Rick Perry dived right in. The Texas governor, now a Republican presidential candidate, held a prayer rally for tens of thousands, read from the Bible, invoked Christ and broadcast the whole event on the Web. [RACHEL ZOLL – AP Religion Writer]
Well folks, it does seem like the chickens are coming home to roost in our fairytale after all. The evangelicals are marching in from the cloisters and the forests all decked out in their Sunday come-to-meetin’ clothes, proclaiming a New Christian Century in Amerika. And we, the unwashed masses, repose complacently in our front row seats, watching the action unfold above the footlights; witnesses to an extravagant display of the most profound and intimate bond between religion and politics, as it continues to power this hungry beast of civilization. Was not this public exhibition by Governor Perry (he-who-would-be-president) just a clear and present reminder of that ancient premise concerning the sacrality of the State and its claims to transcendent power? Was this not, as well, a revival of the fraudulent myth of American Exceptionalism (The Chosen Nation) now decked-out in all its resplendent Christian glory?
From the beginning of recorded history these two institutions of civic life – religion and politics – have been bound together to create an awesome matrix from whose amalgam would emerge those sacrosanct laws controlling the multitudes, while establishing an unassailable platform for legislator and priest alike. These twin hierarchies were borne-along by fast-moving currents that would feed the growing rivers of Western Civilization, beginning with ancient Sumer and Babylon in the Fertile Crescent. Recognizing the elemental force of this union, Alexis de Tocqueville commented in his work on Democracy In America (1835):
When there is no longer any principle of authority in religion, any more than in politics, men are speedily frightened at the aspect of this unbounded independence.
As for our current “democratic,” nominally non-theocratic hegemony of today, it has merely hidden its religious robes and affiliations, hoping to mask its underlying theology and its sacred roots, so as not to scare the unwashed among us. Yet, even the unregenerate among us have known, in the dark recesses of our unconscious, about this linkage, and the sacred genesis of political power, even here in the good old USA. Again from de Tocqueville’s work:
I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion; for who can read the human heart? But I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions.
And what was this religion that was indispensable to the new American republic? Christian evangelicalism, of course.
During the years between the inaugurations of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, historians see “evangelicalism emerging as a kind of national church or national religion.” The leaders and ordinary members of the “evangelical empire” of the nineteenth century were American patriots who subscribed to the views of the Founders that religion was a “necessary spring” for republican government… Converting their fellow citizens to Christianity was, for them, an act that simultaneously saved souls and saved the republic. (Religion And The Founding Of The American Republic).
Certainly we can neither ignore, nor soon forget that ‘wink’ and the slightly seductive, pixie smile of Sarah Palin. But, the fundamentalist evangelical Rick Perry is Sister Sarah on steroids – hopelessly, nakedly unapologetic. And without defensiveness, publicly parading the political legitimacy of his Christian fundamentalism, an ideology ever-present in the rarefied noosphere of our State but never so boldly enunciated as in that exhibition, speaks volumes not only about the mission of this self-ordained and delusional would-be king of kings, but the evangelical temperament of this nation as a whole. If you don’t believe me, just look at the national media’s ecstatic gushing over his subsequent performance in the Republican debate this week at the Reagan library. One would think the Honorable Mr. Perry is nothing less than the transcendent Godhead himself, descending yet again into human form – a spiritual savior and political hegemon – the anointed archon of a New Heaven and a New Earth.
In June of 2009, on the heels of the Iranian election uprising, I wrote a small piece, The Fertile Crescent and the Dialectics of Freedom, addressing this formative and powerful elixir of religion and politics.
As I then pointed out, one result of that televised uprising was to remind us from whence the overpowering synthesis of politics and religion (theocracy) got its start: in ancient Babylonia, Assyria, and Persia (modern Iran). I suggested that our fascination with the Iranian uprising was born in part of a vague but discomforting sense of our own unresolved enslavement to political and religious authority – institutions we love to hate, and alternatively seek to moderate or enhance depending upon our mood. I further argued that perhaps we distrust our own unquestioned assumptions about freedom in Amerika – “our minds floating at random between liberty and obedience”(de Tocqueville). And I wagered that perhaps we too secretly longed for more overt forms of control here – represented in part by the push for nationalized healthcare and the establishment of the department of homeland security. Interestingly enough, just the prior Fall we had been introduced to an emergent firebrand for our own Christian fundamentalist political chorus in the guise of Sister Sarah, raising the specter of an era of explicit theocratic rule right here in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
My friends, when the first settlers left the Old World on their journey to the New, they did so in search of religious freedom, so we are told. They sought to govern themselves according to the dictates of their own faith and conscience, unhampered by the Church of their ancestors or their former overlords. Again, the religious origins of Amerika’s founding are no secret, and they are no less evident than those of Iran’s. We always knew that our nation was established explicitly as a religiously inspired and grounded republic. And to this day the body politic uncritically testifies that ours is “one nation under God” at every public outing or sporting event, a proclamation rooted firmly in the evangelical chorus entrusted us by its pilgrims and its Founding Fathers. And we cannot ignore lyrics from the final verse of the National Anthem originally penned by Francis Scott Key:
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation. Then conquer we must, When our cause it is just, And this be our motto – “In God is our trust.”
