Thursday, December 15, 2005

Ghawar Is Dying
by Chip Haynes
August,2001--"Ghawar is dying." Could those three simple words signal the beginning of the end for the industrialized human civilization on Planet Earth? No one in a position of knowledge or authority has uttered them publicly yet, nor are they likely to for a few years to come. So we do have some time--but not much. Then again, they may have been said quietly two years ago and we would never know. Life's funny that way. Too bad this isn't a laughing matter.

Some two hundred kilometers east of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is a stretch of uninhabited and unremarkable desert in the Empty Quarter. This hot, desolate landscape sits above the largest oil field in the world: the Ghawar. It's a big chunk of nothing one hundred and fifty miles long and twenty-five miles wide, but thousands of meters below its surface lie seventy billion barrels of oil patiently waiting to be pumped out. They've waited for millions of years. A few more won't matter. And after that? After that, Ghawar will no longer be dying. It will be dead. Nothing left but sand and sinkholes.

Before you sit back, all smug and comfy with that seventy billion barrel figure, let me do a bit of quick math for you: that's only an 875 day supply of oil for the world at the current rate of use. (And that rate rises every year, just as the Ghawar's not unlimited oil reserves get lower.) Admittedly, the Ghawar is not our only source of oil. (And unless you happen to be Saudi, its not even your oil at all, now is it?) Still, the Ghawar is The Big One, and when it goes, things will change--forever. The only questions are: When will it happen, and how will we know?

The when is easy, if vague: it could happen at any time from two years ago to twenty years from now. But how will we know? That's a far more difficult question to answer.

I can picture a Mercedes Unimog lumbering alongside pipelines in the desert, stopping at each well head. At each stop, a man climbs down from the machine and walks over to the well. He looks and records a number from the gauge, then returns to the truck. This scene plays out over and over. It would take days to record all the numbers from the wells in the Ghawar. Still, it must be done. Those hand-written numbers are given to a field technician who dutifully records them, one well at a time, in a computer database. All that data gets sent to the Saudi government, where the numbers are studied, analyzed, and agonized over. If the figures are the same as or higher than the last figures, life is good. If not, then what?

What if the Ghawar IS dying? It would be easy enough to play with the numbers for a year or two--until the decline rate starts to speed up and the loss can't be hidden. After that? Plan B might call for a declared "voluntary reduction" in oil production to "stabilize the market at the optimum level." Yeah, right. How in the world would you ever know exactly how much oil is being pumped or shipped from a country half way around the world to other countries you've never seen? The answer is obvious: You wouldn't. You never will. C'est la vie.

Somewhere in Los Angeles, on quite literally the other side of the world, an SUV pulls into a gas station and the driver gets out. The pump is turned on and a gas tank is filled. Sure, it cost more here at this big, fancy franchise than it did over at that little independent station, but the indy was closed today. Matter of fact, hasn't it been closed for about a week now? What's up with that? Ah, well. At least it's not that much more. What's an extra buck or two to fill the tank? No big deal. Unless Ghawar is dying, in which case it is a very big deal indeed--and will get considerably bigger before it's all over. Maybe this was a sign of a weakening pulse?

You're Invited to the Funeral
Measured up against the big scheme of things, the death of Ghawar and our oil-powered industrial civilization will fall somewhere between the Black Plague of 14th Century Europe and the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs. Unlike the plague, this will effect humans world-wide, but unlike the meteor, it will effect only humans. Chickens may some day cross the road with impunity. Animals both large and small will prosper (Hey, you try whaling in a row boat!) And the earth will undoubtedly cool off a bit. Too bad we all won't be here to enjoy it.
With the death of Ghawar will undoubtedly come the deaths of humans. Many humans, it would seem, the result of probably unavoidable wars for the last remaining oil to the much-predicted pandemics and mass starvation. Estimates on the sustainable limit to humans on this planet have ranged from an utterly dismal 1/70th of the current population (about 100 million) to an almost cheerful (by comparison) two billion. Keep in mind there's six billion of us here right now, so some of you will have to leave. You'll stay for the funeral, though, won't you? I mean, after all, Ghawar is dying.

I don't expect to be told. Politics and the global economy being what they are these days, I really can't picture anyone standing up in front of a row of television cameras and announcing to the world that the largest field of crude oil known to man is, in fact, drying up. What's Arabic for, "Ghawar is dying"? It doesn't matter. It's a phrase we'll never need to know--or hear. If it is the biggest, it will also be the last. By the time Ghawar begins to die--and by the time we hear about it--hundreds of other oil fields all over the world will also be dead and gone. Ghawar will still be pumping crude oil at an impressive rate as the industrial world of man comes to a creaking, painful halt. That's the irony of it, you see: by the time the Ghawar starts to run dry, we will have either found another way to get things done or simply stopped doing them. There's a very good chance that the last of the oil in the Ghawar will remain in the ground, untouched and unneeded, forever.

So is the Ghawar dying? Does it matter? There may come a time when all the SUVs in Los Angeles will roll to a tank-dry halt. After the riots and the wars, after the yelling and screaming and dying, what's left of humanity (if we have any humanity left) will stand up, dust itself off and get on with Life. The Ghawar, virtually unknown today, will be all but forgotten by then. The troubles of Saudi Arabia and the Middle East will cease to be a common feature of the nightly news, as they would no longer have anything to offer the West--nothing left to fight over. Just footnotes in a history book.

Cries and Whispers
Maybe what's called for here, as Blutto Blutowski so eloquently put it, is a stupid and futile gesture that could serve as a mind-bite for the masses--some bit of mysterious innuedno that could spread like backfence gossip or a clever teaser ad. Tell people the world is running out of oil and they glaze like a donut. We know the direct approach doesn't work. We have to be subtle. Devious. Underhanded. But without any actual outright lying. (The truth is, after all, so much more annoying!) So how about bumper stickers? Everybody reads them when they're stuck in traffic or stopped at a light. You do. I do. And if you read it on a bumper sticker, it must be true, right? All we need now is a whole pile of "Ghawar is Dying" bumper stickers. It need not say any more than that. The truth is always mysterious and seldom obvious. Let 'em figure it out for themselves. Of course, the ultimate irony would be to see that bumper sticker on a big SUV--the very thing that's draining the Ghawar to death. That's right up there with "Honk if you hate noise pollution"! HA!
Ghawar is dying. If you whisper it quietly, maybe people will listen. If not, the approaching silence will get their attention soon enough.

Chip Haynes

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

American "Rapture"

Best-selling author and evangelical leader Tim LaHaye has contacts that extend to the White House. That could spell trouble, since his theology espouses a bloody apocalypse in Israel

On a scorching afternoon in May, Tim LaHaye, the 79-year-old co-author of the "Left Behind" series of apocalyptic thrillers, leads several dozen of his acolytes up a long, winding path to a hilltop in the ancient fortress city of Megiddo, Israel. LaHaye is not a household name in the secular world, but in the parallel universe of evangelical Christians he is the ultimate cultural icon. The author or co-author of more than 75 books, LaHaye in 2001 was named the most influential American evangelical leader of the past 25 years by the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals. With more than 63 million copies of his "Left Behind" novels sold, he is one of the best-selling authors in all of American history. Here, a group of about 90 evangelical Christians who embrace the astonishing theology he espouses have joined him in the Holy Land for the "Walking Where Jesus Walked" tour.

Megiddo, the site of about 20 different civilizations over the last 10,000 years, is among the first stops on our pilgrimage, and, given that LaHaye's specialty is the apocalypse, it is also one of the most important. Alexander the Great, Saladin, Napoleon, and other renowned warriors all fought great battles here. But if Megiddo is to go down in history as the greatest battlefield on earth, its real test is yet to come. According to the book of Revelation, the hill of Megiddo—better known as Armageddon—will be the site of a cataclysmic battle between the forces of Christ and the Antichrist.

To get a good look at the battlefields of the apocalypse, we take shelter under a makeshift lean-to at the top of the hill. Wearing a floppy hat to protect him from the blazing Israeli sun, LaHaye yields to his colleague Gary Frazier, the tour organizer and founder of the Texas-based Discovery Ministries, Inc., to explain what will happen during the Final Days.

"How many of you have read the 'Left Behind' prophecy novels?" asks Frazier.

Almost everyone raises a hand.

"The thing that you must know," Frazier tells them, "is that the next event on God's prophetic plan, we believe, is the catching away of the saints in the presence of the Lord. We call it 'the Rapture.'"

Frazier is referring to a key biblical passage, in the first book of Thessalonians, that says the Lord will "descend from heaven with a shout.… The dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air."

The words "caught up" are sometimes translated as "raptured." As a result, adherents cite this as the essential scriptural depiction of the Rapture.

"Christ is going to appear," Frazier continues. "He is going to call all of his saved, all of his children, home to be with him."

In other words, "in the twinkling of an eye," as the Rapturists often say, millions of born-again Evangelicals will suddenly vanish from the earth—just as they do in LaHaye's "Left Behind" books. They will leave behind their clothes, their material possessions, and all their friends and family members who have not accepted Christ—and they will join Christ in the Kingdom of God.

Frazier continues. "Jesus taught his disciples that he was going to go away to his father's house, but that he was not going to abandon them, because while he was gone he was going to prepare for them a suitable dwelling place.… And when the time was right, he would come back to claim his own.… Jesus is going to come and get his bride, which comprises all of us who are born again.

"I have no question that right now, as we stand here, Jesus the son is saying to the father, I want to be with my bride.… In the same way that we wanted to be with our mates … he wants to be with us. He wants us to be with him."

