Sunday, April 16, 2006

Fateful faithful: "American Theocracy"

Like a mighty army moves the church of God;
Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.
....Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.

Onward, Christian Soldiers, lyrics by Sabine Baring-Gould

The erosion of democracy by faith-based politics has been confirmed by one of the GOP's expert strategist, Kevin Phillips, the Republican who wrote the 1969 prophetic book, The Emerging Republican Majority.

In Theocon and Theocrats at The Nation, borrowing from his latest release, American Theocracy, Phillips asks how dangerous has the influence of Christian evangelicals become? Aren't liberals hand-wringing over the Christian Taliban, a contradiction in light of lax morality and growing secularism? His answer is no.

Phillips places a good deal of the burden on Bush's Washington: elected leader who believes himself in some way to be speaking for God; a ruling party that represents religious true believers and seeks to mobilize the nation's churches; the conviction of many rank-and-file Republicans that government should be guided by religion and religious leaders; and White House implementation of domestic and international political agendas that seem to be driven by religious motivations and biblical worldviews.

He writes about how "a theocratic trend fell into place in the late 1980s and '90s" from state (example: Texas GOP platform) and regional to national; presidential candidates who sprung from or catered to born-agains and proselytized the theocratization of the GOP culminating with "Jesus is My Hero" George W. Bush.

Toss in Clinton-hating, the Left Behind crowd, a post-modern Crusade against evil-doers, and I can take off my tinfoil hat now. The Dominionists have landed:

This metamorphosis gained further momentum after September 11, 2001, when the younger Bush responded to the terrorist attacks by declaring the start of a war between good and evil, speaking in a relentlessly religious idiom that several biblical scholars have described as double-coding--only mildly religious on the surface, but beneath that full of allusions to biblical passages and Christian hymns. They, too, suggested that Bush cast himself as a prophet of sorts--one who spoke for God.


The upshot of this escalating religiosity on the part of the Republican national leadership has been an escalating and parallel religiosity on the part of the Republican rank and file. Those voting Republican for President since 1988 have become increasingly religious in motivation. After 9/11 pro-Bush preachers described Bush as God's chosen man while hinting that Saddam Hussein, whose Iraq was the biblical "New Babylon" of fundamentalist preacher Tim LaHaye's eerie Left Behind series, was the Antichrist or at least the forerunner of the Evil One. In 2004 a further wave of evangelical, fundamentalist and Pentecostal turnout helped to cement the Republican transformation, even as moderate mainline Protestants shuddered and turned in a small Democratic trend between 2000 and 2004.


A majority of Americans take the Bible literally in many dimensions, including subjects ranging from the creation and Noah's Ark to the Book of Revelation. Within the ranks of Republican voters, the ratios are lopsided. For example, in 1999 a national poll by Newsweek revealed that 40 percent of American Christians believed in Armageddon and virtually as many thought the Antichrist was already alive. Because such believers were most numerous in the Republican electorate, I would calculate that roughly 55 percent of Bush 2004 voters believed in Armageddon--and it could be higher.

Such voters are especially prone to theocratic views, and foreign policy is by no means immune. In 2004 a survey by the Pew Center found that 55 percent of white evangelical Protestants consider "following religious principles" to be a top priority for foreign policy. Only a quarter of Catholics and mainline Protestants agreed, but given the makeup of the Bush coalition, I would guess that about half its voters would favor that position. This explains both why so many of Bush's core supporters cheered the first-stage US involvement in Iraq--and why Bush bungled things in the Holy Land so badly.


First and foremost are the issues involving birth, life, death, sex, health, medicine, marriage and the role of the family--high-octane subject matter since the 1970s. These are areas where perceived immorality most excites stick-to-Scripture advocates and the religious right. Closely related is the commitment by the Bush White House and the religious right to reduce the current separation between church and state.

...The institute's director, Roman Catholic Father Robert Sirico, contends that left-tilting environmentalism is idolatrous in its substitution of nature for God, giving the Christian environmental movement a "perhaps-unconscious pagan nature."

Then there is the subject matter of business, economics and wealth, in which the tendency of the Christian right is to oppose regulation and justify wealth and relative laissez-faire, tipping its hat to the upper-income and corporate portions of the Republican coalition. Christian Reconstructionists go even further, abandoning most economic regulation in order to prepare the moral framework for God's return.

Go read the rest. It's a long piece and I'm verklept at the potentiality of an American church-run state. The only speck of optimism I saw in Phillips' analysis speaks of "[t]hree prominent Republicans [who] have staked out the boundaries," perhaps the fracturing within the party between conservatives and the theocons. Phillips wraps up with a quote from Christopher Shays, R-CT, who laments that "the Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy." OMG.

A fascinating read if not for the nightmarish consequences of a self-fulfilling Armageddon and the short-term economic challenges zero-planning for our nation's future on... Everything! But. Theocracy.

According to Vico, "a republic progresses from Chaos to Theocracy, then to Aristocracy, and finally on to Democracy." (h/t to Gore Vidal). We're headed two steps backward toward papal rule. What an Easter Sunday.