John A. Morris (johnmorris) Tue 29 Aug 06 21:42
Which they are currently doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. W backed off on calling it a crusade but that's what he really meant. It might be more difficult making the transition to doing it at home to people like us but that doesn't mean its not a goal. I have a hard time separating teh christian theme of the Republican party from the pugnacious foreign policy toward the 'axis of others'.
Cupido, Ergo Denego (robertflink) Wed 30 Aug 06 04:31
>Christians have a long history of massacre, genocide, and general unpleasantness.< It may have just a tiny bit to do with the species involved. From some of the earlier posts, one would think that Christians invented that historic, durable, ubiquitous human vice/virtue: hypocrisy.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 30 Aug 06 04:45
Well, the reason for Michelle's book and for this topic is that this particular group of devinely inspired hypocrites have at least partially taken control of the U.S. government and have designs on the rest of it. Yes, similar criticisms could be made of other groups of fanatics who think or thought God or History or some other force is on their side, but that simply underlines the dangers of fanaticism. Speaking as an old hippy, I will say that whatever their other flaws, hippies do not have a long history of massacre, genocide, and general unpleasantness. Unless you count their fashion sense among the last categry, or so my daughter would chime in if she were awake. I will say that for me one of the most refreshing things about Michelle's book was its straightforward sense that Christian nationalists are *the enemey.* And yup, I've had many nice experiences over the years with sincere non-theocratic Christians, but that doesn't change that fact one bit. These folks really are the modern descendants of the Christians who kept the western world convulsed with war and slaughter for a milennia. Other Christians are simply people who believe a crock of shit, but I would say no different about members of any other religious group. If there is a God or an animating spirit to the universe, and as an old hippy I of course think there probably is, I doubt if She would have made herself in any image that would make much sense to humans. Unless it's Ganesh. A God with an elephant's head might have appealed to Her sense of humor ("haha, let's see what I can get these people to worship!").
Gerald Feeney (gerry) Wed 30 Aug 06 07:31
<scribbled by gerry Wed 30 Aug 06 07:33>
Authentic Frontier Gibberish (gerry) Wed 30 Aug 06 07:33
> ... Christian nationalists are *the enemey.* I've thought about this for a while, and it occurs to me that a better, more descriptive label is needed. I mean, in the case of the USA, I understand the group of people being described, and I agree thatthey are the enemy, i.e., enemy of freedom and democracy. If they hadtheir way, ours would be a fundamentalist theocracy not too muchunlike that of Iran. There was a discussion here a while back with Ramón Sender Barayón (who happens to be <rabar> on The WELL) about his book, _A Death in Zamora_ (see <inkwell.vue.210>). The book chronicles Sender's journey of discovery regarding the murder of his mother by Franco's fascists in Spain. Before reading the book, I had only a vague awareness of that chapter of Spain's history, perhaps because it was largely eclipsed by that of Nazi Germany. But in the case of Franco's Spain, it was a very religious movement, and the Church was definitely complicit, much more so than with Germany, IMO. On the other hand, there are others in the world who could be called Christian nationalists who are nothing like that. I'm thinking of Christian nations, such as Denmark, where there's no hint of the sort religious fascism that sullied Spain. There are Christian Democratic political parties in various nations that, while perhaps somewhat right of center on some areas, are advocates for labor, social justice, and other causes that would be regarded as fiercely leftist here in the USA. Even in this country, there are nationalists who are Christian and who want no part of the group Michelle Goldberg calls Christian nationalists. See, for example, http://www.christiandemocrats.org/ > Other Christians are simply people who believe a crock of shit... With all due respect, Mark, I think that is simply a gross oversimplification. But I understand what you're saying.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 30 Aug 06 07:38
Well, I'm using "Christian nationalists" in the specific sense Michelle uses it in her book. She had a problem in figuring out how to describe the phenomenon because these groups actually call themselves a variety of different things (for example Restorationists) and she needed a catch all terms for people who favored a theocratic Christian government in America. So I'm not over-simplifying, I'm just using the term specifically as Michelle uses it, not to refer to all Christians who happen to also be, in some sense, nationalists.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 30 Aug 06 09:25
And oh, right, re: the "crock of shit" comment, sorry. "People who believe in comforting and/or scary fairy tales" might have been more polite. I'm sorry, but I'm a post-Enlightenment guy, and that's the way I see it. I actually do have a spiritual outlook on life, but I think of all religions as concretized dross -- the residue left behind when the insight leaves.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 30 Aug 06 09:32
But enough about me, even though it's one of my favorite subjects. Michelle, I know that in coming up with the term "Christian nationalists" you were looking for a way to define these groups in terms of their aims rather than getting drawn into the sometimes baffling divisions and sub-divisions among right-wing Christians. I will freely admit that if you asked me to tell you the different between a "funadementalist" and an "evangelical" I would start looking very uneasy. Do you think it's worth learning the fine distinctions between the various right-wing sects, and if so can you recommend any books or resources that would help people figure it all out?
