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Rapture Mania: Bizarre Beliefs and Epic Epiphanies

                                         An Earth Manifesto publication by Dr. Tiffany B. Twain  

                                                                                                                                         August 11, 2011

Images of natural disasters are seen with increasing frequency in the world news these days.  Floods, tornados, hurricanes and wild fires are occurring around the globe with record intensity.  Many areas in the world which are not getting unusually heavy rainfall are suffering from harsh droughts.  Earthquakes and tsunamis are shockingly killing people and causing extensive damages with seemingly epic frequency.  Volcanic eruptions are taking place in Iceland or Java or Chile or other places every year.  Record heat waves and cold spells have people talking about the weather even more than usual. 

Weather havoc seems to be the new normal, and instant media coverage of every development magnifies the seeming epidemic of adversities.  It was all but raining cats and dogs in Hannibal, Missouri the other day;  some say that it’s as likely as not that a plague of frogs will come next.

What is happening?  It is as if we are becoming strangers in a strange land.  Some think that these are signs from the LORD.  This essay explores this question, and associated ones, from the point of view of religious authorities as well as from the perspective of scientists and philosophers and writers and artists.  Close consideration is also given to Harold Camping’s bizarre prediction that the biblical Rapture and the end of the world will take place for sure this year.

The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755

Sudden slippage along the boundary between the African and the Eurasian tectonic plates of the Earth’s crust caused a powerful earthquake in the Atlantic Ocean near the coast of Portugal on the morning of November 1, 1755.  This happened to occur at the height of religious services in churches on the annual Catholic All Saints’ Day holiday.  The tremor ironically destroyed almost every church in the city of Lisbon and killed tens of thousands of people.  The earthquake was followed by a destructive tsunami and fires that raged for five days. 

Terrible anxiety and confusion followed the Lisbon earthquake.  “Suspicious circumstances, God!”, thought the masses.  Theologians and philosophers of the day speculated on the religious cause of the tragedy.  Many claimed that the earthquake was a manifestation of divine judgment and retribution because Lisbon had become one of the largest and most opulent cities in Europe.  The Portuguese naval fleet had helped Portugal to become the first global empire in history, bringing back great quantities of gold and other valuable minerals from its colonies.  Some among the faithful wondered why God struck the Portuguese with such seeming vengeance.  Could it have been due to the slaughter of indigenous people in many lands by the Portuguese?  Judgmental fundamentalists regarded indulgences in Lisbon as exceedingly sinful, and the terrible Holy Inquisition was still burning many Jews and heretics in Portugal at the time.

Voltaire wrote his famous short story Candide in response to his disillusionment related to this terrible natural disaster, and to other calamities like the bloody Seven Years’ War from 1756 to 1763, and daunting diseases, and shipwrecks during storms, and assorted grave inhumanities of human beings to others which have taken place throughout recorded history, including many reprehensible acts of rape, pillage, murder, thievery, exploitation, massacres, hangings, torture, slavery, burnings at the stake, and religious persecutions.

Superstitious explanations for natural disasters wield a strong power over people’s imaginations.  Nonetheless, much better and more probable scientific explanations exist that provide us with valuable perspective on how to mitigate the risks of natural catastrophes and to prepare our societies for inevitable adversities.  The purpose of this essay is to winnow out important lessons contained in this debate, and to advance knowledge that will be vital for people in the future.

  “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”

                                                                                                --- The English writer H.G. Wells

By education, H.G. Wells meant learning and critical thinking and true understanding.  He surely did not mean narrow indoctrination in social, economic, political or religious dogmas.

A Digression on the Genesis of Beliefs

Our perceptions arise from three primary sources:  our genetic instincts, our interpretations and memories of our experiences, and our self-conscious minds.  Neuroscientists, using EEG brainwave tests, have discovered fascinating facts about our brain activities and the different frequencies they operate in, ranging from low Delta and Theta frequencies to higher levels of Alpha, Beta and Gamma frequencies.  Children under the age of six are powerfully affected by influences that tend to program them because their brains operate only in the Delta and Theta ranges of brain wave activity.  In these states, the brain cannot discriminate between truth and fiction, or think critically, or filter out misperceptions.  This is why beliefs in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and a specific personal God are easily inculcated in youngsters.

Church dogmas and prejudices and fears can be easily implanted in the minds of young children because of this neuronal nature of their young brains.  A principal reason many religions insist that adult believers in their dogmas should reproduce without limit is to ensure a renewable and self-perpetuating supply of new believers.  Opposition to contraception is basically the best recruiting tool for narrow dogmatic believers.  It is just so difficult to convince any adult whose brain is operating in higher brain frequencies that improbable doctrines which are ostensibly absurd are the “absolute truth”. 

The only significant category of adults who convert to a different religious faith than the one of their childhood is those who are “born again” believers.  It is often the case that people who make such radical religious conversions do so out of fear, inner turmoil, despair, or a powerful need to belong.  During such periods of fear and frustration, the brain operates out of reactive mind-sets and there are few discriminating higher frequency brain waves.

More Observations from Shaky Ground

Some of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded in the United States struck during a period from December 1811 to March 1812 in a seismic zone that stretches south and west from New Madrid, Missouri.  Let’s harken back to these events.  These earthquakes caused enormous ruptures in the land, and the mighty Mississippi River even flowed backwards for a while.  Henry Schoolcraft, a geographer and geologist of the time, was so moved by the scary and calamitous nature of these seemingly inexplicable events that he turned to poetry:

 “The rivers they boiled like a pot of coals,

     And mortals fell prostrate, and prayed for their souls.”

Religious people in the area felt that perhaps the devil had come.  Some reckoned that the world might be coming to an end.  Perhaps it is natural for people to think that supernatural forces are directing their fates.  Such superstitions divert our attention, however, from focal points of concern that are more important for our future well-being.  We should be more aware of the overarching avoidable risks we are collectively taking, and of the shortsighted and unsustainable nature of the lives we are leading -- and of the best ways we should be dealing with these transcendent challenges. 

Natural disasters of many types will happen again and again, so it is a bona fide good idea for us to be more sensibly prepared.  We should make more committed efforts to reduce the probable damages and loss of life when earthquakes strike.  We should try to mitigate risks associated with widespread flooding by implementing zoning that prevents home-building and other real estate developments in flood plains.  We should give greater consideration and priority to ecological precautionary principles which emphasize resource conservation and the prevention of pollution and deforestation.  We should also heed the warning of scientist with regard to our profligate usages of fossil fuels and the enormous volume of carbon dioxide emissions which we are spewing into the atmosphere. 

We would be well advised to ask that our business, government and religious institutions work together to facilitate constructive change and protect the commons from depletion and harm.  We should demand that these institutions act more fairly, and spend taxpayer money in a more frugal manner, and reduce the current risky level of deficit financing at the expense of people in future years.  These institutions serve people, so they should indulge less in manipulating the populace in ways that are contrary to the greater good.  They should instead make more contributions to a sustainable future by encouraging the conservation of resources.  The public should also demand that more effective ways be found to prevent our nation from getting into endless wars and costly military occupations of other nations, because these acts of aggression make everyone less safe.

By this reference, A Bill of Rights for Future Generations is included herein, as well as Principal Reasons a Bill of Rights for Future Generations is Needed.  Also, check out Reflections on War.

Breaking News on May 22, 2011:  Apocalypse Not Now! 

The evangelical Christian Family Radio preacher Harold Camping told a flock of followers that the Rapture would begin with a massive earthquake on Saturday, May 21, 2011.  His church paid for thousands of billboards around the world to advertise this supposed beginning of End Times.  Perhaps it would have been appropriate if the kooky 89-year-old radio preacher had had a heart attack and died on this date, proving conclusively that End Times will indeed come to us all -- though not for everyone all at once in the way predicted by charlatans.  Camping, embarrassed at the error of his claims, said in the wake of his wrong prediction that he was “flabbergasted” that the world had not ended.  Ya think?

      “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” 

                                                               --- Mark Twain

Stand-up comedians and various humorists like Jon Stewart and Jay Leno have had a field day with the absurdity of the exceedingly simplistic worldviews of those who fervently BELIEVE in the Rapture.  David Letterman naturally came up with a list of the “Top Ten Harold Camping Excuses”.  Like, “At 89, I can’t remember how to operate the toaster.”  In any case, some wonder whether, after the Rapture, “can I have your stuff?”

Superstitious people believe that earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, droughts and plagues are all signs of the approaching end of the world.  This is ridiculous!  Are these folks stupid?  These are physical events in nature.  They are not the result of some God angrily smiting people who happen to be affected by such natural phenomena.  Lightening bolts, earth tremors and tsunamis are not manifestations of the inscrutable will of gods. 

Similarly, diseases are not punishments from God, and the indignities of aging and the intensely poignant prospects of death are not the repercussions of God’s anger in the Garden of Eden.  Instances of spontaneous remission of a terminal disease are not miraculous healings that happen by the grace of God.  They involve deeper mechanisms within our bodies that are mysterious and miraculous in their own right.  It is possible that healing can be facilitated with a transformative change in behaviors and beliefs.  Read Spontaneous Evolution for a powerful perspective on this idea. 

Modern scientific understandings provide us with overwhelmingly convincing physical explanations for natural phenomena.  Superstitious minds, nonetheless, cling stubbornly to rather archaic explanations and misconceptions about the world. 

“Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy;  the mad daughter of a wise 

   mother.  These daughters have too long dominated the earth.” 

                                                                                               --- Voltaire

Superstition and stupidity are not necessarily synonymous.  Marlene Dietrich once said that superstitions are habits, not merely foolish beliefs.  They are surely curious habits.  A vitally important aspect of this issue is this:  Superstitious people are prone to being ruled by fanatics, so they tend to become fanatics themselves, and such fanaticism is dangerous.

It turns out that we human beings have lots of bad habits other than superstitious beliefs.  Many people indulge in debt-financed consumerism and shop profligately even though they cannot afford it.  Most people choose priorities which are materialistic, or oriented toward narrow religious dogmas, instead of focusing their lives on more meaningful and wholesome spiritual and humanistic priorities.  Many people ignore the climate disruption risks that we are collectively wreaking on our home planet.  We are failing to take adequate steps to reduce rapid increases in human numbers, especially in those developing countries where the average woman still has more than 4 children.  These trends are having deleterious impacts on vital ecosystems upon which our well-being is completely dependent.  They are also harming the prospects of all people in future generations.

“Never has the world seen a society so possessed by material possessions and so consumed

  by consumerism.” 

                               --- Swami Beyondananda

All the superstitions that lead charlatans to predict an eminent Rapture and Tribulation are summarized in a preposterously presumptuous website that features “The Rapture Index”.  This compilation of statistics supposedly measures the speed with which we are “moving toward the occurrence of pre-tribulation rapture.”  More about the Rapture Index later, when a proposal is made for a much more useful, intelligent and needed gauge:  a Sustainability Index.

Voltaire, Harold Camping and Jonathan Swift

Voltaire was an eighteenth century Enlightenment writer and philosopher who was a proponent of free thought and social reform.  He made enemies by criticizing both the religious and political Establishments of the day.  He ridiculed religion, theologians, dogma, governments, intolerance, armies, and the philosophical optimism of the German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz, who had postulated that “this is the best of all possible worlds.”  Voltaire said that he had “never made but one prayer to God, a very short one:  <Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.>  And God granted it.”  Ha!

