pesticides. This is an Evangelical, right-wing Christian.
So Dominionists and other extremist Christians are in the Administration. Chip Berlet, an analyst on theocracy, estimates that there are over 3,000 graduates of Regent University, which is Pat Robertson’s school, serving as civil servants in our federal government today. These are the people that shape policy, laws, and so forth, who are being led by fundamentalist Christians with a corporate agenda like Tim LaHaye.
What I would love to have your constituents understand, though, is that it's a mistake by those on the left to just keep the polemic going against right-wing fundamentalists, by saying, I’m a secular humanist and I have intellectual superiority. We have to realize that there are right-wing fundamentalists who interpret the Bible a different way. And they’re having a holy war in Washington right now.
Rich Cizik, the assistant director of the National Association of Evangelists, has taken on George Bush. He’s taken on Tom DeLay and James Inhofe and all these guys. The day I called him to interview him for my book, his voice was shaking because he had just gotten attacked by Tom DeLay, his friend for 26 years. Tom DeLay attacked him on national television for wanting to bring global warming to the attention of Bush and Congress as a spiritual priority – that God wants us to pay attention to global warming because it’s going to hurt God’s creation.
I want folks to know this is happening. All of us know fundamentalists – people who listen to Oral Roberts or James Dobson. Everyone’s got someone twice removed that’s connected with this. We have to engage with these people. We have to pull out our common values and get them to realize, as Michael Moore says, that they’ve been hurt the most because they’re the ones that are being lied to and exploited.
Think of the people who fell into Nazism – who afterwards could look back and see they were exploited and manipulated, but at the time it seemed like the right thing to do. We have to look at the parallels there. We’ve got to reach out and have dialogue, and form community with these people, and say Bush is not a Christian. I’m doing this.
BuzzFlash: There are fundamentalists who aren’t necessarily devotees of Tim LaHaye. We should explain that he has written a series of novels that focus on the rapture – the resurrection of Christ and the ascension of the true believers of Christ, as interpreted by Tim LaHaye. It’s not that different from a suicide bomber who believes he’s going to go up and there will be vestal virgins.
Stephenie Hendricks: This is how it’s different. Tim LaHaye strategically wrote those books, which sold over 70 million copies. Tim LaHaye is a strategic conservative corporate player. He wrote those books to sway the popular Christian culture into believing in end of times. LaHaye’s a founder of the Council on National Policy, which is a think tank that’s fueling Bolton in the U.N. And LaHaye is leading Jesus tours over to Israel. There’s a great Craig Unger article in Vanity Fair on it – he accompanied Tim LaHaye to Israel.
The point I’m trying to make is that Tim LaHaye is not a grassroots phenomenon that just happened to happen. It was part of this master plan. You had Ron Arnold and the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise doing the secular grassroots stuff with the :Wise Use" movement, mobilizing the property rights owners and the gun owners, and the off-road vehicle community, heavily funded by the U.S. motor industry, and some Japanese car makers. They had parallel efforts going on to create popular culture that would support these corporate agendas of destroying the environment and utilizing this big Christian block. Their coalition is now breaking up on environmental issues and Iraq, which is pretty exciting.
BuzzFlash: You bring this up in your book – that some Evangelicals are coming out of the closet as pro-environment now – and they're being accused of being pantheistic.
Stephenie Hendricks: Yes.
BuzzFlash: Nature, to the true end times rapturist, or a Tim LaHaye follower, is purely utilitarian. You can’t ascribe godlike qualities to it because God gave it to us to exploit, basically.
Stephenie Hendricks: That’s the corporate-driven Christian message that LaHaye has. I’m of the opinion that there are more fundamentalist Christians who are recognizing that this is a corporate-driven thing. To be honest with you, I think the way people were treated in the Gulf, with Katrina, woke a lot of people up. In Mississippi and Louisiana, a lot of those Bible Belt people woke up and saw that the people who were supposed to be Christian, who they fought so hard to get elected, weren’t being Christian at all when the chips were down.
BuzzFlash: If you were a Tim LaHaye fundamentalist, end times, rapture person, isn’t it part of your world view that your role in life is awaiting the rapture and the ascension to heaven?
Stephenie Hendricks: That’s what they believe. The culture of that group of people is obedience to the word of God, and obedience to people like Tim LaHaye, who are telling you what the word of God is. The Republican lady who I befriended at the luncheon loaned me her Tim LaHaye prophesy "Bible." It looks like a real Bible, and it’s got the same kind of text. But when you read the text, it’s totally twisted.
It’s totally, totally twisted from the King James English version, which some people would argue is twisted from the original Greek anyway. My point is that we have to find a way to reach these people, and win their trust, and point out the controversy going on with other fundamentalists. We have to get them to understand that they’re being manipulated and exploited – I mean it’s probably something like 150 million people.
