Tuesday, October 31, 2006
The American Theocracy Movement
Sam Rosenfeld and Matt Yglesias are wrong. The movement to establish an American theocracy is serious, relentless, and very, very dangerous.
Need proof? Start by picking up a copy of With Liberty & Justice for All: Christian Politics Made Simple by the Reverend [sic] Joe Morecraft III. You will find there a succinct discussion of the rationales and reasoning behind the modern christianist movement. You will also encounter, in stark language, many ideas, such as "America is a Christian nation" that are currently being mainstreamed.
Then learn something about "intelligent design" creationism. I don't mean the doctrine, which is simply worthless both as science or theology. I'm talking about the history, rationale, and culture (I use the term loosely) behind the movement. Read the Wedge strategy. Then, to get a sense of who is funding this, read Creationism's Trojan Horse by Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross. If you think alarm bells about the theocracy movement are just hype, you will be shocked to discover that the alarm bells aren't ringing loud enough.
ID creationism may be the wedge that theocrats are using, but it is hardly the only strategy. Go to Colorado Springs or Springfield, MO and attend some megachurch ceremonies. I'm talking about places where christianism is a lifestyle, 24/7, where the churches have elaborate multi-media services and a Starbucks on the premises:
The megachurches thus become part church, part shopping mall and part country club. One in Tacoma, Washington, even has its own Starbucks. Brentwood Baptist Church in Houston has a McDonald's on its 111 acres. The Prestonwood Baptist Church, near Dallas, boasts 15 baseball fields, a Fifties-style diner and a food court. New Birth Baptist Church, also in Texas, offers web links to "antiques", "dining" and "health and fitness".
In addition to the megachurches, there are 31 "gigachurches" in the US, which are defined as those that at least 10,000 people attend every Sunday; 73 per cent of all these are in Bush-Cheney territory in the South or West. Some offer bookstores and health clubs on their premises. The Lakewood Church, yet another in Houston, describes itself as a "non-denominational charismatic church" and has a congregation of 25,000 every Sunday. It says it will soon have more than 30,000 people attending the remodelled, $73m former "Compaq Centre" that was previously home to the Houston Rockets, a basketball team.*
Sam Rosenfeld sets up an utterly false dichotomy between the notion that christianists are rubes who have been suckered and christianists as malevolent force. Merely because there are some high-level Bush officials, like Rove, who think Robertson is nuts, doesn't show that the "religious" right has been suckered. Look at the faith-based programs. Look at the infiltration of science/health programs with christianist propaganda. After all, this is a country which, until Bush, wouldn't have dreamed of selling in a national park bookstore, a history of the Grand Canyon that claimed it was only 6,000 years old.
True, christianists have not gotten from Bush everything they've wanted. So they've been screaming bloody murder at their "betrayal." That hardly means they are in retreat. They have advanced far in the past 6 years. Now, they are simply honing their strategy for the next step.
Christianists, however, have succeeeded in mainstreaming the notion that religion belongs in politics. It doesn't, not in America, so it's quite a step to have the churches in this country so well organized to push a christianist agenda and even endorse (wink, wink, illegal tho it may be) candidates. It's quite a step to have mainstream national politicians trumpet their piety - as if that is some kind of qualification for running a country - with an intensity that I can't recall in the races of the past thirty or forty years.
To pooh-pooh the influence of christianism on American politics, as Rosenfeld does, requires ignoring the plain and simple fact that General Jerry Boykin, a man suffering from paranoid delusions that Satan is hovering over battlefields and who is clearly in need of psychiatric help, still has a job. And not just any job; he is one of the pointsmen in the hunt for al Qaeda and bin Laden.
Sigh. Once again, intelligent liberals are making the dangerous mistake of attributing their own intellectual acumen and worldview to other Americans, who think and live very differently than themselves. I share with Yglesias and Rosenfeld a thorough disgust with both the ideas and the lifestyle of the christianists. I find it hard to believe they take their theology seriously as a religion: as Yglesias points out, it's nuts to believe in an absurd religion that consigns Gandhi to hell. And like them, I find the unique cultural trappings of christianism - the crass materialism and cynical marketing of religious belief - repulsive. How can anyone be suckered into this bullshit?
But the fact that I find christianism utterly repulsive when it's not just silly doesn't take away from the fact that many, many Americans are deeply attracted to it. Many more Americans have trouble distinguishing between the more diluted versions of christianism and their own desire to have a meaningful place for religion and national pride in their lives.
It is a serious mistake to underestimate these people. They have more cash, and more followers than we do. More importantly, they know, as we yet don't, that they are in a culture war. And they know, as incredible as it surely sounds to Rosenfeld and Yglesias, that the culture war is a continuation of the ancient struggle between the priests and the philosophes and ideals of the Enlightenment. Go ahead, Matt and Sam, read what they actually say. Listen to their speeches. That's what this is about.
In 2002/2003, some liberals - but not this one - were bamboozled by the so-called "seriousness" of respected, brilliant minds like those of Wolfowitz and Perle. The notion that they were dangerous extremists who would lead the country into a catastrophe was extremely hard for some intelligent people to accept. It is dismaying to see that happening again with christianism. Yglesias and Rosenfeld fail to understand, as many liberals have over the past 25 years, that these people are serious and their influence over American life has grown exponentially over the past 6 years. Santorum may no longer have a Senate seat come November 7, but don't kid yourself. To christianists, that simply means that Santorum will be moved to a different battlefied.
One final thing. Dobson, et al, have been whining non-stop that they are not being taken seriously by the Bush administration, (a perception that, amusingly, both Yglesias and Rosenfeld seem to agree with, albeit with a different sense of whether that's a good thing). LIke everything else Dobson utters, it is utter crap. It's all of a piece with the kind of wingnut bitching that always casts the right as the beleagured good guys against the evil liberals. It's the "mainstream liberal media" myth all over again.
Don't you believe it. The "religious" right is on a major roll.
The notion that America was founded by christianists is now so widespread that scholars have been working overtime churning out books to remind this country that there is absolutely no truth to the meme. The war against fucking continues unabated, with serious people actually debating the utility of abstinence-only sex education and the "ineffectiveness" of condoms. The assault on embryonic stem-cell research is a national disgrace. And most important of all, the meta-myth of christianism - that a good leader should not listen to reason but to his heart - is so much the norm in America's concept of politics that very few dare question it in public. Indeed, Bush may not be a perfect christianist, but he embodies their ideal of leading from the depths of a soul at one with God.*
Sam and Matt, the religious right has declared war on you and me, a war they are preparing to win. And they can. They are armed and very dangerous. And they will surely succeed if you, and others with more influence, continue to underestimate their power and fail to grasp their alarming growth and their intentions. They cannot be dismissed as mere kooks. They cannot be ignored. They must be confronted and loudly denounced whenever they rear their ugly heads in national discourse. I don't have words strong enough to say how urgent I think it is for you to educate yourself on exactly who these people are and what they want. Don't wait until they are even stronger. We need your voices in strong opposition. Hell, guys, you need your voices, even if you don't know that yet.
*And that is why I think of christianism as a particularly obscene form of blasphemy.
tristero 10/31/2006 03:22:00 AM