Neoconservatism, Nature and the American Christian Right

Uploaded on

A presentation I used to give to students as the School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, exploring the possible intersections of neoliberal economics and more right-wing Christian …

A presentation I used to give to students as the School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, exploring the possible intersections of neoliberal economics and more right-wing Christian theology upon environmental policy in the US under George W Bush

More in: Education
  • Full Name Full Name Comment goes here.
    Are you sure you want to
    Your message goes here
    Be the first to comment
    Be the first to like this
No Downloads


Total Views
On Slideshare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds



Embeds 0

No embeds

Report content

Flagged as inappropriate Flag as inappropriate
Flag as inappropriate

Select your reason for flagging this presentation as inappropriate.

    No notes for slide


  • 1. Neoconservatism, Nature and theAmerican Christian RightRich Harris
  • 2. Preamble ―You simply can‘t talk honestly about the environment today without criticizing the president. George W. Bush will go down as the worst environmental president in our nation‘s history. In a ferocious three-year attack, his administration has launched over 300 major rollbacks of environmental laws, rollbacks that are weakening our country‘s air, water, public lands, and wildlife.‖ – Crimes Against Nature (Kennedy Jr., 2004)
  • 3. Preamble Genesis 1: 28 – Dominion over nature Eschatology: beliefs of the end times – Christ‘s return George Bush and the New Christian Right – e.g. The Christian Coalition of America Has fundamentalist Christian belief shaped American environmental policy?
  • 4. ―Divine Destruction‖? ―At the suggestion that an extreme religious ideology may be involved in the creation of American environmental policy, most people – even environmental activists – invariably fall into an uncomfortable silence.‖ – Divine Destruction (Hendricks, 2005)
  • 5. ―Divine Destruction‖? ―It now became clear, however, that American environmental policy was also being greatly influenced, even shaped, by certain Christian Fundamentalists.‖
  • 6.
  • 7. My objectives Similar to those stated by Esther Kaplan (2004) – ―This book [lecture] does not take up the role of Christianity in people‘s everyday lives, nor does it seek to promote or malign any particular faith. Instead it asks what impact the Christian right, as a dogma-driven political movement, had had in dictating American [environmental] policy.‖  From, With God on Their Side: George W. Bush and the Christian Right
  • 8. Faith, religion and politics matter! ―What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them. Human ecology is deeply conditioned by beliefs about our nature and destiny – that is, by religion.‖ ―Since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must all be essentially religious, whether we call it that or not.‖ – The Historic Roots of our Ecologic Crisis (White, 1967)
  • 9. Faith, religion and politics matter! ―The neglect of our natural environment and its degradation is not just bad policy; it is bad theology […] Our private religion has fostered an individualism that has not only diminished our social conscience for the poor but also separated us from the earth itself.‖ – Seven Ways to Change the World (Wallis, 2008)
  • 10. Faith, religion and politics matter!
  • 11. OutlineI. Grand narratives a. The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis b. Reinventing EdenII. Situating the debate a. Climate change scepticism and the Christian Right b. The Wise Use movementIII. Making Links • Wise Use, GOP and the Christian RightIV. Faith and belief or… ? a. The ecotheology of James Watt b. Other motivationsV. Other perspectives
  • 12. I. GRAND NARRATIVES(a) The Historic Roots of our Ecologic Crisis
  • 13. The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis Classic and oft-cited paper – Lynn White Jr. (1967) – Science, 155 (3767), pp. 1203–7 A churchman worried by the impact of a particular (presumed dominant) Christian theology in causing the ecological crisis of the 1960s – ―The issue is whether a democratized world can survive its own implications. Presumably we cannot unless we rethink our axioms.‖
  • 14. The argument That modern science is an extrapolation of natural theology. That (in the Creation story) Christian theology establishes a dualism of ―man and nature‖ and ―that it is God‘s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends.‖ That science and technology have joined ―to give mankind powers which, to judge by many of the ecologic effects are out of control.‖ ―Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt.‖
