Michelle Goldberg (goldberg) Sun 3 Sep 06 10:11
I've seen the incredible power of fear in the religious right -- and in the broader conservative movement -- and to be honest, it's one of the harder things for me to grasp emotionally. A few years ago I was at a right-wing film festival in Dallas where several documentaries told stories of people slaughtered in their homes by rapists and thieves; in many cases, the movies claimed the victims had recently tried to buy guns but were stymied by waiting periods. The relentless focus on crime was kind of a revelation to me, because these were people who all lived in suburbs or exurbs that were at least fairly affluent. I live in Brooklyn -- a nice yuppie neighborhood, sure, but still an urban one -- and I'm generally a pretty anxious person, but crime is something I barely even think about, even though I actually have been robbed and, years ago, assaulted by a crazy person on Broadway. It was the first time I realized how much psychic space the fear of criminal disorder occupies in some people's minds. While I don't worry about being victimized by crime, I do have nightmares about being accused of a crime I didn't commit (which is probably as irrational as worrying about being mugged in a gated community). I've sometimes thought there might be great psychological differences between people who have a primal fear of anarchy, and those like me who have a deep terror of arbitrary authority. This right-wing fear of random invasion and violence -- and resultant desire to be armed to the teeth -- isn't based on any actual threat, but it's symptomatic of the same terrors leading people to mobilize against the world-destroying dangers of gay marriage and secularism.
Cupido, Ergo Denego (robertflink) Sun 3 Sep 06 14:16
>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.< This is an important point which is missed in all the hand wringing about religion. Where was all the hand wringing when anti-religious absolutism was stalking the world? Could the current situation be just an indication that absolutism can flourish under religion as well as it has under irreligion? Perhaps the nature of the beast is a better direction for inquiry then the clothes he/she happens to be parading in at present.
Michelle Goldberg (goldberg) Sun 3 Sep 06 15:23
By anti-religious extremism, are you talking about Communism? Because there's been plenty of hand-wringing -- actually, anguished outrage would be a better way to put it -- about the horrible suppression of religion and destruction of monuments under Stalin, Mao, etc. Again, I don't think the problem is religion per se. I don't really see Christian nationalism as a religion -- I see it as a totalistic political ideology that cloaks itself in divine revelation. So yes, the danger is absolutism, not faith
Public persona (jmcarlin) Sun 3 Sep 06 15:47
> the danger is absolutism, not faith Especially fear and anger driven abolutism. There are a lot of changes going on in the world today that have negative impacts on people and that is causing a fear-based search for certainty. Understanding it, if my presumption is correct, does not mean acquiescing to a takeover, of course, but it might help in the fight against such forces.
John Payne (satyr) Sun 3 Sep 06 18:00
> a lot of changes going on in the world today Urbanization, globalization, pollution, oil depletion, war, greenhouse effect, forest destruction, soil erosion, species extinction, to mention a few. It seems to me that this phenomenon really got a boost from the fragmentation of media. Where there used to be three televsion networks (then four, then five), that all had to take into account a range of sensibilities, now there are hundreds of channels to choose from, and little of that sort of accountability remaining. Almost any point of view can be broadcast, no matter how vaporous.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sun 3 Sep 06 18:09
Thinking about Thomas Frank's book "What's the Matter With Kansas," which is very interesting but almost totally misses the religious dimension Michelle talks about... I wonder if it's a coincidence that the places where Christian nationalism burns brightest (e.g. Kansas and Oklahoma) are places where the economy for non-rich people has absolutely been cratered. Any thoughts from anyone? Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, eastern Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, and the Dakotas are just stuffed full of places that have dried up and blown away. Basically 21st-century ghost towns (see David Plowden's recent book "Handful of Dust" for a really depressing mini-tour).