Voltaire fought established religions and the despotic and suspiciously self-serving idea of the divine rights of kings.  He felt that all people should tolerate the religious beliefs of others, for otherwise many fanatics get caught up in righteousness and hate and the perpetration of discrimination, violence and genocides.  Superstition can figuratively set the whole world on fire, while insightful and enlightened philosophies can help quench these flames.  “On the whole,” Voltaire wrote, “the less superstition, the less fanaticism, and the less fanaticism, the fewer miseries.”  

If May 21 was Judgment Day, the judgment is in:  those who prophesy Rapture End Times are simply making it up.  Give us a break!  The apocalyptic “prophecy industry”, it turns out, is huge because people are eager for simplistic understandings and many are gullible and ignorant, and because a ton of money is being made by promoting apocalyptic visions and capitalizing on people’s fears.  Harold Camping’s Family Radio raised over $100 million in the last 7 years by using false prophecies and scare tactics.  There is sure no scarcity of fools in the world!

Make no mistake about it:  Harold Camping is another in a long line of attention-seeking and self-aggrandizing religious people who have made prophecies that are really a form of religious fraud.  Camping even startled Christendom by asserting years ago that “the Church Age has come to an end”.  He advised that the faithful should flee their churches -- or else become one of the damned.  The Holy Spirit, he says, can no longer be found in churches.  Aha!  Is that so?

Sometimes it is valuable to seek literary illumination to more clearly understand vital issues.  So here is a perspective of how the famous writer Jonathan Swift regarded fraud.  Swift is one of the foremost satiric writers in the English language and is most famous for his masterpiece Gulliver’s Travels.  This fanciful satire on human nature was published under a pseudonym in 1726;  it features a protagonist who makes four voyages to fictional exotic lands where people like tiny Lilliputians and giant Brobdingnagians live.

"They (the Lilliputians) look upon fraud as a greater crime than theft, and therefore seldom fail to punish it with death (!);  for they allege that care and vigilance, with a very common understanding, may preserve a man's goods from thieves;  but honesty has no fence against superior cunning: and since it is necessary that there should be a perpetual intercourse of buying and selling, and dealing upon credit, where fraud is permitted or connived at, or hath no Law to punish it, the honest dealer is always undone and the knave gets the advantage."

The Dangers of Gullible Travels

John Fowles writes in The Aristos:  “The more absolute death seems, the more authentic life becomes.”  He points out that “the driver of a high-explosives truck who does not believe in a life after death drives more carefully than one who does.” 

This is instructive.  Those who believe in the End Times Rapture are inclined to accept less responsibility for the ecological health of our home planet.  This is terribly wrong-headed.  Bill Moyers wrote an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in January 2005 in which he pointed out that many fundamentalist Christians believe that “environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded, but actually welcomed - even hastened - as a sign of the coming apocalypse.”  This is madness!  The full text of Bill Moyers’ illuminating article is appended below, at the end of this essay. 

It is risky for everyone when millions of people gullibly believe that some sort of apocalyptic End Times are approaching, and that the return of Jesus Christ and a Biblical Judgment Day is coming soon.  It is a form of dangerous ethnocentric supremacism to posit a time of triumph for those who believe, a time in which God will reward the faithful but smite the rest of humankind with catastrophic disastrous tribulation because of their skepticism and other “sins”.  I personally prefer a myth that would allow believers to crow about their faith without threatening every other being on the planet to tribulation and death and eternal suffering!

“I’ve said many times that we can expect delusional beliefs to rise in proportion to the

  economic hardships we experience.  That’s exactly what’s happening.” 

        --- James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate

                Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century

The adherence of millions of people to narrow religious dogmas is, in some ways, a barbarous waste of moral energy.  John Fowles wrote in The Aristos that such misguided thinking is “like keeping ramshackle water mills on a river that could serve hydroelectric dynamos.”  Much more positive outcomes could be achieved if these formidable energies, and the enormous amounts of time and money devoted to them, were to be redirected into more wholesome and providential channels.  Let us begin to give high regard to those things which really merit it, rather than to myths and superstitions and biases and needless conflicts and social injustices. 

Clearly this is not the best of all possible worlds, because there are so many ways that our economic and political systems and environmental protections could be fairly improved.  The corrupting influence of Big Money could be diminished in our political system, for instance.  This would lead to a better world for workers and the general public and future generations.

Increasing extremes of economic security and related prerogatives between the Few and the Many are contrary to the founding principles of our democratic republic.  It is simply not acceptable to allow inequities to increase endlessly in our economy and our legal system.  We cannot continue to allow extreme environmental injustices and intergenerational inequities, for these essentially undermine our democratic republic and subvert the freedoms of millions of individual people who are adversely affected. 

Abraham Lincoln expressed the hope in his famous Gettysburg Address that the great American experiment in governance “of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  Throughout history, democracies have ended by being overthrown in military coups or in authoritarian takeovers like that of Adolph Hitler after the Reichstag fire in 1933.  But there is another primary risk to democratic governance that is found in what we are experiencing in the U.S. today:  the rise to ascendancy of oligarchy, or government dominated by the Few.  Oligarchy and plutocracy, or rule by the rich, are enabled by bribery, corruption, corporatism, violations of rules of law, and the undermining of the independence of the judiciary by ideologues.

A society is much better off with fair-minded democracy and reasonably-shared prosperity than with prosperity which is jealously hoarded by the influential Few.  It should also be recognized that wars are waged not only for declared pretexts and deeper motives of profiteering, resource access, territory acquisition, and political domination, but also for the purposes of distracting people’s attentions from domestic problems.  I believe that the people of the U.S. would be much better off if we collectively exerted a stronger discipline to forsake the use of the instruments of war in internecine efforts to prevail over others.

We are foolishly allowing ourselves to be collectively distracted by far-reaching conflicts over whose jealous God is the true Almighty one, despite the fact that there are far more serious issues confronting us.  Competing partisan theories about what form of “Santa Claus” generosity is best to achieve political ascendancy are resulting in political paralysis.  Should we be providing more government benefits or lower taxes?

Meanwhile we are figuratively fiddling while far-reaching economic, social and environmental disasters loom in the not-too-distant future.  Important insights into these developments are contained in the Earth Manifesto essay, Sad Implications of the Two Dueling Santa Claus Strategies in Political Economics.  Check it out!

Hope Glimmers on the Horizon

A televangelist recently claimed that “Hope is in the end of days.”  This is absurd, folks!  Hope is to be found in making this world fairer and safer and more sustainable, rather than placing our hopes in another world after we are dead.  It is a flimsy hope to rationalize personal hardships and extreme social inequities and ecological destruction in the real world by placing our bets on an imagined afterlife which has no hard evidence whatsoever of existing.

The “end of the world” is a myth that can be best understood as a metaphorical parable rather than something which will actually occur.  The end of the world will, in one literal sense, take place for each living thing when it dies.  To confuse our own mortal end with an imagined God-smiting-the-world end for all human beings is a preposterous belief.  It is a bizarre echo of the biblical fable of the Flood, a belief embraced by biblical literalists who think God caused it to rain for 40 days and 40 nights because He was disgusted with mankind’s wickedness and evil ways, and that the resulting waters of the flood prevailed exceedingly upon the earth, covering all the mountain tops and drowned all living things except for those saved by six-hundred-year-old Noah on the ark he built according to God’s specifications.  Did even the fishes die?  Really, this Genesis Flood should be seen as a parable, not an actual plausible incident.

Mark Twain made fun of those who believe the Bible is literally true in his Letters from the Earth.  He reckoned that even if it rained 10 times more heavily than ever before recorded on Earth -- say 10 feet a day -- for 40 days and 40 nights, it would just submerge every hill 400 feet high.  “At last the Ark soared aloft and came to rest on the top of Mount Ararat, seventeen thousand feet above the valley …”  Ha!  Mark Twain was quite the card.  People who believe that the stories in the Bible are literally true, on the other hand, are a bit crazy.

In any case, extrapolating these ideas, a cogent vision of validity infuses the observation of a man who does not buy rigid religious dogmas:

“I contend we are both atheists;  I just believe in one fewer god than you do.  When you

   understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss


               --- Stephen F. Roberts

All nations and peoples really ought to embrace the freedom of religion and a robust separation of church and state, and the Golden Rule, and the fairness principles involved in “Live and let live” attitudes.  Or else,

  “… the curse of Allah will be upon the disbelievers.” … “And for those who disbelieve

        will be the fire of Hell.”

                                         --- The Koran, 2:89 and 35:36

Imagine if even a small portion of the billions of man-hours currently devoted to misguided theologies were to be dedicated to a study of wisdoms like those to be found in the Earth Manifesto.  Here’s hope!  I personally recommend such a grand re-allocation of priorities.  Check out, for example, the proposed Bill of Rights for Future Generations, and all of the proposals in Part Four.

This is What It’s All About

In the story of young Candide, Voltaire sets up a reverberating contrast between Dr. Pangloss, who professes the belief that “This is the best of all possible worlds”, and innocently simple-minded Candide, who suffers a shockingly calamitous cavalcade of every imaginable kind of hardship and disaster and perfidy and adversity.

The “glass is half full” philosophical optimism of Dr. Pangloss has a contrasting “glass is half empty” counterpart:  philosophical pessimism.  Profound, pervasive and sometimes seemingly random injustices in the world, together with circumstantial happenstances of life, can be rudely tragic and abruptly disastrous.  This gives philosophic pessimism fertile soil for growth in despairing minds.

End-of-the-world believers invest their hopes in an illusion that they will enjoy a better life after their one-and-only life on Earth in all of eternity has ended.  This is really a kind of extreme desperation and abandonment of hope in life.

  “Don’t just complain about the weather, do something about it.”  Ha!

A valuable third mode of philosophic understanding inhabits sensible people with the best kind of hope -- a hope that is capable of really changing the world for the better.  This hope can contribute to our creating a truly better world soon, in the here and now.

Known as “meliorism”, this philosophy recognizes that our world is NOT the best of all possible worlds, and that conditions and circumstances could actually be made significantly better for people alive today and in the future.  Positive change could easily be effected by implementing any of a myriad of win-win solutions which exist to almost every problem. 

To achieve this better world, we need to strive for fairer understandings, and to give other people greater respect in cooperating together to boldly actualize this better world.  The best solution to any problem is arguably to be found in the clearest and broadest understanding of the nature of the problem, and in the most accurate assessment of all the consequences of various courses of action.

Those who put their hopes in a fictitious end-of-the-world tacitly accept the inequities and rationalized injustices of this world, so they are a species of ultimate philosophical pessimists whose worldviews and convictions and social “conservatism” generally work to oppose, obstruct and circumvent the better world which is within our grasp.  We need clarity of comprehension and the will to demand positive change and a better political system to facilitate these positive changes and to overcome the opposition of those who are invested in the entrenched status quo.  To create this better world, we need more propitiously dedicated energies and convictions and priorities and incentives.

Instead of being easy to achieve, positive change is extremely difficult to accomplish.  Why?  Primarily because of those who stand in the path of this change:  greedy wealthy people who jealously protect their privileges, and reactionary conservatives and people on the Religious Right who oppose adaptive change.  What we think and believe affects our world in far-reaching ways, so we must choose more wisely, and we should focus our collective energies on goals that are fairer and more sustainable and more consistent with concepts of peaceful coexistence.

Some people choose to steep themselves in misconception and misunderstanding and denial.  I prefer to bask in the potential for more salubrious solutions.  These are suggested throughout the Earth Manifesto.  A summary of these ideas can be found in Part Four.

