In 1989, says Sen. Albert Gore (D.-Tenn.), his life changed in a fundamental way. The senator and his wife, Tipper, watched helplessly as their son, Albert III, was hit by a car in a stadium parking lot. His limp body showed neither breath nor pulse. Miraculously, the boy recovered. But the senator’s outlook was permanently altered.

Albert Gore had just lost a presidential campaign, had just turned 40, and had witnessed his son’s near death. He felt vulnerable. As a result, he writes in Earth in the Balance, he became “increasingly impatient with the status quo, … with the lazy assumption that we can always muddle through.”

Senator Gore is well known in the halls of Congress as a leader in science and technology. In 1978, for example, he organized the first congressional hearings on toxic waste. Perhaps now his midlife boldness has combined with his Southern Baptist faith to produce a devotion to the environmental cause. Indeed, while environmentalism may be fashionable among academics and journalists, it is hardly a proven vote getter. Gore confesses, “I have become very impatient with my own tendency to put a finger to the political winds and proceed cautiously.”

Some readers of Gore’s book might wish he had been more cautious in his statements about religion and environmental concern. Is he just too sanguine about world religions? Is he too quick to believe the rosy picture some activists have painted of ancient paganism? Or is this experienced politician merely saluting all religions rather than appearing to treat his own with special favor?

CT editors David Neff and Kim Lawton spoke with Gore in his Washington office a few months before he became a vice-presidential candidate. In that context, he focused explicitly on the ...

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