Sunday, June 27, 2004

Savage Eden 

From CounterPunch, a striking essay by Joe Bageant, a self-proclaimed "socialist and half-assed lefty activist" born into a clan of fundamentalists. Although he does not fully elucidate the doctrinal differences among Dominionism, Pretribulationism, Midtribulationism, Posttribulationism, Premillennialism, and Millennialism, he makes it quite plain that the American left, if it continues to ignore the growing influence of the Christian right, could soon find itself in a world o' hurt:
For liberals to examine the current fundamentalist phenomenon in America is accept some hard truths. For starters, we libs are even more embattled than most of us choose to believe. Any significant liberal and progressive support is limited to a few urban pockets on each coast and along the upper edge of the Midwestern tier states. Most of the rest of the nation, the much vaunted heartland, is the dominion of the conservative and charismatic Christian. Turf-wise, it's pretty much their country, which is to say it presently belongs to George W. Bush for some valid reasons. Remember: He did not have to steal the entire election, just a little piece of it in Florida. Evangelical born-again Christians of one stripe or another were then, and are now, 40% of the electorate, and they support Bush 3-1. And as long as their clergy and their worst instincts tell them to, they will keep on voting for him, or someone like him, regardless of what we view as his arrogant folly and sub-intelligence. Forget about changing their minds. These Christians do not read the same books we do, they do not get their information from anything remotely resembling reasonably balanced sources, and in fact, consider even CBS and NBC super-liberal networks of porn and the Devil's lies. Given how fundamentalists see the modern world, they may as well be living in Iraq or Syria, with whom they share approximately the same Bronze Age religious tenets. They believe in God, Rumsfeld's Holy War and their absolute duty as God's chosen nation to kick Muslim ass up one side and down the other. In other words, just because millions of Christians appear to be dangerously nuts does not mean they are marginal . . . .

Christian Reconstruction is blunt stuff, hard and unforgiving as a gravestone. Capital punishment, central to the Reconstructionist ideal, calls for the death penalty in a wide range of crimes, including abandonment of the faith, blasphemy, heresy, witchcraft, astrology, adultery, sodomy, homosexuality, striking a parent, and ''unchastity before marriage'' (but for women only.) Biblically correct methods of execution include stoning, the sword, hanging, and burning. Stoning is preferred, according to Gary North, the self-styled Reconstructionist economist, because stones are plentiful and cheap. Biblical Law would also eliminate labor unions, civil rights laws, and public schools. Leading Reconstruction theologian David Chilton declares, "The Christian goal for the world is the universal development of Biblical theocratic republics" Incidentally, said Republic of Jesus would not only be a legal hell, but an ecological one as well---Reconstructionist doctrine calls for the scrapping of environmental protection of all kinds, because there will be no need for this planet earth once The Rapture occurs. You may not have heard of Rushdoony or Chilton or North, but taken either separately or together, they have directly and indirectly influenced far more contemporary American minds than Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal and Howard Zinn combined . . . .

Christian Reconstruction and Dominionist strategists make clear in their writings that homeschooling and Christian academies have been and continue to create the Rightist Christian cadres of the future, enabling them to place ever-increasing numbers of believers in positions of governmental influence. The training of Christian cadres is far more sophisticated than the average liberal realizes. There now stretches a network of dozens of campuses across the nation, each with its strange cultish atmosphere of smiling Christian pod people, most of them clones of Jerry Fallwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. But how many outsiders know the depth and specificity of political indoctrination in these schools? For example, Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia, a college exclusively for Christian homeschoolers, offers programs in strategic government intelligence, legal training and foreign policy, all with a strict, Bible-based "Christian worldview." Patrick Henry is so heavily funded by the Christian right it can offer classes below cost. In the Bush administration, seven percent of all internships are handed out to Patrick Henry students, along with many others distributed among similar religious rightist colleges. The Bush administration also recruits from the faculties of these schools, i.e. the appointments of right-wing Christian activist Kay Coles James, former dean of the Pat Robertson School of government, as director of the U.S. office of personnel. What better position than the personnel office from which to recruit more fundamentalists? Scratch any of these supposed academics and you will find a Christian zealot. I know because I have made the mistake of inviting a few of these folks to cocktail parties. One university department head told me he is moving to rural Mississippi where he can better recreate the lifestyle of the antebellum South, and its "Confederate Christian values." It gets real strange real quick.
Bageant goes on to discuss, in frightening detail, how belief in the imminence of "the Rapture" -- a sort of pre-second coming in which Jesus hoists all true believers, living and dead, bodily into the heavens -- drives "an apocalyptic game plan for earthly political action"; the prophesied conditions for the end of the world must be fulfilled, for the end of the world is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
To wit, the messiah can only return to earth after an apocalypse in Israel called Armageddon, which the fundamentalists are promoting with all their power so that The Rapture can take place. The first requirement was establishment of the state of Israel. Done. The next is Israel's occupation of the Middle East as a return of its "Biblical lands," which in the radical Christian scheme of things, means more wars. These Christian conservatives believe peace cannot ever lead to The Rapture, and indeed impedes the 1,000 year Reign of Christ. So anyone promoting peace is an enemy, a tool of Satan, hence the fundamentalist support for any and all wars Middle Eastern, in which their own kids die a death often viewed by Christian parents as a holy martyrdom of its own kind.
Although LaHaye and Jenkins have turned it into a multi-million dollar pop-culture phenomenon, the Rapture is mentioned by name nowhere in the Bible; the doctrine, based on a couple of verses in Paul's first epistle to the Thessalonians, arose under disputed circumstances around 1830 and is not universally accepted even by the devout (more here). Personally, we've always thought that when Paul wrote "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air," he was fully expecting to be around for the action; remember that Jesus had prophesied "Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom" (Matthew 17:28), and "Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass until all these things be fulfilled" (Matthew 24:34).

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