Origin of the Rapture Theory

Millions of believers cling to this dangerous and improbable ‘Rapture’ idea.  Oddly, this theory was not contained in the Bible.  The Rapture theory was formulated from some prophecies in the Bible that concerned a supposed literal “second coming” of Jesus Christ.  In The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, the disciples of Jesus asked on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, “… what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?  And Jesus answered and said unto them, take heed that no man deceive you.”  This advice in Matthew 24:4 is pretty good!  Verily I say unto you, Harold Camping, stop deceiving people with your delusions and make-believe and fear-mongering!

The Bible’s New Testament says in Matthew 24:6-14 that there shall be wars and famines and pestilences and earthquakes, and false prophets, and iniquity shall abound, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world …; and then shall the end come.”

A long line of charlatans and other false prophets have been purveying this idea of the coming End Times.  William Miller, for instance, was a Baptist preacher of the nineteenth century who used Bible prophecies to come up with a prediction that the world would end on October 22, 1844.  Some of his Millerite followers in the Hannibal area actually abandoned their crops and stores, put on long white robes, and gathered at Lover’s Leap, only to be ultimately disappointed.  There are no reports that any of the Millerites threw themselves off of this promontory bluff like the local legends say an Indian maiden had done long ago when disappointed in love. 

When the predicted end did not actually come to pass, this “Great Disappointment” befell believers who had given blind allegiance to this false prophet.  The Millerites were bewildered and disillusioned.  They felt a sense that psychologists today describe as “cognitive dissonance.”  When fervently held expectations are dashed, even though they are of terrible times involving tribulation and widespread calamities, it can lead believers to a state of anxiety and confusion.

Generally, when such errors of belief are confronted with a sudden clear contradiction, people change their convictions.  Not so for old Harold Camping!  He is apparently too stubborn-headed and arrogantly self-overestimating to admit the rash error of his alarmist certitudes.  So he merely changed his prediction, rescheduling the date that the Rapture will take place, and the universe will be destroyed by God, to October 21, 2011. 

If people seriously believed that the end will occur on that date, shouldn’t they all party from now until then like there will be no tomorrow?  Hmmm … actually, the way we human beings are treating resources and the earth’s providential ecosystems, we ARE acting as if there will be no tomorrow!  Let’s borrow another few trillion dollars in the next decade to keep up the scam of giving low tax rates to rich people, and Tea Party on!

On October 21, when the world does not end, once again, Camping should treat it as a revelation and he should be required to admit his delusions and devote his Family Radio to more honest and propitious purposes as a way of providing a measure of restitution for all the chagrin and hardship and harm he has caused to his followers in the world.

   “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.”

                                                                                  --- Matthew 23:24

Many observers scoffed in 1844 at the time of William Miller’s absurd and outlandish claims, just as they are doing today after the Harold Camping debacle.  In the wake of Camping’s ridiculously nonsensical prognostication, one must ponder the probability that some 2,000-year-old book would have greater foresight than modern scientists.  Today, we have much more insightful understandings of the nature of the world, and of the forces of causation, than people did in ancient times.  We also have far greater insight into the nature of real global threats that face humanity. 

Some things are predictable.  Others are not.  The fate of the world is unfolding, one moment at a time.  More than 2,000 years’ worth of moments have unfolded since the supposed Word of God was revealed in the Bible story.  The ultimate outcome of this eternal unfolding of earthly existence will not in any way resemble the simplistic archaic caricature of End Times that are predicted by self-proclaimed religious authorities. 

The Rapture is a cartoon-like prognostication that can be seen to be a tidy little completion allegory of a manipulative sublapsarian vision of humankind fallen in the Garden of Eden because Adam and Eve disobediently tasted of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  This Biblical parable involved God entirely wiping out humanity in a great Flood because of their wickedness, except for a few of the elect on Noah’s ark, and now the faithful await salvation by believing that Jesus will physically return.  So the story ends, with a few being saved for eternal life through believing dogmatically in the Bible story and the rest being condemned to eternal damnation for not believing. 

Since people are enamored with prophecies, I’ll make some:  The world is not going to end.  The number and severity of natural calamities will continue to escalate as we crowd more people onto the planet while we simultaneously squander resources and ramp-up the amount of pollution and wastes we produce and exacerbate the disruption of normal weather patterns by failing to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we are emitting into the atmosphere.  Humankind will eventually become extinct, just like the 99.9% of all species of life that have ever existed.

The average species of life throughout evolutionary history has survived for about 5 million years before becoming extinct.  Our species has been around for about 150,000 to 200,000 years, so we have a really long way to go just to reach average.  And we are likely never to make it even another 10,000 years unless we honestly begin to think longer term, and to act in ways that are more truly consistent with the greater good.

The Moody Blues sing about A Question of Balance:  I’m looking for a miracle in my life …” 

A better balance is surely needed in human affairs, and good miracles are appealing and worthy of our hopes.  Many religious hopes, however, are full of angry, jealous, vindictive, glory-craving gods and narratives like the Biblical God’s gruesome guilt-inducing sacrifice of “His” divine son, nailed to a cross, to atone for our sins.  This fear-inspiring, salvation-promising, believe-it-or-else-eternal-damnation fable has been used by enterprising souls to fabricate a prophesized Rapture event which features a cruelly violent, anti-well-wishing and terrible fate for almost all of humanity.  Say, what ever happened to “Love thy neighbor?”

It can be seen clearly that mankind has put God to many curious uses, and that churches have strayed rather far from honorable spiritual roots.  “Lord, Come Quickly”, cries the chorus.

When we divert our attention and energies and resources away from vitally important things to mythic prophecies of the end of the world, we insidiously undermine efforts to undertake priorities that are smarter and more propitious -- and that truly and comprehensively address the real dangers we collectively face.  Divisive alarmism over fancied improbabilities distracts us from coming together to sensibly address more urgent threats to our collective well-being.

  “Rational, adj.  Devoid of all delusions save those of observation, experience and reflection.”

                                                        --- Ambrose Bierce in his sardonic Devil’s Dictionary 

Real Dangers, not Imaginary Ones!

Rapture believers urge us to believe in exaggerated probabilities of a mythical catastrophic “end of the world”.  This contributes to a paralyzing “doomsday fatigue”.  It also diverts our attention from recognizing that we must boldly address far more real existential threats to our well-being and survival. 

The most serious global threats to humanity, other than a widespread nuclear war, are probably the potential for abrupt changes in the climate due to deforestation and anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.  Climate disruptions are already contributing to intense floods, droughts, tornados, hurricanes, heat waves, cold snaps, wildfires, crop failures, coral bleaching, melting glaciers and ice caps, and sea level rises.  These adverse developments are not being caused by God or Allah or some divine being that is angry with us;  we are doing this to ourselves!  We are doing it to ourselves and every unborn child to come, and to every animal on Earth.

These are real dangers, not imaginary ones.  The longer we delay addressing associated issues, the more severe and costly the consequences will be.  The longer we delay, the harder it will become to solve the problems or to adapt to changing conditions. 

Bill McKibben, the founder of the global climate campaign 350.org, recently wrote a satirical article about climate change deniers.  Since this editorial is well worth reading, I have appended it to the end of this essay, following the text of the Bill Moyers article;  check it out!  Or, for even more cogent perspective, watch a compelling YouTube video by Stephen Thompson on the Internet which contains the words to McKibben’s op-ed spoken along with real images of natural disasters.

High atop the Mauna Loa volcano on the big island of Hawaii (“the largest volcano on Earth in terms of volume and area covered”), the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been continuously measured for almost 54 years.  In this period of time, the concentration of this greenhouse gas has steadily increased from about 315 parts per million (ppm) to 393 ppm.  These measurements are so sensitive that they show an annual fluctuation as carbon dioxide is used up in the summertime by forests and plants in the northern hemisphere.  It turns out that the majority of the world’s forests are found on land masses in the northern hemisphere, so when it is summer there, robust photosynthetic activity levels cause a measurable diminishment in the concentration of carbon dioxide.  The trend, nonetheless, has been a steady climb year after year after year, due to the billions of tons of carbon dioxide that we human beings are creating through our combustion of fossil fuels each year.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that this concentration of carbon dioxide will increase by the year 2100 from 393 ppm to anywhere from 535 ppm to 983 ppm.  The effects of such large increases will be to make climate disruptions radically worse.  It will also cause sea levels to rise significantly, flooding islands and coastal areas worldwide and making millions of people into environmental refugees. 

Scientists have been pointing out that global warming associated with these increases in CO2 will cause more weather extremes.  And sure enough, we’re already experiencing epic episodes of flooding, intense storms, droughts, wildfires, and both unusually hot and cold weather almost everywhere on Earth.

A prudent regard for the interconnectedness of Earth’s ecological systems could help prevent us from allowing our aggregate activities to cause such extreme changes in weather patterns. 

In addition, shortages of resources may result from our unchecked activities.  The human race has doubled its aggregate demands on the natural world since the 1960s.  Our global “carbon footprint” has increased by more than one-third in the past 12 years.  We are using renewable natural resources at a rate 50% higher than they are naturally generated.  Projections of current “business as usual” trends reveal that we will need the equivalent of two planet Earths by the year 2030 to meet our annual demands.  Obviously, there is only one planet Earth.

These trends are clearly unsustainable.  It is foolish to severely deplete resources with rash and wanton wastefulness, and to hyper-stimulate our consumption by using deficit financing.

A global ecological collapse could result from “positive feedback” and “threshold effects” of human activities during the lifetimes of people alive today.  It is stupid to ignore the warnings of scientists in this regard.  We must think ahead, and do a much better job of planning ahead. 

We surely should more willingly cooperate together to really solve complex global problems, as Jeffrey Sachs cogently points out in Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet.  Sachs provides some insightful, incisive and intelligent proposed solutions to global problems.

Evangelism for the protection of the ecological commons would be a far, far better way to direct our passions than obsessions over purported God-sanctioned religious supremacist triumphalism and a tumultuous end-times-rapture for believers and cataclysm for all others.

Climate Change Perspectives from Another Religious Maniac

Republican Senator James Inhofe from Oklahoma has called the threat of catastrophic global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”  In defending that contention, he asserted that “man-induced global warming is an article of religious faith.” 

The Senator is a religious fundamentalist himself.  His willingness to let his Christian religion inform all of his worldviews makes his opinions deeply suspect.  He consistently espouses the far-right party line.  His climate change opinions deny the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which reveal that human activities are unambiguously contributing to the heating of the planet. 

Many religious fundamentalists wholeheartedly throw any sense of responsibility for ethical stewardship of Creation to the winds when they castigate climate change scientists.  Their own fervent convictions are driven by narrow self-interest, not attempts to honestly understand the real trends taking place on Earth.

The motives are suspect for Senator Inhofe’s skepticism in the face of overwhelming scientific and circumstantial evidence that climate disruptions are being caused by global warming.  His largest campaign donors are the oil, gas and electricity industries which profit from subsidies and from our allowing giant corporations to externalize pollution and carbon emission costs onto society.  Senator Inhofe’s conflicts of interest make his denial of the scientific consensus on climate disruptions extremely dubious and filled with hypocrisy.  The League of Conservation Voters has given him the lowest possible score on environmental issues, and one journalist has called him “the dumbest man in the Senate.”  Good going, Senator!

James Inhofe is one of the most extreme members of a group that has been instrumental in conducting what journalist Chris Mooney has called “the Republican War on Science.”  A jury of objective observers would be obligated to conclude that the Senator is a dishonest huckster. 

