05 March 2007

Satan In The Pulpit (Part Three)

Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost! As the vice-regents of God, we are to exercise Godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors . . . in short, over every aspect and institution of human society!

Televangelist, government lobbyist and "ex-Gay" ministry founder 
D. James Kennedy, quoted in 2005

"Vice-regents of God"??? Yipe! Sure sounds like a madman's plan to take over the world, doesn't it? Ever wonder why people don't seem to understand the serious threat religious Right Wingers represent? Why isn’t there a huge outcry when Creationist candidates take over local school boards? Why isn’t anyone concerned that religious Conservatives now dictate what goes into most American school textbboks? Why isn’t the public alarmed that comprehensive sex education is being cast aside in favor of a discredited "abstinence-only" curriculum?

And why doesn’t the citizenry bristle with rage when the Civil Rights of LesBiGay Americans are repeatedly put to popular vote? What will it take to make them stop seeing the legal separation of Church and State as a matter of little or no consequence?

There's a new book on the market that may do the trick, if only enough people will read it. It's called American Fascists. The author, Chris Hedges, brings a unique perspective to the discussion of Right Wing religion. He's a former Presbyterian seminary student who changed his career path and went on to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for The New York Times. However, Hedges never renounced his faith, so he isn't vulnerable to charges of "secularism" that will surely be leveled against him by ultra-Conservative critics.

He combines a keen sense of history and deep knowledge of Bible Scripture with a journalist's observance of how religion and politics interact with each other around the world; this is what sharpens his analysis of Bible Fundamentalist activism. He concludes that we should be afraid . . . very much afraid . . . of what's in store for us if we allow radical evangelism to go unchecked!

Hedges calls religious Right Wingers by an ominous new name, one we should all remember: Dominionists. They're part of a movement that’s Christian only on its face; at its heart lie craven political ambitions and frightening totalitarian goals! "This movement, small in number but influential, departs from traditional evangelicalism," he writes. Based in 14th century Calvinist theology, which teaches that Christians should control the affairs of state, Dominionist doctrine derives its name from the book of Genesis, where it reads:

GENESIS 1: 28, 29
God blessed them, and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the Earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the Earth.

It's easy to see how these verses, taken out of context, might lend themselves to totalitarian designs. Chris Hedges says this is exactly what has happened. Wealthy Right Wing interests have been busy taking control of the American political process ever since the advent of the Nixon administration in 1968. Dominionist leaders such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and Timothy LaHaye have been aiding them in this effort only for about 25 years. So ultra-Conservatives have been grasping at power for a very long time, but Hedges argues that mobilization of the Fundamentalist Christian demographic, a constituency made malleable by years of proselytizing from the pulpit, radio and TV, is really what has tipped the balance in their favor:

Dominionists now control at least six national television networks, each reaching tens of millions of homes, and virtually all of the nation's more than 2,000 religious radio stations, as well as denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention . . . the power brokers in the radical Christian Right have already moved from the fringes of society to the Executive Branch, the House of Representatives, the Senate and the courts. The movement has seized control of the Republican Party . . . the 2004 Election Day exit polls found that 23% of voters identified themselves as evangelical Christians; Bush won 78% of their vote . . .

. . . and with that vote, evangelical leaders won the allegiance of George W. Bush and the GOP leadership! Hedges writes about how Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld kowtow to Dominionist groups like RJ Rushdoony's secretive Council for National Policy. The degree to which the Bush administration and the Republican Party are beholden to Fundamentalists was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt in the Spring of 2005 when, at the behest of the religious Right Wing, Congress passed an intrusive law forbidding doctors to disconnect a brain-dead woman, Terri Schaivo, from life support. It was proven again in the fall of that year when a vacancy opened on the Supreme Court, and the far-Right lobby forced Bush to scrap his original nominee for arch-Conservative Judge Samuel Alito.

