Rapt Cycling Advocacy

Saturday came and went with no rapture to speak of.

If you were aware of Harold Camping’s prediction, you fell into one of three broad categories:

  1. People completely convinced the rapture would happen, and bewildered when it didn’t,
  2. People who didn’t really expect the rapture but passed Saturday with your fingers crossed, hoping for the best (“the best” being a matter of perspective), or
  3. People who didn’t worry about a damn thing–literally.
James Watt
James Watt | Photo: Wikipedia

I was a little slow to pick up on all the Internet ridicule directed at Camping and his followers. And when I did pick up on it, I confess, I did pile on just a bit. But I mostly went about my business.

Now that the predicted time has come and gone, I’m going to try to walk a fine line. Tell me how I do. I’ll try not to offend anyone’s supernatural sensibilities.

However, if you are in the “bewildered” category above, this may be a difficult post for you to read.

And if you are a bike commuter who is weary of the environmental rationale for cycling to work, hopefully this won’t bore you too much.

I’ve written several posts here under the theme, “What we’re up against.” (Here they are.) In these posts, I explore some of the cultural attitudes about cycling, sometimes expressed in subtle ways, that get in the way of moving cycling forward as mainstream form of transportation.

On Sunday I found myself thinking less about Jesus, and more about James Watt, Secretary of the Interior under President Reagan.

There are many reasons that people are opposed and/or hostile to environmentalism. And the explicit reasons they oppose environmentalism may mask the true underlying reasons.

James Watt held fairly radical anti-environmental positions, but his positions and rationale were familiar to people who follow these issues. But during his confirmation hearing in the Senate, Watt laid bare his underlying belief on environmental protection:

I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations.

Watt brought into focus for me the mindset that says that long-term thinking about society and the environment is a waste of time.

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research center in 2006, 20% of Americans believe that Jesus will return in their lifetime.

They may be right. But to me, that’s twenty percent of Americans who are, at best, out of play for any kind of cycling advocacy–particularly the kind of advocacy that proposes cycling as part of long-term solutions to the problems created by a car-centric society. At worst, they are actively hostile to anything that might delay the rapture–you know, like acting toward a sustainable future.

This is what we’re up against.

Now, for those of you who are in the bewildered category, first of all, thank you for reading this far.

I want to believe that some of you in the bewildered group can start to think a little more long-term. Maybe, in time, you’ll be able get on a bike and enjoy the world that–against all your expectations–is still here today.

Some of you gave everything you owned to Harold Camping. The good news is, a bike is really inexpensive and efficient way to experience this beautiful world. You can afford it, and we at Commute by Bike, will welcome you.

And at that, I will step carefully away from the third rail.

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15 thoughts on “Rapt Cycling Advocacy”

  1. I expect your first group (the bewildered) are a vanishingly small proportion of the population, and I expect they’re avoiding Internet criticism of their views. I attend a moderate size (about 500 people) conservative church with an eschatological bent and all of us combined associate with a much larger fellowship that likely numbers at least into the hundreds of thousands; among this fellowship, even the people who the rest of us regard as a little wing-nuttish think Camping was off of his gourd with his prediction.

    The general attitude Christians (at least those with a futurist, premillenial theology) are supposed to hold is one of expectation and readiness. The Lord may return at any time like a thief in the night, like the book says. 2,000 years of waiting, however, teaches me that I probably should continue to plan for my retirement and my children’s future.

    From a Christian perspective, there are sound reasons to reduce our impact on the planet just for social justice reasons. In spite of grassroots support for ‘Creation Care‘, Chevron, Exxon, and a foundation funded by heavy industry have poured millions into a Christian think tank called the Cornwall Alliance, which works to promote climate change denialism among churches. It’s nasty and pernicious and extremely frustrating how these big business interests have co-opted spirituality for their purposes, but that’s also the same as it always was.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      @Richard: Thanks for the great comment. When I typed “…the explicit reasons they oppose environmentalism may mask the true underlying reasons,” I was looking for a good link URL to go with “..true underlying reasons.”

      I just updated the post linking those words to your comment here.

  2. jsimeon says:

    The obstacles to increased environmental protection/bicycle advocacy are not this %20. (If Jesus will return in our lifetime, then we probably don’t need to fill potholes or save for retirement either–I don’t hear anyone saying this). You don’t have to worry about the rural uneducated fundamentalists… they are not burning as many resources as the McMansion suburbanites of whatever political stripe.

    However, there is an identity politics problem when it comes to environmentalism and conservative Christianity. How is environmentalism marketed? Is conservation presented as a conservative value? Or do they just hear the difficult-to-believe environmental apocalyptic prophecies…? and reject it as crazy.

  3. (Writing as a Christian…) There’s a suspicion among many Christians that non-Christian deity worship underlies much environmental promotion (Mother Nature, Gaiea etc). That coupled with this weird alliance with big business interests is likely what’s behind most Christian opposition to environmentalism.

  4. Ted Johnson says:

    @Richard: You know, I’ve heard that argument before, and it rings so false and alien to my personal environmentalism (based in materialism) that I didn’t really give it much thought. It just struck me as juvenile and reflexive. We don’t like X. Let’s label X as a religion that threatens our own and shout it down.

    @jsimeon: I wonder if the Pew data would support your claim that the 20% are “rural uneducated fundamentalists.” My concern about the 20% (whatever their education or where they live) is that they vote, and a sustainable future is not a factor in their political outlook because it is contrary to their worldview.

    I agree that the followers of Camping constitute even a smaller minority than the 20% found by the Pew survey. I doubt that I could talk reason to any of those folks.

    If Camping’s kooks are only, say, 1% of us, that still leaves 19% of us who think Camping’s error was only that he claimed to have divined the precise day and hour. Yet they still believe the rapture will happen in their lifetime.