  • 15. Some caveats ―When one speaks in such sweeping terms, a note of caution is in order. Christianity is a complex faith, and its consequences differ in differing contexts.‖ White himself suggests looking to St. Francis of Assisi for an alternative Christian view.
  • 16. More caveats Our Treatment of the Environment in Ideal and Actuality – Yi-Fu Tuan (1970) – American Scientist, 58 (3), pp. 244–9. Although there may be truth in the generalization that ―the European sees nature as subordinate to man‖ it ―cannot be pressed too far‖.
  • 17. Because… ―A culture‘s publicized ethos about its environment seldom covers more than a fraction of the total range of its attitudes and practices pertaining to the environment. In the play of forces that govern the world, esthetic and religious ideals rarely have a major role.‖
  • 18. Tuan argues that There were vast transformations of nature in ―the pagan world‖ – The Romans, for example Western intellectual contrasts with Chinese culture and Taoist and Buddhist traditions are ―over generous‖ – Periods of deforestation, for example There are conflicts between an ideal of nature or environment and of practice: ―ideals and necessities are frequently opposed.‖
  • 19. Nevertheless… Narrative is powerful, story-telling holds our imaginations and shapes our experiences. The Creation story is enduring. – And God blessed them: and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.  Genesis 1: 28
  • 20. I. GRAND NARRATIVES(b) Reinventing Eden: the fate of nature in Western culture
  • 21. Reinventing Eden Carolyn Merchant (2003) – Professor of Environmental History, Philosophy and Ethics ad the University of California, Berkeley. ―Narratives form our reality. We become their vessels.‖
  • 22. Recovery of Eden narratives Merchant identifies two. Here we concentrate on the first: ―[This] Recovery of Eden story is the mainstream narrative of Western culture. It is perhaps the most important mythology humans have developed to make sense of their relationship to their earth.‖
  • 23. A first Recovery of Eden narrative Take a Christian theology of – Eden (paradise), the Fall (Adam and Eve), salvation (Christ), paradise (Heaven) – and Genesis 1: 28  And God blessed them: and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (emphasis added)
  • 24. A first Recovery of Eden narrative Linking with – New World explorations, the Scientific Revolution and European Enlightenment Becomes – a narrative of redemption, of recreation, of taming nature, of a new Eden on Earth – A moral and ethical imperative to do so  Manifest Destiny
  • 25. A first Recovery of Eden narrative ―This story has propelled countless efforts by humans to recover Eden by turning wilderness into garden, ―female‖ nature into civilised society, and indigenous folkways into modern culture. Science, technology, and capitalism have provided the tools, male agency the power and impetus. Today‘s incarnations of Eden are the suburbs, the mall, the clone, and the World Wide Web.‖
  • 26. Eden?
  • 27. The stewardship ethic of Genesis 2 Merchant recognises the stewardship ethic of Genesis 2: 15 – And Jehovah God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And without this, – ―Dominion theology simply doesn‘t grasp the vision and purpose of the Genesis story and, in fact, contradicts it. It is a false theology used for the malicious interests of environmental destruction in the name of so-called progress.‖  Wallis (2008)
  • 28. The stewardship ethic of Genesis 2 Unfortunately, Genesis 2 has tended to be subsumed by Genesis 1. And the meaning of ―stewardship‖ is easily contested (/ subverted) …
  • 29.  Acton media – www.effectivestewardship.comEffective Stewardship DVD  Published by the Action Institute – ―for the study of religion and liberty‖ –  Online trailer – http://www.effectivestewardshi environment  What are the themes and ideologies underlying this presentation?
  • 30. II SITUATING THE DEBATE(a) Climate change scepticism and the Christian Right
  • 31. Cornwall Alliance Read the Cornwall Declaration (2000) – http://www.cornwallalliance. org/articles/read/the- cornwall-declaration-on- environmental-stewardship/ See: – http://www.resistingthegree
  • 32. ―Wise Use‖ and the Christian Coalition ―[Pat] Robertson helped make anti-environmentalism acceptable within the ranks of the fundamentalist clergy and the mainstream of the Republican Party. Beginning in 1991, Robertson and the Christian Coalition‘s then executive director Ralph Reed, now an official with the Bush campaign, put their media and organisational clout at the disposal of the Wise Use agenda.‖ – Crimes Against Nature (Kennedy Jr., 2004)
