Red State, Blue State: Cracking the Christian Fascist Code
Thoughts on Truth and Repolarization
by Sunsara Taylor
Revolutionary Worker #1272, March 27, 2005, posted at rwor.org
After last November's election all the pundits were non-stop talking about the Red State/Blue State divide. E-mails bounced around featuring re-drawn maps appending the east and west coasts into the "United States of Canada" and re-labeling the mass in the middle as "Jesus-Land."
While the country is never so simply or geographically divided, there is something profound and important in some recent remarks made by Newt Gingrich when he compared the gulf in this country to that which preceded the U.S. Civil War, saying "This isn't a divided government—it's a divided country." (Continetti)
This essay is in response to the chilling echoes from history I hear in the voices that call for "healing" the divide or "seeking common ground"; to the excruciating slowness with which people in Germany in the 1930s, to Rwanda in the 1990s—and the United States of today— recognized the significance of a growing gulf in worldviews so fundamental that no resolution may be possible without the obliteration of one by the other.
Far from writing off or dismissing the millions and millions of "values voters" who've been pulled into standing on a horrendous side of history, I seek to deepen and broaden the conversation over how to analyze and transform the scary situation where this country is being dragged towards full blown Christian fascism.
I am disturbed by what strikes me as a profound underestimation of the role of ideology in the movements of opposition to the current Bushite climate. Too many view the "culture wars" as a way that Karl Rove duped a lot of Christians into voting against their economic interests.
In my efforts to understand more deeply the role of morality, values and cultures in the stability—or unravelling—of human society, I went back to a collection of essays called Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology. Rereading this I was even more struck by this statement by anthropologist David W. McCurdy: "Every social system is a moral order; shared values act as the mortar binding together the structure of each human community...But the moral nature of every culture has two sides: it facilitates adaptation and survival on the one hand, but it often generates conflict and destruction on the other." (Spradley, 8-9)
When two fundamentally opposed visions of morality, reality, and how the world should be develop within one society, this is not something that can be easily resolved. Even rulers who try to "use" or manipulate sections of the population to achieve their aims often cannot control the very forces that they have conjured up.
Today, there are increasingly two "universes" in this country—among the people, and also within the ranks of those in power—two worlds that do not share common assumptions, common aims, or even a common language.
There is a growing core of millions in this country who interpret reality through the prism of End Times prophecy. In this universe, concern is not placed on solving epidemics like AIDS, saving the environment, ending oppression or wars, or solving other problems of the world that surrounds us. None of this matters so much because the end is near anyhow. Instead, emphasis is placed on preparing oneself and others for the coming Day of Judgment.
Facts and science become suspect, perhaps even the work of the devil, because they contradict God's truth as revealed in the Bible.
One of the peculiar twists of the current End Time theology is that God is seen to be actively working through George Bush's presidency. Things like the invasion of Iraq, the theft of Palestinian land by Israel, the decadence and "moral decay" within U.S. society, even the disastrous recent tsunami, are all proof that the second coming of Christ and His Judgment are near.
Even words as central to international and domestic policy as "freedom" do not mean the same thing to people on either side of this stark divide over what truth is and how do we know the world.
On a recent panel Janet Jakobsen, of Barnard University, wrestled with the seeming hypocrisy between Bush's proclamations that "freedom is on the march" through international wars (that supposedly include the "liberation of women") and his fundamentalist biblical views on gays and women at home. In a fascinating discussion, which I can't do justice to here, she explored how Protestant Reformation—the historical forerunner of today's evangelical religions—forged a definition of "freedom" based on the restriction of sexuality and family structures. At one point she commented that, "when Bush uses the word 'freedom' it is definitely straight ."
Many other elements of this fundamentalist End Times outlook are brought out in the Left Behind fiction series. As I have plowed through this mind-numbing writing, I have been repeatedly shocked by how openly these books dovetail with the political program of U.S. military and economic supremacy and Dark Ages philosophy currently running rampant from the halls of Congress to local pulpits.
The books begin when God "raptures" all the true believers and "innocent fetuses" up to heaven. Airplanes that have lost pilots plummet to the ground, cars crash in huge pile- ups, chaos ensues and this is just the beginning of seven years of Tribulation to come for those who are "Left Behind."
The first Muslim to make an appearance is a "terrorist" who attempts to kill a saint and is then burned to death. The courting rituals romanticize submissive women and domineering men whose stalking is glorified by God. Rational thought, college, science and evolution are repeatedly denounced. And the U.S. militia movement is lavishly praised for being a righteous force that fights the Antichrist.
In case you are now thinking that these are novels for a small fringe group, it might interest you to know that 62 million copies have been sold worldwide !
While reading one of these books on the subway I met a well-dressed young Black man who was reading the twelfth book in the series. We talked for a while before I became aware that we were having almost entirely different conversations.