Frazier is a fiery preacher, and as his voice rises and falls, his listeners respond with cries of "Amen" and "That's right."

"I'm going to tell you with zeal and enthusiasm and passion Jesus is coming on the clouds of glory to call us home.… Now, ladies and gentlemen, I want you to know, if you've read the 'Left Behind' books, [but] more importantly, if you've read the Bible, you know … that Christ is coming, and we believe that that day is very, very near."

For miles around in all directions the fertile Jezreel Valley, known as the breadbasket of Israel, is spread out before us, an endless vista of lush vineyards and orchards growing grapes, oranges, kumquats, peaches, and pears. It is difficult to imagine a more beautiful pastoral panorama.

The sight LaHaye's followers hope to see here in the near future, however, is anything but bucolic. Their vision is fueled by the book of Revelation, the dark and foreboding messianic prophecy that foresees a gruesome and bloody confrontation between Christ and the armies of the Antichrist at Armageddon.

Addressing the group from the very spot where the conflict is to take place, Frazier turns to Revelation 19, which describes Christ going into battle. "It thrills my heart every time that I read these words," he says, then begins to read: "'And I saw heaven standing open.… And there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire.'"

Frazier pauses to explain the text. "This doesn't sound like compassionate Jesus," he says. "This doesn't sound like the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. This is the Warrior King. He judges and makes war."

Frazier returns to the Scripture: "He has a name written on him that no one but he himself knows. He is dressed in a robe that is dipped in blood and his name is the word of God."

This is the moment the Rapturists eagerly await. The magnitude of death and destruction will make the Holocaust seem trivial. The battle finally begins.

Those who remain on earth are the unsaved, the left behind—many of them dissolute followers of the Antichrist, who is massing his army against Christ. Accompanying Christ into battle are the armies of heaven, riding white horses and dressed in fine linen.

"This is all of us," Frazier says.

Frazier points out that Christ does not need high-tech weaponry for this conflict. "'Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword,' not a bunch of missiles and rockets," he says.

Once Christ joins the battle, both the Antichrist and the False Prophet are quickly captured and cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. Huge numbers of the Antichrist's supporters are slain.

Meanwhile, an angel exhorts Christ, "Thrust in thy sickle, and reap." And so, Christ, sickle in hand, gathers "the vine of the earth."

Then, according to Revelation, "the earth was reaped." These four simple words signify the end of the world as we know it.

Grapes that are "fully ripe"—billions of people who have reached maturity but still reject the grace of God—are now cast "into the great winepress of the wrath of God." Here we have the origin of the phrase "the grapes of wrath." In an extraordinarily merciless and brutal act of justice, Christ crushes the so-called grapes of wrath, killing them. Then, Revelation says, blood flows out "of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs."

With its highly figurative language, Revelation is subject to profoundly differing interpretations. Nevertheless, LaHaye's followers insist on its literal truth and accuracy, and they have gone to great lengths to calculate exactly what this passage of Revelation means.

As we walk down from the top of the hill of Megiddo, one of them looks out over the Jezreel Valley. "Can you imagine this entire valley filled with blood?" he asks. "That would be a 200-mile-long river of blood, four and a half feet deep. We've done the math. That's the blood of as many as two and a half billion people."

When this will happen is another question, and the Bible says that "of that day and hour knoweth no man." Nevertheless, LaHaye's disciples are certain these events—the End of Days—are imminent. In fact, one of them has especially strong ideas about when they will take place. "Not soon enough," she says. "Not soon enough."

If such views sound extraordinary, the people who hold them are decidedly not. For the most part, the people on the tour could pass for a random selection culled from almost any shopping mall in America. There are warm and loving middle-aged couples who hold hands. There is a well-coiffed Texas matron with an Hermès scarf. There's a ducktailed septuagenarian and a host of post-teen mall rats. There are young singles. One couple even chose this trip for their honeymoon. A big-haired platinum blonde with a white sequined cowboy hat adds a touch of Dallas glamour. There is a computer-security expert, a legal assistant, and a real-estate broker; a construction executive, a retired pastor, a caregiver for the elderly, and a graduate student from Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. They hail from Peoria, Illinois, and Longview, Texas, as well as San Diego and San Antonio. Most are fans of the "Left Behind" books. Some have attended the Left Behind Prophecy Conference on one of its tours of the U.S.

And while their beliefs may seem astounding to secular Americans, they are not unusual. According to a Time/CNN poll from 2002, 59 percent of Americans believe the events in the book of Revelation will take place. There are as many as 70 million Evangelicals in the U.S.—about 25 percent of the population—attending more than 200,000 evangelical churches. Most of these churches are run by pastors who belong to conservative political organizations that make sure their flocks vote as a hard-right Republican bloc.

A fascination with Revelation, the Rapture, and Christian Zionism has always been a potent, if often unseen, component of the American consciousness. More than three centuries ago, Puritans from John Winthrop to Cotton Mather saw America as a millennial kingdom linked to both the apocalypse and ancient Israel in a divine way that prefigured the Second Coming of Christ. America was to be the New Jerusalem, the Redeemer Nation, a people blessed with divine guidance.

Imagery from the book of Revelation has inspired poets and writers from William Blake and William Butler Yeats to Joan Didion and Bob Dylan. "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" draws references from Revelation. Elements of the book of Revelation—secularized or otherwise—turn up in movies starring Gary Cooper (High Noon), Gregory Peck (The Omen), Clint Eastwood (Pale Rider), and Mimi Rogers (The Rapture), as well as in NBC's Revelations. Already, there have been two "Left Behind" movies—available mostly on video—and a third is in production. LaHaye's "Left Behind" series of books, co-authored with Jerry Jenkins, has brought in $650 million to Tyndale House, its now affluent Christian publisher.

On the Internet, put its Rapture Index at 161 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina; anything over 145 means "fasten your seat belts." A number of Christian Web sites sell clothing emblazoned with Rapture logos. There was even a team of NASCAR drivers, Randy MacDonald and Jimmy Hensley, whose souped-up Chevy proudly displayed "Left Behind" insignia—not the most propitious message for a driver vying for pole position.

For all that, the new wave of Rapturemania is more than just another multi-billion-dollar addition to America's cultural junk heap. In the 60s, how you felt about the Beatles and Rolling Stones, marijuana and LSD, and civil rights and the Vietnam War told people whose side of American society you were on. Likewise, Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye, the pro-life movement and marriage-protection amendment, and the book of Revelation and George W. Bush are equally reliable gauges through which evangelical Christians today can distinguish friend from foe.

As befits the manifesto of a counterculture, the "Left Behind" series is a revenge fantasy, in which right-wing Christians win out over the rational, scientific, modern, post-Enlightenment world. The books represent the apotheosis of a culture that is waging war against liberals, gays, Muslims, Arabs, the U.N., and "militant secularists" of all stripes—whom it accuses of destroying Christian America, murdering millions of unborn children, assaulting the Christian family by promoting promiscuity and homosexuality, and driving Christ out of the public square.

It's a counterculture that sees Jews as key players in a Christian messianic drama, a premise that has led to a remarkable alliance between Christian Evangelicals and the Israeli right. As a result, political views drawn from an apocalyptic vision—once dismissed as extremist and delusional—have not merely swept mass culture but have shaped the political discourse all the way to Jerusalem and the White House. And if they are taken too seriously, the geopolitical consequences could be catastrophic.

The city of Jerusalem has a profound significance in the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And to all three religions no place in Jerusalem is more full of apocalyptic and messianic meaning than the Temple Mount—the massive, 144,000-square-meter platform, 32 meters high, built by King Herod as a base for the biggest and most grandiose religious monument in the world, the shining white stone Temple of the Jews.

To Jews, the Temple Mount marks the holy of holies, the sacred core of the Temple, where Jews worshipped for centuries. Beneath it, Orthodox Jews believe, is the foundation stone of the entire world. The Mount is the disputed piece of land over which Cain slew Abel. It is where Abraham took his son, Isaac, when God asked him to sacrifice the boy. At its outer perimeter is the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, where Jews worship today. And messianic Jews believe the Mount is where the Temple must be rebuilt for the coming Messiah.

To Christians, the Temple is where Jesus threw out the money changers. Its destruction by the Romans in 70 A.D. came to symbolize the birth of Christianity, when a new Temple of Jesus, eternal and divine, replaced the earthly Temple made and destroyed by men.

And to Muslims the Temple Mount's Dome of the Rock is where Muhammad ascended to heaven nearly 1,400 years ago, making it the third-holiest site in Islam, behind Mecca and Medina.

After its victory over Arab forces in the Six-Day War, in June 1967, Israel briefly seized the Temple Mount, thereby realizing the dream of restoring Judaism's holiest place to the Jewish people. But Moshe Dayan, the venerated Israeli defense minister who won the battle, soon voluntarily relinquished control of it to the Waqf, a Muslim administrative body.

Over the next generation, some 250,000 mostly Orthodox Jews, citing God's promise to Abraham in Genesis—"all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever"—moved into West Bank territories occupied by Israel after the 1967 war, and vowed to keep the government from giving the land back to the Palestinians.

Since Dayan's historic decision, Muslim authorities have usually allowed non-Muslims to come to the Temple Mount, as long as they don't move their lips in ways that suggest they are praying. As a result, the Temple Mount is one of the most explosive tinderboxes on earth. A visit to the site in September 2000 by Ariel Sharon inflamed tensions that soon erupted into the second intifada.