Scott Stoeffler (skepticscott) Sun 3 Sep 06 19:27
Michelle, to what extent does what you call the Christian nationalist movement overlap with the Christian Zionists, and how much of US foreign policy in the Middle East do you think is being driven by fundamentalist Christians with an apocalyptic viewpoint about the fate of Israel and the Holy Land?
Straight Outta Concord (angus) Sun 3 Sep 06 23:28
> Where was all the hand wringing when anti-religious > absolutism was stalking the world? Uh...
Jef Poskanzer (jef) Sun 3 Sep 06 23:32
The Christian Zionists really creep me out.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Mon 4 Sep 06 06:33
Re: anti-religious absolutism, I seem to remember a 50-year Cold War, and growing up half expecting to be blown up in a nuclear holocaust. None of which has much to do with Christian Nationlism in the present-day U.S.
John Payne (satyr) Mon 4 Sep 06 11:00
I broadcast a link to this topic on a mailing list to which I belong, and someone else on that list sent this along... Public Conversations Project (PCP) http://www.publicconversations.org/pcp/index.asp
Dave (davidwag) Mon 4 Sep 06 21:38
>I seem to remember a 50-year Cold War Two years ago when I stopped attending an evangelical church in Orange County, one of the reasons I left was because it was starting to remind me of the 1960's version of 'there's a Commie behind every tree and under every rock', except in this case it was the Devil, which easily translates to _____ (fill in the blank) Commie, Democrat, Liberal, Terrorist, ACLUer, Abortionist, etc, or any other entity which is posessed or influenced by the Devil or dominions thereof.
Jef Poskanzer (jef) Mon 4 Sep 06 23:51
The really funny thing about the obsession christians have with the devil is, there is no devil in the bible.
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Tue 5 Sep 06 05:19
Well, he's in there a couple of times, but not in the starring role he gets in Christianity. He shows up as a sort of drinking buddy of God's in the book of Job, and , um, (clickety-click, Wikipedia) in 1 Chronicals, and in Esther in passing. But definitely, if you see life as a struggle between the forces of God and the forces of Satan, that emphasis is strangely absent.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 5 Sep 06 07:03
Michelle, since we're almost at the end of our time here (and thank you very much, by the way), do you have any advice for those of us who have read the book and/or the topic and "get it?" What concrete things might we do about the threat posed by Christian Nationalism?
Low and popular (rik) Tue 5 Sep 06 07:16
Pray for us.
Jef Poskanzer (jef) Tue 5 Sep 06 08:29
The bible has a bunch of different badguys. But a single super badguy responsible for all evil? A war in heaven with a rebel angel cast down to the underworld? There is nothing like that in the bible. It's nonsense by their own measure.
Low and popular (rik) Tue 5 Sep 06 08:39
A bit of a lift from Zoroastrianism, I think.
John Payne (satyr) Tue 5 Sep 06 10:04
It would be interesting to know when in the history of Christianity the devil gained such prominent status. While not literally true that there's no Devil in the Bible -- he's there in the Garden of Eden, again in Job, again in the temptation of Christ, and yet again in Revelation -- he certainly doesn't seem to have played as significant a role as in more recent times. Even Baal, treated as a manifestation of evil in recent media, was depicted not as a menace but as an empty, ineffectual nothing in the story of Elijah. Baal worship presented a problem mainly in that it was a distraction from God and the way of righteousness, and also because it diluted the identity of the Jewish people.
uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Tue 5 Sep 06 10:18
I think the angel wars and some of the more interesting Lucifer stuff is in the Apocrypha, which almost all Christian entities denounce.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 5 Sep 06 10:23
One thing I've noted is that the further right you go in the political spectrum in Christianity, the more you get all the most punitive parts of the Old Testament and the colorful ravings in Revelation and the less you get of Jesus. In the early 20th century, the conservative Christians of that day tried to remake Jesus as a tough-minded manly man, and even an executive and marketing genius (see: Bruce Barton). But there's really no getting around the fact the Jesus was basically a long-haired sandal-wearing Jewish peacenik who didn't have a very high opinion of worldly power and riches.