The President’s hostile policies regarding stem cell research, legal abortion, comprehensive sex education, condom distribution and global warming, as well as his antipathy for the press, all reflect Dominionist influence. Arguably, there has never in US history been a Chief Executive less accountable to the rank-and-file voter and more controlled by a special interest group than Mr. Bush. Dominionists are the ones to thank for that shameful state of affairs! You'd best believe that they mean to consolidate their hold on the branches of government, too! Chris Hedges reports on how Right Wing religion is embedding itself deeply into the consciousness of a new generation of American voters:

The National Center for Education Statistics shows a 41% growth in the total enrollment at Conservative Christian schools between 1992 and 2002 . . . students in Christian schools are being inculcated with . . . intolerant, heavy-handed political doctrine . . . children are not challenged with ideas or research that conflict with their Biblical worldview. Evolution is not taught. God created the world in six days. America, they are told, was founded as a Christian nation, and secular humanists are working to destroy (it) . . . they are taught, in short order, to obey.

He goes on to reveal how shamelessly partisan this so-called religious instruction really is:

The Accelerated Christian Education curriculum, one of the country's three major publishers of Christian textbooks, defines "Liberal" in its schoolbooks as "referring to philosophy not supported by Scripture" and "Conservative" as "dedicated to the preserving of Scriptural principles". And Conservative Christian schools, identified by their affiliation with one of four national school organizations that define themselves as evangelical and Christian, are the fastest-growing segment within the private school system . . .

Anybody who knows anything about American political discourse understands that "Liberal" implies "Democrat" and "Conservative" implies "Republican". So, millions of young, impressionable Christians are being indoctrinated to view the Republican Party as a legitimate arm of the Christian church! Worse, they're being taught to regard its current anti-Labor, anti-feminist, anti-environment, anti-social welfare and anti-Gay platform as an accurate reflection of the Messiah's teachings. After graduating from Dominionist-controlled primary and secondary schools, students often enroll in equally reactionary colleges like Patrick Henry University, Bob Jones University, Liberty University and Regent University. Much like pupils sent to radical Islamic madrassahs in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, they're being prepared to wage Holy War against non-believers!

Chris Hedges traces the modern version of Dominionism to a radical theocrat named RJ Rushdoony. In 1973, Rushdoony published a volume titled Institutes of Biblical Law, which Hedges calls "the most important book for the Dominionist movement." The book's text strongly suggests that its late author was a follower of Christian Identity theology, that racist belief system preached by such groups as the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan; among other things, he argued that Christians, not Jews, are God's chosen people, and that American courts should impose death sentences for violations of Levitican (Old Testament) law! Hedges reveals how closely Rushdoony's Christian Identity-inspired creed mirrors what has become, more or less, official government policy under the Bush administration:

Rushdoony was deeply antagonistic toward the Federal government. He believed the Federal government should concern itself with little more than national defense. Education and social welfare should be handed over to the churches. Biblical law must replace the secular legal code. This ideology, made more palatable for the mainstream by later disciples such as Francis Schaeffer and Pat Robertson, remains at the heart of the movement. Many of its tenets are being enacted through the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, currently channeling billions in Federal funds to groups such as National Right to Life and Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing . . . these groups can and usually do discriminate by refusing to hire Gays and Lesbians, people of other faiths, and those who do not embrace their strict version of Christianity.

"Satan in the Pulpit" continues with Part Four.

03 March 2007

Satan In The Pulpit (Part Four)

Hedges also examines Dominionist influence on the old Creationist movement. He finds that the latest assault on the teaching of Evolution is anything but a replay of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, where Bible Scripture was pitted against anthropological data. It's a well-funded, carefully crafted "stealth" initiative designed to blur the distinction between Scripture and science! Aimed at the majority of Americans who understand little about scientific methods, this sophisticated campaign of disinformation radically reinterprets the archaeological record to fit the creation narrative of Genesis.

