The Gathering Storm

StormI’m late to this party, as countless keystrokes have been hammered out on both sides of this issue over the past few months. But if you’ve just awakened from a long coma (having somehow survived the mercy of your husband and the justice of the courts), there’s a full-blown war underway. Reviewing past episodes you may have missed, evil minions of the Christian right have established a theocracy, having subverted the democratic process through deceit, red-state rebellion, and mind-control, and the brave-but-outgunned heroes of secular democracy are courageously warring against this nefarious empire.

The embers of rebellion, smouldering after the destruction of the rebel base on Planet Kerry, have been fanned to fury by subsequent skirmishes: the Terry Schiavo case, the election of a “rottweiler” Pope (although occurring in a far-away sector, the political ramifications of this reactionary putsch had worrisome implications for the diaspora here at home), and finally, the showdown on judicial nominations in the senate, which threatens the last secure hold of the rebel secularists–the chambers of the Robed Masters.

As you dust the cobwebs from your brain after your long absence, you may want to review some of the inspired writings of our rebel heroes. First, Princess “MoDo” Leia:

Oh my God, we really are in a theocracy.

Are the Republicans so obsessed with maintaining control over all branches of government, and are the Democrats so emasculated about not having any power, that they are willing to turn the nation into a wholly owned subsidiary of the church?

The more dogma-driven activists, self-perpetuating pols and ratings-crazed broadcast media prattle about “faith,” the less we honor the credo that a person’s relationship with God should remain a private matter.

As the Bush White House desperately maneuvers in Iraq to prevent the new government from being run according to the dictates of religious fundamentalists, it desperately maneuvers here to pander to religious fundamentalists who want to dictate how the government should be run.

Maureen Dowd NY Times March 24 2005

Or this, from Han “So Low” Krugman:

Democratic societies have a hard time dealing with extremists in their midst. The desire to show respect for other people’s beliefs all too easily turns into denial: nobody wants to talk about the threat posed by those whose beliefs include contempt for democracy itself. We can see this failing clearly in other countries. In the Netherlands, for example, a culture of tolerance led the nation to ignore the growing influence of Islamic extremists until they turned murderous. But it’s also true of the United States, where dangerous extremists belong to the majority religion and the majority ethnic group, and wield great political influence … One thing that’s going on is a climate of fear for those who try to enforce laws that religious extremists oppose … And the future seems all too likely to bring more intimidation in the name of God and more political intervention that undermines the rule of law … America isn’t yet a place where liberal politicians, and even conservatives who aren’t sufficiently hard-line, fear assassination. But unless moderates take a stand against the growing power of domestic extremists, it can happen here.

“What’s Going On?” — Paul Krugman NY Times March 29 2005 — (link requires registration)

And this, from Al “Chewbacca” Gore:

It is no accident that this assault on the integrity of our constitutional design has been fueled by a small group claiming special knowledge of God’s will in American politics. They even claim that those of us who disagree with their point of view are waging war against “people of faith.”

How dare they?

Long before our founders met in Philadelphia, their forbears first came to these shores to escape oppression at the hands of despots in the old world who mixed religion with politics and claimed dominion over both their pocketbooks and their souls. This aggressive new strain of right-wing religious zealotry is actually a throw-back to the intolerance that led to the creation of America in the first place.

–Al Gore, at —

And don’t forget the burblings and beeps of our loveable droid, R2Dean2:

The issue is: Are we going to live in a theocracy where the highest powers tell us what to do? Or are we going to be allowed to consult our own high powers when we make very difficult decisions?’

–Howard Dean Rallies California Dems – Sacramento Union–

We could continue at length with many other heroes of the revolution–Robert “Third” Reich, Christopher “party of theocracy” Shays, and a host of other theocratic watchdog web sites and blogs. But while these writings are passionate, yea inspiring, some of us–who remain a tad bit skeptical of the motives of our secular saviors–are wondering if the Dark Side is quite as diabolical as portrayed. After all, we learned from these very same sages that Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism were vastly overstated as threats to our country; could it possibly be that the evil theocrats who have usurped our government are likewise just misunderstood souls, responding in justifiable anger to years of U.S. oppression and exploitation? Why do they hate us? Could the Death Star be nothing more than a big black hot air balloon?