Authentic Frontier Gibberish (gerry) Tue 5 Sep 06 10:40
I think there's a common tendency to oversimplify "the Religious Right," and I've been guilty of that myself. I found this to be an insightful analysis: "Judging from the amount of press coverage they get, you'd think the only religious groups in American politics were the religious right - and everyone else. In fact, a shrewd candidate needs to understand the idiocyncrasies and hot buttons of all Twelve Tribes of American Politics." http://www.beliefnet.com/story/153/story_15355_1.html
Dave (davidwag) Tue 5 Sep 06 20:38
Threat, fear, punishment, and "curing" the cause of those things; all things that the far right religious and political groups have in common. Fear motivates. Anger motivates. Saving yourself and your family motivates. War is a great justification--the War on Terror, the war between God and the Devil. What a marriage!
Andrew Trott (druid) Tue 5 Sep 06 21:01
It's the spiraling self-amplification of Jung's Shadow -- fear begets anger, and acting on anger often increases the real risk, ratcheting up the fear. Or, to peel off another layer, we fear something within ourselves, project it onto someone else, and attack it there -- making us all the more afraid, and all the more determined to eradicate the externalized symbol of our own internal darkness. If you've never heard this before it may sound very woo-woo, but it sure seems to describe this recurring phenomenon of the worst among us (GWB and OBL, for example) shouting about righteousness while they wreak havoc on everybody else.
Michelle Goldberg (goldberg) Wed 6 Sep 06 07:32
Someone asked earlier about the connection between Christian nationalism and Christian Zionism -- I apologize for not answering until now (I've been frantically on deadline) but it has some bearing on this discussion about the devil as well. Christian Zionism is related to one of the dominant strains in American evangelical Christianity called premillenial dispensationalism. (catchy, I know). Premillenial dispensationalism developed in the mid-1860s, and it's based on a peculiar reading of Revelation. In the dispensationalist scenario, before Christ's return, the Jews will return to the biblical state of Israel, a charismatic antichrist will arise making deceptive promises of world peace, and a world war, centered on the biblical site of Megiddo, or Armageddon (located in Israel's Jezreel Valley) will threaten to engulf the world. (There are, of course, some variations on this). This might sound outlandish, but in polls, about 40 percent of Americans say they believe the world will end in a battle at Armageddon -between Jesus and the Antichrist. The Left Behind Books are essentially premillenial dispensationalism with a Tom Clancy gloss. This largely accounts for the ardent Zionism of much of the religious right. Indeed, Christian Zionists tend to be much more supportive of Israeli expansionism than most American Jews. If you want to read more about how this affects politics, you might want to check out Israeli journalist Gersholm Gorenberg's amazing book "The End of Days." The BBC recently did a piece about the new lobbying group Christians United for Israel, which comes out of this theology: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/5193092.stm. (I'm quoted in it). I wrote a piece about the politics of Christian Zionism a few years ago: http://dir.salon.com/story/politics/feature/2002/05/24/dispensational/index.ht ml Premillenial dispensationalism is an apocalyptic creed that sees the world locked in a final battle between the forces of good and evil, and so it leads to a very rigid, dualistic and fundamentally right-wing politics. Because it imagines that the fallen world is in its last days, it tends to oppose the humanitarianism of social gospel theology. In another really fascinating book, "On The Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Become Israel's Best Friend," author Timothy Weber quotes an early 20th century premillenialist preacher: "Sociology, or social service as generally emphasized is, in its final outworking, a black winged angel of the pit Satan would have a reformed world, a moral world, a world of great achievements He would have a universal brotherhood of man; he would eliminate by scientific method every human ill But a premillenialist cannot cooperate with the plans of modern social service for these contemplate many years with gradual improvement through education as its main avenue for cooperation, rather than the second coming of Christ."
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