It involves much more than just taking over school boards and micromanaging the science curriculum; it seeks to undermine the very foundations of academic discipline! Believe it or not, the latest generation of Creationists no longer uses the book of Genesis to denounce Evolution. Now it employs phony scholarship to support its arguments, and it conceals its Creationist beliefs inside a bogus scientific theory called "Intelligent Design." Hedges explains the change in tactics:

. . . the Fundamentalists cannot discount science (so) they employ jargon, methods and data that appear like science to make an argument for Creationism. They have created research and scholarly institutions designed to parallel legitimate scientific organizations. They pump out articles in self-published journals to provide "evidence" that homosexuals (sic) can be cured, that global warming is a myth, that abortion can cause breast cancer . . . and that "abstinence-only" education is an effective form of birth control. Bogus and unsubstantiated claims, all in the service of the (Dominionist) ideology, are dressed up to look scientific. This pseudo-science seeps into the public debate, disseminated by a nervous media anxious to give both sides of every argument. Those with contempt for facts and truth . . . are given the same platform as those who deal in a world of reality . . . when facts are treated as if they were opinions, when there is no universal standard by which to determine truth in law, in science, in scholarship, or in the reporting of the events of the day, the world becomes a place where lies become true, where people can believe what they want to believe, where there is no possibility of reaching any conclusion not predetermined by those who interpret the official, divinely-inspired text.

The author draws disturbing parallels between the rise of America's religious Right Wing and the rise of the Nazi Party in 1930s Germany (more about this later). He also links the current surge of Dominionist political power to the rapid spread of Fundamentalist Islam in the modern Middle East. What these movements have in common is something he calls “the culture of despair.” Such a culture grows within society when there is a widespread and prolonged loss of jobs and earning power, increasingly open political corruption, and a perceived rapid decline in moral standards. These conditions prime working class citizens for exploitation by power-hungry propagandists, who hide fascist goals behind pious rhetoric. "The common denominator is despair," Hedges believes:

A despair creeping into a threatened middle class, where jobs are . . . being outsourced and company layoffs are (eliminating) older workers . . . there may be more despair in places like Youngstown (Ohio), but it exists in communities across the nation . . . where people feel isolated and adrift. In interview after interview, those in the (Dominionist) movement spoke of desires for suicide before finding Jesus. Even if the feelings were fleeting and never acted upon, they indicate how terrible life had become before conversion. Despair is the most powerful force driving people into the movement.

And guess what contributes to their despair? Dominionist-influenced government and corporate policies, naturally! Once converted to Fundamentalism, these vulnerable souls are manipulated into supporting a Right Wing political agenda sold to them under the guise of Biblical mandate. Hedges reports:

. . . they are told that people who suffer are responsible for their suffering; they must not be "right with God" . . . (therefore) they accept the curtailing of Federal assistance programs and turn inward, assisting only those within their exclusive Christian community, and damning the world outside.

Funded by Right Wing corporate interests like Tyson, Purdue, Amway, Fox and Coors, Dominionist leaders have spread a blasphemous facsimile of the Gospels, a Bizarro version of the Savior's message that likens Wall Street to the Holy Land! Instead of recounting how Jesus Christ drove moneychangers from His Father's temple, their revised narrative has the Lord seeming to beckon them inside. "The marriage of this gospel of prosperity with raw, global capitalism, and the flaunting of the wealth and privilege it brings, are supposedly blessed and championed by Jesus Christ," the author snarls. Capitalism becomes a religion in itself, a parallel and equivalent faith to be observed along with Christianity. An outraged Hedges further states:

In this version of the Christian Gospel, the exploitation and abuse of other human beings is a good . . . it calls for wanton destruction . . . of the environment, of communities and neighborhoods, of labor unions, of a free press, of Iraqis, Palestinians or others in the Middle East who would deny us oil fields and hegemony, of Federal regulatory agencies, social welfare programs, public education . . . in short, the destruction of all people and programs that stand in the way of a Christian America and its God-given right to dominate the rest of the planet . . . the callousness of the ideology, the notion that it in any way reflects the message of the Gospels, which were preoccupied with the poor and the outcasts, illustrates how (Dominionists) have twisted Christian scripture . . .