  • 33. II SITUATING THE DEBATE(b) The Wise Use movement
  • 34. What is ―Wise Use‖? A response to the ―wilderness‖ mentality within environmentalism and the ancient forest campaigns of the 1990s The idea that ―people are nature‘s managers, charged with the responsibility of using the resource wisely‖(Proctor, 1995) A reaction to those who ―equate productive work in nature with destruction‖ and ―the demonization of modern machines and the sentimentalization of archaic forms of labor‖ (White, 1995)
  • 35. What is ―Wise Use‖? A ―complex new social movement centred on the uses of rural environments – and the strongest anti-environmental backlash in the twentieth-century USA.‖ ―A vehicle and arena of political-economic struggle with particular class orientations … it functions mainly to defend privileged elite and corporate access to resources, and may also be a wedge in a larger neoliberal project.‖ ―Part of a larger, conscious program of economic liberalism designed to roll back much of the twentieth century‘s social protection legislation.‖ – McCarthy (1998)
  • 36. What is ―Wise Use‖? A grassroots movement? An industrial campaign?
  • 37. What is ―Wise Use‖? Another (or older) way of viewing nature – ―If the Wise Use perspective – that there‘s too much wilderness protection and environmental hysteria and not enough logging, pesticide spraying, and mini-mall construction – seems a bit strange […] it might help to remember that the idea that the earth‘s resources are limited and must be managed in a sustainable way, is a new and still-fragile construct within our culture. In contrast, appeals to property rights and the promise of unlimited frontiers hold a deep and aiding place in our nation‘s social history going back more than half a millennium‖ (Helvarg, 2004)
  • 38. Contested NatureEugene, Oregon (1989) Nye County, Nevada (1994/5)
  • 39. A Broad History of Wise Use The phrase is attributed to Gifford Pinochet who became chief forester of the nation under (Teddy) Roosevelt‘s Presidency. Pinochet believed in the ―wise use‖ of resources to be utilised to meet people‘s needs but was also a conservationist believing government control of forests was required to stop the destructive practices of big logging companies.
  • 40. A Broad History of Wise Use Counter to Pinochet the Wise Use movement campaigns on: – Resource production on federal lands – Property rights  ―takings‖ – Environmental (de)regulations
  • 41. A Broad History of Wise Use Emerges during the Reagan Presidency Reagan endorsed the ―Sagebush Rebellion‖ – Legislation for state takeovers of federal land, supported by the Cattleman‘s Association, Farm Bureau Federation, oil, coal and gas industries, NRA. Influence of rightwing, conservative thinktanks – e.g. Heritage Foundation (set up by Joseph Coors) – Note uneasy tension between protectionism and free market privatisation Role of direct-mail fundraises (e.g. Alan Gottlieb)
  • 42. A Broad History of Wise Use Gathers momentum during the George Bush Sr. Presidency – Bush is more savvy to a growing environmental consciousness in the American public  Reauthorized the Clean Air Act – Not especially popular with the Right  Had run against Reagan in 1980 – Economic downturn
  • 43. A Broad History of Wise Use National Wilderness Conference (Las Vegas, June, 1988) Multiple Use Strategy Conference (Reno, August, 1988) – Follow-up publication, The Wise Use Agenda  drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; log Alaskas Tongass National Forest; gut the Endangered Species Act; open public lands to motorised recreation; privatise national parks, for people "with expertise in people-moving such as Walt Disney.― Representative of the NRA, Farm Bureau, Mountain States Legal Foundation, Exxon, DuPont, and of mining and timber associations present.
  • 44. A Broad History of Wise Use Initially peaks c. 1995 – Attack on Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building by militia associates Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols  Calls into question the more extreme language of Wise Use and connections to the militia movements  Movement‘s industry funders back away – Federal government shutdown of 1995  Clinton Vs Congress  anti-environmental riders on the Budget bill
  • 45. A Broad History of Wise Use Appears to re-emerge, politically institutionalised, with the George Bush Jr. Presidency ―While traditional wise-use paranoia still proves effective, its rhetoric is softening […] Now that they occupy the seat of power, the wise-use movement no longer needs its blowhards and bullies as it quietly and effectively implements its radical agenda‖ (Halvarg, 2004)