Public persona (jmcarlin) Wed 30 Aug 06 10:02
> I > think of all religions as concretized dross -- the residue left behind > when the insight leaves. The ones that aren't that way typically don't make the news. > different between a "funadementalist" and an "evangelical" There are people, albeit not the majority, that could be called the 'evangelical left', http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelical_left I'm curious how such people fit in, if they do, to the groups we've been discussing.
Authentic Frontier Gibberish (gerry) Wed 30 Aug 06 11:30
> 'evangelical left' Former President Jimmy Carter might fall under that category. I sai "might" because some separate "born-again" from "evangelical," while others lump them together.
Michelle Goldberg (goldberg) Wed 30 Aug 06 12:15
Wow, it's getting hard to keep up with this discussion -- luckily I'll be staying in one place for the next week and should be online a lot more. A couple responses: First, I really don't expect a theocratic fascist state like Gilead to emerge anytime soon, and I think widespread Christian nationalist violence is pretty unlikely unless there's some wider breakdown in the social order triggered by a terrorist attack of similar catastrophe. What I tried to describe in the book is something more subtle and insidious -- a slow process by which reality and rationality are replaced by a version of revelation and in government decision -making, and an increasingly bellicose, state-subsidized Christian supremacism in public life. It's been a challenge to try and bring attention to trends I consider alarming without being alarmist. We now live in a country where, thanks to the faith-based initiative, some taxpayer-funded jobs explicitly refuse to hire non-Christians. Pro-life groups get grants to teach abstinence classes in public schools, where they tell students that sex with a condemn is as dangerous as Russian roulette. Right-wing Christian radio hosts are appointed to American delegations to UN conferences, where they team up with Iranian and Saudi delegates to block agreements on women's rights. Aggressive evangelical proselytizing of subordinates is tolerated in the military. Does this mean America is a theocracy? No -- most people are living their lives as they normally do, and the Christian right is still far from hegemonic. But it does have much more power than I think we should be comfortable with. Btw, I just returned from Cincinnati, and outside the city I visited a huge, state-of-the art creation museum that's set to open next year. It has a planetarium, where visitors can learn how starlight makes it to the earth in 6000 years, because that's the age of the universe. Most of the place was under construction an doff limits, but I did see a pretty impressive animatronic display of dinosaurs and people living together in some kind of rainforest, replete with real turtles swimming in a pond. It struck me that in the past, I'd only ever seen museums of untrue things in authoritarian countries (and even then, they were more grounded in reality than this was). Pretty soon, I suspect, when public schools try to take kids to the real science museum, irate fundamentalists will demand a visit to Answers in Genesis for "balance." Again, this doesn't auger theocracy, but it does represent a real challenge to any kind of agreed-upon notion of reality, and without that, social cohesion isn't easy. As to the question of whether there are important distinctions between fundamentalists, evangelicals and others, there certainly are. One can be an evangelical -- see Jimmy Carter or Jim Wallis --without being a fundamentalist. Actually, Randall Balmer, an evangelical professor at Columbia, has a new book out attacking the religious right from both a political and a theological perspective. It's called "Thy Kingdom Come." If you're interested in some of the political implications of different kinds of Christianity, it's worth reading Gary Willis's book "Under God."
uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Wed 30 Aug 06 13:32
"it does represent a real challenge to any kind of agreed-upon notion of reality, and without that, social cohesion isn't easy." Word.
you had it, you blew it, move over (smendler) Wed 30 Aug 06 13:37
I was thinking about this topic on the drive home today - it occurred to me that 'theocracy' is code for 'anarchy for believers, fascism for everybody else' - after all, if you're a believer, God *already* tells you what to do. So the only people who need governing are the godless heathens....
pardon my amygdala (murffy) Wed 30 Aug 06 19:37
I guess my question is what is a non-dogmatic liberal supposed to do. Intellectual trench warfare of various guises seems, increasingly to me, an ineffectual approach. I've seen wonderfully creative efforts here on the Well to get dogmatists to stand back and take a more critical view of things. There's rarely a noticeable impact. Torch-bearing conviction quickly squelches any skeptical thoughts. Not that we should stop trying. I continue to put in my two-cents worth here and there. But it may be we're dealing with processes that are largely inscrutable for us at the moment. If one of the factors that has led to the rise of the Christian right is the way our urban landscapes have evolved over the last 50 years, then what other environmental factors are in play? Or what neurological and biological factors? These things really aren't that well understood. The story we tell ourselves that it's about competing political agents and ideologies may be somewhat mythological itself. In other words, they aren't as strongly causal as people like to think. To say political agents and ideologies are only epiphenomena is probably too strong, but there is good reason to think they only represent a fraction of the processes involved, most of which we're only beginning to get a glimpse of, like with Jared Diamond's book, "Guns, Germs and Steel."