It's not just Scripture that they've twisted! Religious art has provided fair game for them, too. Those delicately beautiful, sometimes effeminate-looking renditions of the Christ figure that have proliferated over many centuries are anathema to Dominionists! Their artists remake the Savior in the image of violent action heroes like Rambo, Dirty Harry, The Terminator, Conan the Barbarian and Mad Max:

Images of Jesus (Christ) often show Him with thick muscles, clutching a sword . . . (The) Christ's stoic endurance of the brutal whippings in Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of The Christ reflects the brutal, masculine world of this ideology . . . Jerry Falwell, in a New Yorker interview, said Christ was not a gentle-looking, willowy man: ‘Christ was a man with muscles,’ he insisted.

Chris Hedges understands that these depictions of a macho, musclebound Christ underscore the Fundamentalist credo of rigid gender roles and male supremacy:

There runs through the Fundamentalist belief system a deep dread of ambiguity, disorder and chaos. Accordingly, the cult of masculinity keeps all ambiguity, especially sexual ambiguity, in check . . . behaviors that do not conform, such as homosexuality, are forms of disorder, tools of Satan, and must be abolished . . . those who . . . are not subservient to dominant Christian males must be proselytized, converted and "cured" (if they are Gay or Lesbian) through quack therapy. If they remain recalcitrant, they must be silenced! The decline of America is described as the result of the decline of male prowess.

Why is it with these fascists types, it always ends up being about the Big Johnson? Of course, this supremacist ideology breeds heterosexism in the extreme, and encourages blanket vilification of everyone in the world who qualifies as a sexual "other." There's nothing new about that; Right Wing movements have always been repressive and intolerant of LGBT folk. What is new is that White Protestant Fundamentalists have now discovered the existence of sex and gender intolerance among Catholics and racial minorities, and are beginning to exploit it:

Believers were told a few decades ago that Communists were behind the Civil Rights movement, the anti-war movement, and Liberal groups such as the ACLU. They were racist and intolerant of African Americans, Jews and Catholics. Now the battle against Communism has been reconfigured . . . as the movement reaches out to the African-American churches and Right Wing Catholics, it has exchanged old hatreds for new ones, preferring now to demonize Gays, Liberals, immigrants, Muslims and others as forces beholden to the Antichrist while painting themselves as heirs of the Civil Rights movement.

The most chilling passages in American Fascists come near the end of the book. Hedges recalls his days as a seminarian at Harvard Divinity School, and an ethics class in the early 1980s taught by the late Dr. James Luther Adams. The professor warned his students that fascist rule in the guise of Christian evangelism was on the horizon:

The warning came at the moment Pat Robertson and other radio and televangelists began speaking about a new political religion (whose) stated goal was to use the United States to create a global Christian empire. It was hard, at the time, to take such fantastic rhetoric seriously, especially given the buffoonish quality of leaders in the Christian Right who expounded it. But Adams warned us against the blindness caused by intellectual snobbery. The Nazis, he said, were not going to return with swastikas and brown shirts! Their ideological inheritors in America had found a mask for fascism in patriotism and the pages of the Bible . . . Adams knew that resentments and bigotry lurk below the surface of all democratic societies and can be roused, under the right conditions, to promote a creed that calls for the destruction of democracy . . . he saw in the Christian Right, long before (I) did, disturbing similarities with the German Christian Church and the Nazi Party, similarities . . . that would, in the event of prolonged social instability, catastrophe or national crisis, see American fascists, under the guise of Christianity, rise to dismantle the open society.

For Lesbian and Gay readers, this section of the book will be especially chilling! The author proceeds to liken us to the proverbial canary in the coal mine; he views us as unwilling heralds of coming disaster. Again quoting Professor Adams, Hedges warns us to:

Watch closely what the Christian Right did to homosexuals (sic). Hitler, after he took power in 1933, imposed a ban on all (Gay) and Lesbian organizations . . . the stripping of Gay and Lesbian Germans of their Civil Rights was largely cheered by the German churches, but this campaign legitimized tactics, outside the law, that would soon be employed against others. Adams said that homosexuals (sic) would also be the first "social deviants" singled out and disempowered by Christian Right. We (Progressives) would be the next . . . Adams had seen it once. He knew what it looked like.

