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.