you had it, you blew it, move over (smendler) Wed 30 Aug 06 21:39
I wonder if we might need some kind of summit, say Jim Wallis on one side and Dr. Dobson (e.g.) on the other, along with some reps from non-Christian faiths as well as nonbelievers, to hammer out what the terms of engagement are/ought to be. I think they might find some common ground - as in no one should be converted at gunpoint or under threat of legal sanctions, no one should be forced to sin against their own religion, no one should be imprisoned strictly on the basis of their beliefs, etc. Maybe some of the fears that exist on both sides (there's a lot of what I call "camelonasophobia" around) could be lessened a bit... ?
John Payne (satyr) Thu 31 Aug 06 09:50
> <13> "Ideologies that answer deep existential needs are hugely powerful. > The Christian nationalists have one and their opponents largely do not. That's still gnawing at me. It's obviously true, and I don't see any way around it. While the left nominally prefers the Democratic party to the Republican party, it does so without much enthusiasm or commitment, and it's so fragmented that there's no platform the Democratic party could adopt that would engender enthusiasm to match the advantage that the Republicans are reaping from the dynamic described here. A charismatic leader might accomplish that, but the Republicans make sure any who might aspire to that role are already damaged goods by the time they get into that position, or they shoot themselves in the foot, like Gary Hart. The phrase that occurs to me is "first principles" as in something that we need to get back to, but that's as far as I know to go with it for now.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 31 Aug 06 10:36
>next week I'm going to Ohio to debate Phil Burress, the head of that state's Focus on the Family affiliate and a driving force behind the anti-gay marriage amendment there. He's been married three times. Michelle, I'm sure there are more than a few of us here who are thinkng "Boy, I would have loved to have seen that!" Can you say anything about how it went or what you learned from the experience?
Elisabeth (wickett) Thu 31 Aug 06 14:25
Indeed, yes! What gnaws at me are the subtlety and comprehensiveness of the movement, as well as their development of a complete educational mileau, including a creation museum.
Michelle Goldberg (goldberg) Thu 31 Aug 06 14:57
If anyone is interested in hearing the Burress debate, a recording is actually online here: http://events.streamlogics.net/donordigital/aug29-06/index.asp . I think I did ok, but it was actually pretty tricky, because Burress sat next to me and lied in a far more brazen manner than I'd anticipated. We each had eight minutes to give opening remarks, and here's part of what I said: "Yesterday, at a press conference co-sponsored by Mr. Burress, I heard Ken Blackwell" -- Ohio's GOP candidate for governor -- "say that my family belongs to the wrong religion. It was an event for a new group called Clergy for Blackwell, and about fifteen pastors were there to make political endorsements. There was a similar event in Columbus, and Blackwell spoke there. At the press conference here, they showed us a video of him. He was deflecting charges that he longs for a theocracy, and he said he would fight for the rights of unbelievers, because, I quote, they have the right to be wrong. " I'd gotten the time and address of the press conference by calling Burress's office, and I saw both him and his wife there. But at the debate, Burress said he'd had nothing to do with putting it together and that he'd just been an attendee. It caught me off guard, and I thought maybe I'd made a mistake, because it was hard for me to imagine that he'd stand in front of 300 people and just lie. When I got back to the house I was staying at, I reread the AP story where I'd first heard about Clergy for Blackwell. "Monday's news conference is being organized with the help of Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values," it said. At another point during the debate, I mentioned that Burress is the treasurer of Exodus International, an evangelical organization that seeks to cure gay people of homosexuality. He shot back that I needed to do more research, because Exodus isn't a religious organization. It was such a bald untruth that I was left a bit discombobulated. I wish I'd had Exodus's motto in front of me: "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ." Since I didn't, I momentarily wondered if maybe Exodus is technically secular or ecumenical or if there was somehow some sense in which Burress was telling the truth. I think I called him out on his deception, but I probably sounded a bit unsure. There were some other moments like that when I desperately wanted a laptop with an internet connection so we could settle matters. Overall, though, I think it was useful -- there were something like 300 people in the audience, and at least some of them said they'd learned a lot about the religious right in their state. Actually, it's kind of amazing what people in Ohio didn't know. I met with interfaith leaders who had never heard of Rod Parsley, a demagogic faith-healing televangelist with a 12,000-member congregation who is the state's most important Christian nationalist organizer. Even Blackwell has much more of a reputation as a fiscal conservative than as a theocon, so I'm hoping his pronouncement on the incorrectness of some Ohioans religions will get more attention.
