Monday, April 14, 2014

The American Theocrats

Religion & Politics

There is a holy mistaken zeal in politics as well as in religion.
By persuading others, we convince ourselves.”
Junius, London Public Advertiser, 19 December 1769, No. 35

Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law
if it acquires the political power to do so.” 
Robert A. Heinlein

There is nothing worse than a group who takes an old idea or belief and uses the well-oiled machinery of fear to advance its cause; such is the case of a cohort, chiefly found in the United States, who want to return to a type of thinking common to the 50s, the 1650s, that is. Let's focus the light of reason on the most loudly and arrogantly "Christian" of nations, America, and its bombastic group of American Theocrats, essentially composed of right-wing evangelical Christians who have a clear agenda of how Americans ought to live and think; for an idea, open your bibles and read. It won't take long to come to the simple but important conclusion: they reside in a climate of fear and paranoia of their own creation.

They have formed a political party in the U.S. and have named it the Tea Party, a cheap appeal to patriotism and history, and yet they are little more than the political voice of right-wing evangelical Christians who think the Republican Party is not serious enough about making "their America" a Christian theocracy. Thus I would call this political party by its proper name, the American Christian Party, which is what they are and where their interests lie.

The greatest irony, perhaps, is that for all their calls to patriotism and tradition, the theocrats have a pathological distrust of the government, and generally view it as "evil." They want to dismantle the public institutions of progress and democracy, and put in their place the instruments of theocracy, and show no hint of embarrassment in proclaiming such views. It is always easy to be loud and audacious when you can hide behind a veil of ignorance, and can count on others to follow suit.

Further irony can be found in that right-wing conservatives say they are fighting a vigilant battle against the threat of Islamic sharia law, which in their minds is undoubtedly true; while this is going on, the theocrats have waged a successful campaign of fear of the march of social and scientific progress, leaving the U.S. behind other nations in these two important areas. In such an estimation or calculation, any social progress is a threat to their way of life, which is true if you want to return to the 1650s (or even earlier, perhaps to First Century Palestine). The thinking is as ancient as the writings from which they hold to their bosoms, or at least the parts they know and like.

That they have formed a party flies in the face of what Christians ought to do, says no less an authority than C.S. Lewis, the noted apologist for Christianity, who writes in "Meditations on the Third Commandment (1941)."
Whatever it calls itself, it will represent, not Christendom, but a part of Christendom. The principle which divides it from its brethren and unites it to its political allies will not be theological. It will have no authority to speak for Christianity; it will have no more power than the political skill of its members gives it to control the behaviour of its unbelieving allies. But there will be a real, and most disastrous novelty. It will be not simply a part of Christendom, but a part claiming to be the whole. By the mere act of calling itself the Christian Party it implicitly accuses all Christians who do not join it of apostasy and betrayal.
It will be exposed, in an aggravated degree, to that temptation which the Devil spares none of us at any time --- the temptation of claiming for our favourite opinions that kind and degree of certainty and authority which really belongs only to our Faith. The danger of mistaking our merely natural, though perhaps legitimate, enthusiasms for holy zeal, is always great. Can any more fatal expedient be devised for increasing it than that of dubbing a small band of Fascists, Communists, or Democrats `the Christian Party'?
Such a party, devoted to theocracy, in the end only represents a thin minority of  Christians and even a smaller slice of Americans, and ought to be doomed to failure and quick extinction, for it has no real political platform and no real support from Americans. Yet it not only survives, but it persists and grows stronger, drawing its energy from the Puritans.

This new current outbreak of Puritanism, a strong virus, is resistant to both reason or human happiness. Its purpose, limited in all of its aspects, is best summed up by a thought that Bertrand Russell made in his Skeptical Essays (1928), in a section brilliantly and aptly titled, "The Recrudescence of Puritanism." Russell writes: "Next to enjoying ourselves, the next greatest pleasure consists in preventing others from enjoying themselves, or, more generally, in the acquisition of power."

Such describes perfectly the totalitarian mind of a theocrat.

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