Not a single solitary scientist atop Mauna Loa, all of whom are intimately aware of the ominous increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere every year, would agree with Senator Inhofe that there is no warming effect of billions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions being spewed into the atmosphere each year while at the same time we are cutting down vast swaths of forests around the globe.  Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis, so cutting them down diminishes the amount of carbon dioxide used up.  Furthermore, carbon is released into the atmosphere when wood is burned or decays. 

The denial of human impacts on climate disruptions are a curious contention,  It is as if faithful preachers and corrupt politicians have entered a large greenhouse and felt that it is warmer inside, and have asserted with absolute certainty that the explanation for this phenomenon is that God, in all of his glory, is demonstrating great wonders and judgments by sustaining the hot air in the greenhouse through His inexplicable will alone.

Mark Twain, if he were alive today, would be scribbling cynical gales of laughter at the colossal folly of climate change deniers and the corrupt politicians who are intent on keeping the United States a grudging head-in-the-sand follower on the global stage instead of a bold leader in smarter incentives for green energy and international forest protections.  We should be moving toward independence from our addiction to fossil fuel usages for energy needs, and we should be leading the world to limit greenhouse gas emissions and make sensible investments in efforts to adapt to the risks of natural disasters caused by the havoc of changing weather patterns worldwide. 

Underlying Factors of Religious Doctrines

Almost every religion tries to appeal to its adherents by proclaiming the idea of a “life after death”.  This idea of an afterlife is a compensatory fantasy that has its roots in the fear of death and in the circumstantial injustices of life.  The belief in a life after death supposes that there is a system of absolute justice in the world -- and that there will be a day of absolute judgment by a God in this ‘hereafter’.  Human beings, especially those who are downtrodden and poor and disenfranchised, have been persistently haunted by the inequalities and frustrations that characterize life and existential reality, so they are especially susceptible to such beliefs. 

What really should matter most to people is not an imagined personal damnation or salvation in an improbable hypothetical afterlife, but a truer fairness to all of humanity in the real times that we are alive.  It is up to us to strive to establish greater justice in our world, and to oppose the increases in inequality and injustice at the hands of power-abusing people who corrupt our economic and political systems to gain greater advantages for themselves.  One might wonder if those greedy and heartless souls are actually possessed by some kind of devil.

“One consequence of our new awareness of death must be, and has been, an alarming growth of both national and individual selfishness, a Gadarene rush to enjoy the pleasures of the shops and senses before they close for ever.”

                                                                  --- John Fowles, The Aristos

The truth of the matter is that each person, like every other animal on Earth, almost certainly has only one life.  Death likely involves a total extinction of consciousness as well as of body.  Most people accept the obvious fact that their bodies cannot survive death, yet they cling to hopes that some of the functions of the brain -- the most inaccessible and mysterious part of the body -- will survive death.  Such religious explanations are simply not credible explanations of reality.  I, I, I;  eye, eye, eye;  aye yie yie yie yie!

“Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith”, said Jesus before performing another supernatural miracle in Matthew 8:26.

An Interlude of Introspection into Heaven

Mark Twain poked serious and thought-provoking fun at the supposed characteristics of Heaven in his posthumously-published (1962) Letters from the Earth.  He was astounded by the fact that there is no sexual intercourse whatsoever in Heaven, even though it is one of mankind’s chief preoccupations on Earth.  No sex! 

Likewise, intellect and intellectual achievements and invention and entrepreneurial activities, and pride in work well done, and artistic creativity are all exalted on Earth, yet curiously there isn’t a rag of these things in Heaven, as Mark Twain remarked.  Few people on our home planet enjoy playing the harp or singing religious songs in chorus, yet the Heaven conjured up by most religious authorities is filled with singing and praying and playing the harp.  And Heaven is often pictured as having absolute peaceful equality, even though on Earth most people strive for distinction and superiority -- and are outraged by the presumption that someone else might be as good and deserving as they are.

Psychological Perspectives

Sigmund Freud psycho-analyzed the human psyche.  The way he saw it, the mind consists of three parts, or activities:  the ego, which is the province of conscious desires;  the id, which is the obscure chaos of unconscious forces that are focused on primitive drives for security and sexual satisfaction;  and the superego, which attempts to control or repress the other two parts.  The brilliantly insightful John Fowles noted a deeper and more modern facet of our psyches in what he called the nemo, which is a sense of futility and ephemerality, of relativity, and of a feeling of virtual insignificance that lurks deep within us. 

The nemo is a function of civilization, of communication, and of the uniquely human ability to compare and hypothesize.  The nemo drives us to seek importance, power, meaningfulness, a personal legacy, admiration, envy, or even being feared.  The nemo leads us either to conform to societal norms or to conflict by adopting a special style of life, an elaborate unique persona, a bohemian or dandy or counterculture affiliation, or even membership in a gang.  The nemo is partially the cause for why we worship fame and celebrity so much.  It is why we try to control others or feel a need to be right, or indulge in conspicuous consumption, madcap travel, or other extravagant indulgences.

“Nobody wants to be a nobody.  All our acts are partly devised to fill or to mask the emptiness we feel at the core.”  … “Belief in an afterlife is partly an ostrich attempt to cheat the nemo.

                                                                                                  --- John Fowles, The Aristos

It has been more than 40 years since John Fowles penned his observations about the nemo.  During these years, scientific knowledge and understandings of the workings of the brain have advanced by synaptic leaps and bounds.  One compelling insight that has been provided by a psychology professor and neuroscientist named Michael Gazzaniga is that 98% of our thinking is done beneath the radar of conscious awareness. 

What’s happening here under the threshold of our consciousness ain’t exactly clear.  In this sense, we simply do not know our own minds.  Our brains make decisions for us that we are not consciously aware of.  Hormones and neurotransmitters affect parts of the brain like the amygdala that are the province of negative emotions.  Thus, fear and worry and insecurity and overwork tend to activate emotions that allow master manipulators to use the fear of terrorism and things like job insecurity to get people to support agendas that are contrary to their own self-interest and the greater good of society. 

To create a better world, we must recognize and understand these things.  Linguist George Lakoff feels that progressive ideas must overcome conservative frames and metaphors and narrow interests by utilizing a greater clarity of awareness of how social conservatives and religious fundamentalists subvert our democracy and undermine more moral conceptions of what our proper courses of action should be for the common good.  Lakoff’s book The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th Century Brain provides lots of food for thought about how conservatives have hijacked our nation.

Religion and Religious Worldviews

Fervently-held religious beliefs are forms of self-identity.  They provide people with ways to feel like they belong.  Hallelujah!  Sing out loud;  sing along!!  People believe far-fetched ideas to stave off fears and insecurities, and to cling to hopes of a better life after this one as a reassuring compensation to the profound inequities and hardships of this life.  Our beliefs provide us with an expression of deep-seated spiritual impulses and longings.  These beliefs are often less about the true nature of the universe and more about the true nature of our selves.

In Exodus, the LORD supposedly had sympathy for “His” people, the children of Israel, in light of their sorrows and hardships at the hand of the ruthless Egyptian Pharaoh.  So He told Moses that He had come down to deliver them unto a good land flowing with milk and honey.  Surely, it occurs to me, the sighs and cries of the workers of today are exceeding those fewer numbers of the children of Israel whose cries came up to God by reason of their bondage. 

One wonders why it does not come to pass in the process of time that God hears the groaning of workers today due to the increasing stresses placed on them, or at the daunting angst of those who can not find work when they need it to survive. 

Searching for the keys to proper behavior in the Bible is fraught with perplexity.  It essentially says in Matthew 19:29 that to inherit everlasting life, one must forsake houses, brethren, sisters, fathers, mothers, wives, children, or lands for the sake of the name of God.  Really?!

“And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than

  for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 

                                                                  --- Matthew 19:24

Perhaps God just loves to play games.  When He sent Moses and his wife and sons to Egypt upon an ass to bring forth His people out of Egypt, He simultaneously hardened the heart of the Pharaoh so that he would not let the people go.  Instead, the Pharaoh accused the people of being idle, and made the taskmasters work them harder, and caused them anguish of spirit and more cruel and rigorous bondage. 

God does not manifest Himself in burning bushes these days, but He sure does seem to be at his old heart-hardening gambit of making today’s rulers and multi-millionaires lack empathy and the willingness to accept greater social fairness.  A day of reckoning likely approaches.  This day of reckoning will be one gauged by humanistic criteria, not a divine reckoning, a day “with great judgments” by people, not by God, I reckon.  Let’s ask our children in 50 years how they think we have done in protecting the legacy we will leave them.

“And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and

   waxed exceeding mighty;  and the land was filled with them.”

                                                                                               --- Exodus 1:7

World Population to Reach an Ominous Seven Billion in 2011

Countries like India, Indonesia, Egypt, Mexico and Nepal have achieved sharp voluntary drops in fertility rates even at relatively low levels of socioeconomic development.  These reductions have been achieved by means of highly proactive national family planning efforts in the past few decades.  Today, most developed countries have fertility levels near replacement levels, and it is mainly in Africa where families still have an average of more than 4 or 5 children.  Yes, right there in nations that can least afford their burgeoning human numbers!

A phenomenal worldwide shift in public family planning policy has led to significant declines in fertility rates in most other nations.  Populations, nonetheless, continue to grow because of a baby boom bulge associated with greater longevity achieved by modern medicine and sanitation and the Green Revolution.  Fertility rates have deep family security and economic underpinnings, but social reactionaries want to reverse the progress toward lower birth rates, apparently in order to replenish the ranks of the religious faithful. 

On the other hand, many developed nations are faced with a distinct conundrum as the average age of their populace rises:  old people rely for social security programs on younger working people, so as the ranks of old people swell, it is going to be increasingly difficult to finance these social programs.  Intergenerational warfare is already taking place, as it is, and it will intensify.

Population stabilization policies are integral to the overall challenge of sustainable development.  In a salubrious twist of propitious correlations, efforts to slow population growth are mutually reinforcing with achieving economic progress and reducing poverty and improving environmental protection and reducing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production a bit.

International conferences on population and development have helped increase awareness of the ecological and social challenges associated with the rapid growth in human numbers.  There has also been a more recent broadening of the focus of population concerns to include a much wider array of sexual and reproductive health services.  These include counseling on reproductive health and human sexuality and responsible parenthood, and the education and empowerment of women in countries worldwide.

The empowerment of women, incidentally, should include guarantees of property rights, non-discrimination, social equity, fairer educational and job opportunities, access to microfinance programs and sound borrowing, legal protections against violence, and the expanded assurance of rights for self-determination and reproductive choice. 

Back to the Theory of the Rapture

The word Rapture itself is not in the Bible at all.  The term comes from the Latin verb rapere, meaning “to be caught up or snatched up”.  The Rapture theory was invented by some preachers in Scotland who, from 1826 to 1830, “emphasized that the world’s problems could only be addressed through an outbreak of supernatural gifts from the Holy Spirit.”  This idea was seized by a pastor named Edward Irving in about 1830, and he adopted his own interpretation of the biblical Scriptures to include a “pre-tribulation rapture.”

It had come to pass that a teenage girl named Margaret MacDonald experienced paranormal visions and weird manifestations of prophecy.  She was, at the time, in an altered mental state of consciousness due to a long and serious illness in which she felt she was going to die.  She later claimed to be a “prophetess”, and she died at the age of 25.  Anglo-Irish evangelist John Nelson Darby, an influential figure among the original conservative Plymouth Brethren, then popularized this extrapolation of earlier myths by developing his own eschatological views that included a pretribulation rapture.  These Brethren also believed in the silence of women, so those faithful who so believe, verily I say unto thee, feel free to ignore these words entirely!    

