i (i) wrote,

today's sermon

The Covert Kingdom
Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Texas
by Joe Bageant
May 18, 2004

Not long ago I pulled my car up alongside a tiny wooden church in the
woods, a stark white frame box my family built in 1840. And as always,
an honest-to-god chill went through me, for the ancestral ghosts
presumably hovering over the graves there. From the wide open front
door the Pentecostal preacher's message echoed from within the plain
wooden walls: "Thank you Gawd for giving us strawng leaders like
President Bush during this crieeesis. Praise you Lord and guide him in
this battle with Satan's Muslim armies." If I had chosen to go back
down the road a mile or so to the sprawling new Bible Baptist church --
complete with school facilities, professional sound system and in-house
television production -- I could have heard approximately the same
exhortation. Usually offered at the end of a prayer for sons and
daughters of members in the congregation serving in Iraq, it can be
heard in any of the thousands upon thousands of praise temples across
our republic.

After a lifetime of identity conflict, I have come to accept that,
blood-wise, if not politically or spiritually, these are my people. And
as a leftist it is very clear to me these days why urban liberals not
only fail to understand these people, but do not even know they exist,
other than as some general lump of ignorant, intolerant voters called
"the religious right," or the "Christian Right," or "neo-con
Christians." But until progressives come to understand what these
people read, hear, are told and deeply believe, we cannot understand
American politics, much less be effective. Given fundamentalist
Christianity's inherent cultural isolation, it is nearly impossible for
most enlightened Americans to imagine, in honest human terms, what
fundamentalist Americans believe, let alone understand why we should
all care.

For liberals to examine the current fundamentalist phenomenon in
America is to 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.

Having been born into a Southern Pentecostal/Baptist family of many
generations, and living in this fundamentalist social landscape means
that I gaze into the maw of neo-con Christianity daily. Hell, sometimes
hourly. My brother is a fundamentalist preacher, as are a couple of my
nephews, as were many of my ancestors going back to god-knows-when. My
entire family is born-again; their lives are completely focused inside
their own religious community, and on the time when Jesus returns to
earth -- Armageddon and The Rapture.

Only another liberal born into a fundamentalist clan can understand
what a strange, sometimes downright hellish family circumstance it is
-- how such a family can love you deeply, yet despise everything you
believe in, see you as a humanist instrument of Satan, and still be
right there for you when your back goes out or a divorce shatters your
life. As a socialist and a half-assed lefty activist, obviously I do
not find much conversational fat to chew around the Thanksgiving table.
Politically and spiritually, we may be said to be dire enemies. Love
and loathing coexist side by side. There is talk, but no communication.
In fact, there are times when it all has science fiction
overtones...times when it seems we are speaking to one another through
an unearthly veil, wherein each party knows it is speaking to an alien.
There is a sort of high eerie mental whine in the air. This is the
sound of mutually incomprehensible worlds hurtling toward destiny,
passing with great psychological friction, obvious to all, yet
acknowledged by none.

Between such times, I wait rather anxiously and strive for change, for
relief from what feels like an increased stifling of personal liberty,
beauty, art, and self-realization in America. They wait in spooky
calmness for Jesus. They believe that, until Jesus does arrive, our
"satanic humanist state and federal legal systems" should be replaced
with pure "Biblical Law." This belief is called Christian
Reconstructionism. Though it has always been around in some form, it
began expanding rapidly about 1973, with the publication of R. J.
Rushdoony's, Institutes of Biblical Law (Vallecito, CA: Ross House
Books, 1982).

Time out please... In a nod toward fairness and tolerance -- begging
the question of whether liberals are required to tolerate the
intolerant -- I will say this: Fundamentalists are "good people." In
daily life, they are warm-hearted and generous to a fault. They live
with feet on the ground (albeit with eyes cast heavenward) and with
genuine love and concern for their neighbors. After spending 30 years
in progressive western cities such as Boulder, Colorado and Eugene,
Oregon, I would have to say that conservative Christians actually do
what liberals usually only talk about. They visit the sick and the
elderly, give generously of their time and money to help those in need,
and put unimaginable amounts of love and energy into their families,
even as Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh blare in the background. Their
good works extend internationally -- were it not for American
Christians, there would be little health care on the African continent
and other similar places. OK, that's the best I can do in showing due
respect for the extreme Christian Right. Now to get back to the
Christian Reconstructionists...