Far be it from me to speak for every Christian in America, but I’ve been around the block for more than a few decades in the Christian community, in red states and blue. I have been a member of, and a worshipper in, a host of Christian denominations, from Roman Catholic to Southern Baptist, from Episcopalian to Methodist, independent evangelical fellowships, and even some charismatic and Pentecostal churches. Now, I have preferred some of these over others for various reasons–doctrinal, legalism, worship style, fellowship–but I have a pretty solid understanding of what their core beliefs and doctrinal differences are, and am familiar with what their pastors teach and their members believe. I have studied, written and published on subjects of Christian history and religious cults. And I have also had the opportunity–or shall I say misfortune–to watch quite a bit of Christian media, the so-called televangelists. My conclusion from this rather broad exposure to American Christianity, and my review of the thoughts of those so distraught about impending theocracy, is this: the current depiction of Christianity by the secular left assails a religious belief system which, by and large, simply does not exist. It is a fabrication, the stuff of fever dreams and flashbacks. The theocracy they dread is ruled by straw men.

I will not say that there does not exists a subset of Christians who hold to some of the doctrines assailed by the secular left as a threat to democracy. The current bogeyman is dominion theology, also known as Reconstructionism–a theology which, briefly put, says that Christ will not return until Christians are running the whole show, with everyone conforming to biblical law. To say that broad swaths of Christianity reject this belief as aberrant is an understatement; no mainstream denomination or church, from Roman Catholic to evangelical to fundamentalists to Pentecostal or charismatic, endorses such a theology. The one area where there is some support for dominionism is among televangelists, who unfortunately are often the most visible and widely known due to their media presence, and are often thought therefore by secular observers to be representative of mainstream Christianity. They are not–in fact, the majority of Christians find most of the televangelists to be an embarrasment, caricatures, objects of derision, or worse: their doctrines are considered by many to be widely deviant from historical Christian belief, and are even considered heretical or cultish by many. This theology has shallow, narrow roots in American Christianity. If this is what the Dowds, the Krugmans, the Gores, and the crowd dread, perhaps they should purchase a nightlight so that things aren’t so scary where they sleep, in the dark.

The notion that the U.S. even remotely resembles a Christian theocracy–or ever will–is ludicrous on its face. Where are the requirements for Christian allegiance to enter civil service? Where are the prosecutions for religious offenses, the jailing of abortionists, the requisite prayer in schools and government? Where is the mandatory Bible in every home and office? Is a country where artists display crucifixes in urine and religious symbols covered in dung, where profanity and sexual promiscuity are widely depicted and promoted in film and media, where pornography is a mouse click away, really under the control–or even the remotest influence–of Christian theocrats? Anyone who makes such a claim is either hysterical, disingenuous, or ignorant–willfully so, in my opinion–of the horrors of true theocratic states such as Iran and Afghanistan under the Taliban, or even “liberal” countries like Saudi Arabia. Wildly hyperbolic accusations such as these about an American administration and those who purportedly control it–dark predictions of assassinations, Salem witch trials, or an Inquisition–do not possess even a remote basis in reality.

No, what infuriates the secular left–and yes, even some on the secular right–is that their sacred cows are now threatened by the leadership elected by the American people: moral relativism, abortion without limits; sexuality without responsibility, consequences, or commitment; the devaluation of the traditional family structure; a society so constructed that no appeal to divine principles or moral absolutes is allowed to interfere with utopian social engineering.

The left has no problem with the marriage of politics and religion: no outcries are heard when the Reverend Jesse Jackson or the Reverend Al Sharpton engage in hardball politics or make presidential runs. No separation of church and state exists when a John Kerry or Al Gore campaigns in black churches, or Hillary quotes Scripture to demonize opponents, or Joe Lieberman talks about his faith in God as Democratic VP candidate. Consider this from the 2000 presidential campaign:

Vice President Gore and I want to bring truth to power–the truth of faith and the power of values that flow from it,” Lieberman said. “We share a commitment to using our office and our influence to support and encourage this new burst of moral and cultural renewal.”

The fusion of God and government becomes troubling only when employed by the wrong people. You revile the “theocracy” of those in power, not because of what it represents, but because you are not in power.

