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Earl Doherty

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Invasion of the Mind Snatchers: What is Happening to America? (November 16, 2004)

     In a special feature just before midnight on November 14, CNN looked at the evangelical movement in America leading up to the re-election of George W. Bush. Much was said about the influence this group (numbering anywhere from 33 to 40% of eligible U.S. voters, according to surveys) had on the election and about the "values" it promotes, not only within its own community but as measures it seeks to impose on the nation as a whole through political channels. I don't need to enumerate those "values" here. But what struck me most in this CNN Special was the impression so starkly conveyed about the evangelical mentality, both of its leaders and of its followers. Its main feature is Absolute Certainty, Certainty about its proclaimed Truth, about "moral absolutes," about the inerrancy of the Bible as the word of God, about the nature and role of Jesus Christ. A Southern Baptist spokesman, when asked by an interviewer if the only way to heaven for any human being was through Jesus Christ, replied with Absolute Certainty. He quoted the Gospel of John: "Jesus said: 'I am THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life' " (his emphasis). Never mind that most critical New Testament scholars regard virtually all of the Gospel of John's sayings as inauthentic, the product of a later community and later time. An inerrant bible tied to a complete ignorance (or rejection) of mainstream biblical scholarship has given this man, and millions of others like him, a measuring rod by which to pronounce upon the most profound workings of the universe and humanity. (An essential element of those workings was declared to be Satan and his demonic forces.) Armed with Absolute Truth and Certainty, he and his fellow evangelicals are working tirelessly and uncompromisingly to transform the country into a reflection of those convictions. They have now reached a number and an influence which are threatening to put that goal within reach.

     One of the issues raised on the program was that of divisiveness. There a deep polarization within society as a whole, with one side viewing the other as immoral and in league with the forces of evil (not to mention doomed to damnation), while the other side sees its opposite as sliding ever deeper into ignorance and fanaticism, an alarming threat to basic rights. But there is also a growing divisiveness within the religious community itself. Someone on the program noted that "the stronger one's beliefs and the greater the importance one attaches to them, the harder one will fight for them."  And the more difficult it is to achieve compromise and tolerance. One interviewee who belonged to a mainstream religious denomination lamented the politicization of "the gospel of Jesus Christ" and the aims of the evangelical community, but she herself voiced a wrenching concern over her own church's consecration of an openly gay bishop, something she felt would force her (and others like her) to break away from that church. As the nation's religious population increasingly fragments, the largest and most conservative group, united in its radical reactionary and dogmatic stance, is gaining the upper hand and the loudest voice.

     The Absolute Certainty with which this voice proclaims its beliefs and goals is now the prerogative even of children. In CNN's focus on evangelical communities and the families that comprise them, a few home scenes were featured. In one, a girl of perhaps eight or nine, looking solemnly at the interviewer and the camera, declared that she knew one thing for sure, that "Jesus had died for me" and that this was all she really needed to know. One can only shudder at what else must have been delivered along with this, the degree of indoctrination to which her family and community had subjected this young and impressionable mind. How did she look at the world around her, at a multi-cultural and multi-faith (including lack of faith) society? What sort of future did she envision for herself, and how was she being equipped to prepare for and construct that future? What skills of logic, common sense, judgment and critical thinking were being overlooked or deliberately excluded in her education, not to mention a proper scientific and psychological understanding of the world and the human condition? What burden of guilt was she taking upon her shoulders at the thought of Jesus' death "for me" and the obsession with "sin" that is the hallmark of the evangelical religious mentality? What bigotry and intolerance was seeping into that mind toward those who do not share her beliefs and certainty? There are all sorts of abuses that are inflicted upon the bodies and minds of children, but the worst and most destructive is surely the imposition of irrational and unquestioning faith in the supernatural, and a mythology fixated on the forces of evil and the division of one's fellow human beings into the saved and the damned.

     This was brought home in an interview with the girl's mother (one presumes it was the mother of the same family). This mother made an astounding statement. She is part of a community that believes in the Rapture (the 'taking up' of the faithful bodily into heaven) and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, both expected soon. But she, the mother of several children, voiced the opinionand it was an emotional onethat "in view of all that I see around me" she would not mind, indeed she would welcome, the arrival of Jesus this very day. The classic ambition of the good parent is to encourage and provide for a full and rewarding life for one's children, and yet this parent was willing to see all of that foregone, willing to have those lives and its world brought to an immediate end, for the sake of a deluded fantasy. When the mind of a parent (likely both parents) is so distorted, so perverted from reality, what hope is there for a healthy maturation of the child? What hope for a "full and rewarding life"?