BuzzFlash: Faith is like politics - it’s very hard to argue faith. But you actually made a rendezvous with this woman and found her to be quite friendly. You had a congenial time with her.
Stephenie Hendricks: Well, I told her about Stephen Johnson, the EPA guy, and his Cheers program. She said, “You’re lying.” I printed out the EPA website with the Cheers program described on it, and I printed out the New York Times article about it, and I took it over to her when I returned her Bible. She said, “You know, the Republican women, when I told them that you were here, they said that you may try to hurt me, where I live.” I said, “I’m so sorry that you feel that way. My wish and my desire is that we have a common point of view. You can believe what you want to believe, and I can believe what I want to believe, but we both want to keep the earth around – we both agree on that.” She was so afraid of me, because the fear-mongering is a strategy that is key to what Tim LaHaye and Ron Arnold and Dick Cheney are doing.
BuzzFlash: It’s a form of brainwashing.
Stephenie Hendricks: It keeps people under control. It keeps them from feeling strong enough to challenge authority.
Bruce Barron was an Evangelical who used to work for Rick Santorum. He wrote a book on dominion theology, and he home schools his children because he doesn’t want his children to have satanic influence. That’s the kind of fundamentalist Christian he is.
He and I struck up a very unique friendship. He said to me, “I want to know how you feel about homosexuals and abortion.” I said, “I have to tell you – I think God loves gay people, and, Bruce, I really do think that a woman has a right to choose whether she’s pregnant or not. If that’s going to keep us from having a discussion about this, then I’m sorry. But I’m telling you the truth.” He kind of paused for a minute. Then he said, “Well, at least you’re honest with me. I guess I can trust you.” He went on to give me tremendous insight into this whole thing.
One of the things he said to me was, “Look at DeLay. Look at all the people on the new Christian right. And look at their actions. If their actions are to destroy the earth, then you know they’re Dominion theologists. You know that – or, they’re following a corporate agenda that is being covered by dominion theology.”
There is also a part in the Bible that says God will destroy those who destroy the earth – that the first people God is going to destroy are the people who destroy the earth. I discuss this, and it causes cognitive dissonance when you bring these things up. That’s what has to happen to gain control of our democracy again. We have to engage in dialogue with people without threatening them – we have to respect that they believe what they believe, but really engage and connect with them. We need to suggest, could it be that you’re being exploited, and that there’s a corporate agenda going on?
Katrina is something that is really opening many eyes. The Bush Administration failed in its Christian duty to help people out when Katrina happened. You can tell them that they’re repealing the environmental laws in New Orleans so that they don’t have to test the drinking water, so that they can put in the casinos, so that they can make lots of money, and that the black people haven't got any place to live anymore.
They say, oh, they’re repealing the drinking water laws? How can they do that? They can do it because George Bush has a corporate-driven agenda. And if they kept the drinking water laws, they wouldn’t be able to build the casinos because the water is not fit to drink. All those toxic industries in the Gulf polluted the aquifers and contaminated the ground water.
BuzzFlash: In the back of the book, there’s a quotation from Numbers 35:34: “Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit.” What does someone like Tim LaHaye say to that?
Stephenie Hendricks: I would love to be in a position to ask him and certain others about that, because I think a lot of this is just business for them. As I mentioned to you before, I was on a radio show debating Ron Arnold, who considers himself the founder of the Wise Use movement. He talks about ecoterrorists, and he’s called publicly for the killing of all environmentalists. Until this year, Cheney was on the board of directors of his Center for Defense of Free Enterprise. So Ron and I get on the phone, and he’s going on and on about how James Watt was misquoted, and I said, “Look, everybody knows James Watt destroyed 14 million acres. But what I want to know, Ron, is, don’t you live in a beautiful place?” He stopped for moment and he said, "What – why yes, I do." I He lives in Bellevue, Washington, and he said, “I’m looking out the window now and I’m seeing snow-capped mountains and a beautiful forest. And I come down, and every day I feed the little squirrels.” I said, “But Ron, don’t you want to protect that? Isn’t your soul stirred by that?” And he just went ballistic – started screaming at me that I was vicious.
What I learned from that is that, yes, in reality he loves nature. But it’s just business for him. It’s just his job to take money from the agrichemical companies like Dow Chemical – and to spin information to repeal environmental legislation. He doesn’t really believe it deep, down inside.
BuzzFlash: Many of the Rapturist troops believe it, obviously – that they are going to ascend to heaven when the earth is destroyed and Armageddon arrives.
Stephenie Hendricks: I’ve discovered people who believe in the rapture, but they don’t believe the earth is going to burn, as Tim LaHaye has written. They believe the earth has to be restored and that the kind of rapture that’s going to happen is that people’s souls are going to leave their bodies, but the earth will be intact. There’s a huge number of people who believe that.
BuzzFlash: It’s the Tim LaHaye rapturists who are in tight with the Bush Administration, where the corporate rape of the environment meets the Biblical necessity of the destruction of the earth of the ascension of Jesus.
