Governor Rick Perry of Texas has gone to great lengths to make sure voters know that the divine light of the Holy Bible shines on his bid to be the GOP presidential nominee -- a prayer meeting for 30,000 in Texas; a proclamation for days of prayer to end the drought that, unfortunately, continues to devastate Texas.
This is a candidate who wants voters to believe he is working God's will on earth. So when Perry talks about abolishing the EPA, he's on God's side, right? Wrong, of course -- no matter what Perry claims. But lots of people are confused about how anti-EPA rhetoric got so linked to Christian ethics. How did the Biblical "dominion over the earth" become an excuse for abuse of our environment? How did Dominion Theology get mixed up with messing things up?
And what happened to the Biblical mandate -- the same one found in all the world's holy books -- that we must cherish and nurture our planet, as stewards of this earth?
One of the most important qualities of political and religious extremism -- as demonstrated time and again in the 20th century -- is that it is loud. It shouts. It is incantatory -- reducing all issues to sound bites and chants. It drowns out dissent. It is noise amplified on waves of emotion -- and it is especially adept at playing off ignorance and fear, particularly economic, where's-the-next-paycheck fear.
The dynamic of fear-driving rhetoric is distressing to watch. Even more upsetting is to watch how the framework is set up -- Regulations VERSUS Jobs; Environment VERSUS Economy -- and how everyone unwittingly buys into that framework by arguing one side OR the other. It doesn't have to be this way. But we'll see it at play again at the end of this week when the House considers the TRAIN Act.
In the midst of such a ruckus, it is nearly impossible to hear the tempered, reasonable, quieter voices of other Christians -- indeed, all other faiths -- who regard the environment in a different way -- a way that has to do with stewardship, protection, replenishment and cherishment. I recently stumbled on an earnest, nearly prayerful video created by the folks at Maine Interfaith Power & Light, which describes itself as "inspired by diverse faith perspectives to care for the natural world and its most vulnerable inhabitants." I once interviewed its impressive founder, the Reverend Sally Bingham.
This isn't a YouTube video that is going to go viral, sadly. It moves too slowly, too thoughtfully, for most of our attention spans. But its religious message is profound -- a message of creation care, of responsibility as a steward. As I watched the video -- after stilling myself from the day's agitation, putting away my media cynicism about anything that is longer than two minutes, and quieting that critical voice in my head complaining about production values, pace, messaging -- oh, be quiet! -- I began to feel deeply touched by what I was hearing, moved by the concern that gave rise to this piece, the intention behind it.
In a strange karmic twist, right around the time this video was launched, in mid-September, Senator Collins of Maine introduced a disappointing piece of legislation to impose a one year moratorium on "significant" new rules from going into effect. Never mind that one of those major rules is the urgent Mercury and Air Toxics Standard. Never mind that it has already been 21 years in the making.
Given what we know about how mercury affects children and fetuses, delay is actually immoral.
Never mind that the Senator herself has publicly stated:
Mercury is one of the most persistent and dangerous pollutants that threatens our health and environment today. This powerful toxin affects the senses, the brain, spinal cord, kidneys and liver. It poses significant risks to children and pregnant women, causing an elevated risk of birth defects and problems with motor skills. It is estimated that approximately 410,000 children born in the U.S. each year are exposed to levels of mercury in the womb that are high enough to impair neurological development.
The Senator got her moment in the news. And she got to sound closer to a radical Republican -- which she is not. She's far better and more thoughtful than that. But all the righteous screaming and sloganeering is distorting our national conversation about what's right and what's wrong. So we have Romney backpedaling on science, and Obama silent on climate change.
There will always be loud, angry people. Loud, angry people who want to destroy, trash, eliminate, and kill, kill, kill -- whether at a soccer game, on a playground, in a lonely alley, or on national television -- are always going to get our attention first. They're the ones who draw the newspaper reporters, the television cameras.
I am betting that America is actually filled with quieter, more thoughtful people. A silent majority, again? Another odd turn of events. It is indeed easier to stop yelling back, stop trying to convince people who don't "believe" in science, stop arguing with absurd positions that would leave polluters permission to spew poisons into our air. That does, however, leave a lot of people with unanswered questions, and a lot of deliberately seeded confusion. That's why, at Moms Clean Air Force, we're still talking back.
But in the quiet of prayer, in the serenity of conscience, in the safe harbor of a temple or a church, there are probably millions of people who think they, too, hear the word of God. They go out to heal the environment in His name, knowing they do blessed work that celebrates creation -- and protects it for the next generation.