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Earl Doherty

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Are We Facing an American Taliban? (November 28, 2004)

     Although I've been moderately familiar with Christian Reconstruction as an extreme facet of American fundamentalism for quite a few years, I was not aware that its tentacles had spread so wide and so deep as Joe Bageant reveals in "The Covert Kingdom." Its program to establish 'Biblical Law' throughout the land is only the most disturbing aspect of a plan to achieve a "Christian goal for the world," namely "the universal development of Biblical theocratic republics." But this is not some lunatic fringe with little influence on the minds and hearts of Christian believers. Rather, their ideas and strategies have penetrated the evangelical ranks to an alarming degree, focused on the coming of The Rapture, an expectation that rivals for lunacy anything that ancient or modern religion has come up with. Joe Bageant's powerfully written article will probably astonish you; and it will certainly scare you.
     History has shown that there is little to keep the fundamentalist mentality from going to the limits of extremism in seeking to apply the tenets of their sacred writings to the fullest degree, or from believing that as the exclusive holders of Truth and Righteousness, and appointees of God's will, they have a right to political control over the nationand even other nations. In the past, both Christian and non-Christian religions have pursued that goal, often successfully, through conquest or other forms of takeover. The average fundamentalist indoctrinated with those convictions might not necessarily acquiesce to the fullest (and bloodiest) application of biblical law, but it doesn't take unanimity by all followers if those wielding power are of such a mind. As many Muslim states have shown, fanaticism is capable of wreaking havoc on a society, from nations like Afghanistan where they actually gained power to those like Algeria where they have descended to terrorism in the not always successful struggle to achieve it.
     Fear-mongering? It can't happen in America? Perhaps not. Let us hope that American democratic traditions are strong enough, that the rational element of American society is sufficiently influential to prevent it from happening. But the evangelical movement in the U.S. has been steadily expanding in the last quarter century. Where is its limit? There is no indication that it has reached that point yet. As control of education, governmental affairs, political and judicial offices increases, as more and more of the younger generation are raised and indoctrinated in the evangelical mindset, why should the process not be open-ended? No organized counter-swell of opposition has yet taken place. As I suggested in the current (Age of Reason) Reader Feedback, "The nation's scientists, philosophers and general intelligentsia need to speak out against the evangelical threat (and to get the media on their side), and they probably need to organize. To date, too many of them have simply buried their heads in the sand and hoped that it would all go away...."
     By way of analogy, it might be said that it is like a similarly ominous situation we face in medicine. Over the last 50 years, rationality and science, including historical and biblical research, has acted like an antibiotic upon mainstream religion to reduce traditional beliefs and superstitions, and the literal reliance on the bible as an historical and revelatory guide. The main consequence has been a dramatic decline in the power and following of the established churches. But like an antibioticand evolution in generalthe elimination or reduction of a large swath of a population in the environment creates the opportunity for others to move in, namely the strains that are resistant to the 'medication'. The latter are enabled to expand unchecked and to mutate into ever more resistant and virulent forms. This is precisely what has happened on the religious scene in the U.S., to the point that the expanding evangelical and fundamentalist life form is threatening to overwhelm the body.
     An American Taliban in another generation?
     Even if the Christian Reconstructionists (who have almost become synonymous with fundamentalists in general) cannot ultimately achieve their grandiose aims, the process of attempting to do so could spell great tribulation for American society, to borrow one of their favorite apocalyptic terms. Of course, when God and Truth are on your side, you don't care. One of their recent moves is to limit the availability of abortion by ensuring that hospitals are not obliged to provide this legal service. Religious-run hospitals are already so disposed, but insinuation by fundamentalists onto the boards of others could soon make abortion difficult if not impossible to obtain in many localities; harassment and the threat of violence against abortion doctors has also had a drastic effect. The damage to science education by the creationist campaign against evolution is mind-boggling. Threats to the American Constitution, to the separation of church and state, are real. The loss of basic freedoms and the reversal of progress in human rights are impending. And so on. When you can't impose something by direct legislation (though they will try), there are other ways to accomplish the same practical result. Tenacity is the hallmark of fanaticism, and it is difficult to understand, let alone be countered, by those who don't share that mindset. When you enjoy infallibility with God behind you, propositions and aims that appear lunatic to the rational mind are held with perfect credence and confidence in their achievability.
     When I was a newly-minted atheist some 40 years ago, I was convinced that by the end of the century, religion as a force in our society and as an enslaver of the mind would largely have died out. Never would I have thought we would be facing the situation we do today, with every promise of it growing worse. Ironically, if I had been living in western Europe, my confident expectations would largely have come to pass. The further irony is that if the forces of religious regression are successful in North America, they will take their boundless energies to that European scene, as they have done in many parts of the third world and in a de-communized eastern Europe. I won't see the end of the struggle in my lifetime, but I refuse to believe that the evolution of the human mind has brought us this far from the primitive to the enlightened, only to spill us back into the swamp of ignorance and irrationality we have struggled so mightily to emerge from. But there are no guarantees. As I suggested in the reader feedback, evolution is impersonal, uncaring and undirected, lacking any innate concept of enlightenment or progress. It is up to us, as the products of evolution, to keep an eye on the potential it has given us, and to ensure that our newly developed concepts of rationality and scientific investigation are kept alive and nurtured to maturity. But like everything else in this world-on-its-own, we have to work at it. I'd like to think we are still capable of making evolution proud.

Earl Doherty

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