More recently, Timothy LaHaye created a popular Left Behind series of apocalyptic fiction.  There are 16 best-selling novels in this series that deals with the end of the world.  Total sales for the series have surpassed 65 million copies.  This is sensational.  Sure enough, there is a lot of profit to be made from pandering to the gullible!  Ironically and appropriately, Tim LaHaye was on the Pacific island of Maui at the time of the devastating earthquake in Japan on March 11, 2011, so he used the opportunity to advance his theories by saying that the earthquake proves that the last days are upon us.  Perhaps he should take a course in geology and plate tectonics for a better understanding of the causes of earth movements and tsunamis!

Once again:

“I’ve said many times that we can expect delusional beliefs to rise in proportion to the

  economic hardships we experience.  That’s exactly what’s happening.” 

        --- James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate

                Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century

Today it is becoming increasingly clear that the world’s problems could best be addressed not by some mysterious and miraculous outbreak of the supernatural, but rather by understandings of the real nature of these challenges and concomitant concerted efforts to effectively and fairly address the underlying causes of the problems.  Sure, let us enlist the fervor and energies of our spiritual selves, but through understanding, not through studied ignorance!

Zealotry and the Modern World

A Zealot is a follower who is zealous in the belief in a personal God.  Judas of Galilee was one of the co-founders of the original Zealots.  He led them in a principled resistance to submission by the Jews to “heathen authorities” of the Roman Empire.  The Romans had imposed a census on the people of the holy lands for tax purposes, and Judas and his followers revolted in 6 A.D. in opposition to these taxes.  The Romans brutally suppressed the movement and killed its leaders.  The Boston Tea Party incident is reminiscent of this episode, because colonial Americans at the time angrily revolted against paying taxes to the British on imported tea. 

Today, we are having a new kind of tax revolt which is being orchestrated by billionaires like the industrialist Koch brothers.  This new movement is supported by fiscal conservatives, right-wing Republicans, libertarians and the Tea Party.  Objecting to paying taxes to a domineering foreign government, however, is vastly different from opposing taxes that support public education and a social safety net and the maintenance of a sound infrastructure and protections of the environment.  Paying taxes is a matter of civic responsibility, not a worshipful obeisance to the wrong Lord, as the fanatics held 2,000 years ago, nor a form of submission to oppressive foreign rule. 

The priorities for which we pay taxes and borrow huge sums of money every year have become seriously skewed.  We spend too much money on wars, munitions and foreign occupations;  we subsidize established industries at the expense of small businesses and new technologies;  we subsidize Big Oil more than we support conservation, efficiency, and fossil fuel alternatives;  we give giant corporations too much power and allow them to abuse the system and pay enormous amounts of tax-deductible compensation to their CEOs;  we allow some public employees to gain overly-generous benefits;  we let rich people game the system and use the power of their money to gain historically low tax rates for the wealthy;  and we allow the federal government to run huge deficits that cause the annual interest expense on the growing national debt to increase rapidly and ominously.

We arguably need to become zealots for common sense and greater fairness and sustainable human activities, rather than zealots for low tax rates for millionaires and billionaires!

Proposals for A Sensible Approach to Solving Global Problems

The wise Solon advocated a tax system in which tax rates on the richest people would be 12 times higher than taxes on the poorest people.  It turned out that the greater social justice associated with this plan was not only healthier and more propitious and safer for the poor, it was better for the safety of the rich and the greater well-being of society.  Social justice has distinct merits!

One of my intuitive hypotheses is that insecurity and the effective disenfranchisement of the majority of Americans may be good for profiteering and the suppression of the masses, but it is distinctly contrary to the greater good.  I believe that the bigger the wealth gap between the super-rich and the majority, and the more pronounced the social injustices become in a society, the more draconian the laws must be and the higher the costs become for police and prisons and the military to enforce the glaring inequities of the status quo. 

Who should most appropriately pay these costs?  It seems clear to me that those who benefit the most from the way the system is structured should shoulder the biggest part of the burden of its cost.  And, of course, it is wealthy people who benefit the most. 

Let the poorest people pay 4% tax on their net incomes, and let the rich pay 48%.  Solon says!  Create a fair and adequately-progressive graduated rate scale for everyone in between the richest and poorest.  By way of contrast, the 2010 federal tax on the lowest taxable incomes is 10%, and the highest federal tax rate is only 35% on all taxable income in excess of $373,650.  The marginal tax rate was 70% before Ronald Reagan became president, so 48% is not unreasonable.

The higher proceeds of this tax restructuring plan should be used to reduce federal budget deficits and accomplish the best ideas contained in the compendiums found in the Earth Manifesto Part Four: Overarching Considerations - Transformational Ideas and Enlightened Proposals.

The Progressive Agenda for a More Sane Humanity, for instance, has sensible initiatives that are proposed in eight important principal domains: Economic Priorities, Environmental Priorities, Foreign Policy Priorities, Government Priorities, Social Justice Priorities, Education Priorities, Legal System Priorities, and Health Priorities.

Also, there are plenty of good ideas in (1) Radically Simple Ways to Make America Fairer, and to Fix Both Social Security and Health Care So We Can Move On to Address Much Bigger Issues;  (2) Three Bills of Right: A Triumvirate of Responsible Actions for the Greater Good;  and (3) One Dozen Big Initiatives to Positively Transform Our Societies.

A Digression on Boldness

I just happened to turn on TV on 5/22/11 in a motel room where I had spent the night under very interesting circumstances (that’s a different story!), and I saw a smooth-talking mega-church preacher named Andy Stanley evangelizing about being BOLD in sharing one’s beliefs with others.  The purpose for his slick and zealous advocacy of boldness was to urge his flock of followers to be BOLD in trying to convert others to a belief in his “Big Church” God.  His sermon urged people to believe in the “word of the Lord” and to help save non-believers and “sinners” and heretics from a terrible eternal fate with which Holy Books threaten non-believers.

Andy Stanley’s observations:

“BOLD is deciding to say something when it would be easier to say nothing.  BOLD is taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.  BOLD is creating opportunities.”

I do believe in the power of boldness to achieve good ends.  But a revelation was contained in this sermon:  boldness must be properly directed!  Proselytizing amongst non-believers can not only be obnoxious, but it surely is not the absolute best way to spend one’s life.  In light of the overwhelming probability that this life will be the only one we ever have, in all of eternity, I say, “Guys, get a life!”.

Andy Stanley, in any case, swears by boldness in proselytizing!

There are, of course MANY types of people in whom boldness is a hindrance, a vice, an outrage.  For instance, it is distinctly undesirable for a broad spectrum of people to act with boldness -- people like thieves, pimps, rapists, bigots, liars, domestic violence perpetrators, sports doping cheaters, absolute-conviction crusaders, pseudoscientific proselytizers, disaster capitalism facilitators, and corporate crime enablers. 

Boldness today by anti-tax zealots is especially harmful to society because these zealots support low tax rates on rich people at the expense of the environment and vulnerable people and vital public services and a balanced budget.  Their boldness harms the prospects of social fairness and the greater good and future generations.

Bold anti-tax activists are apologists for the best interests of the Few.  Their actions tend to be socially “penny wise and pound foolish” with regard to things like smart investments in national infrastructure, good public education, and the interests of young people and our descendents.

Religious fanatics have too much influence in politics today.  Their stubborn support for right-wing politicians is obstructing progress in many arenas.  Religious fanatics also lead terrorist groups in the world.  These groups act outside of the mainstream by mixing fundamentalist religious extremism with political ambitions and ideologies and indiscriminately violent tactics.  Cease and desist!

The misuse of “holy books” to promote narrow prejudices and to stereotype and demonize others is a gambit as old as the written word.  Too often in history, religious doctrines have been used to scapegoat and persecute people -- just ask any Jew, or gay man, or lesbian, or oppressed and disenfranchised woman, or “infidel” non-believer.  Or explore the history of any of millions of people targeted by religious fanatics over the centuries.

Watch Out for Diatribes!

Explain, again, why the wealthiest people in the United States are paying the lowest taxes on earnings, dividends, capital gains and inheritances since the Roaring Twenties’ year of 1928.  The wealthy are apparently not willing to share prosperity broadly, but now that we have backed ourselves into a corner by rashly indulging in record levels of deficit financing of wars and government and social programs, they want austerity measures to be shared, spreading them far and wide -- except to themselves, of course, because they want to be spared from making any sacrifices.

The needs are great for more revenues.  These revenues must come from those who can afford it.  And they must be used for more intelligently prioritized purposes to create sustainable development, protections of open spaces and the environment, and assistance to the poorest nations in the world to help them slow the depletion of resources and reduce birthrates, which are three times as high as those in European countries. 

How could we allow taxes to be so low for those who can most easily afford to pay more?  The rich will gain greater security with a more progressive tax system, and the vast majority of Americans and people in future generations will gain a more sensible modicum of fairness. 

How can we not snort out loud with incredulity when hearing the latest bright Republican budget idea on how to balance the budget?  Sure enough, once again, Republicans proclaim that taxes should be slashed on corporations and the wealthy.  It’ll all start trickling down pretty soon, they claim, despite the fact that the experience of the last 30 years has been that this tactic results in a gusher of wealth upwards to the top few percent of people while the vast majority of workers whose productivity has helped enable this creation of wealth see and feel their prospects stagnate. 

The Reagan and Bush tax breaks for the wealthy and CEOs and investors come at the expense of other segments of society, like poor people and the middle class and upper-middle class, and of almost every government program and employee in sight, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and police officers and firefighters and teachers, etc.

Bravo for the competitive success of the wealthy!  But could you relent just a little bit in your fervor to pay ever-lower rates of taxes?  Unharden your hearts.  Be somewhat more sensible about the fact that it is better for all when the wealth is shared more fairly and when the tax system is more progressive.  It’s pathetic that almost all of the wealth engendered by dramatic productivity gains over the last 30 years has benefitted the rich and investors -- and that so little, after inflation is taken into account, has gone to the workers who are spending their lives struggling away to make ends meet.

Capital is triumphing over labor, and the megaphones are in the hands of the wealthy in our political system which is being corrupted so significantly by Big Money.  The government is too often in league with the Few to make our nation increasingly inegalitarian.  This is not supposed to be how a democratic republic functions!

We have many overarching needs for the expenditure of money at local and national and international levels.  Powerfully effective incentives need to be implemented, and sensible regulations need to be established to safeguard our financial system and the environment.  Once we share the wealth somewhat more broadly, everyone will be able to better afford the higher costs which will result when we honestly address economic and environmental issues. 

Billionaires and multi-millionaires must allow prosperity to be more fairly shared so that everyone is able to afford the higher costs that will be associated with more expensive fossil fuels that are appropriate once we stop allowing the costs of environmental damages to be externalized onto society.  An allowance should be included in the price of all fossil fuels to be used to advance a necessary global transition to more robust conservation and energy efficiency innovations and greener alternatives.

Those who oppose all financial and business regulations want to move our nation in the direction of “pre-regulation” days when Captains of Industry were often accurately characterized as “robber barons”, and workers had few rights, and big companies could despoil the environment without any consideration for the impacts of their activities on people and other species of life.