Indeed, we have demanded that all of our leaders show appropriate deference to our often muted but underlying evangelical heritage, with a wary eye to any potentially competitive orthodoxy – be it Catholic, Moslem, or Jewish. Just ask Barack Hussein Obama, Joseph Lieberman, or the ghost of JFK.
Concomitantly, tolerance for religious diversity has never been our strong suit; and it cannot be. Lest we forget, the Irish Catholic-Protestant wars in The Gangs of New York are a bloody and eye-popping Technicolor reminder of the principles that have guided those on the ground as well as those in our highest offices; just research our attitudes toward the Moslem community here even before September Eleventh, 2001. Any contravention of this underlying national faith cannot long be tolerated. Why are we not open to religious diversity in the populace? It is because we are not open to it at the top of the pyramid. Certainly, we may acquiesce at times, but this is largely a kabuki show in political correctness of relatively recent vintage. As de Tocqueville correctly concludes concerning life in our democratic society: in subjecting themselves to religious authority, “they choose at least that it should be single and uniform. Religious powers not radiating from a common centre are naturally repugnant to their minds.”
Every State needs to be erected upon a stable ideological foundation of unshakable faith in its institutions and its archon – its ruler. Historically, that faith has strong religious roots by design. Even the totalitarian regime of the Soviet period required a forceful expulsion of the Orthodox Russian Church in order to more firmly establish its own dogmatic and totalizing ideology (read: theology) of the State. Had it not done so, it would have had to fight continuously against that ancient orthodoxy for control of the masses. And our regime is not essentially different from any other in history; its foundations firmly embedded in the principles of a specific and vociferous religious proclamation.
As Jeff Sharlet proposes in his book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, there is a hidden Christian fundamentalism embedded in the very heart of American imperial politics, and it is now rearing its monstrous head clearly for all to behold. Again, just watch the continued ascension of our rising fundamentalist from the Lone Star State, Rick Perry; and you might even see “Rapture-Ready” Sister Sarah, or the self-described ‘submissive wife’ Michele Bachmann right by his side as all three stride on stage to do a victory lap.
There is your prospective future Amerika, not quite the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but a Fascist Christian Troika – a gun-toting, book-burning, creationist-teaching, Moslem-bashing, gay-curing, rapture-ready regime – ushering in the final post-collapse anarchy, much like that proleptically foreseen in the closing book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation to Saint John. And, I do not doubt for one moment that these fundamentalist evangelicals understand their role at this moment in history precisely in such apocalyptic, eschatological terms.
I will say it again. At bottom our kingdom – this American Empire – is not much different from those that preceded it almost 6000 years ago near the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in ancient Babylon (Mesopotamia). We all drank from the same ancient waters. Obviously we have much improved technology and significantly greater control over our environment, which we have attacked, consumed, and destroyed more voraciously than any other culture at any time in the written record. As well, the tools of government are more highly refined, “kindler and gentler,” and therefore more insidious in many respects. Indeed, our masters no longer physically beat their slaves; but we are, nevertheless, more effectively controlled by the State and its religious underpinnings. And the goals of the legislator remain unshaken, the power of the State immutable, resolving itself in an underlying belief in its transcendent value and its unimpeachable stature. Every historical political regime has relied upon core adherence to a State ideology typically nested in religious or quasi-religious beliefs, sometimes more harmlessly called nationalism or patriotism; the USA is no exception.
The eventuality facing us today is not new my friends. It is very old, with a long history, as I have described, even here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. And it rears its fiery head yet again, now that our kingdom and its charade of equality are showing raw signs of rapid decay. So now the various parasites and cancers, parading themselves as saviors and healers, will vie for the right to eat away at the decomposing corpse of this ill-begotten beast, bringing our disequilibrium civilization and its culture of excess and caprice to a final and bitter conclusion. As the Roman Consul might have said in the Coliseum just before the Fall of Rome, “Let the games begin!”