COLUMN 110, OCTOBER 1, 2004
(Copyright © 2004 The Blacklisted Journalist)
THE COVERT KINGDOM
[Joe Bageant is a senior editor at the Primedia History Group and writes from Winchester, Virginia. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
---Thy will be done, on earth as it is in
Not long ago I pulled my car up alongside a
tiny wooden church in the woods, a stark white frame box my family built in
1840. And as always, an honest-to-god chill went through me, for the ancestral
ghosts presumably hovering over the graves there. From the wide open front door
the Pentecostal preacher's message echoed from within the plain wooden walls:
'thank you Gawd for giving us strawng leaders like President Bush during this
crieeesis. Praise you Lord and guide him in this battle with Satan's Muslim
If I had chosen to go back down the road a
mile or so to the sprawling new Bible Baptist church---complete with school
facilities, professional sound system and in-house television production---I
could have heard approximately the same exhortation. Usually offered at the end
of a prayer for sons and daughters of members in the congregation serving in
Iraq, it can be heard in any of the thousands upon thousands of praise temples
across our republic.
After a lifetime of identity conflict, I have
come to accept that, blood-wise, if not politically or spiritually, these are my
people. And as a leftist it is very clear to me these days why urban liberals
not only fail to understand these people, but do not even know they exist, other
than as some general lump of ignorant, intolerant voters called 'the religious
right," or the "Christian Right," or "neocon Christians." But until
progressives come to understand what these people read, hear, are told and
deeply believe, we cannot understand American politics, much less be effective.
Given fundamentalist Christianity's
inherent cultural isolation, it is nearly impossible for most enlightened
Americans to imagine, in honest human terms, what fundamentalist Americans
believe, let alone understand why we should all care.
For liberals to examine the current
fundamentalist phenomenon in America is accept some hard truths. For starters,
we libs are even more embattled than most of us choose to believe. Any
significant liberal and progressive support is limited to a few urban pockets on
each coast and along the upper edge of the Midwestern tier states. Most of the
rest of the nation, the much vaunted heartland, is the dominion of the
conservative and charismatic Christian. Turf-wise, it's pretty much their
country, which is to say it presently belongs to George W. Bush for some valid
reasons. Remember: He did not have to steal the entire election, just a little
piece of it in Florida.
Evangelical born-again Christians of one
stripe or another were then, and are now, 40% of the electorate, and they
support Bush 3-1. And as long as their clergy and their worst instincts tell
them to, they will keep on voting for him, or someone like him, regardless of
what we view as his arrogant folly and sub-intelligence. Forget about changing
their minds. These Christians do not read the same books we do, they do not get
their information from anything remotely resembling reasonably balanced sources,
and in fact, consider even CBS and NBC super-liberal networks of porn and the
Given how fundamentalists see the modern
world, they may as well be living in Iraq or Syria, with whom they share
approximately the same Bronze Age religious tenets. They believe in God,
Rumsfeld's Holy War and their absolute duty as God's chosen nation to kick
Muslim ass up one side and down the other. In other words, just because millions
of Christians appear to be dangerously nuts does not mean they are marginal.
Having been born into a Southern
Pentecostal/Baptist family of many generations, and living in this
fundamentalist social landscape means that I gaze into the maw of neocon
Christianity daily. Hell, sometimes hourly. My brother is a fundamentalist
preacher, as are a couple of my nephews, as were many of my ancestors going back
My entire family is born-again; their lives
are completely focused inside their own religious community, and on the time
when Jesus returns to earth---Armageddon and The Rapture.
Only another liberal born into a
fundamentalist clan can understand what a strange, sometimes downright hellish
family circumstance it is---how such a family can love you deeply, yet despise
everything you believe in, see you as a humanist instrument of Satan, and still
be right there for you when your back goes out or a divorce shatters your life.
As a socialist and a half-assed lefty activist, obviously I do not find
much conversational fat to chew around the Thanksgiving table. Politically and
spiritually, we may be said to be dire enemies. Love and loathing coexist side
by side. There is talk, but no communication. In fact, there are times when it
all has science fiction overtones'times when it seems we are speaking to one
another through an unearthly veil, wherein each party knows it is speaking to an
alien. There is a sort of high eerie mental whine in the air. This is the sound
of mutually incomprehensible worlds hurtling toward destiny, passing with great
psychological friction, obvious to all, yet acknowledged by none.
Between such times, I wait rather anxiously
and strive for change, for relief from what feels like an increased stifling of
personal liberty, beauty, art, and self-realization in America. They wait in
spooky calmness for Jesus. They believe that, until Jesus does arrive, our
'satanic humanist state and federal legal systems? should be replaced with
pure "Biblical Law." This belief is called Christian Reconstructionism.