  • 46. III MAKING LINKS• Wise Use, GOP and the Christian Right
  • 47. Wise Use, GOP and the Christian Right ―There are increasingly close ties between those who subscribe to the ideas of Wise Use and members of fundamentalist Christian churches and organizations.‖ – Divine Destruction (Hendricks, 2005) ―The most important vector for hammering the Wise Use agenda into the Republican Party‘s platform was the Christian right‖ – Crimes Against Nature (Kennedy Jr., 2004) Evidence?
  • 48. Influential networks? American Freedom Coalition – Affiliated to the Unification Church  Founded by Sun Myung Moon, also owns The Washington Times Invited to attend and sponsor the Reno conference and acknowledged in book. Kennedy cites Ron Arnold as head of the Washington State Chapter of the AFC although Halvarg quotes Arnold‘s denial of any links Links to (some) of the Christian Right – Although Moon‘s religious view are heretical!
  • 49. Influential networks? Federalist Society – Its purpose (  Law schools and the legal profession are currently strongly dominated by a form of orthodox liberal ideology which advocates a centralized and uniform society. While some members of the academic community have dissented from these views, by and large they are taught simultaneously with (and indeed as if they were) the law.
  • 50. Influential networks? Federalist Society  The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies is a group of conservatives and libertarians interested in the current state of the legal order. It is founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be. The Society seeks both to promote an awareness of these principles and to further their application through its activities.
  • 51. Influential networks? Federalist Society  This entails reordering priorities within the legal system to place a premium on individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law. It also requires restoring the recognition of the importance of these norms among lawyers, judges, law students and professors. In working to achieve these goals, the Society has created a conservative and libertarian intellectual network that extends to all levels of the legal community.
  • 52. Influential networks? Federalist Society – Members include  John D. Ashcroft – United States Attorney General (2001 – 5)  Gale A. Norton – United States Secretary of the Interior (2001 – 6) » ―a veteran of the Wise Use movement‖  Spencer Abraham – Founder of the Federalist Society and Secretary of Energy (2001 – 5) 
  • 53. Influential networks? Christian Coalition – ―When the Wise Use allies hooked up with Pat Robertson‘s Christian Coalition, they hit a home run. Robertson‘s special contribution to right-wing theology was to substitute environmentalists for communists as the new threat to democracy and to Christianity.‖  Kennedy Jr. (2005)
  • 54. Influential networks? The Moral Majority – Co-founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye  LaHaye is the writer of the Left Behind series of books which are about Revelation, the ―end times‖ and ―the rapture‖. – A big funder was Joseph Coors  Who also founded the Heritage Foundation – which was involved in the ―Sagebush rebellion‖  And the Mountain States Legal Foundation – to challenge environmental laws
  • 55. However… Wise Use is an amorphous term; could link most people to it? It is one thing to demonstrate (or allege) intersecting networks and quite another to asset that environmental pollution is the US is actually driven by a dominion theology and an apocalyptic Christianity.
  • 56. IV FAITH AND BELIEF OR…?(a) The Ecotheology of James Watt
  • 57. James Watt Links are often made between James Watt, dominion theology, ―end times‖ eschatology and undisciplined resource exploitation. – President of the Mountain States Legal Foundation – Secretary of the Department of the Interior under Reagan (1981 – 3)  Resigned after saying in a speech, ―"I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent.―  In 1995 was indicted on 25 felony counts of perjury, unlawful concealment and obstruction of justice. – Hired Gale Norton as a lawyer for the MSLF
  • 58. James Watt Anti-environmentalist and pro-business – "If the troubles from environmentalists cannot be solved in the jury box or at the ballot box, perhaps the cartridge box should be used‖ (speech to Green River Cattlemens Association, 1991)
  • 59. James Watt ―Watt was a proponent of ―dominion theology‖, an authoritarian Christian heresy that advocates man‘s duty to ―subdue‖ nature. His deep faith in laissez-faire capitalism and apocalyptic Christianity led Secretary Watt to set about dismantling his department and distributing its assets … During a House oversight hearing, Mr. Watt cited the approaching Apocalypse in an answer to a Congressman‘s question about the need to leave some of our scenic resources for future generations … ―I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns.‖ – Kennedy Jr. (2004)