Stephenie Hendricks: I would argue that most of those people, Dick Cheney included, don’t give a rat’s ass about Christianity or about the Bible, or about any of that stuff. They do like the fact that they’re working in tandem with Tim LaHaye and Ralph Reed, and James Dobson, to control big chunks of the voting blocs through these popular culture strategies that they’ve developed. I think these people are so amoral that they wouldn’t understand a spiritual, religious concept – they consider themselves above that. There’s some question as to whether George Bush himself believes himself to be a divine leader into Armageddon. A pastor named Tony Evans, who has sort of free reign of the White House, goes there for prayer breakfasts. He's a founder of a group called the Promise Keepers, which is a right-wing Evangelical organization, and he has been preaching to his congregation that George Bush is divinely leading us into Armageddon. That’s a big clue right there.
But key powerful people have shrewdly manipulated popular culture on a couple of levels to get a big voting bloc in to keep their corporate representatives in Congress, and to get them on the Supreme Court – to basically take over all three branches. Whether they themselves believe in the religious ideology, or they’re exploiting it, I don’t know if we’re ever going to know that.
BuzzFlash: Let's return to the term "Wise Use." It is kind of key to the euphemisms that are used by the Bush Administration to hide what they’re really up to. They say we’ll tear down the forests to save them.
Stephenie Hendricks: The "Healthy Forest Initiative," right.
BuzzFlash: What is Wise Use? It sounds like a wise useful shepherd, and we’ll be trustees for the future.
Stephenie Hendricks: That’s what Gifford Pinchot, the first head of the U.S. Forestry Department, meant by it. At the turn of the century, he was torn between the railroads and the timber industry, on one side, and John Muir on the other. He said we have to have balance. But Ron Arnold’s "Wise Use" means that public lands are to be opened up for any kind of for-profit business you want, any kind of resource extraction industry, and the popular culture end of that is the off-road vehicle users.
It's unbelievable how this has been manifested in the federal forests in the California Sierra Nevada. In the El Dorado National Forest, there's a resort called Kirkwood which has a majority partner interest owned by Chuck Cobb, from the Jeb Bush administration. He’s also a member of the Free Trade Association that’s driving NAFTA. They’re putting in a restaurant on top of the pristine mountain inside this national forest, and they’re not paying a penny to the government for twelve years. There are also gated luxury homes being put in on public lands that are around golf courses. No one’s really paying any money to the government, although the developers are making tons of money. One of the partners in East-West Partners put John Ashcroft onto the political scene, and he’s one of the guys putting these golf courses in on these public forest lands in California.
So there’s definitely this divvying up of the public lands to Bush's buddies. I guess, in some points of view, that might be an improvement. But it’s your land; it’s my land; it’s our taxpayer land, not to mention the fact that we need habitat for biodiversity, and we need green veldt to ameliorate the carbon dioxide from all the car emissions. There’s a definitely a for-profit destruction of public lands that’s calling itself Wise Use. It’s a manipulation. It’s spin.
Most of the people on the popular culture end are the off-road users. If you turn on the TV today, you’ll see a beautiful, blonde-haired, blue-eyed family in their Expedition or in their other big honking SUV, and they’ll be tearing up a stream or tearing up a mountain, or tearing up a desert. Even their marketing of these horrible, climate-destroying vehicles is to destroy the wilderness, like it’s a fun thing to do. They’ve got the whole Madison Avenue thing going to promote the destruction of natural lands.
BuzzFlash: The ultimate in dominionist thinking is that God wants us to do this.
Stephenie Hendricks: There are Christian off-road vehicle groups – one in Florida, and one in Colorado. They go tearing up streams and hillsides. As Bobby Kennedy has suggested, it’s very metaphoric to go into the wilderness and to receive messages from God, or to get spiritual guidance. Moses did it. Mohammed did it. Jesus did it. Yet here is this cultural, religious manipulation to destroy the wilderness. That’s another argument to use with fundamentalist Christians – about how these folks are not really Christians.
BuzzFlash: Thank you. This is a wonderful insight into how the corporate destruction of the environment has some of its basis politically in the Rovian camp. This Tim LaHaye base of supporters who believe in divine sanction to actually destroy and make use of the environment in any way that man or woman would like, however destructive it might be.
Stephenie Hendricks: I also want to implore your readers to go out there on Easter or Passover, and when they have their relative get-together, really, really get into it with their fundamentalist relatives.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Interview Conducted by Mark Karlin.
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Divine Destruction: Dominion Theology and American Environmental Policy (Melville Manifestos) (Paperback), by Stephenie Hendricks, a BuzzFlash Premium.
Divine Destruction: Dominion Theology and American Environmental Policy (Melville Manifestos) (Paperback), by Stephenie Hendricks, a BuzzFlash Review.