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And they shall be given Dominion over us all...
(June 29, 2005)

Since the reelection of George W. Bush in November, the rhetoric on the Christian right has grown triumphal and proud; rumors of spiritual war are abroad in the heartland, and fervent whispers of revolution echo among the pews and folding chairs of the nation's megachurches.

     It is becoming increasingly hard not to think that America has given rise to a generation of madmen (and women). Not only mad, but extremely dangerous. In the May issue of Harper's magazine, now available online, two articles appeared under the heading "Soldiers of Christ." I would like to focus on the second, "Feeling the Hate with the National Religious Broadcasters." It opens with the above statement. I urge everyone to read this article in its entirety at the Harper's site, along with its companion piece. For review purposes, I will offer a few excerpts here (indented text) with comments of my own along the way.
     The author, Chris Hedges, attended a recent annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) Association in Anaheim, California, which brought together 1,600 Christian radio and television broadcasters with a declared audience of up to 141 million listeners and viewers. What Hedges saw prominently on display at this convention was the Dominionist Christian movement.
Dominionists share the belief that America is destined to become a Christian nation, ruled by Christian men acting under the direction of God. As Hedges describes it:

... leaves little doubt that the convention is meant to serve as a rallying cry for a new and particularly militant movement in Christian politics, one that is sometimes mistaken for another outbreak of mere revivalism. In fact, this movement is a curious hybrid of fundamentalists, Pentecostals, Southern Baptists, conservative Catholics, Charismatics, and other evangelicals, all of whom are at war doctrinally but who nonetheless share a belief that America is destined to become a Christian nation, led by Christian men who are in turn directed by God. For someone like me, who grew up in the church and was keenly aware of the rigid lines imposed by warring sects and denominations, the new alliances are startling. I notice uniformed officers from the Salvation Army at the convention, something that would have been unthinkable in the past. Lately, the leaders of the movement have even begun to reach out to the Mormons.

What the disparate sects of this movement, known as Dominionism, share is an obsession with political power. A decades-long refusal to engage in politics at all following the Scopes trial has been replaced by a call for Christian “dominion” over the nation and, eventually, over the earth itself. Dominionists preach that Jesus has called them to build the kingdom of God in the here and now, whereas previously it was thought that we would have to wait for it. America becomes, in this militant biblicism, an agent of God, and all political and intellectual opponents of America’s Christian leaders are viewed, quite simply, as agents of Satan. Under Christian dominion, America will no longer be a sinful and fallen nation but one in which the Ten Commandments form the basis of our legal system, Creationism and “Christian values” form the basis of our educational system, and the media and the government proclaim the Good News to one and all. Aside from its proselytizing mandate, the federal government will be reduced to the protection of property rights and “homeland” security. Some Dominionists (not all of whom accept the label, at least not publicly) would further require all citizens to pay “tithes” to church organizations empowered by the government to run our social-welfare agencies, and a number of influential figures advocate the death penalty for a host of “moral crimes,” including apostasy, blasphemy, sodomy, and witchcraft. The only legitimate voices in this state will be Christian. All others will be silenced.

     Clearly, love, tolerance and democratic values have no place in the Dominionists' view of the new America they are striving to bring about. The traditional moral associations attached to the term "Christian," which adherents to the faith have always claimed for it, have evaporated into a never-never land, like the mythology they are based on. This should not be surprising. As an institution, religion has usually been intolerant and aggressive, since its primary drive is to convert the non-believer, and if that is not possible, to suppress him. If it is said that misery loves company, it is also true that faith craves corroboration, and what better way to get it than to persuade or compel others to think as you do. It is also said that power corrupts, and the Dominionists are already showing the corruption that would become institutionalized if they were to gain power. Their minds are as totalitarian as any of the "atheist" states of the 20th century (such as Stalinist communism) that religionists so love to condemn as evil in their godlessness. It is true, of course, that such evil did not enjoy the advantage of divine sanction. The Dominionists, on the other hand, have Jesus standing behind them, righteous weapons at the ready. In the convention's opening session, Hedges describes the speech of an Illinois evangelist and broadcaster, James MacDonald:

MacDonald quotes liberally from the Book of Revelation, the only place in the New Testament where Jesus (arguably) endorses violence and calls for vengeance against nonbelievers. It is, along with the apocalyptic visions of St. Paul, the movement’s go-to text. Rarely mentioned these days is the Jesus of the four Gospels, the Jesus who speaks of the poor and the marginalized, who taught followers to turn the other cheek and love their enemies, the Jesus who rejected the mantle of secular power.