Christian Reconstruction: Establishing a Savage Eden

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
influenced far more contemporary American minds than Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal and Howard Zinn combined.

A moreover covert movement, although slightly more public of late,
Christian Reconstructionism has for decades exerted one hell of an
influence through its scores of books, publications and classes taught
in colleges and universities. Over the past 30 years, Reconstructionist
doctrine has permeated not only the religious right, but mainstream
churches as well, via the charismatic movement. Its impact on politics
and religion in this nation have been massive, with many mainstream
churches pushed rightward by pervasive Reconstructionism, without even
knowing it. Clearly the Methodist church down the street from my house
does not understand what it has become. Other mainstream churches with
more progressive leadership, simply flinch and bow to the
Reconstructionists at every turn. They have to, if they want to retain
members these days. Further complicating matters is that leading
Reconstruction thinkers, along with their fellow travelers, the
Dominionists, are all but invisible to non-fundamentalist America. (I
will spare you the agony of the endless doctrinal hair-splitting that
comes with making fundamentalist distinctions of any sort -- I would
not do that to a dog. But if you are disposed toward self-punishment,
you can take it upon yourself to learn the differences between
Dominionism, Pretribulationism, Midtribulationism, and
Posttribulationism, Premillennialism, Millennialism... I recommend the
writings of the British author and scholar George Monbiot , who has put
the entire maddening scheme of it all together – corporate implications, governmental and psychological meaning -- in a couple of excellent books.)

Fundamentalists such as my family have no idea how thoroughly they have
been orchestrated by Reconstructionist driven Christian media and other
innovations of the past few decades. They probably would not care now,
even if they knew. Like most of their tribe (dare we say class, in a
nation that so vehemently denies it has a class system?) they want to
embrace some simple foundational truth that will rationalize all the
conflict and confusion of a postmodern world. Some handbook that will
neatly explain everything, make all their difficult decisions for them.
And among these classic American citizens, prone toward religious
zealotry since the Great Awakening of the 18th Century, what rock could
appear more dependable upon which to cling than the infallible Holy Bible? From there it was a short step for Christian Reconstructionist leaders to conclude that such magnificent infallibility should be enforced upon all other people, in the same spirit as the Catholic Spanish Conquistadors or the Arab Muslim Moors before them. It's an old, old story, a brutal one mankind cannot seem to shake.

Christian Reconstruction strategists make clear in their writings that
home schooling 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 Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. But how
many outsiders know the depth and specificity of Reconstructionist
political indoctrination in these schools? For example, Patrick Henry
College in Purcellville, Virginia, a college exclusively for Christian
home schoolers, 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 Reconstructionist. 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.

Lest the Christian Reconstructionists be underestimated, remember that
it was Reconstructionist strategists whose "stealth ideology" managed
the takeover of the Republican Party in the early 1990s. That takeover
now looks mild in light of today's neo-con Christian implantations in
the White House, the Pentagon and the Supreme Court and other federal
entities. As much as liberals screech in protest, few understand the
depth and breadth of the Rightist Christian takeover underway. They
catch the scent but never behold the beast itself. Yesterday I heard a
liberal Washington-based political pundit on NPR say the Radical
Christian right's local and regional political action peak was a past
fixture of the Reagan era. I laughed out loud (it was a bitter laugh)
and wondered if he had ever driven 20 miles eastward on U.S. Route 50
into the suburbs of Maryland, Virginia or West Virginia. The fellow on
NPR was a perfect example of the need for liberal pundits to get their
heads out of their asses, get outside the city, quit cruising the
Internet and meet some Americans who do not mirror their own humanist
educations and backgrounds. If they did, they would grasp the
importance The Rapture has taken on in American national and
international politics. Despite the media's shallow interpretation of
The Rapture's significance, it is a hell of a lot more than just a
couple hundred million Left Behind books sold. The most significant
thing about the Left Behind series is that, although they are
classified as "fiction," most fundamentalist readers I know accept the
series as an absolute reality soon coming to a godless planet near you.
It helps to understand that everything is literal in the Fundamentalist
voter universe.

