Theomockracy

“From Santorum to Graham, the ferociously religious are doing religion no favors at the moment, and it’s beginning to feel as though we may need to save faith from the extreme pronouncements of the faithful,” so writes Jon Meacham in this week’s issue of Time. Theocracy is a scary word. It didn’t work in ancient Israel, and it is difficult to believe that our society is morally more advanced than things were back then. I mean, they had Moses looking over their shoulders, and Amos, Isaiah, Micah, and Jeremiah to point out each misstep. We have Santorum, Bachmann, Palin, and Gingrich. This playing field would be an abattoir, and I have no doubts that the true prophets would be the only ones left standing should it come to blows. The odd thing is, the ancient Israelites, evolving into the Jewish faith, came to recognize that maybe they misunderstood some of what their stellar, if mythic, founders were saying. Rule by God is great in theory, but in practice it leaves a nation hungry.

It is difficult to assess the sincerity of modern day theocrats. We know that politicians are seldom literate or coherent enough to write their own speeches, and we know that they tell their would-be constituents what they want to hear. It shouldn’t surprise us that they belch forth juvenile pietism and call it God’s will, for we have taught them that elections are won that way. My real fear is that one of them might mean what they say. Could our nation actually survive even half a term with a true theocrat at the helm? W may have played that role, but there was a Cheney pulling the strings behind the curtain. Some guys like the God-talk, others prefer to shoot their friends in the faces. Either way it’s politics.

I take Meacham’s point. In all this posturing and pretending, the would-be theocrats are making a mockery of what the honestly religious take very seriously. If they want to get right with God there are conventional channels to do so. The White House is not one of them. They swear to uphold the ideals of the Constitution that, with considerable foresight, protects us from theocracy. The history they prefer, however, is revisionist and their constitution begins with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Their use of the Bible offends those who take the document seriously. Theocracies have never worked in the entire history of the world. Those who ascribe to mythology as the basis for sound government should add Thor, Quetalcoatl, and Baal to their cabinet and pray for a miracle.

The implacable face of politics

Scared Mittless

Once again Time magazine has presented an article where the intelligent are left scratching their heads about religion. Jon Meacham’s Commentary, “An Unholy War,” details how evangelical concerns about Mitt Romney’s Mormonism has an undue weight in regard to his presidential candidacy. For many years the media industry has considered religion passé and without teeth. Sure, the street-corner preacher can still give you a good gumming, but it is rarely fatal. What those who’ve never felt the utter urgency of religion can’t appreciate is, well, its utter urgency. In a day when Buddhist monks and Catholic nuns are wired up to electrodes and told to find that spiritual sweet spot, it is easy to forget that these aren’t just laboratory fictions. For many people in the world, their religious experiences are very important and of sometimes deadly—sometimes eternal—consequence. The sophisticated, the educated, laugh it off as so much hoodoo, and try to get on with human progress. For those raised religious, however, escape is neither easy nor desirable. Those in positions of actually influencing the public need to recognize that religion is not a luxury, a trapping that might be cast off. It is a life choice cast in iron.

Just as serious as the analysis of religion is the incredible influence of religious teaching itself. Take a young child, barely old enough to understand death, and tell him or her that the worst thing they can imagine just can’t compare with the torment God has cooked up for those who step out of line. Repeat. At least once a week. When said child becomes an adult, these early ideas are deeply embedded. Since the 1980s elections in the United States have been restyled as religion popularity contests. With eternal consequences riding on the ballot, political analysts ought to be required to have had taken at least Religion 101. Probably a few upper-level courses would also help. Despite the optimism of scientists and academics, religion is not going away. The reluctance to take it seriously will not diminish its power in people’s lives.

As became very clear reading Philip Jenkins’ Mystics and Messiahs, it has only transpired that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints has been recognized as un-culted for less than a hundred years. As a relatively new religion, Mormonism was a “cult” until it had survived long enough to gather a band of respectable followers, such as Mitt Romney. Many Christian groups, particularly evangelical ones, have not released their perception of Mormonism as a cult. Romney, in their eyes, is effectively as pagan as Obama. Their votes, as the eight-year nightmare of the Bush administration demonstrates, can decide elections. Still, we the sophisticated laugh off the country rubes who still believe in God. And although we don’t believe in it, we already have, and may well once again, come to suffer through Hell to show just how educated we are.

Lead us not into Dominion

Christian dominionists emulate the Roman Empire, it seems. The Viewpoint in last week’s Time magazine, entitled “In God We Trust,” points out several of the objectives of the dominionist camp. Taking their cue from a decidedly modern and western understanding of Genesis 1, this sect believes the human control over nature to be a divine mandate in which our species dominates the world, with divine approval. As Jon Meacham points out, that dominion does not end at other animal species, but includes control of the “non-Christian” as defined by their own standard. This non-negotiable “Christianity” is a religion guided by utter selfishness and self-absorption. So thorough is this directive that those indoctrinated in it cannot recognize Christians that do not share its perspective as part of the same dogmatic species. It is a frightening religious perspective for a nation founded on the principle of religious freedom.

Rehearsing the rhetoric from Rick Perry’s “the Response” rally, Meacham rightly points out that when dominionists quote the Bible it is most important to note what the Bible does not say. Herein lies the very soul of the movement—filling in the void where God does not talk with human desires and ambitions. As any good marketer knows, however, packaging can sell the product. Introduce a rhetoric that claims to be biblical to a nation where most people have never read the Bible and smell the recipe for success. People want to believe, even if what they think they believe is not what it claims to be. Christianity is claimed by so many vastly differing factions as to have been drained of its meaning. This is the danger in the game of injecting religion into politics. Surely the Perrys and Palins and Bachmanns know what they believe, but they do not say it aloud, for their Christianity does not coincide with the various forms of the religion advocated by the churches historically bearing the torch of Christ’s teachings, insofar as they might be determined.

Dominionism is nothing new. Even the most pristine believer must see that Constantine had more than a warm fuzzy feeling in his heart when he adopted a foreign religion and fed it to his empire. No, Christianity was an effective, non-violent means of control as well as a way of achieving life after death. Rome was nothing without dominion. The parallels with the United States have been noted by analysts time and again. As we watch the posturing of political candidates wearing some form of their faith on their sleeves, the unsuspecting never question what might be up those sleeves. It is fairly certain that when the parties sit down at the table and the cards are dealt, it won’t be Bibles that we find scattered there. This is not a kingdom of God’s making. When dominionists take over all others must scan the horizon for the advent of the Visigoths who will not be dominated.