“His eyes are like a flame of fire,” MacDonald tells us. “Out of his mouth goes a sharp sword, and with it he can strike the nations. He treads the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of the Almighty God, and on his robe and on his thigh a name is written, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus commands all men everywhere to come to the knowledge of Him.”

He reminds us, quoting theologian Peter Berger, that “ages of faith are not marked by dialogue but by proclamation” and that “there is power in the unapologetic proclamation of truth. There is power in it. This is a kingdom of power.” When he says the word “power,” he draws it out for emphasis. He tells the crowd to shun the “persuasive words of human wisdom.” Truth, he says, does “not rest in the wisdom of men but the power of God.” Then, in a lisping, limp-wristed imitation of liberals, he mocks, to laughter and applause, those who want to “share” and be sensitive to the needs of others.

      The Book of Revelation has always been a great inspiration to those who view the world as a vast theater of warfare between good and eviltheir good and others' evil. It is hard to regard this New Testament horror as anything other than a paroxysm of hate created by a mind bordering on the psychotic (as I have described Revelation elsewhere), with its Jesus and his various heavenly manifestations adopting much the same character. With God himself behaving in such a fashion, free reign is given to follow in his footsteps and conduct oneself accordingly in the great struggle to impose good over evil; and to anticipateeven encouragethe apocalyptic mayhem that is going to attend this ultimate imposition. The desire to create a Christian nation imposing its will on the world is simply a prelude. In the mythology of modern Dominionists, the world is not going to settle down to a peacefulif repressivesociety living a Christ-like life and attending to the constant worship of God. Rather, it will make possible the arrival of the End-time, and that's going to be anything but peaceful. Until the world is transformed by God into a divine Kingdom, there will always be enemies (the main nutrient of the fundamentalist diet), and in this final period of the earth, they will be apocalyptic ones.
     For now, however, the great enemy is "secular humanism" which wants to destroy the values and faith of "Bible-believing Christians."

“Deep in the nation’s capital,” a baritone voice booms as the camera pans across the Washington mall, “America’s culture was hijacked by a secular movement determined to redefine society from religious freedom to the right to life. These radicals were doing their best to destroy two centuries of traditional values, and no one seemed to be able to stop them—until now.

“Will Congress undo 200 years of tradition?” the video asks ominously. “Not on our watch.”

The mood of the convention is set. All Christians, everywhere, are under attack. Perkins, dressed in a dark suit and white shirt, climbs the stairs onto the stage. He promises to halt “the cultural decline” and to end “misguided” judicial decisions. Before long, Frank Wright, the new president of NRB, takes the stage. Wright, who has white hair and a cold demeanor, lauds the recent transformation in Washington and says that 130 members of the House of Representatives are now “born-again.” He tells a story about a late-night private tour of the Capitol in which he and a group of other pastors stopped and prayed over Hillary Clinton’s Senate floor desk. The crowd roars its approval.

“Today, the calls for diversity and multiculturalism are nothing more than thinly veiled attacks on anyone willing, desirous, or compelled to proclaim Christian truths,” he says. “Today, calls for tolerance are often a subterfuge, because they will tolerate just about anything except Christian truth. Today, we live in a time when the message entrusted to you is more important than ever before to reach a world desperate to know Christ...”

     When you are driven, as the religious psyche always seems to be, to proselytize and impose your vision of the truth, when you are convinced that the world needs and craves that truth, you become a force that is single-minded, tenacious and utterly impervious to reason. Nothing, as history and modern experience both have demonstrated, is so dangerous. When it is accompanied by a paranoia that sees resistance to this dangerthe unwillingness by others to embrace something they regard as simple lunacyas an "attack" directly on oneself, all the ingredients are present for a major social upheaval.
      Dominionist leaders recognize the threat that tolerance presents to their campaign of righteousness:

Wright promises the audience that as the new president of NRB he will fight to block the passage of hate-crime legislation, something many Christian broadcasters fear might be used to halt their attacks on gays and lesbians.

“For the first time in history, representatives and senators may pass hate-crime legislation,” he says, “which is one step to oppose what you do as against the law.

“If we had to give equal time to every opposing viewpoint, there would be no time to proclaim the truth that we have been commanded to proclaim,” he says. “We will fight the Fairness Doctrine, tooth and nail. It could be the end of Christian broadcasting as we know it if we do not.”