To evangelical Christians, the Mount is an elemental part of messianic theology, because a complete restoration of the nation of Israel, including the rebuilding of the Temple and the reclaiming of Judea and Samaria, is a prerequisite to the Second Coming of Christ. Likewise, to Orthodox Jews, nothing is more important to their messianic vision than reclaiming the Temple Mount and rebuilding the Temple—yet no single event is more likely to provoke a catastrophe.

No one knows this better than Yitshak Fhantich, an independent security, protection, and intelligence consultant who spent 28 years in Israeli intelligence, many as head of the Jewish Department of Shin Bet. From 1992 to 1995, he was the man in charge of investigating right-wing extremists, many of them strongly religious, who posed a threat to the Temple Mount.

"The vast majority of settlers in the West Bank are positive people with sincere religious beliefs," says Fhantich. "But when you combine religious beliefs with right-wing political views, you have a bomb. The hard core among them will go to any extreme. They are ready to do anything—from killing Yitzhak Rabin to blowing up the mosques at the Temple Mount."

Indeed, in 1984, Fhantich and his team of 25 Shin Bet members assisted in the arrest of 26 Jewish terrorists for planning to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount in an attempt to disrupt the peace process with Egypt, and in hopes that the Jews would then rebuild the Temple so that the Messiah would come.

And in 1995, Fhantich personally warned Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin about the danger he faced from militant groups outraged by his agreement, as part of the 1993 Oslo accords, to relinquish the West Bank and Gaza territories to the Palestinians. "I told him, on the hit list, you're No. 1," Fhantich says. On November 4, 1995, Rabin was assassinated by a young Orthodox law student named Yigal Amir, whose activities Fhantich had been monitoring for more than a year.

In the 90s, Fhantich says, Israeli intelligence began watching Christian Evangelicals. "As the millennium approached, you had many people waiting for the appearance of Jesus Christ.… And Jerusalem, of course, is the home of the Jerusalem syndrome," he says, referring to the phenomenon whereby obsessive religious ideas can trigger violent behavior. "If someone believes God told him to do something, you cannot stop him.

"The mosques on the Temple Mount are like the red flag for the bull. You have to be prepared minute by minute. These Christians, they believe what they are doing is sacred. Some of them are so naïve they can be taken advantage of. If something happens to the Temple Mount, I think these American Evangelicals will welcome such an act. After all, religion is the most powerful gun in the world."

Moreover, a potential attack on the Temple Mount, as disastrous as it would be, pales in comparison to the long-term geopolitical goals of some right-wing religious groups. Orthodox Jews, Christian Evangelicals, and the heroes of the "Left Behind" series share a belief that the land bordered by the Nile and Euphrates Rivers and the Mediterranean Sea and the wilderness of Jordan has been covenanted to Israel by God. Taken to its literal extreme, this belief obliges Israel not only to retain control of Gaza and the West Bank but also to annex all or parts of Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria. Such a campaign of conquest would be certain to provoke a spectacular conflict.

The Carter Glass Mansion, in Lynchburg, Virginia, is a handsome manor house that serves as an administrative office for Liberty University and offers a magnificent view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Inside is the office of Jerry Falwell, chancellor of the university, founding father of the Christian right, and longtime friend and colleague of Tim LaHaye, one of Liberty's most generous donors.

Recently recovered from a respiratory illness, Falwell, 72, is as serene and self-confident as ever, answering questions with the disarming candor that has enabled him to build personal friendships with even his fiercest ideological foes, from the Reverend Jesse Jackson to pornographer Larry Flynt. Behind his desk is a mounted page from the Palestine Post, dated May 16, 1948, headlined STATE OF ISRAEL IS BORN.

Explaining his affinity for Israel, Falwell says, "Long before I became a political activist, I'd been taught that the Abrahamic Covenant—Genesis 12 and Genesis 15—is still binding, where God told Abraham, 'I will bless them that bless you and curse them that curse you.'

"It was obvious to me, beginning with the birth of the Israeli state, in 1948, and the Six-Day War, in 1967, that God was bringing his people back home. So I came to believe that it was in America's best interest to be a friend of Israel.… If America blessed the Jew, Israel in particular, God would bless America."

The special political relationship between the Israeli right and Evangelicals dates back to 1977, when, after three decades of Labor rule in Israel, Menachem Begin became the first prime minister from the conservative Likud Party. A romantic nationalist and serious biblical scholar, Begin pointedly referred to the lands of the West Bank by their biblical names of Judea and Samaria, and he reached out to American Evangelicals at a time when they were just coming out of a political hibernation that dated back to the Scopes trial of 1925 and Prohibition. "The prime minister said a person who has got the Bible in his home and reads it and believes it cannot be a bad person," recalls Yechiel Kadishai, a longtime personal aide to Begin. "He said the Evangelicals have to know that we are rooted in this piece of land. There should be an understanding between us and them." One of the first people Begin sought out was Jerry Falwell, who was achieving national recognition through his growing television ministry.

In 1980, Begin presented Falwell with the prestigious Jabotinsky Award, gave his ministry a private jet, and shared vital state secrets with the televangelist. Begin even called him before bombing Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor, in June 1981. "He said, 'Tomorrow you're going to read some strong things about what we are going to do. But our safety is at stake,'" Falwell recalls. "He said, 'I wanted you, my good friend, to know what we are going to do.' And, sure enough, they put one down the chimney."

In the early days of his ministry, Falwell, like other Evangelicals, had made a policy of not mixing religion and politics at all—much less on a global scale. "I had been taught in the seminary that religion and politics don't mix," he says. "Conservative theologians were absolutely convinced that the pulpit should be devoted to prayer, preaching, and exclusively to spiritual ministry.

"But in the 60s the U.S. Supreme Court had decided to remove God from the public square, beginning with the school-prayer issue. Then, in 1973, the Supreme Court had ruled 7-to-2 in favor of abortion on demand. And I wondered, 'What can I do?'"

Several years later, Falwell got a call from Francis Schaeffer. An electrifying Presbyterian evangelist and author, Schaeffer is probably the most important religious figure that secular America has never heard of. Widely regarded by Evangelicals as one of their leading theologians of the 20th century, Schaeffer, who died in 1984, was to the Christian right what Marx was to Marxism, what Freud was to psychoanalysis. "There is no question in my mind that without Francis Schaeffer the religious right would not exist today," says Falwell. "He was the prophet of the modern-day faith-and-values movement."

A powerful influence on Falwell, LaHaye, Pat Robertson, and many others, Schaeffer asserted in the wake of Roe v. Wade that Evangelicalism could no longer passively accommodate itself to the decadent values of the secular-humanist world, now that it had sanctioned the murder of unborn babies. Almost single-handedly, he prodded Evangelicals out of the pulpit and into a full-scale cultural war with the secular world. "I was in search of a scriptural way that I, as pastor of a very large church, could address the moral and social issues facing American culture," Falwell says. "Dr. Schaeffer shattered that world of isolation for me, telling me that, while I was preaching a very clear gospel message, I was avoiding 50 percent of my ministry.… He began teaching me that I had a responsibility to confront the culture where it was failing morally and socially."

In 1979, Falwell was still "looking for a plan to mobilize people of faith in this country" when Tim LaHaye, then a pastor in San Diego, called him. LaHaye had just founded Californians for Biblical Morality, a coalition of right-wing pastors who fought against gay rights and even sought to ban the fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons in a Glendora community college on the grounds that it was an "occult" game.

When he visited San Diego, Falwell was impressed with how LaHaye had organized the pastors to confront the state government on moral and social issues. "When he told me how he did it, I wondered why we couldn't do it on a national basis," says Falwell.

And so, in 1979, Falwell launched the Moral Majority with LaHaye and other leading fundamentalist strategists to lobby for prayer and the teaching of creationism in public schools and against gay rights, abortion, and the Equal Rights Amendment. LaHaye's wife, Beverly, also entered the fray that year by founding Concerned Women for America, to "bring biblical principles into all levels of public policy" and oppose the "anti-marriage, anti-family, anti-children, anti-man" feminism put forth by the National Organization for Women.

Courtly, genteel, and soft-spoken, LaHaye hardly looks the part of a ferocious right-wing culture warrior. In public or in private, LaHaye is understated, the antithesis of the fire-and-brimstone preacher one might expect to deliver prophecies of the apocalypse and Armageddon. Yet even Falwell has said that LaHaye has done more than anyone to set the agenda for Evangelicalism in the U.S.

LaHaye's belief in the Rapture dates back to his father's funeral, in Detroit, when he was just nine years old. "The minister at the funeral said these words: 'This is not the end of Frank LaHaye,'" he told The Christian Science Monitor. "'Because he accepted Jesus, the day will come when the Lord will shout from heaven and descend, and the dead in Christ will rise first and then we'll be caught up together to meet him in the air.'"

Then the pastor pointed to the sky and the sun unexpectedly came out. "All of a sudden, there was hope in my heart I'd see my father again," LaHaye said.

From then on, LaHaye was entranced with Rapturist theology, which was popularized in the U.S. in the 19th century by a renegade Irish Anglican preacher named John Nelson Darby. A proponent of a prophetic branch of theology known as premillennial dispensationalism, Darby asserted that a series of signs—including wars, immorality, and the return of the Jews to Israel—signal the End of Days. Once the end is nigh, all true believers will be raptured to meet Christ. After that, Darby taught, the world will enter a horrifying seven-year period of Tribulation, during which a charismatic Antichrist will seize power. But in the end, he prophesied, the Antichrist will be vanquished by Christ at Armageddon, and Christ's 1,000-year reign of peace and justice will begin. This, in brief, is the theology taught by evangelists such as Jerry Falwell, John Hagee, and many others—including Tim LaHaye.