     And what is this "all that I see around me" that would lead a parent to yearn for the destruction of the world as we know it? In prosperous America, no less? Where life is a boon compared to much of the second and third world? An America—for the most part, and certainly within the evangelical community—of opportunity, wealth, culture and good living, unprecedented scientific and technological achievement, music, literature and entertainment, love and family, fine homes and food in the kitchen, unlimited scope for knowledge, discovery, invention and the improvement of the human condition. (Ironically, much of the third world's situation has been worsened by the American government's cutting off of aid funds to countries and organizations therein that promote women's and societal health by providing contraceptive resources and counselling that includes the option of abortion.) What, in the face of all that, has so warped this parent's brain to make her view society and her own children as a candidate for termination, regardless of what alternative one might believe awaited them afterward?

     What else but the distortion of reality which religion, and especially the evangelical brand of religion, has visited upon the minds of believers? What else but the obsessive imaginings of sin and evil they see around them, threatening to overtake even themselves through their own weak and inherently sinful natures? Evangelical preachers have made a tidy career out of instilling that obsession and outlook on the world into those who sit in pews and listen to them week in and week out, who indoctrinate their children in turn with a bleak and twisted view of reality from their earliest emergence into awareness. What better reason to relegate for destruction a world you are convinced is populated by evil spirits, controlled by an arch-devil Satan whose supernatural energies are devoted to dragging you and yours to eternal damnation and horrific punishment? What of those non-believers (infidels, heretics or atheists) already under the control of such demonic forces: would it not be best if they were eliminated and the world they have adulterated destroyed? With what strange reasoning has that parent infected her daughter, to supply a meaning for Jesus' death and his imminent return?

      The obsession of the evangelical community over "values" is never centered on the true evils of the world: poverty, overpopulation, crime and cruelty, war and persecution, the ruination of the planet through environmental poisoning and the indiscriminate rape of the world's resources. No, it is centered on "moral" issues, on the general fear of sex, on the abhorence for the idea of same-sex orientation as a natural part of human nature and for its impending legitimization, on the recourse to abortion which women always and everywhere have indulged in for as long as human society has existed. What genuine threat do any of these pose to the lives of those so vehemently opposed to them, in contrast to the true 'evils' listed above? Rather, the role they play is psychological. The mind that believes in sin and evil forces needs a personification of that sin and evil. Gays and lesbians, pro-choicers, those who indulge in pre- or extra-marital sex, supply handy targets. They exist at the mundane and immediate level in society; they are supposedly amenable to correction or suppression. For many, they represent the demons that haunt their own minds while they struggle to purify and gain salvation for their own souls and the souls of their loved ones. (One might also point out that such views held against others help foster a sense of superiority and elitism, which has always been one of the chief appeals of religion, whether at the national or cult level.)  In addition, they are fodder for the priests and preachers who need something to rail against, to capture the minds of their audience, something simple and close to home. "Moral values," along with a vast array of mythology and superstition, are needed to keep the fear and fantasy going. In the evangelical industry and mindset, they are indispensable for a continuation of the system.

     As I watched the CNN Special, with its scenes of dutiful ranks of believers filing into their seats in affluent churches, to listen, rapt and responsive, to their evangelists, I formed a disturbing image. Recently, I saw a Public Broadcasting presentation of the two versions (1956 and 1977) of the science-fiction classic, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." An alien life-form was taking over the world, seeded from space, growing in the form of pods that became exact replicas of the humans around them. Upon maturation, each pod extracted the life force and memories from the human it was replacing, while the original body disintegrated. The resultant beings were a kind of automaton, uniform, docile, emotionless, secure in their heaven-sent origin and superiority. The dwindling humans who fought a losing battle against them resisted succumbing to such a "life" as was urged upon them by those already converted into the pod replicas. Evangelicals may feel and show more emotion than the film's new humanity, but their minds have been no less seized and converted to mush. And they are no less a threat to the health and survival of the old race, one that felt secure in having passed through the Enlightenment, achieving considerable social and scientific progress, including the recovery of its million-year-old memories. That security may have been an illusion.

Earl Doherty

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