I told him the books scared me—meaning that it is frightening that so many people believe these destructive, vengeful fantasies. He agreed whole-heartedly—meaning that it is frightening to think about the horrors that are promised to the non-believers who are "left behind" when the Rapture comes.
I pointed out the way the Bible was being used to promote a reactionary political program embedded in the stories. He saw the use of the Bible as proof that these books transcended politics and were simply based on the word of god.
What really surprised me, though, is when I asked him if he was very religious. He said he wasn't until his brother gave him the first book in the series just six weeks before.
These books play upon many people's assumptions that the Bible and Christianity are overall good to instill a very specific interpretation of what that faith should mean. Consider this excerpt from the Left Behind series where a true believing preacher (Bruce) is warning people about the rise of the Antichrist. Then the preacher explains to his church how they can be confident that he himself is not the Antichrist:
"Let me close by telling you how you can be sure I am not the Antichrist...I'm not implying that you suspect me...But we may get to the point where every leader is suspect. Remember, however, that you will never hear peace promised from this pulpit...I predict the opposite of peace. The other three horsemen are coming and they bring war, famine, plagues, and death...Our only hope is in Christ, and even in him we will likely suffer." (LaHaye, 72-73)
Got it? Don't trust a preacher unless he is preaching about bloodshed. Especially don't trust someone talking about peace or a global community. Those are phrases identified with the Antichrist.
"LOFTY" DIVISIONS WITH DANGEROUS CONSEQUENCES
In addition to defining the world through the prism of End Times prophecy, these books divide the world into "true Christians" (who evangelize and fight with God on their side) and infidels (gays, rebellious youth, independent women, secularists, Jews or Muslims, and especially false Christians— i.e., anyone who does not cotton to their fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible).
Then, there are two different codes for how these two different groups of people should be treated. In a recent television series which emphasized that man cannot submit to God without knowing the "terror of God," Kirk Cameron, actor turned fundamentalist evangelical proselytizer, instructed viewers on how to treat these two groups. "If a person...can see that...they've sinned against God, then do what Jesus did. Give them the Good News of the gospel. But if they have a proud and self- righteous heart, do what Jesus did. Give them the moral law, the 10 Commandments. Let them see how they've sinned against God." (For an understanding of the terror that is implied in ''giving people the ten commandments," see Bob Avakian's essay "Dictators, Tyrants and Butchers...What About Moses?!" at rwor.org)
In The Nazi Conscience , Claudia Koonz discusses how a similar type of dividing up of the population, the "separating those who deserve our concern from alien 'others' beyond the pale of the community" (Koonz, 1), was central to how the Nazis compelled millions of Germans to go along with their extreme horrors. Then she notes that "although it might seem that a human catastrophe on the scale of the Holocaust was caused by an evil that defies our understanding, what is frightening about the racist public culture within which the Final Solution was conceived is not its extremism but its ordinariness—not its savage hatreds but its lofty ideals." (Koonz, 2)
REPOLARIZATION VS. ACCOMMODATION
For a glimpse of how far the architects of today's Christian fascist movement have clawed, blackmailed and maneuvered their way into the highest echelons of military, government, media and finance, I recommend Ester Kaplan's book, With God on Their Side . (See RW #1269, February 27, 2005.)
It is the combination of both their positions of power and the fact that they have built up a large social base that makes the rise of full-blown Christian fascism in this country such an urgent and tangible danger. And the leaders and their millions of non-thinking followers are openly saying and have repeatedly demonstrated that they are not seeking to compromise; they will not stop until they have achieved their vision for the entire world or until they are defeated.
Those who seek "common ground," whatever their intentions, only can hope to be pulled along at the left edge of a spectrum that keeps hurtling to the right. Rather than attempting to "de- polarize" the country we must re-polarize, reversing the dynamic so that the majority of people in this country, including millions of religious people who believe in God, are won to stand against the imposition of a Christian fascist theocracy.
No less than if we were transported back to Germany in the 1930s, we must urgently, creatively, and fearlessly hit at the foundations of this absolutist world outlook. We must do so until it begins to crack for people and we can peel them away. And we must continue, repeatedly, gathering strength as growing numbers come to understand what is at stake. This is an intense battle we can't afford to lose.
This can be done because the absolutist outlook fostered by the Christian fascists is brittle, unscientific, backward-looking, small-minded and oppressive—and is constantly being contradicted by reality. And because, as the Revolutionary Communist Party wrote after the election, even many of the people who are caught up in this outlook "have sons and daughters killing and dying in Iraq; many of them are victims of the 'lean and mean' capitalism represented by Bush (and Kerry for that matter); many, especially women, are still trapped in social relations that scar their spirit and their lives; and whatever solace they find in this Christian fascism cannot ultimately transcend all that."
WE NEED A LIBERATING MORALITY
This reactionary outlook is preying upon people's need for meaning and morality in a constantly changing and increasingly insecure world. We too can meet this need—in much more profound and liberating ways. But we must recognize that morality cannot be forged piecemeal, just through a collection of different issues.