Rich people should look at it this way:  The need is desperate for us to collectively devote more funding to protecting the environment and mitigating pollution, and to making energy use more efficient, and to conserving resources, and to protecting biodiversity, and to investing in future well-being, and to having a radically reformed and fairer, more affordable universal health care system.  Let it be!

Overarching Worldviews

One of the classic debates in philosophy and religion is whether human nature is inherently good or bad.  The various ways that people regard human nature lead to distinct different views of reality.  Those people who assume that children are born bad, and must be made good, tend to embrace a Strict Father worldview which assumes that strict discipline and harsh punishment and conservative politics are the proper way to better our societies.  Those people who assume that children are born good tend to embrace a Nurturant Parent worldview which assumes that empathy and personal responsibility and overarching protections and fairness and progressive values are the best means to create better societies.

The whole Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden story is based on a male-domineering premise that is oriented around obedience and atonement for sins and the feeling of guilt to keep people in line with Biblical injunctions and commandments.  I personally find a spirituality that is based on love, compassion, Golden Rule fairness and empathetic understanding to be more valuable and socially redeeming than one based on in-group righteousness, absolute convictions, a Manichean duality of good and evil, and rationalized inequities. 

The entire constellation of Strict Father values is generally associated with judgmental people whose highest goal is to control and dominate others.  Such worldviews are often correlated with social conservatism and religious fundamentalism.  Curiously, those who embrace these worldviews tend to pick and choose the passages in the Bible or Koran or whatever Holy book they subscribe to, and to ignore fair-minded caveats like that in Chapter 7 of Matthew in the Bible: 

  “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

“… why beholdest thou the mote that is thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thy own eye?”

“… all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them …”.

I believe that rational thinking and open-mindedness are preferable to narrow-mindedness and absolute adherence to beliefs in mental constructs like heaven and hell and a celestial kingdom and an afterlife and eternal salvation and glory in the hereafter and the absolute truth of some holy book or another -- or any myth that says the world will end according to some ancient prophecy.

Cheerful Introduction

The following paragraphs are excerpted from the original version of this essay on April 1, 2010, when it was titled An Interlude of Ridicule for the Rapture.

A friend of my grandfather’s was an old cowpoke who used to just love to sing ‘Home on the Range’.  Yes, “Home, home on the range, Where the deer and the antelope play; Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, And the skies are not cloudy all day.”

This old cowboy once caught my grandfather in a moment of confused angst and told him, “Cheer up, things could be worse.”  So my grandfather said that he cheered up; “and sure enough, things got worse!”  Ha!  Sometimes that is the nature of woes.  Stuff happens.  And yet, I reckon that to be optimistic, and to see a glass as half full, is arguably better for one’s mental health than when the proverbial glass is skeptically regarded as half empty. 

There are many circumstances in which it is best for an individual, and for society as a whole, to see things accurately, rather than being deluded as to the way they actually are.  It can be risky to impose false ideas upon true realities.  Sir Walter Scott wrote, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive!”  When we deceive ourselves, or when we get caught up participating in mass deception, the tangled webs that we weave can seriously harm us and the greater good -- and our descendents as well.

The Rapture Index

Let us examine the Rapture Index, and then let’s consider a much more sensible and intelligent Index:  a Sustainability Index.  This new Index measures our progress toward achieving greater good goals and ensuring a healthy and propitious future for future generations.

In recent years, a clever but apparently dim-witted Believer created an online Rapture Index which correlates the supposed approach of End Times with superstitious and ignorant ideas about the natural world.  This Index is a numerical rating that takes into account the incidences of natural disasters like earthquakes, droughts, floods, plagues and volcanic activity, and it is augmented by measures of such things as increases in liberality and civil rights and ecumenism and financial instability, presumably because God hates these things, although ‘He’ apparently allows them to occur to herald the approach of the world going to hell in a handbasket.

If one Googles “Rapture Index” today (“latest update August 8, 2011”), one sees that it currently stands at 184, tied with the its all-time high.  This reading of the Rapture Index indicates that the world has exceeded the range of “Heavy prophetic activity” and is at the very top of the “Fasten your seat belts” category.  This Index not only measures the incidences of natural phenomena, but also trends in famines and plagues, and even “Beast Government” and the decriminalization of homosexuality and marijuana use.  Curious and curiouser!

Mark Twain would have scribbled more gales of laughter at the preposterous nature of the suppositions and prejudices contained in this end-of-the-world Index!

The Rapture Index is downright silly.  It is nonsense.  Ancient peoples attributed thunder and lightening and earthquakes and floods and famines and droughts and plagues to deities because they had no understanding of the true nature of the physical causes of these phenomena.  We now call such ignorance “superstition”.  We have long since learned how electrical charges between clouds and the earth cause lightening strikes, and how movements of tectonic plates cause earthquakes, and how the weather is affected by the jet stream in the atmosphere, and how infectious diseases are caused by germs and pathogens. 

Charles P. Pierce wrote in his 2009 book, Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free, that a war against science and expert understandings is being waged in the United States.  In the forefront of this war are giant corporations and right-wing think tanks and front groups financed by people like billionaires Charles and David Koch, together with the politicians they bribe.  Religious fundamentalists join forces with these social conservatives when they deny evolution, oppose contraception, give political support to politicians who oppose fairness doctrines, and are convinced that Jesus will return in a sudden rapturous Second Coming. 

Pierce calls our nation Idiot America because people consider facts to be whatever enough people believe, and they regard truth to be found mainly in how fervently people believe these “facts”.

No matter what religious dogmas say, the Earth will continue to orbit the Sun for another billion years or three, just as it has done for more than 4 billion years in the past.  Any rationalizations that justify actions which threaten our human survival on the planet are the ultimate in moral misconceptions and downright stupidity.  Those who are enraptured by prophesies of End Times can become counterproductive and harmful to saner endeavors.  Those who embrace the doom and gloom and bizarre expectations of the Rapture are gullible believers in a ludicrous myth.  They belong in the same category as crazy cult worshippers.

The Rapture Index website: 

“The Rapture Index is by no means meant to predict the rapture, however, the index is designed to measure the type of activity that could act as a precursor to the rapture.  You could say the Rapture index is a Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity, but I think it would be better if you viewed it as prophetic speedometer.” 

Ah, I see!  Or do I?  I think not!

Those who prey on people’s basest fears tend to cause our noblest impulses to be subordinated to these fears.  Such people thus harm our well-being today as well as the prospects of all those in the future.  Evangelical fear-mongering is reminiscent of Don Quixote preposterously tilting at windmills;  yet it is worse, because the stoking of fears helps rationalize anti-social policies and it tends to make people more accepting of injustices and ecological folly.  Rapture dogmas are generally accompanied by reactionary social conservatism which actively strives to repress progress, discriminate against women and gay people, and enlist believers to help thwart fair-minded social change. 

   “A lie can travel halfway around the world, while truth puts on its shoes.”

                                                                                                          -- Mark Twain

Something Actually Valuable:  A Proposed Sustainability Index

It would be far more salubrious if fewer people were concerned with the idiotic Rapture Index, and if instead most people paid attention to positive measures like a smart SUSTAINABILITY INDEX.  This Earth Manifesto barometer focuses on ecological, economic, societal and political factors that are directly correlated to the prospects of our achieving a sustainable existence.  This makes more sense than trying to gauge natural-event “Acts of God” or things like “Beast Government” to determine how close mythical End Times are becoming. 

We could and should be taking steps to mitigate inequalities, reduce injustices, solve existential problems, build peace, stop rainforest destruction, protect wetlands, minimize the production of toxic wastes, mitigate global warming-induced climate change, protect biological diversity, and educate and empower women so that the growth rate in human numbers would be stabilized in nations everywhere around the globe.

The Sustainability Index takes into account ‘Genuine Progress Indicators’ which measure most of the important elements that contribute to a good quality of life.  Such Indicators assess things that contribute to healthy communities, general wellness, greater fairness, fulfilling work, and authentic connections to others and the natural world.  We would be able to see a more accurate picture of our aggregate actions by changing our focus from current measures of Gross Domestic Product, which assess economic activities in a narrow quantitative way, to new measures that are focused on broad and beneficial outcomes.  This would allow us to improve our priorities and modify the negative impacts of our behaviors. 

The Sustainability Index is a detailed assessment of human activities that parallels the Rapture Index in format.  But it substitutes meaningful measures of progress toward indefinitely sustainable existence for the dumb measures of prophetic End Times which are contained in the Rapture Index.  True measures can be very valuable, while measures predicated upon subjectively ridiculous occurrences and inscrutable correlations are meaningless.

A Living Planet Index

Early humans had a spiritual reverence for nature and the providential bounty of wildlife and natural ecosystems.  Western religions, in contrast, are founded on Creation myths that presume a different perspective that is pervaded by both anthropocentric and patriarchal hubris.  The Bible teaches that the universe and humankind were made by God, and that human beings are supposed to subdue the earth and “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the face of the earth.”

This dominion theology is being used to rationalize the wreaking of severe damage on earth’s ecosystems.  Too often, it is also used to ignore the responsibilities that must go with our attempts to control and govern the rest of creation.  This new form of belief system has been joined by modern industrial economic doctrines that reinforce and rationalize competitive drives and greed in an epic and ruthless assault upon nature, and upon the very foundations of human well-being.  This shortsighted arrogance has facilitated our becoming the single most destructive force on Earth for all the other species of life with which we share the planet.

These attitudes are causing an insidiously severe biodiversity crisis.  Many species of life have already been driven to extinction, and almost all others are threatened by the impacts of our activities.  These activities include widespread habitat destruction, water and air pollution, the overharvesting of forests and fisheries and wildlife, and the introduction of invasive species.  These impacts are being made worse by our rapidly growing human numbers, and our increasing needs and consumer desires, and our accelerating disruptions of weather patterns which are being caused by the billions of tons of greenhouse gases we spew into the atmosphere annually. 

A “Living Planet Index” has been developed by the World Wide Fund for Nature, in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Program.  This Index provides a clear indicator of the state of the world’s biodiversity.  The Index has fallen significantly between 1970 and 2007 in a global trend that reflects a degradation of natural ecosystems which is unprecedented in recorded human history. 

The Living Planet Index indicates that the abundance of freshwater vertebrate species has fallen about 50% in the past 40 years and the abundance of terrestrial and marine species has declined by about 30%.  Habitat and ecosystem degradation are contributing to the collapse of fisheries and pervasive threats to pollinators, corals, amphibians, reptiles, birds and other forms of life, including our nearest mammalian evolutionary ancestors, the chimpanzees and bonobos and great apes.  Canaries in the coal mines seem to be figuratively dying left and right.

The conservation of biological diversity is “a common concern of humankind”, so the United States should ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity, the international treaty which has been signed by 193 countries.  We should commit to reinvigorated global cooperation on sustainable development and the mitigation of climate disruption.  We should work together to reduce the rates of population growth in developing countries and try to stabilize the human population of the world by helping the poorest countries speed their demographic transition to lower birth rates.

The Earth is our home.  When we damage it, we harm ourselves.  It is high time we began to heed these understandings!

Images from a Film

Last year, I watched the 1991 film The Rapture.   It stars Mimi Rogers, who was the sexy first wife of actor Tom Cruise.  Rogers was the person who introduced Tom Cruise to Scientology, the cult-like “religion without a God”.  The film is a ‘B movie’, but it does provide an idea of how a sexy woman who is bored with her life (she worked as a repetitive-task switchboard operator) might be attracted to an excitingly promiscuous life in which she participates in the erotic trading of partners.  This indulgence caused her to feel guilty and confused and empty and vulnerable.  Upon meeting some creepy evangelical types, Rogers’ character snaps onto the belief in a judgmental God and the Rapture, so she retreats to the desert with her child to await the end.  It is a strange film that develops and ends bizarrely when the woman kills her daughter to send her on ahead to the odd Promised Land, and then apparently ends up alone in a desolate Hell.  The film is possibly worth the time spent to watch it, just in order to stimulate one’s thinking about the whole idea and the conundrums that tortured souls experience in their embrace of bizarre beliefs like the Rapture.