"Satan in the Pulpit" continues with Part Five.

01 March 2007

Satan In The Pulpit (Part Five)

The Reverend Mel White, founder of the Gay-affirming Soulforce Ministries and a former Right Wing evangelist, is also quoted in the book. White puts into words the fears of many LGBT people:

"They've won the Congress and the Presidency, and they're about to win the courts because of their Congress and their President. They've won State houses across the country and precincts everywhere by the political process. So . . . they have a system to throw democracy out the window. They want to end homosexuality in America . . . one step at a time. First the Federal Marriage Amendment, and then comes no adoption, no service in the military, the reinstatement of the sodomy laws, and driving us back into our closets, or worse."

Chris Hedges has nothing to say that would contradict Mel White's dire predictions. He confirms that Dominionists regard Gay people as little more than red meat for feeding to their reactionary constituencies. He documents how Right Wing preachers transform us into monsters in the eyes of their followers. Chief among the offenders is Focus On The Family's James Dobson, who habitually characterizes homosexual Americans as anarchists, disease peddlers, sex addicts and depraved pedophiles bent on "recruiting" children. Lord only knows how many Gay bashings and murders Dobson has encouraged with his lies! Just in case his readers fail to consider that probability, Hedges proceeds to drive home the point in no uncertain terms:

The attack against Gays (sic) and Lesbians seeks to paint homosexual behavior as a form of barbarity, one step above bestiality. Gays (sic) and Lesbians, like other "enemies of Christ", are not fully human; they are "unnatural" . . . should another catastrophic attack (on the United States) occur, what will prevent these preachers from calling for the punishment, detention and quarantining of Gays and Lesbians . . . to safeguard the nation? What will staunch the hate crimes and physical attacks against those deemed immoral by fearful and angry Christians, those condemned by these preachers as responsible for the nation's abandonment by God?

No doubt about it: Chris Hedges is determined to shake America out of its complacent stupor! He means to wake us up before it's too late! His writing is strongest when he writes not as a journalist, but as a believer in Jesus Christ. His disgust is palpable when he cuts loose and pours out condemnation on the religious Right Wing's calculated perversion of Gospel Truth:

. . . the heart of the Christian religion, all that is good and compassionate within it, has been tossed aside, ruthlessly gouged out and thrown into a heap . . . only the shell, the form, remains, its empty carcass wrapped around these wolves like a cloak . . . these false prophets . . . the Pat Robertsons, the Jerry Falwells and the James Dobsons . . . clutching the cross and the Bible, offer, like Mephistopheles, to lead us back to a mythical paradise and an impossible, unachievable happiness and security, at once seductive and empowering. They ask us to hand over moral choice and responsibility to them. They will tell us they know what is right and wrong in the eyes of God. They tell us how to act, how to live, and in this process they elevate themselves above us. They remove the anxiety of moral choice, the fundamental anxiety of human existence. This is part of their attraction. They give us the rules by which we live. But once we . . . accept their authority, we become enslaved and they become our idols. And idols, as the Bible never ceases to tell us, destroy us!

His words of rebuke aren't directed at Dominionists alone! He saves a portion of his anger for those he sees as enablers of their political agenda:

They can count on the passive support of huge numbers of Christians, even if many of (them) may not fully share Dominionism's fierce Utopian vision, fanaticism or ruthlessness. The appeal of the movement lies in the high ideals its radicals preach, the promise of a moral, Christian nation (and) the promise of a renewal . . . if this mass movement succeeds, it will do so not simply because of its ruthlessness and mendacity (or) its callous manipulation of the people it lures into its arms, many of whom live on the margins of American society. It will succeed because of the moral failure of those, including Christians, who understand the intent of the radicals yet fail to confront them, those who treat this mass movement as if it were another legitimate player in an open society. The leading American institutions tasked with defending tolerance and liberty . . . from the mainstream churches to the great research universities to the Democratic Party and the media . . . have failed the country.