After graduating from the ultra-conservative Bob Jones University, in Greenville, South Carolina, LaHaye began preaching in nearby Pumpkintown at a salary of $15 a week. For 25 years, he served as pastor at Scott Memorial Baptist Church, in San Diego, transforming it from a congregation of 275 into one with 3,000 members.

Along the way, LaHaye avidly read Francis Schaeffer. "Schaeffer taught me the difference between the Renaissance and the Reformation," he says during the tour of Israel. "And you know what the difference is? The Renaissance was all about the centrality of man. The Reformation was all about clearing up the ways the [Catholic] Church had mucked up Christianity—and getting back to the centrality of God."

In The Battle for the Mind, his 1980 homage to Schaeffer, LaHaye lays out his worldview far more forcefully than he does in person, depicting America as a Bible-based country under siege by an elite group of secular humanists conspiring to destroy the nuclear family, Christianity itself, and even "the entire world." There are no shades of gray in this Manichaean tract, which asserts that secular humanism is "not only the world's greatest evil but, until recently, the most deceptive of all religious philosophies."

Life, LaHaye argues, has always been a battle between good and evil. "The good way has always been called 'God's way,'" he writes, and evil has been the way of man—specifically, the post-Renaissance, post-Enlightenment world of art, science, and reason. And, in his view, nothing man has come up with is worse than secular humanism, which he defines as "a Godless, man-centered philosophy" that rejects traditional values and that has "a particular hatred toward Christianity."

"LaHaye writes as if there's a humanist brain trust sitting around reading [American philosopher and educational reformer] John Dewey, trying to figure out ways to destroy Christianity," says Chip Berlet, a senior analyst with Political Research Associates and the co-author of Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort.

In truth, while tens of millions of Americans might accurately be called secular humanists, very few characterize themselves as members of a humanist movement. But to LaHaye that only proves the deviousness of the humanist project. Instead of openly advocating their point of view, he writes, humanists have used the mass media and Hollywood, the government, academia, and organizations such as the A.C.L.U. and NOW to indoctrinate unsuspecting Christians.

As a result, LaHaye argues, good Evangelicals should no longer think of humanists as harmless citizens who happen not to attend church. In The Battle for the Mind, he spells out his political goals: "We must remove all humanists from public office and replace them with pro-moral political leaders."

"In LaHaye's world, there are the godly people who are on their way to the Rapture," says Berlet. "And the rest of the world is either complicit with the Antichrist or, worse, actively assisting him. If you really believe in End Times, you are constantly looking for agents of Satan.… [And if] political conflicts are rooted in the idea that your opponent is an agent of the Devil, there is no compromise possible. What decent person would compromise with evil? So that removes it from the democratic process.

"Conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation want to roll back the New Deal. LaHaye wants to roll back the Enlightenment."

Like Schaeffer's writings, LaHaye's book went largely unnoticed by the secular world, but the Christian right heartily embraced its declaration of war against secularism. Presbyterian televangelist D. James Kennedy hailed The Battle for the Mind as "one of the most important books of our time." Falwell wrote that all Christians must follow its tenets if America is to be saved from becoming "another Sodom and Gomorrah."

In 1981, LaHaye took up the challenge, resigning his pastorship to devote himself full-time to building the Christian right. He began by meeting with moneyed ultra-conservatives including Nelson Bunker Hunt, the right-wing oil billionaire from Dallas, and T. Cullen Davis, another wealthy Texas oilman who became a born-again Christian after being acquitted of charges of murdering his wife's lover and his stepdaughter.

Though still in its infancy, the Moral Majority had more than seven million people on its mailing list and had already played a key role in electing Ronald Reagan president. Beverly LaHaye's Concerned Women for America was on its way to building a membership of 500,000 people, making her "the most powerful woman in the new religious right," according to the Houston Chronicle. She and her husband also co-authored a best-selling marriage manual for Christians, The Act of Marriage, full of clinical advice such as the following: "Cunnilingus and fellatio have in recent years been given unwarranted publicity [but] the majority of couples do not regularly use it as a substitute for the beautiful and conventional interaction designed by our Creator to be an intimate expression of love." And in the mid-80s, LaHaye created the American Coalition for Traditional Values, which played an important role in re-electing Ronald Reagan, in 1984. He later became co-chairman of Jack Kemp's 1988 presidential campaign but was forced to resign when anti-Catholic statements he had written came to light.

With right-wing groups expanding at such a dizzying pace, LaHaye helped to found the Council for National Policy (C.N.P.) as a low-profile but powerful coalition of billionaire industrialists, fundamentalist preachers, and right-wing tacticians. Funded by Hunt and Davis, among others, the organization set out to create a coherent and disciplined strategy for the New Right.

Though its membership is secret, the rolls have reportedly included Falwell and Pat Robertson; top right-wing political strategists Richard Viguerie, Ralph Reed, and Paul Weyrich; Republican senators Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth (both of North Carolina), Don Nickles (Oklahoma), and Trent Lott (Mississippi); and Republican representatives Dick Armey and Tom DeLay (both of Texas). The late Rousas John Rushdoony, the right-wing theologian who hoped to reconfigure the American legal system in accordance with biblical law, was said to be a member, as was John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, who was co-counsel to Paula Jones in her lawsuit against Bill Clinton.

"Ronald Reagan, both George Bushes, senators and Cabinet members—you name it. There's nobody who hasn't been here at least once," says Falwell, who confirms that he is a member. "It is a group of four or five hundred of the biggest conservative guns in the country."

The C.N.P. has access to the highest powers in the land. In 1999, George W. Bush courted evangelical support for his presidential candidacy by giving a speech before the council, the transcript of which remains a highly guarded secret. And since the start of his presidency, Falwell says, the C.N.P. has enjoyed regular access to the Oval Office. "Within the council is a smaller group called the Arlington Group," says Falwell. "We talk to each other daily and meet in Washington probably twice a month. We often call the White House and talk to Karl Rove while we are meeting. Everyone takes our calls." According to The Wall Street Journal, two high-ranking Texas judges who spoke to the Arlington Group in October at the suggestion of Karl Rove allegedly assured its members that Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Sometime in the mid-80s, Tim LaHaye was on an airplane when he noticed that the pilot, who happened to be wearing a wedding ring, was flirting with an attractive flight attendant, who was not. LaHaye asked himself what would happen to the poor unsaved man if the long-awaited Rapture were to transpire at that precise moment.

Soon, LaHaye's agent dug up Jerry Jenkins, a writer-at-large for the Moody Bible Institute and the author of more than 150 books, many on sports and religion. In exchange for shared billing, Jenkins signed on to do the actual writing of the "Left Behind" series—a multi-volume apocalyptic fantasy thriller composed in the breezy, fast-paced style of airport bodice rippers but based on biblical prophecy.

The first volume, Left Behind, begins with a variation of what LaHaye observed in real life. While piloting his 747 to London's Heathrow Airport, Captain Rayford Steele decides he's had just about enough of his wife's infuriating religiosity. Thanks to Christian influences, she now believes in the Rapture. He puts the plane on autopilot and leaves the cockpit to flirt with a "drop-dead gorgeous" flight attendant named Hattie Durham.

But Hattie advises him that dozens of passengers have suddenly and mysteriously vanished. They have left behind their clothes, eyeglasses, jewelry, even their hearing aids.

The Rapture has come. Millions of Christians who have accepted Christ as their savior—including Rayford Steele's wife and young son—have been caught up into heaven to meet Him. Left behind are the vast armies of the Antichrist—those ungodly, evolutionist, pro-abortion secular humanists—and a smaller group of people like Steele, who are just beginning to see that Christ is the answer.

So begin the seven years of Tribulation forecast in the book of Revelation. Rayford Steele and his band of Tribulation warriors are mostly ordinary folks right out of the heartland—not unlike the participants in LaHaye and Frazier's tour of Israel. Doubters no more, they begin to form the Tribulation Force, to take on the armies of the Antichrist and win redemption.

Soon, the Force learns that the Antichrist is none other than Nicolae Carpathia, the dazzlingly charming secretary-general of the United Nations and People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive." Carpathia turns the U.N. into a one-world government with one global currency and one religious order. Try as they might, the Force can't stop him from killing billions by bombing New York, Los Angeles, London, Washington, D.C., and several other cities, or from establishing himself as dictator and implanting biochips that scar millions of people with the number of the beast.

In fact, Carpathia and his Unity Army seem all but unstoppable until Glorious Appearing, the last volume in the series, when it becomes clear that God has another plan—the Second Coming of Jesus. The battles between the forces of Christ and of the Antichrist begin in Jordan, with Carpathia urging his troops to attack, only to be confronted with the ultimate deus ex machina: "Heaven opened and there, on a white horse, sat Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God.… Jesus' eyes shone with conviction like a flame of fire, and He held His majestic head high.… On His robe at the thigh a name was written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS."

LaHaye is not the first author to cash in on the apocalypse. Hal Lindsey's 1970 Christian End Times book, The Late Great Planet Earth, which predicted that the world would come to an end around 1988, was the No. 1 nonfiction best-seller of the 70s. Nevertheless, LaHaye, Jenkins, and their aptly named literary agent, Rick Christian, had a tough time interesting publishers in their concept. Finally, LaHaye's nonfiction publishing company, Tyndale House, put up $50,000, boasting that it could market the book well enough to sell half a million copies.