Personal Rapture Strikes on May 22, 2011

I had been lying for an hour on a sandy Pacific Ocean beach in a pocket cove surrounded by steep cliffs on the afternoon of May 22, 2011.  A generous sunshine was warming my skin, as well as the cockles of my heart.  I was jotting down some thoughts about the radio preacher Harold Camping and his erroneous prediction that the world would end the previous day.  The sea was rather tumultuous, though the day was otherwise calm.  Theoretically, according to Camping, all of the elect people should have been caught up into the clouds already, and I myself should have been embarking on a period of tribulation.

Sure enough!  Suddenly, the powerful impulse of a rogue wave caught me up as it rushed up the beach and cascaded over me, crashing into the rocky cliff behind me.  The wave was very scary, but the real danger was the rock against which I almost had my head dashed.  The wave soaked some extraordinary insights scrawled on pieces of paper, almost sweeping them away.  The irregular rhythm of the crashing waves washes past my ears as I recollect this episode.

The real risk, Rapture believers, is not in the fear of mythical prophecies, but in ignoring the real ecological dangers!  It turns out that the people of Joplin, Missouri, which lies 312 miles southwest of Hannibal, my adopted home town, also had their own scary and devastating event on May 22.  The town suffered a destructive hit by a powerful tornado, which caught up about 8,000 homes and businesses in its path and killed more than 140 people. 

A provocative political cartoon by Tom Toles appeared in the newspaper on May 26: 

Three pigs are floating away on curious square boats from the Joplin twister that roars in the background.  The first pig sits in a sinking boat that is labeled “CLIMATE CHANGE ISN’T REAL.  The second pig sits in a fraying boat that is labeled IT WON’T COME SOON.  A third pig sits in a newer boat labeled IT WON’T BE THAT BAD.   

Bill McKibben’s perspective about the many extreme weather events around the world these days, quoted at the end of this essay, gives pause for reflection.  Conservatives and apologists for corporate profiteering and the concentration of wealth in the hands of the Few and anti-environmental worldviews, come to your senses!

Introspections on the Beach

Bill Maher made a seriously funny film titled Religulous in which he interviewed Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, an avowed evangelical Christian.  Maher asked the Senator about the Ten Commandments and a talking snake in the Garden of Eden, and about whether he believes in evolution.  The Senator opined that the Biblical story of Adam and Eve “coulda possibly been” true.  In response to another Maher question, Senator Pryor pointed out that, well, “You don’t have to pass an I.Q. test to be in the Senate ...”.  A stunned and awkward silence ensued, with Maher arching his eyebrows in incredulity, and both participants soaking in the implications of this admission.  Oh, that’s precious, all right! 

Senator Pryor is a Rapture believer.  He conveniently embraces evangelical certitudes in his conviction that Bible stories are true -- and in casting doubt on the scientific fact that life has been biologically evolving on earth continuously for hundreds of millions of years.  Let us consider for a moment whether evolution really “coulda possibly been”.

Imagine lying on a blanket on a balmy day in April on the very same reddish sand beach on which the rogue wave recently washed over me.  Multihued and distinctly-layered rock cliffs form the base of coastal mountains that rise above the Pacific Ocean here in this spot on the west coast of North America.  These dramatically-eroded cliffs jut up on the sea-facing side of coastal hills, creating a distinct contrast to the vibrant beauty of April green hillsides speckled with lovely wildflowers. 

An evocatively-weathered shell of some type of marine creature lies nearby on the beach.  It is about three inches long and has a vaguely trilobite-like appearance with a broad head segment followed by five body carapace segments and a triangular pointed tailbone.  Looking at it closely, belly-side up, one can see a small cavernous space leading from where the animal’s head would have been when it was alive, extending down through the protective shell which closely defines the space the creature’s body had occupied.  A set of foreleg structures protrude just below the spot where a mouth would have been, and three dual sets of thin-shelled legs extend down the right and left sides of the body. 

As certain as we can be that we exist, Descartes, we can be equally sure that this fragile shell is a remnant of an animal that died in the not-so-distant past.  This shell could be regarded as the remains of one of those “creeping things that creepeth upon the earth” which the Bible tells us we should have dominion over. 

An epiphany emanates from within the shell.  Everything is hitched to everything else in this world, and all is connected back through time to origins that are unfathomably distant in time, and in form.  The stories of geology may not be as richly textured in myth and morality as the tales of holy books, but they are unrivaled in their wide scope of comprehensibility, imagination and depth of evidence concerning the way that reality really is. 

Much of the variegated rock of these cliffs consists of “radiolarian chert”.  This is a kind of rock with a fascinating genesis.  Geologists say it was formed during an eons-long process of “biological precipitation” onto the bottom of the Pacific Ocean more than 100 million years ago.  This chert essentially consists of microscopic shells of single-celled animals called radiolarians whose hard skeletons are composed of silicon dioxide.  Geologists often carry a powerful lens called a ‘loupe’ to magnify and inspect rocks, and they could actually show an interested observer the intricate structure of the radiolarian shells in this ancient rock.  

Countless numbers of these creatures died in sufficient quantities over a long enough period of time that they formed deep layers of silicate sediments on the ocean floor.  These sediments were subsequently lithified into rock, and the layers have obviously been twisted and deformed and fractured in mute testimony to the powerful forces that affected the rock during tectonic plate movements and plate boundary uplifting that has fetched it up from far away, and deep in the sea, to its current exposed place in the here and now. 

These thoughts provide us with a vantage point from which we can picture ourselves -- Homo sapiens -- out on the tip of one evolutionary branch of the tree of life.  Untold numbers of fossils that are more than a million years old have been found around the planet, and each one of them is a representative of some form of animal or plant that existed on the tree of life long before the twig of our species sprouted into existence.  Every one of these fossilized fragments is as surely the remnant of a former living thing as is the fragile shell which sits inexplicably on the sand as these ideas materialize from the ether in this lovely spot. 

The connectedness of our lives to the lives of other species of life, now and in an astonishingly rich and infinitely-varied past, gives us pause to understand the extraordinary context of our existence.  Many kinds of rocks are formed partially from the remnants of former life forms that lived long ago, rock like marine limestone, marble, dolomite and chert.  Our appreciation of this fact can help us better understand the world in which we live, and our relationship with it.  Much can be learned by paying close attention to the world around us, as knowledgeable naturalists are wont to note.

Think about a compelling idea that is contained in the Earth Manifesto story, Tall Tales, Provocative Parables, Luminous Clarity and Evocative Truths: A Modern Log from the Sea of Cortez:

An even more certain confirmation of the evolutionary process is found within each and every creature alive.  It is in the genetic DNA of every animal.  DNA provides “an almost unbelievably rich gift to the historian.  What historian could have dared hope for a world in which every single individual of every species carries, within its body, a long and detailed text handed down through time?”  DNA recapitulates the entire evolutionary genetic code involved in the long transformative survival of every species of organism.

Here we are, creatures in the here and now, witnessing the evidence of these astonishing processes.  Rock, once exposed to the elements, weathers away like butter in warm sunshine, when regarded from the perspective of the long sweep of geologic time.  The rock appears hard and unchanging in the brief snapshot of time measured by a single human lifetime, but the action of the elements inexorably wears away entire mountain ranges.  Occasionally, in a punctuation of the usual relative equilibrium, this imperceptible change is interrupted by a shocking interlude of rock-fall or earthquake uplift. 

Exposed rock is just the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” of all the rock beneath it.  Once the rock is exposed, it begins this process of weathering away relatively rapidly.  As Bill Bryson provocatively points out in A Walk in the Woods, if the equivalent of one dump-truck load of rock is eroded away by rivers from a large mountain every year, the whole mountain would be gone in 100 million years.  Such is the power of inexorable change taking place over the span of unfathomably vast periods of time. 

Tiffany Seeks Epiphany!  We are so far from the primordial ooze, and yet, and yet, are we not still rather closely connected to it?

One Thing to Remember

John McPhee writes in Basin and Range that if readers are going to remember only one thing from his book, it should be that the visible stripes of rock on the face of Mt. Everest consist of marine limestone.  This ancient rock of the highest mountain in the world above sea level was formed by the ‘biological precipitation’ of calcium-shelled marine organisms onto the bottom of the Indian Ocean hundreds of millions of years ago.  These sediments accumulated into deep layers as the eons passed, and they were subsequently compressed and lithified into rock.   Then, about 50 million years ago, the subcontinent of India began to crumple into the landmass of Tibet on the Eurasian tectonic plate and the seafloor rock was driven up, earthquake by earthquake, eventually creating the highest mountains on Earth in the immense Himalaya Range.  The devastating earthquake in the mountains of Pakistan in October 2005, which killed 70,000 people, is only one in an unfathomably long string of such events that has accompanied the crumpling uplift of these mountains.

Taking a page from John McPhee, if readers are going to remember only one thing from the Earth Manifesto, it should be that the figurative biological precipitation of our human actions downstream in time will affect life on Earth in epic ways, far into the future, driving millions of entire species of life to extinction and undermining the underpinnings of the providential bounty of Earth’s ecosystems upon which our prosperity and well-being, and indeed survival, ultimately depends.  The well-being of the human race is interconnected and interdependent with the health of natural ecosystems and the protections of biological diversity.  To deny this, or to ignore its implications in the service of ignorance, shortsighted convictions, or greed-driven profiteering, is a form of reprehensibly reckless and imprudent madness.

An accompanying aspect of this dawning realization is that, now that we are aware of this almost certain probability, it is our overarching responsibility to collectively make smarter choices during our lifetimes to help limit the severity of these far-reaching impacts.  This may be an inconvenient truth, but we must not deny it or abdicate this responsibility.

Any fair-minded and sensible person should support smart plans and ecological precautionary principles that would serve to mitigate the destructiveness of our habitat-damaging, profligate resource-wasting, and climate disrupting activities.  These goals can be affordably achieved, so it is incumbent upon us to devise ways to implement the best ideas to do this.

Observations from the Earth Manifesto Essay, Revelations of a Modern Prophet

“Judgment Day is metaphorically upon us, but it is not the particular judgment by God of each person when they die, as is held by Christian eschatology.  This judgment is a reflection of future generations looking back on the economic, political, social and ecological ethos of today, and judging that we have been acting with obtuse selfishness and terrible shortsightedness and harmful ignorance and speculative stupidity.

The metaphorical Judgment Day of modern times will be ‘Biblical’ in a fascinating and sad sense:  Sure enough, all future generations will suffer, and they will do so for our sins.  In this case, the suffering will be an extremely tangible carry-forward of our shortsighted selfishness in squandering natural resources and polluting the planet, and in contributing to the destruction of habitats and altering the climate, and in helping to drive many forms of life on Earth to extinction, and in saddling our descendents with enormous amounts of debt for generations to come.

These sins are a form of obtuse lack of concern for the legacy that our actions portend.  Unless we repent soon, will we suffer punishment in a speculative afterlife of eternal Hell for our wrongdoing?  Or will it actually be mainly our children and our descendents who will be the ones to do the actual suffering, here on Earth?

