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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 Reconstructionists-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 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 Reconstructionist 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 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 neocon 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
psuedo-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.” One hears it over and over from parents of
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 email@example.com.