Kicking off the series in 1995, as the millennium clock ran down, provided a convenient marketing device. According to The Washington Post, by 2001, 27 million copies of "Left Behind" books had been sold, along with 10 million related products such as postcards and wallpaper. Thanks to the astounding growth of Evangelicalism in America, even the uneventful passing of the millennium failed to dampen sales, which increased so greatly—to a pace of 1.5 million copies a month—that the series, originally planned to be 7 books, was extended to 12. By now, according to BusinessWeek, the "Left Behind" series has brought in more than $650 million to the Illinois-based Tyndale House, the largest privately owned Christian publisher in the country. Not surprisingly, LaHaye has sought to extend his brand with children's versions, a prequel (The Rising) written with Jenkins, and a new series, "Babylon Rising," about an Indiana Jones–like hero who uncovers the secrets of biblical prophecies.

When Jerry Falwell reflects on the past 25 years, even he is astounded at how far the Christian right has come. "I was not at all sure in 1979 when I started Moral Majority that we really could make a difference. But I knew we had to try," he says. "A quarter of a century later, I'm amazed at how a huge nation like America could be so affected and even turned around by the New Testament Church.

"We're gaining ground every time the sun shines. I don't think this phenomenon is cresting, because there is a spiritual awakening in America right now."

When he started out, Falwell recalls, he was thrilled if 35 people came to church and left more than $100 on his offering plate. Today, revenue at his Thomas Road Baptist Church tops $200 million a year—and is likely to exceed $400 million in the near future.

The evangelical market is so big now that mainstream corporate America doesn't dare ignore it. The Purpose-Driven Life, by California pastor Rick Warren, published in 2002, has already sold 23 million copies, making it the fastest-selling nonfiction book of all time. Now religion is the hottest category in publishing, bringing in more than $3 billion a year. Time Warner, Random House, and HarperCollins have all put together religious imprints. There are more than 2,000 Christian radio stations. Christian music now outsells all classical and jazz releases combined. The EMI Group and Sony BMG Music Entertainment have acquired religious labels.

And the peak is nowhere in sight. "This is just the beginning," says Tim LaHaye. "Now we have media like we've never had before—alternative media, the Internet, and Fox News."

Throughout America, especially the South, a massive, fully developed subculture has emerged. In Greenville, South Carolina, more than 700 churches serve just 56,000 people. On a highway not far from town, a billboard reads, LET'S MEET ON SUNDAY AT MY HOUSE BEFORE THE GAME. —GOD.

And it's not about just going to church. There are movie nights for Christians, summer camps for Christian kids, Christian "poker runs," Christian marriage-counseling sessions, Christian Caribbean vacations, Christian specialty stores, and Christian ministries for singles, seniors, and the divorced.

"It plays exactly the same role in shaping your beliefs that the counterculture of the 60s did for the left," says a former Evangelical. "Politically, you end up voting for that which reinforces your belief system. How you will appear in the eyes of the God you believe in—that's your anchor."

It is an insular world that is almost completely segregated from the secular world, including the mainstream media. "No one in our family read newspapers," says another former Evangelical, who left her church in Yuba City, California, and eventually moved to New York. "Growing up, our only source of information in my life was the pastor. We believed in what God had told him to say because we were children, and he was our shepherd, and he had been chosen by God."

A crucial part of that theology dictates a love for Israel, an affection based on faith more than on information. "When I grew up, I did not know Jews walked the face of the earth," she says. "I thought they lived only in biblical times. They were my brothers and sisters in the Lord, but I didn't know they still existed."

That love of Israel is sometimes accompanied by racist hatred of Arabs. On several occasions, an Israeli guide on LaHaye and Frazier's tour told the group that Arabs "breed like fleas" and would soon be forced into the desert. LaHaye's followers responded with warm laughter and applause.

From Israel's point of view, there are many reasons to welcome American Evangelicals, regardless of how well-informed they may be. Tourism is one. Last year, 400,000 Christian tourists visited Israel, where they spent more than $1.4 billion. "During the intifada, loyal Christians still came as tourists. We have to go to the grass roots. It is so important to make them lovers of Israel," says Benny Elon, Orthodox leader of the right-wing National Union, former tourism minister, and a frequent guest of the Christian Coalition's in the U.S.

And given that there are more than 10 times as many Evangelicals in America as Jews, it is understandable that Israel might seek their political support. "Israel's relationship with America can't be built only on the AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] and the 2.5 percent of the population in America who are Jews," says Elon.

"When Israel enjoys support because it is the land of the Bible, why should we reject that?" adds Uzi Arad, who served as foreign-policy adviser to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and now heads the Institute for Policy and Strategy, a think tank in Herzliya, Israel. "Whether it is because of expediency or because on some level we may be soulmates, each side offers the other something they want. And the Christian right is a political force to be reckoned with in America."

But Evangelicals have also played a role in disrupting the peace process. "I was ambassador for four years of the peace process, and the Christian fundamentalists were vehemently opposed to the peace process," says Itamar Rabinovich, who served as Israeli ambassador to the U.S. between 1993 and 1996, under the Labor governments of Rabin and Shimon Peres. "They believed that the land belonged to Israel as a matter of divine right. So they immediately became part of a campaign by the Israeli right to undermine the peace process."

No one played that card more forcefully than Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, who as prime minister used the Christian right to fend off pressure from the Clinton administration to proceed with the peace process.

On a visit to Washington, D.C., in 1998, Netanyahu hooked up with Jerry Falwell at the Mayflower Hotel the night before his scheduled meeting with Clinton.

"I put together 1,000 people or so to meet with Bibi and he spoke to us that night," recalls Falwell. "It was all planned by Netanyahu as an affront to Mr. Clinton."

That evening, Falwell promised Netanyahu that he would mobilize pastors all over the country to resist the return of parts of the occupied West Bank territory to the Palestinians. Televangelist John Hagee, who gave $1 million to the United Jewish Appeal the following month, told the crowd that the Jewish return to the Holy Land signaled the "rapidly approaching … final moments of history," then brought them to a frenzy chanting, "Not one inch!"—a reference to how much of the West Bank should be transferred to Palestinian control.

The next day, Netanyahu met with Clinton at the White House. "Bibi told me later," Falwell recalls, "that the next morning Bill Clinton said, 'I know where you were last night.' The pressure was really on Netanyahu to give away the farm in Israel. It was during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.… Clinton had to save himself, so he terminated the demands [to relinquish West Bank territory] that would have been forthcoming during that meeting, and would have been very bad for Israel."

In the end, no one played a bigger role in thwarting the prospect for peace than the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, who rejected a deal with Netanyahu's successor, Ehud Barak, in 2000. In general, the Christian right has not gone to the mat to fight a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But when the peace process finally resumed during the Bush administration, the Christian right made certain its theology was not ignored. In March 2004, according to The Village Voice, a delegation from the Apostolic Congress, a religious group that believes in the Rapture, met with Elliott Abrams, then the National Security Council's senior director for Near East and North African affairs, to discuss its concern that Israel's disengagement from Gaza would violate God's covenant with Israel. As it happens, Netanyahu, for non-theological reasons, shared the Christian right's concern about the Gaza pullout to such an extent that he resigned from Sharon's cabinet last summer and has vowed to challenge him for the prime minister's post.

But this intrusion of End Times theology is of deep concern to Israelis who are not as hawkish as Netanyahu. "This is incredibly dangerous to Israel," says Gershom Gorenberg, a Jerusalem-based journalist and the author of The End of Days, a chronicle of messianic Christians and Jews and their struggle with Muslim fundamentalists over the Temple Mount. "They're not interested in the survival of the State of Israel. They are interested in the Rapture, in bringing to fruition a cosmic myth of the End Times, proving that they are right with one big bang. We are merely actors in their dreams. LaHaye's vision is that Jews will convert or die and go to hell. If you read his books, he is looking forward to war. He is not an ally in the safety of Israel."

Far from being a Prince of Peace, the Christ depicted in the "Left Behind" series is a vengeful Messiah—so vengeful that the death and destruction he causes to unconverted Jews, to secularists, to anyone who is not born again, is far, far greater than the crimes committed by the most brutal dictators in human history. When He arrives on the scene in Glorious Appearing, Christ merely has to speak and "men and women, soldiers and horses, seemed to explode where they stood. It was as if the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin." Soon, LaHaye and Jenkins write, tens of thousands of foot soldiers for the Antichrist are dying in the goriest manner imaginable, their internal organs oozing out, "their blood pooling and rising in the unforgiving brightness of the glory of Christ."

After the initial bloodletting, Nicolae Carpathia gathers his still-vast army, covering hundreds of square miles, and prepares for the conflict at Megiddo. As the battle for Armageddon is about to start, Rayford Steele climbs atop his Hummer to watch Christ harvest the grapes of wrath. Steele looks at the hordes of soldiers assembled by the Antichrist, and "tens of thousands burst open at the words of Jesus." They scream in pain and die before hitting the ground, their blood pouring forth. Soon, a massive river of blood is flowing throughout the Holy Land. Carpathia and the False Prophet are cast into the eternal lake of fire.

According to LaHaye and Jenkins, it is God's intent "that the millennium start with a clean slate." Committing mass murder hundreds of times greater than the Holocaust, the Lord—not the Antichrist, mind you—makes sure that "all unbelievers would soon die."

One of Steele's colleagues decides he'll have to talk to God about what to do next. After all, now that the secular humanists are gone and only believers remain, America is a very, very sparsely populated country. But if enough people are left, he wonders, isn't this the perfect opportunity "to start rebuilding the country as, finally for real, a Christian nation?"

This is Craig Unger's second piece for V.F. His article "Saving the Saudis," from the October 2003 issue, evolved into the best-seller House of Bush, House of Saud (Scribner).
Oil Prices Top $60 on OPEC Decision

Oil Prices Increase after OPEC holds production steady, heating oil demand growing in U.S.