My friend, Reverend Jerry Maneker, has often told me the same thing. I can't doubt what he and Chris Hedges have said, because I've seen the evidence with my own eyes. We've all seen it! Dominionists have infiltrated our nation's governing bodies, and their presence is perverting the administration of justice. Nobody's doing much to stop it, certainly not when the rights of LGBT Americans are involved! Fascists calling themselves Christians persecute us with impunity, using newly-won legislative and judicial power to restrict our access to jobs, to health care, to safety, to family. Far too many of us, crippled by shame and fear, suffer this legal bashing in silence; but those of us who do raise our voices in protest find it's like trying to shout over a thousand bullhorns.

Forget all the scurrilous talk about a "Gay mafia" that supposedly controls Hollywood; any media access Gay people can lay claim to is utterly dwarfed by the vast religious broadcasting empire. And I do mean vast. There are at least two dozen Fundamentalist-owned and operated cable TV networks in existence, two of them programmed exclusively for Spanish-speaking Christians. As for radio networks, they number in the thousands! Last time I checked, there were more US radio stations with “Christian music and talk” formats than any other. A legion of religious broadcasters are spouting anti-Gay hate speech on the air daily, and absent a new Fairness Doctrine for broadcasters, there's nothing we can do to counter it!

This hate speech has clearly influenced voters; out of 50 states, only Wyoming, New Mexico, Wisconsin and parts of New England don't have some kind of ban against legalizing Lesbian and Gay relationships on their books. I agree with Mel White; we should expect adoption bans to come next!

If that weren’t bad enough, mainstream news programs have become showcases for Bible bigots. It’s true! If the topic has anything to do with religion or morality, news producers are sure to call in a reactionary preacher like Donald Wildmon or Lou Sheldon to offer commentary. Where are the moderate and Progressive preachers? You rarely see or hear from them anymore, and when you do, they're often inarticulate. I think this has contributed to Americans confusing Fundamentalism with real Christianity; they’re hardly ever exposed to a diversity of Christian thought, so they have little reason to question the legitimacy of the Right Wing doctrine they hear. To be sure, there's a desperate need in this country for media outlets that aren't compromised by Dominionist religious bias! The need for strong, compelling voices of righteous opposition is just as pressing.

The revelations I found in the pages of American Fascists confirmed something I've known for some time: The greatest evil in the world today isn't Al-Qaeda. It's not Hamas. It's not the Taliban. It's not even the Bush administration. It's our old familiar nemesis, Satan in the pulpit! He's the one who corrupts faith and uses it to light a flame under terrorist movements. Satan, whipping up Scriptural bigotry for diabolical purposes. Satan, teaching a stealth gospel of totalitarianism. Satan, blurring the lines between churches, governments and chambers of commerce!

We can't stop Satan from passing himself off as a messenger from God (he's been doing it since before the Christ arrived on Earth), but we can expose him as an imposter! We can rip the minister's vestments off of him and reveal the naked corruption he hides underneath! We can discredit his false doctrine of conquest, intolerance and greed by comparing it to Jesus Christ's true Gospel of humility, forgiveness and love. We can do these things, and we must do them, often, and in public! We’ve got to take Gospel Truth to the masses; we can’t just share it among ourselves. The survival of the Christian faith, as well as our democratic way of life . . . not to mention our Lesbian and Gay lives . . . may depend on it! Chris Hedges has provided an example that we should follow.

When they came for the Jews/
I said nothing because I was not a Jew/
When they came for the Communists/
I said nothing because I was not a Communist/
When they came for the Gypsies/
I said nothing because I was not a Gypsy/
When they came for the liberals/
I said nothing because I was not a liberal/
When they came for me/
There was no one left to speak up for me.

Excerpt from the poem "First They Came" 
by Reverend Martin Niemöller,
Lutheran minister and anti-Nazi activist, circa 1946