In defense of foul deeds, Rockefeller and the wolf, sex differences in Iraq, and other matters. CUDDLING UP TO MOTHER EARTH

(FORTUNE Magazine) – There was a moment, about halfway through the recent Bill Moyers special on religion and the environment, when the whole loony enterprise seemed close to dissolving in the ether. This was the point at which Bill, an ex-seminarian, was interviewing the Dalai Lama about the Buddhist perspective on nature. The Dalai Lama vouchsafed gravely that Buddhists respect not only humans but all sentient beings -- insects, birds, animals, you name it. Moyers, who has made a career out of pantomiming deep thought upon receipt of such revelations, nodded thoughtfully. But then, quite uncharacteristically, he let fly with a dangerous question: ''Does this reverence for all living things mean that I shouldn't have hit that mosquito that bit me here?'' The Dalai Lama chuckled amiably, then indicated that he personally would feel free to swing away at mosquitoes showing an excessive interest in celestial veins. Watching it all, we sensed that Moyers had half a mind to inquire where this answer left the Buddhist reverence for sentient beings, then suddenly realized he had a program to finish -- and it was a program that would never make it home if any linear logic got onstage. What does religion have to contribute to our thinking about the environment? Twenty minutes into this 90-minute spectacular, your servant was vengefully muttering to himself: absolutely nothing. Rule No. 1 in thinking about environmental problems is that there are no ''solutions,'' only tradeoffs. We want a maximum of economic growth and a minimum of environmental damage. The message of public television's Spirit & Nature With Bill Moyers was solution oriented and apocalyptic. The problem is that mean, selfish people, overcommitted to capitalism and technology, are plundering the planet. The solution lies in learning to love Mother Earth and think of her as something akin to God. What Moyers and Public Affairs Television Inc. had done was to film a conference of religious thinkers, held last summer at Middlebury College in Vermont, and separately interview the star performers. In addition to the Dalai Lama, the performers included Elder Shenandoah, who spoke for the Onandaga Indians and explained that they thought of the Sun, the Earth, the Thunder, etc., as members of their own family. Also Seyyed Hossein Nasr, an Islamic scholar who related our ''predatory economic system'' to excessive rationalism and was mysteriously stated to have been trained at MIT.

The balanced ticket also included professor Sallie McFague of the Vanderbilt ^ University School of Divinity, who had Moyers nodding rapturously as she elaborated the case for thinking of God as not just Father but also as Mother, Lover, and Friend, while simultaneously reminding yourself that the world is God's body. Friends, we do not guarantee we have that one straight. Also Rabbi Ismar Schorsch of the Jewish Theological Seminary, who said we would save a lot of energy if people ran to work instead of just running for exercise after work. And, finally, Steven Rockefeller, a professor of religion at Middlebury, who started off the show by earnestly asking, ''Will these predators be saved?'' Alas, he was referring to wolves, not capitalists. A late news flash from the Boston Globe: Moyers is said to be considering a run for the Democratic presidential nomination. He has evidently reached the stage at which you ridicule published reports of your interest in this line of work, while still declining to rule out the possibility of a fling. Might we soon be seeing his ever thoughtful visage on the political shows? Does he have a Tibetan's chance? The brain totters.