LONDON Dec 12, 2005 — Oil prices climbed above $60 a barrel Monday as OPEC agreed to maintain its present production levels amid anticipation that energy demand would grow as colder weather grips the northeastern United States, the world's largest heating oil market.

Explosions at an oil terminal north of London on Sunday also raised supply concerns, but authorities said the blasts will not lead to a shortage.

Light sweet crude for January delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 86 cents in midday trade to $60.25 a barrel. January Brent crude at London's ICE Futures exchange rose $1.09 to $58.40 a barrel.

The depot, which is the fifth-largest oil storage facility in Britain, holds reserves accounting for about 5 percent of the country's oil supply or 4 million gallons of gasoline, diesel, kerosene and aviation fuel.

But oil experts said the accident was not expected to prompt a fuel shortage.

"People are worried about the possibility of a supply disruption, but if we look at our inventories of crude, gasoline, diesel, they're not very tight," said Tetsu Emori, chief commodities strategist at Mitsui Bussan Futures in Tokyo, adding that Monday's jump in prices was likely a knee-jerk reaction to the blasts.

French oil company Total SA, which operates the Buncefield depot, said it had already put in place contingency plans to re-route supplies that normally run through the plant.

"There shouldn't be any problem with supplies," said Lesley Else, a spokeswoman for Total U.K. "Everyone is working together to ensure minimal disruption."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Oil ministers from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed Monday to keep oil spigots open and maintain production at the group's highest-ever levels at least for now.

The widely expected decision was reached at Monday's OPEC ministerial policy and production meeting and made public by Libyan Oil Minister Fathi Hamed Ben Shatwan. But the group reserved the right to consider cuts in early 2006 should robust demand flag and high prices fall.

Meanwhile, a snowstorm was forecast to hit the northern region of the United States on Wednesday, according to meteorologist Jon Mabry in a report Sunday.

In recent weeks, oil prices have been dictated largely by weather patterns in the U.S. Northeast, which consumes about three-quarters of the country's heating oil. Spells of warmer weather have depressed prices, while forecasts for cold snaps have raised them.

"Forecasters have predicted that weather in the U.S. Northeast, the world's largest heating oil market, will be near to below normal for the next 10 days, meaning that demand for heating oil will increase," said analysts at Sucden Commodity brokers in London.

Nymex heating oil gained more than a cent to $1.7425 a gallon, while gasoline gained 1.51 cent to $1.62 a gallon. Natural gas rose almost 32.8 cents to $14.64 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Traders were concerned about the damage caused by massive blasts at the Buncefield terminal north of London on Sunday, which prompted panic buying of gasoline at local stations, causing long lines.
Gov't Report: $50-Plus Oil Here to Stay

The Associated Press
Monday, December 12, 2005; 6:51 PM

WASHINGTON -- Oil prices will persist near or above $50 a barrel for years and force a shift to more fuel-efficient cars and alternative fuels, the government said Monday, discarding earlier predictions that costs would drop to around $30 a barrel.

The Energy Department forecast was more positive on natural gas prices. It said they would retreat from the recent spikes _ to more than $14 per thousand cubic feet _ and settle at under $5 in the long term as demand weakens, especially for electricity production.

The analysis reflected a significant change from the department's projections a year ago when it predicted oil prices in constant dollars _ not counting normal inflation _ would retreat in the long term and settle at about $31 a barrel by 2025.

The report issued Monday said oil prices will remain in the mid-$40 range or higher in coming years and average $54 a barrel by 2025, increasing to an average of $57 a barrel by 2030 when adjusted for inflation. Crude oil prices have been hovering around $60 a barrel, briefly soaring as high as $70 earlier this year.

The long-term forecast, which attempts to gauge the nation's energy picture 20 years from now, assumed no major policy shift such as future restrictions on so-called "greenhouse" gases _ including carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels _ to combat climate change.

Nor did it assume the government will allow oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, which supporters said would produce a flow of 1 million additional barrels of oil a day by 2025, adding substantially to domestic production. A proposal to open the refuge to drilling currently is being heatedly debated in Congress.

Any major policy shift such as curbing fossil fuel use to counter global warming "would change the picture dramatically," especially in the use of coal for generating electricity, said Guy Caruso, head of the Energy Information Administration, the Energy Department's statistical agency that issued the report.

Demand for crude oil and natural gas is expected to continue to increase, but not as sharply as had been projected a year ago.

And the report predicted a growth in electricity production from nuclear power plants with construction of at least six large reactors, beginning after 2014. A year ago the agency said it saw no new reactors on the horizon.

At the same time, the agency said energy production would result in a steady 1.2 percent a year increase in the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide that will flow into the atmosphere. Annual carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels will be 28 percent higher in 2025 than they are today, the EIA said.

With oil prices expected to remain high, the use of unconventional transportation fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel will grow in acceptance, the agency said. The EIA report also projected a sharp increase in the use of more efficient hybrid gasoline-electric cars and trucks and more fuel efficient diesel technology.

"We will see increases in fuel efficiency ... all directly related to the (new) price assumptions" for oil, Caruso said at a news conference. U.S. demand for oil is expected to be 2 million barrels a day less than what the EIA projected a year ago, or about 26 million barrels a day, 6 million barrels more that what is used today.

The EIA projected that U.S. reliance on oil imports will remain about the same as today with the country in 2025 projected to be importing about 60 percent of the oil and refined products it uses. A year ago, the EIA said these imports would grow to 68 percent by 2025.

The agency said it added about $21 to the projected future price of a barrel of crude because analysts no longer believe today's tight global oil market would ease in the coming decades. This is primarily due to a belief that OPEC oil production, now 30 million barrels a day, is not expected to grow as much as had been expected. The EIA projects OPEC production at 44 million barrels a day in 2025, about 11 million barrels less than had been predicted a year ago.

"The oil is there," said Caruso, dismissing suggestions by some oil economists that global oil reserves may be peaking. But Caruso said, "It appears the pace of investment in oil production is less than what was anticipated a year ago" among OPEC countries. He did not name specific countries.

The price projection used in the EIA report was for imported low-sulfur light crude, reflecting a slightly higher cost than for a variety of other types of crude used by U.S. refineries. However, the year-to-year trend lines are similar.

The EIA's long-term energy outlook report also:

_Scaled back the expected growth of liquefied natural gas imports into the United States. It said an increase of worldwide demand for LNG will reduce the amount coming to U.S. facilities.

_Said coal would remain the primary fuel for producing electricity through 2030.

_Predicted that despite higher oil costs and some increases in efficiency, overall U.S. energy demand would increase by 1.1 percent a year between now and 2030.


On the Net:

Energy Information Administration:
Oil prices expected to soar to feed global appetite
By Patrice Hill
December 13, 2005

The era of cheap oil is over, the government's chief energy forecaster said yesterday as it nearly doubled its previous forecast for world oil prices in the next 25 years.
Oil will stay near today's high levels largely because the oil-rich nations of OPEC are not investing in new supplies fast enough to easily meet growth in demand led by China and the United States, the Energy Information Administration said.
"It's what we would call deferred investment," said Guy Caruso, head of the respected forecasting agency, adding that he expects oil prices remaining well over $50 a barrel to spur consumers to purchase more fuel-efficient cars. If that does not occur, prices would climb even higher.
The sea change in the energy agency's thinking also reflects the increased cost and technical difficulty of extracting what oil is available in remote areas such as the deep-water ocean and arctic Siberia, he said.
Also driving up oil prices are the impediments oil companies have been encountering in gaining access to reserves in many countries -- including the United States, he said. Congress in the fall once again dropped legislation authorizing oil and gas drilling on federal lands offshore and in arctic Alaska.
While many private forecasters already had concluded that the era of cheap oil was over -- with some warning that the era of peak oil is not far away -- the energy agency had been perennially optimistic that oil would stay plentiful and inexpensive.
Its stand was increasingly dubious, however, in light of recent developments ranging from the failure to find any major new reserves of oil in recent years to questions about the reliability of Saudi Arabia's claims about having reserves large enough to feed the world's escalating appetite for oil.
Most telling was the failure of this year's 50 percent spike in prices -- which hit a record high near $70 a barrel for premium crude in September -- to spark much increase in the development of supplies.
Prices remain in the $60 range -- double what they were in 2002 -- but that has not spurred the billions of dollars of investment needed by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to keep pace with the world's increasing appetite for oil, the agency concluded.
Political struggles have prevented Iraq and Iran -- two of the four OPEC producers with the largest reserves -- from increasing production. Saudi Arabia has announced a modest increase to 12.5 million barrels a day from its top production rate of 11 million barrels.
But the world currently consumes 87 million barrels a day -- and demand is expected to grow to more than 100 million barrels by 2015. Many analysts question where the increased supplies will come from.
The energy agency expects "unconventional sources" such as liquid fuel derived from coal and natural gas to increasingly fill the gap, although the price of natural gas has jumped more than the price of oil.
Robert L. Hirsch, an energy consultant with Science Applications International Corp., noted that the energy agency was grossly overoptimistic about the outlook for natural gas as recently as 1999, when it predicted gas would cost one-fifth as much as it does today.
The agency yesterday gave only a nod to theorists who believe the world is nearing peak production of oil. But Mr. Hirsch believes the situation is more urgent, because it will take 20 years to develop transportation fuels to replace oil.
"Peaking could be soon -- within 20 years," he told the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week. "The economic future of the United States is inextricably linked to Saudi Arabia because they're the linchpin of future world oil production.
"No one outside of Saudi knows how much oil they have in the ground because that's a closely held state secret. Also, no one outside of Saudi knows how much and how fast the Saudis will be willing to develop what they have," he said.
A retired Saudi oil executive recently predicted the world is headed for an oil shortage, he noted, and even some members of OPEC are warning that supply will not be enough to meet world demand in 10 to 15 years.
Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a respected private forecaster, told the committee the peak should not come before 2030, however. It expects new finds of oil as well as technological innovations to make plentiful fuel available.
Excerpt from "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason" by Sam Harris

Chapter 1: Reason in Exile

The young man boards the bus as it leaves the terminal. He wears an overcoat. Beneath his overcoat, he is wearing a bomb. His pockets are filled with nails, ball bearings, and rat poison. The bus is crowded and headed for the heart of the city.