  • 60. However Was it an Apocalyptic statement or merely a fact? Bratton (1983) notes that although Watt was part of an emerging ―Christian politic‖ and made a number of statements relating his Christian beliefs to environmental management, there is little evidence of a consistent ―ecotheology‖ driving his decision making – ―Although some journalists have interpreted Watt‘s religious view as formative in his environmental policies, a close look at the secretary‘s statements provide good evidence that his economic and political views also greatly influence his ecotheology.‖
  • 61. Similarly, today ―As to whether dominionists are using a different interpretation of Revelations to justify the purposeful interpretation of environmentally harmful policies, he said ‗I don‘t see a focused agenda from them to destroy the Earth for Christ‘s return. They might be interpreting the Bible and using the dominion message to justify their actions that are based on greed. It‘s really all about free market capitalism and greed.‖ – Hendricks (2005) quoting Peter Illyn
  • 62. IV FAITH AND BELIEF OR…?(b) Other motivations
  • 63. Money and power? ―Big Business has more of an influence than the Bible.‖ – Hendricks (2005) quoting Bruce Barron ―What puts Bush/Cheney in a whole new league … is their open sale of our whole government to corporate interests, which now run the US for themselves.‖ – Cruel and Unusual (Miller, 2004)
  • 64. Economics? ―A key truism about the anti-enviro movement: at its core it is not about differing conservation philosophies or ecological worldviews, religion, or politics, but about basic economic interests.‖  Helvarg (2004)
  • 65. Economics? ―The reality is that the majority of Americans are seeing their real wages decline and job security evaporate as the economy of the United States in integrated into a new global economy, dominated by transnational corporations. Rural America is particularly hard hit by farm debt and consolidation and liquidation of natural resource industries.‖ – Helvarg (2004)
  • 66. A personal opinion I would generally take the view that American environmental policy, like the Wise Use movement is, – ―a site of political-economic contradictions and struggle, both between classes and between capitalists‖ (McCarthy, 1998) Cannot entirely dismiss the influence of Reconstructionism and theocratic efforts to erode the separation of church and state. – Miller (2004), Kaplan (2005), Skaggs et al. (2004)
  • 67. Libertarian―The Holy Trinity‖ politics and ‘traditional(sic) values’ ENVIRON- MENTAL POLICY Christian Extractive Right industries
  • 69. Other Perspectives ―The point is whether the biblical narrative itself has required such Christians to act negligently or badly, where they have so acted, or whether the biblical narrative itself presents a quite different vision of the world from the one pursued by these badly-behaved Christians, a vision sometimes misunderstood and misconstrued by its readers.‖ – Provan (2008)
  • 70. Other Perspectives Kearns, for example, identifies three main ―ecotheological ethics‖ – Christian Stewardship ethic – Eco-justice ethic – Christian spirituality ethic
  • 71.  Read the statement at earn/call-to-action/ – Claim 1: Human-Induced Climate Change is Real – Claim 2: The Consequences ofClimate Change: An Climate Change Will BeEvangelical Call to Action Significant, and Will Hit the Poor the Hardest – Claim 3: Christian Moral Convictions Demand Our Response to the Climate Change Problem – Claim 4: The need to act now is urgent. Governments, businesses, churches, and individuals all have a role to play in addressing climate change—starting now.
  • 72.  A project of The Alliance for Climate Protection, founded by Al  It has the support of Pat Robertson (cf. Christian Coalition) – Watch the short YouTube video at watch?v=NhmpsUMdTH 8
  • 73. A Rocha:
  • 74.
  • 75. Tearfund:
  • 76. CoE:
  • 78. Neoconservatism and Nature The Bush regime has had a poor environmental record. There are overlapping interests between the Christian Right and a neoconservative political agenda. Their environmental policies may be influenced by a ―dominion‖ reading of Genesis 1, though thereare other more compelling explanations for their actions.
  • 79. Neoconservatism and Nature Whilst theologies of the environment are still contested (see, for example, or The Action Institute), the increasingly dominant narrative is based on the partnership ethic of Genesis 1 and 2 and linked to social justice.