It is not easy to discern whether those who hyperventilate about theocracy actually believe it is a threat, or whether it is a political strategy to demonize the party in power. As political strategy–if that’s all this tantrum represents–directing anti-religious venom at conservative politicians is a blunt tool indeed. In addition to its intended target, this blunderbus will blast millions of Americans for whom faith is important. Finding themselves characterized by proxy as intolerant, close-minded extremists, the broad segment of Americans who value the role of religion in their lives will be hard-pressed to trust such politicians and leaders on more secular matters such as the economy and national security.

It is instructive to consider what would be permissable religious expression for governing officials or leaders to those who now bemoan our dawning theocracy. Christian politicians? Acceptable, I suppose, as long as they never mention their faith, and endorse–or at least not oppose–any issue they might find morally troubling, such as abortion, euthanasia, or gay marriage. Devout Catholic judges? OK at the county or district level only, but better keep the looniness in check (no Ten Commandments on the wall, or rosaries in your car)–far too extremist for Court of Appeals or the Supremes. Fundamentalist Cabinet officer? Fuhgedaboutit. Keep a Bible in your cubicle at the Department of Education? Lose it–gotta keep that wall of separation between church and state, ya know–no crucifixes, either, buddy. Much like the “tolerance and diversity” demonstrated on college campuses when conservatives speak, religious expression or speech of any kind is evil and intolerable when those in power are not liberal. But then, even allowing such people in power at all is an intolerable evil.

Ever notice how the left at heart are really archeologists? They love digging up ancient fossils, like Castro and Che Guevara, to fawn and faddle over. And exhume their enemies, too, they do–still using Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to rally the base and demonize the right? These guys might have had some heft, oh, say, twenty years ago, but today they have about as much influence in American Christianity as Patty Murray has in the Senate. Even Dobson–who gained a lot of respect in the past for thoughtful approaches to child rearing and family relationships, has squandered much of his credibility with Christians by his intrusive and strong-armed approach to politics. No matter–to the delusional these dinosaurs still control the strings of power in government and religion like master puppeteers.

The problem lies in part in a huge cultural chasm: those who huff and puff about theocracy and religious extremists quite simple know nothing about the faith, priorities, or convictions of those for whom Christianity plays a pivotal role. Their utter cluelessness is flagrant and obvious. I’d be willing to bet that folks like Krugman, Dowd, Al Gore, Dr. Dean, and the rest don’t know a single evangelical Christian well enough to sit and have coffee with them and discuss their faith. They’ve never attended their churches, never made an effort to understand why moral issues matter to such people. Their religion is politics, and so they view all religious conviction through the lens of power. They cannot imagine that moral issues matter to people because of the effects these matters have on their personal lives, their neighborhoods, the society they live in. It must be about a grab for power, for in their minds political power is the only way to effect change.

Christopher Hitchens–a talented writer and normally thoughtful liberal–in his Kool-aid-drinking diatribe against the theocrats, says “I am neither a Republican nor a Christian”–then proceeds to prove just how true the statement is by quoting Scripture he has not read in context and does not understand, and proclaiming the influence of Ayn Rand on true Republicans. Ayn Rand?? Dinosaur alert: that creature hasn’t stalked the earth since Wilbur Mills did the Tidal Pool deep six with Fanne Foxe. If you don’t know where the engine is, best leave the car repairs to someone else.

Because this political assault has so little basis in truth, one might conclude that it should fade to black as its ridiculousness becomes manifest. Don’t count on it: this rant is here to stay. And it’s dangerous.

I’m an optimist by nature–but optimism is the opiate of fools, they say, and this time I think they’re right. The danger lies in the use of anti-religious fervor for political advantage. Like the blacksmith’s bellows, the left is superheating the political dialog by feeding oxygen to baser instincts. As high heat changes the structure of metal, this rhetorical inferno against the religious right will harden those so disposed to create an indelible association between faith, intolerance and hatred. Fanning religious hatred for political gain is a dangerous game; just ask the Jews.

I do not fear for the faith: Christ’s church is an anvil which has broken many hammers, and which grows stronger under many blows. But from the seeds of vitriole spring tyranny, and gathering storm clouds portend not sunlight, but darkness and driving rain.

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