The young man takes his seat beside a middle-aged couple. He will wait for the bus to reach its next stop. The couple at his side appears to be shopping for a new refrigerator. The woman has decided on a model, but her husband worries that it will be too expensive. He indicates another one in a brochure that lies open on her lap. The next stop comes into view. The bus doors swing. The woman observes that the model her husband has selected will not fit in the space underneath their cabinets. New passengers have taken the last remaining seats and begun gathering in the aisle. The bus is now full. The young man smiles.With the press of a button he destroys himself, the couple at his side, and twenty others on the bus. The nails, ball bearings, and rat poison ensure further casualties on the street and in the surrounding cars. All has gone according to plan.

The young man’s parents soon learn of his fate. Although saddened to have lost a son, they feel tremendous pride at his accomplishment. They know that he has gone to heaven and prepared the way for them to follow. He has also sent his victims to hell for eternity. It is a double victory. The neighbors find the event a great cause for celebration and honor the young man’s parents by giving them gifts of food and money.

These are the facts. This is all we know for certain about the young man. Is there anything else that we can infer about him on the basis of his behavior? Was he popular in school? Was he rich or was he poor? Was he of low or high intelligence? His actions leave no clue at all. Did he have a college education? Did he have a bright future as a mechanical engineer? His behavior is simply mute on questions of this sort, and hundreds like them. Why is it so easy, then, so trivially easy—you-could-almost-bet-your-life-on-it easy—to guess the young man’s religion?

A belief is a lever that, once pulled, moves almost everything else in a person’s life. Are you a scientist? A liberal? A racist? These are merely species of belief in action. Your beliefs define your vision of the world; they dictate your behavior; they determine your emotional responses to other human beings. If you doubt this, consider how your experience would suddenly change if you came to believe one of the following propositions:

1. You have only two weeks to live.
2. You’ve just won a lottery prize of one hundred million dollars.
3. Aliens have implanted a receiver in your skull and are manipulating your thoughts.

These are mere words—until you believe them. Once believed, they become part of the very apparatus of your mind, determining your desires, fears, expectations, and subsequent behavior. There seems, however, to be a problem with some of our most cherished beliefs about the world: they are leading us, inexorably, to kill one another. A glance at history, or at the pages of any newspaper, reveals that ideas which divide one group of human beings from another, only to unite them in slaughter, generally have their roots in religion. It seems that if our species ever eradicates itself through war, it will not be because it was written in the stars but because it was written in our books; it is what we do with words like “God” and “paradise” and “sin” in the present that will determine our future.

Our situation is this: most of the people in this world believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book. We have the misfortune of having many such books on hand, each making an exclusive claim as to its infallibility. People tend to organize themselves into factions according to which of these incompatible claims they accept—rather than on the basis of language, skin color, location of birth, or any other criterion of tribalism. Each of these texts urges its readers to adopt a variety of beliefs and practices, some of which are benign, many of which are not. All are in perverse agreement on one point of fundamental importance, however: “respect” for other faiths, or for the views of unbelievers, is not an attitude that God endorses. While all faiths have been touched, here and there, by the spirit of ecumenicalism, the central tenet of every religious tradition is that all others are mere repositories of error or, at best, dangerously incomplete. Intolerance is thus intrinsic to every creed. Once a person believes—really believes—that certain ideas can lead to eternal happiness, or to its antithesis, he cannot tolerate the possibility that the people he loves might be led astray by the blandishments of unbelievers. Certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one.

Observations of this sort pose an immediate problem for us, however, because criticizing a person’s faith is currently taboo in every corner of our culture. On this subject, liberals and conservatives have reached a rare consensus: religious beliefs are simply beyond the scope of rational discourse. Criticizing a person’s ideas about God and the afterlife is thought to be impolitic in a way that criticizing his ideas about physics or history is not. And so it is that when a Muslim suicide bomber obliterates himself along with a score of innocents on a Jerusalem street, the role that faith played in his actions is invariably discounted. His motives must have been political, economic, or entirely personal. Without faith, desperate people would still do terrible things. Faith itself is always, and everywhere, exonerated.

But technology has a way of creating fresh moral imperatives. Our technical advances in the art of war have finally rendered our religious differences—and hence our religious beliefs—antithetical to our survival.We can no longer ignore the fact that billions of our neighbors believe in the metaphysics of martyrdom, or in the literal truth of the book of Revelation, or any of the other fantastical notions that have lurked in the minds of the faithful for millennia— because our neighbors are now armed with chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. There is no doubt that these developments mark the terminal phase of our credulity. Words like “God” and “Allah” must go the way of “Apollo” and “Baal,” or they will unmake our world.

A few minutes spent wandering the graveyard of bad ideas suggests that such conceptual revolutions are possible. Consider the case of alchemy: it fascinated human beings for over a thousand years, and yet anyone who seriously claims to be a practicing alchemist today will have disqualified himself for most positions of responsibility in our society. Faith-based religion must suffer the same slide into obsolescence. What is the alternative to religion as we know it? As it turns out, this is the wrong question to ask. Chemistry was not an “alternative” to alchemy; it was a wholesale exchange of ignorance at its most rococo for genuine knowledge.3 We will find that, as with alchemy, to speak of “alternatives” to religious faith is to miss the point.

Of course, people of faith fall on a continuum: some draw solace and inspiration from a specific spiritual tradition, and yet remain fully committed to tolerance and diversity, while others would burn the earth to cinders if it would put an end to heresy. There are, in other words, religious moderates and religious extremists, and their various passions and projects should not be confused. One of the central themes of this book, however, is that religious moderates are themselves the bearers of a terrible dogma: they imagine that the path to peace will be paved once each of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of others. I hope to show that the very ideal of religious tolerance—born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God—is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.

We have been slow to recognize the degree to which religious faith perpetuates man’s inhumanity to man. This is not surprising, since many of us still believe that faith is an essential component of human life. Two myths now keep faith beyond the fray of rational criticism, and they seem to foster religious extremism and religious moderation equally: (1) most of us believe that there are good things that people get from religious faith (e.g., strong communities, ethical behavior, spiritual experience) that cannot be had elsewhere; (2) many of us also believe that the terrible things that are sometimes done in the name of religion are the products not of faith per se but of our baser natures—forces like greed, hatred, and fear—for which religious beliefs are themselves the best (or even the only) remedy. Taken together, these myths seem to have granted us perfect immunity to outbreaks of reasonableness in our public discourse.

Many religious moderates have taken the apparent high road of pluralism, asserting the equal validity of all faiths, but in doing so they neglect to notice the irredeemably sectarian truth claims of each. As long as a Christian believes that only his baptized brethren will be saved on the Day of Judgment, he cannot possibly “respect” the beliefs of others, for he knows that the flames of hell have been stoked by these very ideas and await their adherents even now. Muslims and Jews generally take the same arrogant view of their own enterprises and have spent millennia passionately reiterating the errors of other faiths. It should go without saying that these rival belief systems are all equally uncontaminated by evidence.

And yet, intellectuals as diverse as H. G. Wells, Albert Einstein, Carl Jung, Max Planck, Freeman Dyson, and Stephen Jay Gould have declared the war between reason and faith to be long over. On this view, there is no need to have all of our beliefs about the universe cohere. A person can be a God-fearing Christian on Sunday and a working scientist come Monday morning, without ever having to account for the partition that seems to have erected itself in his head while he slept. He can, as it were, have his reason and eat it too. As the early chapters of this book will illustrate, it is only because the church has been politically hobbled in the West that anyone can afford to think this way. In places where scholars can still be stoned to death for doubting the veracity of the Koran, Gould’s notion of a “loving concordat” between faith and reason would be perfectly delusional.

This is not to say that the deepest concerns of the faithful, whether moderate or extreme, are trivial or even misguided. There is no denying that most of us have emotional and spiritual needs that are now addressed—however obliquely and at a terrible price— by mainstream religion. And these are needs that a mere understanding of our world, scientific or otherwise, will never fulfill. There is clearly a sacred dimension to our existence, and coming to terms with it could well be the highest purpose of human life. But we will find that it requires no faith in untestable propositions— Jesus was born of a virgin; the Koran is the word of God—for us to do this.

The Myth of “Moderation” in Religion

The idea that any one of our religions represents the infallible word of the One True God requires an encyclopedic ignorance of history, mythology, and art even to be entertained—as the beliefs, rituals, and iconography of each of our religions attest to centuries of crosspollination among them. Whatever their imagined source, the doctrines of modern religions are no more tenable than those which, for lack of adherents, were cast upon the scrap heap of mythology millennia ago; for there is no more evidence to justify a belief in the literal existence of Yahweh and Satan than there was to keep Zeus perched upon his mountain throne or Poseidon churning the seas.

