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The Apocalypse Cheerleaders

As many others have observed, the right wing in modern American politics subsists in a near-perpetual state of frothing rage. This situation serves the purpose of leaders of the religious right, since after all, angry people are more easily led and less likely to think coherently; and to encourage it to continue, they whip their followers into a frenzy with inflammatory accusations and keep their rage alive through the constant creation of new scapegoats. This pattern has recently repeated, and their target du jour is the University of Texas ecologist Eric Pianka.

Briefly, Dr. Pianka gave a talk last week in which he stated his belief that the human population, by exploiting the planet's now dwindling natural resources, has exceeded sustainable levels, and that we are headed for a catastrophic Malthusian crash in which a vast number of people will die. One of the hypothetical scenarios he described by which this might happen is the evolution of the lethal Ebola virus into an airborne form, giving rise to a global pandemic.

This talk was attended by a creationist named Forrest Mims. Somehow, Mims decided that Dr. Pianka was actually advocating mass genocide by deliberate bioengineering of Ebola (which could not be farther from the truth, as transcripts of the talk and subsequent interviews have made clear). Mims then spread this misleading summary to other creationists, from which point it spread into the right-wing community in general. Although the slightest modicum of fact-checking would have made it obvious that Mims' accusations were completely false, this modicum was, as usual, not performed, and the predictable torrent of rage and invective followed in utter ignorance of Pianka's actual beliefs. Nick Matzke of The Panda's Thumb has compiled a list of examples, most notably Texas' governor and friend to theocrats Rick Perry, who compared Pianka to the Nazis.

This utter disregard for the facts is standard operating procedure of right-wing ideologues. But what is notable about this story is the rank hypocrisy that accompanies it. In one staggering example, Mims - the man who accused Dr. Eric Pianka of advocating a bioengineered holocaust - is now claiming that his reputation is being defamed by scientists who were at the talk and are accusing him of misrepresenting its content, and is threatening them with blustery legal letters.

But the hypocrisy displayed by Mims is not even the depths of it. Many of the right-wingers who denounced Pianka either believe, or are prominently associated with others who believe, in the doctrine of the Rapture - in which true Christians will be miraculously snatched off the planet, while those left behind will be stricken with a variety of apocalyptic disasters that, according to the Bible, will result in the deaths of millions of people and the damnation of millions more. This is a view far more evil, far more loathsome, and far more deserving of condemnation than anything that Pianka has ever said, but right-wing voices raised against it are all but absent. Where are the condemnations of this view from those who denounced Pianka? Why do they attack him so viciously, why do they label him an apologist for genocide, a terrorist, a Nazi, while simultaneously utterly ignoring the religious zealots who hold a far more radical version of the view they criticized him for presumptively holding? (For one thing, Pianka does not expect to escape the crash he predicted, while Rapture-believers fully expect to be sitting on a cloud when the time comes and chortling at the misfortune of the unsaved down below.)

To name one example, creationist William Dembski, who played a major role in initiating this fracas, bragged about how he had reported Pianka to the Department of Homeland Security. Where is Dembski's patriotic concern when it comes to the religious right fanatics who look forward to the destruction of America in the nuclear war that they believe will follow the Rapture? How many of these people has he reported to the authorities?

Or take Rick Perry, whose office openly accused Pianka of solidarity with the Third Reich. Perry's press secretary castigated Pianka for his "gleeful embracing of the destruction of 90 percent of the earth's population". Meanwhile, Perry himself has appeared at campaign rallies side-by-side with Rod Parsley, a virulently anti-gay religious right pastor who also believes in an imminent Rapture - which is a gleeful embrace of the destruction of the Earth's entire population. Before complaining about the motes in others' eyes, Governor Perry has several very large beams to pull out of his own.

Other examples could be listed, but the point is made. Those religious right figures who criticize Pianka, but have never criticized fundamentalists who cheer the destruction of the world, are engaging in hypocrisy of the highest order. When they attack Rapture believers with the same vehemence with which they attacked Pianka, they will have a legitimate claim to at least being intellectually consistent. Until then, the glaring inconsistency in the targets of their denunciation shows that their anger is not sincere, but politically motivated, intended to harass and demonize those with whom they disagree and chill the speech of messages they dislike.

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