I'll Fly Away, Oh Lordy (But you won't)

Yes, when The Rapture comes Christians with the right credentials will
fly away. But you and I, dear reader, will probably be among those who
suffer a thousand-year plague of boils. So stock up on antibiotics,
because according to the "Rapture Index" it is damned near here. See
for yourself at http://www.raptureready.com . Part gimmick, part
fanatical obsession, the index is a compilation of such things as
floods, interest rates, oil prices, global turmoil... As I write this
the index stands at 144, just one point below critical mass, when
people like us will be smitten under a sky filled with deliriously
happy naked flying Christians.

But to blow The Rapture off as amusing-if-scary fantasy is not being
honest on my part. Cheap glibness has always been my vice, so I must
say this: Personally, I've lived with The Rapture as the
psychologically imprinted backdrop of my entire life. In fact, my own
father believed in it until the day he died, and the last time I saw
him alive we talked about The Rapture. And when he asked me, "Will you
be saved?" Will you be there with me on Canaan's shore after The
Rapture?" I was forced to feign belief in it to give a dying man inner
solace. But that was the spiritual stuff of families, and living and
dying, religion in its rightful place, the way it is supposed to be,
personal and intimate -- not political. Thus, until the advent of the
Reconstructionist Christian influence, I'd certainly never heard The
Rapture spoken about in the context of a Texan being selected by God to
prepare its way.

Now however, this apocalyptic belief, yearning really, drives an
American Christian polity in the service of a grave and unnerving
agenda. The pseudo-scriptural has become an apocalyptic game plan for
earthly political action: 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 Reconstructionist 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. "He (or she) died
protecting this country's Christian values." On e hears it over and
over from parents of those killed.

The final scenario of the Rapture has the "saved" Christians settling
onto a cloud after the long float upward, from whence they watch a
Rambo Jesus wipe out the remnants of the human race. Then in a mop-up
operation by God, the Jews are also annihilated, excepting a few who
convert to Christianity. The Messiah returns to earth. End of story.
Incidentally, the Muslim version, I was surprised to learn recently, is
almost exactly the same, but with Muslims doing the cloud-sitting.

If we are lucky as a nation, this period in American history will be
remembered as just another very dark time we managed to get through.
Otherwise, one shudders to think of the logical outcome. No wonder the
left is depressed. Meanwhile, our best thinkers on the left ask us to
consider our perpetual U.S. imperial war as a fascist,
military/corporate war, and indeed it is that too. But tens of millions
of hardworking, earnest American Christians see it as far more than
that. They see a war against all that is un-Biblical, the goal of which
is complete world conquest, or put in Christian terminology,
"dominion." They will have no less than the "inevitable victory God has
promised his new chosen people," according to the Recon masters of the
covert kingdom. Screw the Jews, they blew their chance. If perpetual
war is what it will take, then let it be perpetual. After all,
perpetual war is exactly what the Bible promised. Like it or not, this
is the reality (or prevailing unreality) with which we are faced. The
2004 elections, regardless of outcome, will not change that. Nor will
it necessarily bring ever-tolerant liberals to openly acknowledge what
is truly happening in this country, the thing that has been building
for a long, long time -- a holy war, a covert Christian jihad for
control of America and the entire world. Millions of Americans are
under the spell of an extraordinarily dangerous mass psychosis.

Pardon me, but religious tolerance be damned. Somebody had to say it.

Joe Bageant is a senior editor at the Primedia History Group and writes
from Winchester, Virginia. He may be contacted at:
bageantjb@netscape.net .

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