While the Christian fascists offer meaning through oppressive Biblical myths, we must grasp what Bob Avakian is getting at when he recently said, "What we think is right and good and principled depends on how we view that, how we view what kind of society it is that is both possible but also desirable." (Avakian and Martin, forthcoming)
And speaking to the multi-dimensional way that communists view this, Avakian wrote in "The Truth About Right-Wing Conspiracy...And Why Clinton and the Democrats Are No Answer":
"As for our Party, our goal is the radical transformation of society, and of the world, to eliminate all oppressive and exploitative relations among people and to abolish all class distinctions and national antagonisms and barriers, to bring about, as the final goal, a freely associating community of human beings, worldwide. The morals and ideology we uphold and strive to apply are in accordance with that objective and are, at any given point, an expression of the link between the current struggle and the final goal. In this way, our outlook and principles, as well as our political program and actions, are in the most fundamental opposition to the Christian fascists and at the same time to all forms and expressions of bourgeois rule and bourgeois ideology. But we also recognize, consistent with our outlook and principles, that there is a need, and a basis, for building a broad unity in struggle against what has been referred to as the politics of poverty, punishment, and patriarchy and in general against the ways in which the masses of people, in the U.S. and throughout the world, are subjected to exploitation, oppression and plunder.
"And we believe that, together with building this political unity in struggle, there is also a need and a basis to forge broad unity, among diverse forces around values and cultural expressions that promote and celebrate equality, between men and women, and between peoples and nations; that stand against oppression and against violence which furthers and enforces such oppression; that oppose imperial domination by one nation over others and military bludgeoning to impose that domination; that fosters relations among people based on an appreciation for diversity but also for community; values and culture that prize cooperation among people in place of cut-throat competition, that put the needs of people above the drive to accumulate wealth, that actually promote the global interests of humanity as opposed to narrow national antagonisms and great-power domination."
In this way, we are capable of forging a morality flowing from principles which guide an ongoing struggle to uproot all vestiges of male supremacy, to promote and base ourselves on science and truth, to value people around the world, to overcome the brutal history and present reality of racism, and to construct a whole better world in the process.
Let me end with a somewhat lengthy, but deep and deserving, quote from Bill Moyers. He has been calling on people to recognize the repercussions of allowing the direction of the environmental policies to be set by forces who reject science and are in the grip of apocalyptic fantasies. I believe the stakes he lays out apply even more broadly.
"I...look up at the pictures on my desk, next to the computer—pictures of my grandchildren: Henry, age twelve; Thomas, ten; Nancy, eight; Jassie, three; SaraJane, one. I see the future looking back at me from those photographs and I say, 'Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do.' And then the shiver runs down my spine and I am seized by the realization: 'That's not right. We do know what we are doing. We are stealing their future. Betraying their trust. Despoiling their world.'
"And I ask myself: Why? Is it because we don't care? Because we are greedy? Because we have lost our capacity for outrage, our ability to sustain indignation at injustice?
"What has happened to our moral imagination?
"On the heath Lear asks Gloucester: 'How do you see the world?' And Gloucester, who is blind, answers: 'I see it feelingly.'
"I see it feelingly.
"Why don't we feel the world enough to save it—for our kin to come?
"The news is not good these days. But as a journalist I know the news is never the end of the story. The news can be the truth that sets us free not only to feel but to fight for the future we want. The will to fight is the antidote to despair, the cure for cynicism, and the answer to those faces looking back at me from those photographs on my desk. We must match the science of human health to what the ancient Israelites called hochma—the science of the heart, the capacity to see and feel and then to act as if the future depended on us.
"Believe me, it does."
Avakian, Bob and Bill Martin. Marxism and the Call of the Future: Conversations on Ethics, History, and Politics . Chicago: Open Court, 2005.
Avakian, "The Truth About Right-Wing Conspiracy.And Why Clinton and the Democrats Are No Answer," first published November 22, 1998, Revolutionary Worker, online at rwor.org.
Cameron, Kirk. The Way Of The Master . TBN. 372, New York. 17 March 2005.
Continetti, Matthew. "An Uncivil War," Weekly Standard , November 11, 2004
LaHaye, Tim and Jerry B. Jenkins. Tribulation Force: The Continuing Drama of Those Left Behind (Left Behind No. 2). Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1997.
Jakobsen, Janet. Lecture. "Values Talk: God, Gays, and Democracy in America Today." Center for Religion and Media of New York University. NYU's King Juan Carlos I of Spain Auditorium, New York. 9 Feb. 2005.
Koonz, Claudia. The Nazi Conscience . Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003.
Moyers, Bill. "Welcome to Doomsday." The New York Review of Books , Volume 52, Number 5, 24 March 2005.
Spradley, James and David W. McCurdy. Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology . Needham Heights: Allyn & Bacon, 2000.
Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. "The Will of the People was NOT Expressed in this Election." November 2004.
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