Andrew Trott (druid) Thu 31 Aug 06 19:42
I only started reading the book last night -- I had to special order it at Kepler's. But I'm fascinated by it and by this discussion. (Thanks, Elisabeth, for steering me here!) I know intimately a lot of people who are Bush-voting self-proclaimed Christians. I'm not sure how many of them fit into the core of "Christian Nationalists" but I am certain some do. On a recent visit to some of them, I was struck by the pervasiveness of *fear* in their casual conversation. These people live in a sparsely populated red state where there's a methamphetamine problem (they tell me) but no other concrete crime issue. Yet their conversation was heavily larded with lurid tales of random violence, and at one point even turned to the topic of what one should do if approached by a homicidal maniac on the street. An amateur psychologist like me doesn't have much trouble attributing significance to this. These people have been scared out of their wits. They see the world as fraught with peril, themselves as beset by enemies in all directions. I don't think they arrived at this on their own. And it's here that I think Thomas Frank has a point. Somebody has been drumming fear, fear, fear into their heads. Jesus is a drug to counteract the fear. (Except that he doesn't, obviously, any more than cocaine makes one omnipotent.)
you had it, you blew it, move over (smendler) Thu 31 Aug 06 20:01
That pervasive fear is what makes me fear (ahem, it's contagious) that somebody's going to be driven to cross the line and start shooting. But I guess it's more likely that they'll just hole up and let the state do it for them...?
Michael Zentner (mz) Thu 31 Aug 06 20:19
>>> because Burress sat next to me and lied in a far more brazen manner than I'd anticipated It's really hard to counter that, because guys like that will lie about anything and everything, which means you have to have Tom Oliphant's knowledge and memory and Henry Rollins' attitude to keep up.
Andrew Trott (druid) Fri 1 Sep 06 12:56
Fear is the theme of our times, for sure. But the main reason I mention it in this context is to convey the idea, which comes across in Michelle's book but is still hard for outsiders to grasp, that these folks really feel that *they* are under attack from, among others, *us* -- meaning rational humanists, intellectuals, children of the Enlightenment. They are afraid of the openness we embrace, the willingness to throw over old mores (especially sexual ones), the disrespect for ideas they've been conditioned to view as not only unquestionable but central to their understanding of the world. The farther one retreats from the real world (with its nuances and uncertainties) into the comforting solidity of a manichean absolutism, the more threatening the real world, and those who live in it, become. There's a self-amplifying loop of fear -- of the other, of the self (especially the sexual self), of intellectual curiosity. It's a short step from this basic psychological phenomenon to the fantasy that your symbolic enemies (i.e., those who represent what you fear) are your *real* enemies -- that they're out to destroy you and what you believe. So when we secular types got prayer out of the public schools, we thought that was the end of it. But to them it was just one more step on the road to abolishing religion. We see the separation of church and state as an end; they think it is merely a stage en route to putting them in camps. This is crazy, of course, but it's a fantasy that flourishes readily in the paranoid soil of an absolutist, fact-denying worldview. Especially when it's encouraged by segments of society that hope to harnass the resulting political energy. The people I know who think this way are textbook examples of what the existentialists called "bad faith," i.e., they want to disclaim all moral responsibility for their actions and turn their lives over to some external authority. Of course this impulse is a cornerstone of totalitarianism. And it's hardly unique to Christians, or even to religious folks. I've known union people whose whole life revolved around what was good for the union. The Founders understood this and counted on pluralism to check the excesses of any one absolutist perspective. But this impulse can be harnessed by any politician cynical and skilled enough to use it. There's a famous quote by Goering about scaring the public into supporting any measures, however harsh. You just keep repeating: "The [Jews/Catholics/Communists/secular humanists/Islamo-fascists] are out to destroy us, and will do so, if we don't destroy them first." There are smart people who go this route, but their intelligence is perverted to the cause of sophistry, rhetoric, gamesmanship -- anything but open inquiry or an honest exchange of ideas. Most of the people in this camp aren't terribly bright, and they don't trust -- they fear -- people who are. In some ways what is happening is a reflection of de Tocqueville's concerns about the leveling of American society and its resultant anti-intellectualism. Given all this, I'm pretty fearful myself. Michelle, what cause is there (if any) for optimism?
Dave (davidwag) Fri 1 Sep 06 20:35
Andrew, I agree with almost everything you said. But it can be put simpler, if one is a member of the faithful: 'We are in a war between God and the Devil. Anything that is not in the service of God is in the service of the Devil.' Everything follows from that. The one thing I disagree with that you said ("Most of the people in this camp aren't terribly bright...."): There are many very bright people in this camp. They simply have given themselves over to FAITH. That means they trust. And therein lies the problem. People who CLAIM to speak for God are telling them how it is, and they are believing them. That is why this group is so ripe for exploitation, both politically and monetarily. And that is sad and frightening.
John Payne (satyr) Sat 2 Sep 06 08:13
> We are in a war between God and the Devil. ...and the Devil has the trademark on "Godly".
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