    These people–the 19%–cannot be counted on to endorse the long-term societal benefits that come from supporting cycling, or any other initiative whose benefits extend one or two generations beyond their own. If the influence of the 19-percenters was insignificant, “this weird alliance with big business interests” would not anticipate a return on investment from their disinformation campaigns.

    I can almost hear 80% of Commute by Bike readers snoring right now.

  5. Vineyard Dave says:


    This was a very interesting, well thought out and a very well written piece.

    I’m not a Christian and I must add that there was no snoring at this key board either.

    I’m not a non-Christian deity worshiper, Mother Nature, Gaiea etc, but my 18 year old daughter is named Gaia after the Earth Mother goddess from Greek creation myths. It’s a lovely name.

    This great expectation led to great disappointment. It has happened to many times to count and always lead to disappointment.

    The largest expectation ever recorded for the return of Christ happened in the mid 19th Century. Many tens of thousands (some number it in the hundreds of thousands in America and Europe) gave away all they had and bought ascension robes and stood on the hill tops and waited.

    Many of the present day Christian denominations came forth from this event.

    The United States Congress, for three days debated as to how they would hand over power to Jesus.

    As for me, I thought it so sad as to how present day believers, the followers of Camping, looked with great relief to the end. The end of responsibility for their lives, their future, the environment and the planet.

    The cheapest price for regular gasoline here on Island is $4.49/9.
    Motor vehicle traffic is dramatically down, bicycle traffic is up and the roads are a delight to ride on.

  6. John says:

    It’s truly amazing what people are duped into believing. I got a kick out of all the Jesus is coming people making fun of the rapture people. I don’t see any difference between the two. I realize how powerful the indoctrination into beliefs can be, especially when it’s full force is directed at very young children.

    It was difficult at times but I managed to protect my two kids from religion and they don’t have to carry all the baggage that comes with those beliefs. If only we could get it out of our government. Imagine how much better we would become.

  7. Dano says:

    I am a Christ Lover and this topic has me quite interested. I was all riled up to write a big lengthy reply and then I read one of the quoted articles (gave everything you owned to Harold Camping). The last 4 paragraphs do a very nice job of saying what I was feeling. Turns out I still wrote a lengthy response. But, I am letting you know that there may be a out lier population of the 20% that believe something like this.

    I believe in a Christ that would have “ordinary radicals” following Him. I always do well to remember that Jesus was humble. He was the ruler of the Universe before He was born in dumpy barn, washed filth off of peasants feet and then died a criminals death.

    I ride because of the overflow of joy that Christ has given me. It is then this joy (not fear of being smote) that compels me to ride, and that is a VERY freeing thing. It plays out like this.

    The most relevant way to thank Christ for the earth that He created and that I enjoy is, to take care of it! If he is coming back tomorrow, then this is all the more reason to care for it now.

    Ted, IF I was to believe that Jesus was coming back in my lifetime, I would certainly want Him to find me riding my bike to work.

    p.s. Great job on the post, very well written and on a topic that people are obviously interested in.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Great comment. Thanks, Dano.

  8. jsimeon says:

    Good point. We shouldn’t make the assumption that this 20% are uneducated or fundamentalist or non-voting. I would disagree with the assumption that these people by necessity make the implicit argument in their head: (a) Jesus/the end of the world is coming soon; (b) if the end is soon, then a sustainable future is not important :: therefore, a sustainable future is not important. –Unless the research does connect this particular religious belief with their social conduct–

    While I wouldn’t want to defend the religious beliefs of this 20%, I find the assumption that they must pathologically reject working for a better world somewhat prejudiced.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Right. My point is not that the 19 or 20% “pathologically reject working for a better world.” I wouldn’t want anything I wrote to be taken that way. What I said was that these people can’t be counted on–which leaves open the possibility that they actually might show up and work (or vote) for a better world beyond one or two generations. And if they do, I’m not going to discourage it or be the one who points out the apparent contradiction. It’s the Harold Camping types who will do that.

  9. sirwnstn says:

    John, There is a difference. Dano spells it out fairly clearly below. I happen to agree with him. (Interestingly enough I feel the same way he does when I go riding) Now, when Jesus comes back, I’d want him to see that I kept the “house” nice and neat. I wouldn’t want him to find me trashing the place, and have him asking “Why did you waste what I’ve given you?”

    As for “protecting your children from religion”, I hope you didn’t protect them from the good things that “religion” can bring – things like morality and good ethics (not to say that non-religous people are immoral or unethical).

  10. The idea that mankind does not have to be concerned with caring for the Earth because the end is coming anyway is arrogant and obnoxious to me. Man’s time on this planet is as thin as the skin of an onion yet some profess to having divine knowledge.

  11. BluesCat says:

    You did a good job of negotiating this minefield of a topic, Ted.

    What I really enjoyed seeing was all of the responses from professed Christians. If I could sum up their attitudes with one word, it would be “tolerant.”

    Tolerance seems to be in short supply with a lot of people who say they follow the tenets of the Christian faith (they seem to think if you aren’t Christian you aren’t moral, ethical, happy, etc.).

    Hmmm. I’ve always said that bicycling makes you a better person; maybe it happens to Christian bicyclists, too.

  12. Tim says:

    When asked if the world were to end tomorrow Martin Luther said that he would plant a tree today.
    Taking care of the earth is not exclusively the resonsibility of seculars. If the Seirra Club can work with the NRA to protect natural places then there is hope for the “bewildered” and the cycling advocate. Caring for the earth and moving cycling forward as a mainstream form of transportation
    are tasks that no one should expect to take on alone and succeed.


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