      Atheists and secular humanists are often asked why they work so hard to oppose fundamentalist religion, why they can't just leave it alone and let it co-exist in a pluralistic society. Why be confrontational? Live and let live. Well, the obvious answer is that the "other side" refuses to do the same. They are bent on destroying democracy, gutting human rights and freedom of speech, imposing their convictions on everyone, and if more rational people don't take a stand, they might just get away with it. They have created demented lives for themselves andeven more tragicallyfor their children, and they seek to drag the rest of us into their asylum. At the very least, their struggle to do so promises to rake an entire nationand beyondover the coals.
     It is not just the secular humanists who are the enemy. Fellow Christians who do not agree with their agenda are also dismissed:

The traditional evangelicals, those who come out of Billy Graham’s mold, are not necessarily comfortable with the direction taken by the Dominionists, who now control most of America’s major evangelical organizations, from the NRB to the Southern Baptist Convention, and may already claim dominion over the Christian media outlets. But Christians who challenge Dominionists, even if they are fundamentalist or conservative or born-again, tend to be ruthlessly thrust aside.

     There are those, even at the Anaheim convention, who disagree with the excesses of the Dominionists. Hedges tells of one evangelical preacher associated with Billy Graham whose "focus is on personal salvation, not the achievement of political power....He bristles at the coarseness of calls for absolute power by Christian leaders and at the anti-intellectualism that characterizes the new movement....The use of abortion and gay marriage as rallying points worries him." This preacher claims that "the great thing Billy Graham did was to bring intellectualism back to fundamentalism." This may seem like an oxymoron, and is not something I would agree with, but I suppose all things are relative. Compared to Billy Graham, the rabidly anti-intellectual, anti-tolerance, anti-human rights, anti-democratic trend in American evangelical fundamentalism is an aggressive and spreading cancer intent on destruction, and neither moderate nor radical antibiotics seem able to arrest the epidemic.
     The repercussions of the disease are not being felt only in the United States, nor are the symptoms entirely related to domestic policy.  At a breakfast in the convention ballroom, Hedges recounts the unfolding of a bizarre scenario:

On the platform is a huge picture of the Dome of the Rock, the spot in Jerusalem where the third Temple will be rebuilt to herald, at least according to the Christians in the room, the second coming of Christ. Some 400,000 Christian tourists visit Israel each year, and, what with the precipitous decline in Israel’s tourism industry in recent years, these people have become a valued source of revenue.

The strange alliance in this case is premised upon the Dominionist belief that Israel must rule the biblical land in order for Christ to return, though when he does, all Jews who do not convert to Christianity supposedly will be incinerated as the believers are lifted into heaven; all this is courteously left unmentioned at the breakfast. The featured speakers include Avraham Hirschsohn, who is the new Israeli minister of tourism, and Michael Medved, a cultural conservative and a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host. Medved is also one of the most prominent Jewish defenders of Mel Gibson’s biopic The Passion of the Christ.

Hirschsohn praises the audience for standing “with us for the last four years when nobody else would. Thank you.” He then announces, to grateful applause, that the tourism ministry plans to build a “Pilgrim Center” near Galilee.

“A more Christian America is good for the Jews,” Medved says. “This is obvious. Take a look at this support for Israel. A more Christian America is good for America, something Jewish people need to be more cognizant about and acknowledge. A more Jewish community is good for the Christians, not just because of the existence of allies but because a more Jewish community is less seduced by secularism.”

....The Christian writer Kay Arthur, who can barely contain her tears when speaking of Israel, professes that although she loves America, if she had to choose between America and Israel, “I would stand with Israel, stand with Israel as a daughter of the King of Kings, stand according to the word of God.” She goes on to quote at length from Revelation, speaking of Jesus seated on a throne floating about Jerusalem as believers are raptured up toward him in the sky.