According to Gallup, 35 percent of Americans believe that the Bible is the literal and inerrant word of the Creator of the universe. Another 48 percent believe that it is the “inspired” word of the same—still inerrant, though certain of its passages must be interpreted symbolically before their truth can be brought to light. Only 17 percent of us remain to doubt that a personal God, in his infinite wisdom, is likely to have authored this text—or, for that matter, to have created the earth with its 250,000 species of beetles. Some 46 percent of Americans take a literalist view of creation (40 percent believe that God has guided creation over the course of millions of years). This means that 120 million of us place the big bang 2,500 years after the Babylonians and Sumerians learned to brew beer. If our polls are to be trusted, nearly 230 million Americans believe that a book showing neither unity of style nor internal consistency was authored by an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent deity. A survey of Hindus, Muslims, and Jews around the world would surely yield similar results, revealing that we, as a species, have grown almost perfectly intoxicated by our myths. How is it that, in this one area of our lives, we have convinced ourselves that our beliefs about the world can float entirely free of reason and evidence?

It is with respect to this rather surprising cognitive scenery that we must decide what it means to be a religious “moderate” in the twenty-first century. Moderates in every faith are obliged to loosely interpret (or simply ignore) much of their canons in the interests of living in the modern world. No doubt an obscure truth of economics is at work here: societies appear to become considerably less productive whenever large numbers of people stop making widgets and begin killing their customers and creditors for heresy. The first thing to observe about the moderate’s retreat from scriptural literalism is that it draws its inspiration not from scripture but from cultural developments that have rendered many of God’s utterances difficult to accept as written. In America, religious moderation is further enforced by the fact that most Christians and Jews do not read the Bible in its entirety and consequently have no idea just how vigorously the God of Abraham wants heresy expunged. One look at the book of Deuteronomy reveals that he has something very specific in mind should your son or daughter return from yoga class advocating the worship of Krishna:

If your brother, the son of your father or of your mother, or your son or daughter, or the spouse whom you embrace, or your most intimate friend, tries to secretly seduce you, saying, “Let us go and serve other gods,” unknown to you or your ancestors before you, gods of the peoples surrounding you, whether near you or far away, anywhere throughout the world, you must not consent, you must not listen to him; you must show him no pity, you must not spare him or conceal his guilt. No, you must kill him, your hand must strike the first blow in putting him to death and the hands of the rest of the people following. You must stone him to death, since he has tried to divert you from Yahweh your God. . . .(Deuteronomy 13:7–11)
While the stoning of children for heresy has fallen out of fashion in our country, you will not hear a moderate Christian or Jew arguing for a “symbolic” reading of passages of this sort. (In fact, one seems to be explicitly blocked by God himself in Deuteronomy 13:1— “Whatever I am now commanding you, you must keep and observe, adding nothing to it, taking nothing away.”) The above passage is as canonical as any in the Bible, and it is only by ignoring such barbarisms that the Good Book can be reconciled with life in the modern world. This is a problem for “moderation” in religion: it has nothing underwriting it other than the unacknowledged neglect of the letter of the divine law.

The only reason anyone is “moderate” in matters of faith these days is that he has assimilated some of the fruits of the last two thousand years of human thought (democratic politics, scientific advancement on every front, concern for human rights, an end to cultural and geographic isolation, etc.). The doors leading out of scriptural literalism do not open from the inside. The moderation we see among nonfundamentalists is not some sign that faith itself has evolved; it is, rather, the product of the many hammer blows of modernity that have exposed certain tenets of faith to doubt. Not the least among these developments has been the emergence of our tendency to value evidence and to be convinced by a proposition to the degree that there is evidence for it. Even most fundamentalists live by the lights of reason in this regard; it is just that their minds seem to have been partitioned to accommodate the profligate truth claims of their faith. Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.

Religious moderation springs from the fact that even the least educated person among us simply knows more about certain matters than anyone did two thousand years ago—and much of this knowledge is incompatible with scripture. Having heard something about the medical discoveries of the last hundred years, most of us no longer equate disease processes with sin or demonic possession. Having learned about the known distances between objects in our universe, most of us (about half of us, actually) find the idea that the whole works was created six thousand years ago (with light from distant stars already in transit toward the earth) impossible to take seriously. Such concessions to modernity do not in the least suggest that faith is compatible with reason, or that our religious traditions are in principle open to new learning: it is just that the utility of ignoring (or “reinterpreting”) certain articles of faith is now overwhelming. Anyone being flown to a distant city for heart-bypass surgery has conceded, tacitly at least, that we have learned a few things about physics, geography, engineering, and medicine since the time of Moses.

So it is not that these texts have maintained their integrity over time (they haven’t); it is just that they have been effectively edited by our neglect of certain of their passages. Most of what remains—the “good parts”—has been spared the same winnowing because we do not yet have a truly modern understanding of our ethical intuitions and our capacity for spiritual experience. If we better understood the workings of the human brain, we would undoubtedly discover lawful connections between our states of consciousness, our modes of conduct, and the various ways we use our attention. What makes one person happier than another? Why is love more conducive to happiness than hate? Why do we generally prefer beauty to ugliness and order to chaos? Why does it feel so good to smile and laugh, and why do these shared experiences generally bring people closer together? Is the ego an illusion, and, if so, what implications does this have for human life? Is there life after death? These are ultimately questions for a mature science of the mind. If we ever develop such a science, most of our religious texts will be no more useful to mystics than they now are to astronomers.

While moderation in religion may seem a reasonable position to stake out, in light of all that we have (and have not) learned about the universe, it offers no bulwark against religious extremism and religious violence. From the perspective of those seeking to live by the letter of the texts, the religious moderate is nothing more than a failed fundamentalist. He is, in all likelihood, going to wind up in hell with the rest of the unbelievers. The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism. We cannot say that fundamentalists are crazy, because they are merely practicing their freedom of belief; we cannot even say that they are mistaken in religious terms, because their knowledge of scripture is generally unrivaled. All we can say, as religious moderates, is that we don’t like the personal and social costs that a full embrace of scripture imposes on us. This is not a new form of faith, or even a new species of scriptural exegesis; it is simply a capitulation to a variety of all-too-human interests that have nothing, in principle, to do with God. Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance—and it has no bona fides, in religious terms, to put it on a par with fundamentalism. The texts themselves are unequivocal: they are perfect in all their parts. By their light, religious moderation appears to be nothing more than an unwillingness to fully submit to God’s law. By failing to live by the letter of the texts, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally. Unless the core dogmas of faith are called into question—i.e., that we know there is a God, and that we know what he wants from us—religious moderation will do nothing to lead us out of the wilderness.

The benignity of most religious moderates does not suggest that religious faith is anything more sublime than a desperate marriage of hope and ignorance, nor does it guarantee that there is not a terrible price to be paid for limiting the scope of reason in our dealings with other human beings. Religious moderation, insofar as it represents an attempt to hold on to what is still serviceable in orthodox religion, closes the door to more sophisticated approaches to spirituality, ethics, and the building of strong communities. Religious moderates seem to believe that what we need is not radical insight and innovation in these areas but a mere dilution of Iron Age philosophy. Rather than bring the full force of our creativity and rationality to bear on the problems of ethics, social cohesion, and even spiritual experience, moderates merely ask that we relax our standards of adherence to ancient superstitions and taboos, while otherwise maintaining a belief system that was passed down to us from men and women whose lives were simply ravaged by their basic ignorance about the world. In what other sphere of life is such subservience to tradition acceptable? Medicine? Engineering? Not even politics suffers the anachronism that still dominates our thinking about ethical values and spiritual experience.

Imagine that we could revive a well-educated Christian of the fourteenth century. The man would prove to be a total ignoramus, except on matters of faith. His beliefs about geography, astronomy, and medicine would embarrass even a child, but he would know more or less everything there is to know about God. Though he would be considered a fool to think that the earth is flat, or that trepanning* constitutes a wise medical intervention, his religious ideas would still be beyond reproach. There are two explanations for this: either we perfected our religious understanding of the world a millennium ago—while our knowledge on all other fronts was still hopelessly inchoate—or religion, being the mere maintenance of dogma, is one area of discourse that does not admit of progress. We will see that there is much to recommend the latter view.

With each passing year, do our religious beliefs conserve more and more of the data of human experience? If religion addresses a genuine sphere of understanding and human necessity, then it should be susceptible to progress; its doctrines should become more useful, rather than less. Progress in religion, as in other fields, would have to be a matter of present inquiry, not the mere reiteration of past doctrine. Whatever is true now should be discoverable now, and describable in terms that are not an outright affront to the rest of what we know about the world. By this measure, the entire project of religion seems perfectly backward. It cannot survive the changes that have come over us—culturally, technologically, and even ethically. Otherwise, there are few reasons to believe that we will survive

Moderates do not want to kill anyone in the name of God, but they want us to keep using the word “God” as though we knew what we were talking about. And they do not want anything too critical said about people who really believe in the God of their fathers, because tolerance, perhaps above all else, is sacred. To speak plainly and truthfully about the state of our world—to say, for instance, that the Bible and the Koran both contain mountains of life-destroying gibberish—is antithetical to tolerance as moderates currently conceive it. But we can no longer afford the luxury of such political correctness. We must finally recognize the price we are paying to maintain the iconography of our ignorance.

*Trepanning (or trephining) is the practice of boring holes in the human skull. Archaeological evidence suggests that it is one of the oldest surgical procedures. It was presumably performed on epileptics and the mentally ill as an attempt at exorcism. While there are still many reasons to open a person’s skull nowadays, the hope that an evil spirit will use the hole as a point of egress is not among them.