I prophesy:  There will be no End Times.  There will be no Armageddon.  THERE WILL BE NO RAPTURE.  Hucksters who claim otherwise rank up there in religious fanaticism with the most extreme of right-wing Iranian ayatollahs.  Yes, there will be more hurricanes and tornadoes and floods, and earthquakes and tsunamis, and famines and plagues and droughts and species extinctions.  These are natural events, with a little help from human beings in those cases where anthropogenic influences impact outcomes.  We curiously call such natural events “Acts of God”.  Right, “and so it came to pass!”  There will of course also be more economic panics and wars and recessions and depressions;  these are the consequences of human nature and greed and folly.

We must not despair;  we must instead act to create a more salubrious fate.  We must not even think of welcoming ecological devastation as the Rapture crowd is apparently wont, according to Bill Moyers’ powerful speech that he gave about the Rapture and the dangers that such blind beliefs pose to civilization.” 

Bill Moyers’ speech was so evocative that I have appended it below for all readers to consider.


      Dr. Tiffany B. Twain   

        Hannibal, Missouri    

           Contact at:  savetruffulatrees@hotmail.com


   “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”

                                                                --- Galadriel, a character in The Lord of the Rings



 “There is No Tomorrow”  By Bill Moyers  The Star Tribune  - Sunday, 30 January 2005

(Bill Moyers was host of the weekly public affairs series "NOW with Bill Moyers" on PBS.  This article is adapted from AlterNet, where it first appeared.  The text is taken from Bill Moyers' remarks upon receiving the Global Environmental Citizen Award from the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School.)

One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal.  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.

Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true;  ideologues hold stoutly to a worldview despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality.  When ideology and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad but they are always blind.  And there is the danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts.

Remember James Watt, President Ronald Reagan's first Secretary of the Interior?  My favorite online environmental journal, the ever-engaging Grist, reminded us recently of how James Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was not important in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ.  In public testimony he said, "after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.”

Beltway elites snickered. The press corps didn't know what he was talking about.  But James Watt was serious.  So were his compatriots out across the country.  They are the people who believe the Bible is literally true --- one-third of the American electorate, if a recent Gallup poll is accurate.  In this past election several million good and decent citizens went to the polls believing in the rapture index.

That's right - the rapture index.  Google it and you will find that the best-selling books in America today are the 12 volumes of the "Left Behind" series written by the Christian fundamentalist and religious-right warrior Timothy LaHaye.  These true believers subscribe to a fantastical theology concocted in the 19th century by a couple of immigrant preachers who took disparate passages from the Bible and wove them into a narrative that has captivated the imagination of millions of Americans.

Its outline is rather simple, if bizarre (the British writer George Monbiot recently did a brilliant dissection of it and I am indebted to him for adding to my own understanding):  Once Israel has occupied the rest of its "biblical lands," legions of the antichrist will attack it, triggering a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon.

As the Jews who have not been converted are burned, the messiah will return for the rapture.  True believers will be lifted out of their clothes 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.

I’m not making this up.  Like Monbiot, I've read the literature.  I've reported on these people, following some of them from Texas to the West Bank.  They are sincere, serious and polite as they tell you they feel called to help bring the rapture on as fulfillment of biblical prophecy. 

That's why they have declared solidarity with Israel and the Jewish settlements and backed up their support with money and volunteers.  It's why the invasion of Iraq for them was a warm-up act, predicted in the Book of Revelations where four angels "which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released to slay the third part of man."  A war with Islam in the Middle East is not something to be feared but welcomed -- 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.

So what does this mean for public policy and the environment?  Go to Grist to read a remarkable work of reporting by the journalist Glenn Scherer, "The Road to Environmental Apocalypse."  Read it and you will see how millions of fundamentalist Christians may believe that environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded but actually welcomed -- even hastened -- as a sign of the coming apocalypse.

As Grist makes clear, we're not talking about a handful of fringe lawmakers who hold or are beholden to these beliefs.  Nearly half the U.S. Congress before the recent election, 231 legislators in total and more since the election, are backed by the religious right.

Forty-five senators and 186 members of the 108th Congress earned 80 to 100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential Christian right advocacy groups.  They include Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Conference Chair Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Policy Chair Jon Kyl of Arizona, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Whip Roy Blunt.  The only Democrat to score 100 percent with the Christian coalition was Senator Zell Miller of Georgia, who recently quoted from the biblical book of Amos on the Senate floor: "The days will come, sayeth the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land."  He seemed to be relishing the thought.

And why not?  There's a constituency for it.  A 2002 Time-CNN poll found that 59 percent of Americans believe that the prophecies found in the book of Revelations are going to come true.  Nearly one-quarter think the Bible predicted the 9/11 attacks.  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, as Grist puts it, "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 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.”

Because these people believe that until Christ does return, the Lord will provide.  One of their texts is a high school history book, America's Providential History."  You'll find there these words: "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 ... 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.”

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, 2004, including many who have made the apocalypse a powerful driving force in modern American politics.

It is hard for the journalist to report a story like this with any credibility.  So let me put it on a personal level.  I myself don't know how to be in this world without expecting a confident future and getting up every morning to do what I can to bring it about.  So I have always been an optimist.  Now, however, I think of my friend on Wall Street whom I once asked: "What do you think of the market?"  "I'm optimistic," he answered. "Then why do you look so worried?"  And he answered: "Because I am not sure my optimism is justified.”

I’m not, either.  Once upon a time I agreed with Eric Chivian and the Center for Health and the Global Environment that people will protect the natural environment when they realize its importance to their health and to the health and lives of their children.  Now I am not so sure.  It's not that I don't want to believe that -- it's just that I read the news and connect the dots.

I read that the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has declared the presidential election a mandate for President Bush on the environment.  This for an administration:

(a) That wants to rewrite the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act protecting rare plant and animal species and their habitats, as well as the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires the government to judge beforehand whether actions might damage natural resources.
(b) That wants to relax pollution limits for ozone; eliminate vehicle tailpipe inspections, and ease pollution standards for cars, sport-utility vehicles and diesel-powered big trucks and heavy equipment.
(c) That wants a new international audit law to allow corporations to keep certain information about environmental problems secret from the public.
(d) That wants to drop all its new-source review suits against polluting, coal-fired power plants and weaken consent decrees reached earlier with coal companies.
(e) That wants to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, and increase drilling in Padre Island National Seashore, the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world and the last great coastal wild land in America.

I read the news just this week and learned how the Environmental Protection Agency had planned to spend $9 million - $2 million of it from the administration's friends at the American Chemistry Council - to pay poor families to continue to use pesticides in their homes.  These pesticides have been linked to neurological damage in children, but instead of ordering an end to their use, the government and the industry were going to offer the families $970 each, as well as a camcorder and children's clothing, to serve as guinea pigs for the study.

I read all this in the news.

I read the news just last night and learned that the administration's friends at the International Policy Network, which is supported by Exxon Mobil and others of like mind, have issued a new report that climate change is "a myth, sea levels are not rising" [and] scientists who believe catastrophe is possible are "an embarrassment.”

I not only read the news but the fine print of the recent appropriations bill passed by Congress, with the obscure (and obscene) riders attached to it: a clause removing all endangered species protections from pesticides;  language prohibiting judicial review for a forest in Oregon;  a waiver of environmental review for grazing permits on public lands;  a rider pressed by developers to weaken protection for crucial habitats in California.

I read all this and look up at the pictures on my desk, next to the computer - pictures of my grandchildren.  I see the future looking back at me from those photographs and I say, "Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do."  And then I am stopped short by the thought: "That's not right.  We do know what we are doing.  We are stealing their future.  Betraying their trust.  Despoiling their world.”

And I ask myself:  Why?  Is it because we don't care?  Because we are greedy?  Because we have lost our capacity for outrage, our ability to sustain indignation at injustice?

What has happened to our moral imagination?

On the heath Lear asks Gloucester: "How do you see the world?" And Gloucester, who is blind, answers: "I see it feelingly. I see it feelingly.’”

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 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.

Believe me, it does!


An editorial in USA Today on May 17, 2011 compared climate change deniers to the “birthers” who continue to challenge President Obama’s American citizenship, pointing out that they are “a vocal minority that refuses to accept overwhelming evidence.” 

Bill McKibben, the founder of the global climate campaign 350.org and Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont, recently penned some satirical reflections about climate change and those who deny it.  They are quoted below, and can also be found in Ecological Buddhism: A Buddhist Response to Global Warming, a website with a provocative compendium of articles. 

Keep Calm & Carry On  By Bill McKibben

“Caution: It is vitally important not to make connections.  When you see pictures of rubble like this week’s shots from Joplin, Missouri, you should not ask yourself:  I wonder if this is somehow related to the huge tornado outbreak three weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, or the enormous outbreak a couple of weeks before that -- together they comprised the most active April for tornadoes in our history.  But that doesn’t mean a thing.

It is far better to think of these as isolated, unpredictable, discrete events.  It is not advised to try and connect them in your mind with, say, the fires now burning across Texas -- fires that have burned more of America by this date than any year in our history.  Texas, and adjoining parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico, are drier than they’ve ever been -- the drought is worse than the Dust Bowl.  But do not wonder if it’s somehow connected.

If you did wonder, you’d have to also wonder about whether this year’s record snowfalls and rainfalls across the Midwest -- resulting in record flooding across the Mississippi -- could somehow be related.  And if you did that, then you might find your thoughts wandering to, oh, global warming.  To the fact that climatologists have been predicting for years that as we flood the atmosphere with carbon, we will also start both drying and flooding the planet, since warm air holds more water vapor than cold.

It’s far smarter to repeat to yourself, over and over, the comforting mantra that no single weather event can ever be directly tied to climate change.  There have been tornadoes before, and floods -- that’s the important thing.  Just be careful to make sure you don’t let yourself wonder why all these records are happening at once: why we’ve had unprecedented megafloods from Australia to Pakistan in the last year.  Why it’s just now that the Arctic has melted for the first time in thousands of years.  Focus on the immediate casualties, watch the videotape from the store cameras as the shelves are blown over.  Look at the anchorman up to the chest of his waders in the rising river.

Because if you asked yourself what it meant that the Amazon has just come through its second hundred-year-drought in the last four years, or that the pine forests across the western part of this continent have been obliterated by a beetle in the last decade -- well, you might have to ask other questions.  Like, should President Obama really just have opened a huge swath of Wyoming to new coal-mining?  Should Secretary of State this summer sign a permit allowing a huge new pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta?  You might have to ask yourself: do we have a bigger problem than four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline?

Better to join with the US House of Representatives, which earlier this spring voted 240-184 to defeat a resolution saying simply “climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.”  Propose your own physics; ignore physics altogether.  Just don’t start asking yourself if last year’s failed grain harvest from the Russian heat wave, and Queensland’s failed grain harvest from its record flood, and France and Germany’s current drought-related crop failures, and the death of the winter wheat crop in Texas, and the inability of Midwestern farmers to get corn planted in their sodden fields might somehow be related.  Surely the record food prices are just freak outliers, not signs of anything systemic.

It’s very important to stay completely calm.  If you got upset about any of this, you might forget how important it is not to disrupt the record profits of our fossil fuel companies.  If worst ever did come to worst, it’s reassuring to remember what the US Chamber of Commerce told the EPA in a recent filing: there’s no need to worry because <populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations.>  I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re telling themselves in Joplin today.”


                                                     The End