     One can hardly blame the Israelis for taking "allies" where they can find them, but I doubt that they are taken in by this evangelical friendship. To what extent is U.S. policy toward Israel being influenced by the Armageddon oriented expectations of the religious right? Is such a basis a sane one to be governing foreign policy, even in part? There can be no doubt that George W. Bush and many of those who surround him share in some measure in these apocalyptic fantasies. In light of the now-obvious fudging of the justification prior to going into Iraq, can we rule out that such fantasies may have played a role in the White House's decision? When the man with his finger on the nuclear button also believes that God himself is due to rain fire on the earth, might there be a chance that he will confuse the two in his mind? In fact, it is unclear how the Bush avowed aim of establishing a democrat future for the Middle East can be compatible with his own fundamentalist expectations, let alone the aims of Dominionists, who are anything but champions of democracy. These are things that should give us all nightmares.
     Toward the end of his article, Hedges highlights an appearance at the convention by James Dobson, the founder and chairman of Focus on the Family:

Dobson is perhaps the most powerful figure in the Dominionist movement. He was instrumental three years ago in purging the moderate chairman of the NRB from his post and speaks frequently with the White House. He was a crucial player in getting out the Christian vote for George W. Bush. Dobson says he was born again at the age of three during a church service conducted by his father, a Nazarene minister. He attended Pasadena College and received a Ph.D. in child development from the University of Southern California. While teaching at USC, he wrote his book Dare to Discipline, which encourages parents to spank their children with “sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely.” (The book has sold more than 3.5 million copies since its release in 1970.) Dobson now works out of an eighty-one-acre campus in Colorado Springs that has its own zip code. He employs 1,300 people, sends out 4 million pieces of mail each month, and is heard on radio broadcasts in ninety-nine countries. His estimated listening audience is more than 200 million worldwide; in the United States alone, he appears on 100 television stations each day. He calls for a constitutional amendment to permit prayer in the public schools. He sponsors a group called “Love Won Out,” which holds monthly conferences around the country for those “suffering” from same-sex attraction. He likens the proponents of gay marriage to the Nazis, has backed political candidates who called for the execution of abortion providers, defines embryonic stem-cell research as “state-funded cannibalism,” and urges Christian parents to pull their children out of public-school systems. He has issued warnings to the Bush Administration that his extremist agenda must begin to be implemented in Washington and by the federal courts if the Republican Party wants his continued support. Dobson apparently believes that he is without sin.

     Is it really possible that rationally-challenged people like James Dobson could gain power? Is the American intellectual fabric that fragile, does the Constitution sit so uneasily on its hallowed pedestal, could blasé liberals find it so incredible, that when their backs are turned the unthinkable happens? Recent history contains more than one example of that very thing happening to a nation, to catastrophic effect; and like one of those recent examples, it is democracy that will put them thereto be immediately set aside. When one considers that such people are already ensconced in the administration, are a sizeable presence in Congress, are threatening to tip the Supreme Court their way, and that a majority of the American populace leans toward fundamentalist views of the world, a new horizon may be closer than we think.
     Hedges' conclusion is chilling:

I can’t help but recall the words of my ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School, Dr. James Luther Adams, who told us that when we were his age, and he was then close to eighty, we would all be fighting the “Christian fascists.”

He gave us that warning twenty-five years ago, when Pat Robertson and other prominent evangelists began speaking of a new political religion that would direct its efforts at taking control of all major American institutions, including mainstream denominations and the government, so as to transform the United States into a global Christian empire. At the time, it was hard to take such fantastic rhetoric seriously. But fascism, Adams warned, would not return wearing swastikas and brown shirts. Its ideological inheritors would cloak themselves in the language of the Bible; they would come carrying crosses and chanting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Adams had watched American intellectuals and industrialists flirt with fascism in the 1930s. Mussolini’s “Corporatism,” which created an unchecked industrial and business aristocracy, had appealed to many at the time as an effective counterweight to the New Deal. In 1934, Fortune magazine lavished praise on the Italian dictator for his defanging of labor unions and his empowerment of industrialists at the expense of workers. Then as now, Adams said, too many liberals failed to understand the power and allure of evil, and when the radical Christians came, these people would undoubtedly play by the old, polite rules of democracy long after those in power had begun to dismantle the democratic state. Adams had watched German academics fall silent or conform. He knew how desperately people want to believe the comfortable lies told by totalitarian movements, how easily those lies lull moderates into passivity.

Adams told us to watch closely the Christian right’s persecution of homosexuals and lesbians. Hitler, he reminded us, promised to restore moral values not long after he took power in 1933, then imposed a ban on all homosexual and lesbian organizations and publications. Then came raids on the places where homosexuals gathered, culminating on May 6, 1933, with the ransacking of the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin. Twelve thousand volumes from the institute’s library were tossed into a public bonfire. Homosexuals and lesbians, Adams said, would be the first “deviants” singled out by the Christian right. We would be the next.

As the man once said: "Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it."

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