Though it has always been around in some form, it began expanding rapidly about
1973, with the publication of R. J.
Rushdoony's, Institutes of Biblical Law
(Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1982).
Time out please? In a nod toward fairness and tolerance---begging the question of whether liberals are required to tolerate the intolerant---I will say this: Fundamentalists are "good people." In daily life, they are warm-hearted and generous to a fault. They live with feet on the ground (albeit with eyes cast heavenward) and with genuine love and concern for their neighbors. After spending 30 years in progressive western cities such as Boulder, Colorado and Eugene, Oregon, I would have to say that conservative Christians actually do what liberals usually only talk about. They visit the sick and the elderly, give generously of their time and money to help those in need, and put unimaginable amounts of love and energy into their families, even as Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh blare in the background. Their good works extend internationally?were it not for American Christians, there would be little health care on the African continent and other similar places. OK, that's the best I can do in showing due respect for the extreme Christian Right. Now to get back to the Christian Reconstructionists?
Reconstruction is blunt stuff, hard and unforgiving as a gravestone.
Capital punishment, central to the Reconstructionist ideal, calls for the
death penalty in a wide range of crimes, including abandonment of the faith,
blasphemy, heresy, witchcraft, astrology, adultery, sodomy, homosexuality,
striking a parent, and ''unchastity before marriage'' (but for women only.)
Biblically correct methods of execution include stoning, the sword, hanging, and
burning. Stoning is preferred, according to Gary North, the self-styled
Reconstructionist economist, because stones are plentiful and cheap. Biblical
Law would also eliminate labor unions, civil rights laws, and public schools. Leading
Reconstruction theologian David Chilton declares, "The Christian goal
for the world is the universal development of Biblical theocratic
Republic of Jesus would not only be a legal hell, but an ecological one as
well---Reconstructionist doctrine calls for the scrapping of environmental
protection of all kinds, because there will be no need for this planet earth
once The Rapture occurs. You may not have heard of Rushdoony or Chilton or
North, but taken either separately or together, they have directly and
indirectly influenced far more contemporary American minds than Noam Chomsky,
Gore Vidal and Howard Zinn combined.
A moreover covert
movement, although slightly more public of late, Christian Reconstructionism and
Dominionism have for decades exerted one hell of an influence through its scores
of books, publications and classes taught in colleges and universities. Over the
past 30 years their doctrine has permeated not only the religious right, but
mainstream churches as well, via the charismatic movement. The radical Christian
right's impact on politics and religion in this nation has been massive, with
many mainstream churches pushed rightward by its pervasiveness without even
Clearly the Methodist
church down the street from my house does not understand what it has become.
Other mainstream churches with more progressive leadership, simply flinch and
bow to the radicals at every turn. They have to, if they want to retain members
these days. Further complicating matters is that leading Reconstruction
thinkers, along with their fellow travelers, the Dominionists, are all but
invisible to non-fundamentalist America.
(I will spare you the
agony of the endless doctrinal hair-splitting that comes with making
fundamentalist distinctions of any sort---I would not do that to a dog. But if
you are disposed toward self-punishment, you can take it upon yourself to learn
the differences between Dominionism, Pretribulationism, Midtribulationism, and Posttribulationism,
Premillennialism, Millennialism? I
recommend the writings of the British author and scholar George Monbiot, who has
put the entire maddening scheme of it all together---corporate implications,
governmental and psychological meaning---in a couple of excellent books.)
Fundamentalists such as
my family have no idea how thoroughly they have been orchestrated by
agenda-driven Christian media and other innovations of the past few decades.
They probably would not care now, even if they knew. Like most of their tribe
(dare we say class, in a nation that so vehemently denies it has a class
system?) they want to embrace some simple foundational truth that will
rationalize all the conflict and confusion of a postmodern world. Some handbook
that will neatly explain everything, make all their difficult decisions for
And among these classic
American citizens, prone toward religious zealotry since the Great Awakening of
the 18th Century, what rock could appear more dependable upon which
to cling than the infallible Holy Bible? From
there it was a short step for Christian Dominionist leaders to conclude that
such magnificent infallibility should be enforced upon all other people, in the
same spirit as the Catholic Spanish Conquistadors or the Arab Muslim Moors
before them. It's an old, old story, a brutal one mankind cannot seem to
Christian Reconstruction and Dominionist
strategists make clear in their writings that homeschooling and Christian
academies have been and continue to create the Rightist Christian cadres of the
future, enabling them to place ever-increasing numbers of believers in positions
of governmental influence. The training of Christian cadres is far more
sophisticated than the average liberal realizes. There now stretches a network
of dozens of campuses across the nation, each with its strange cultish
atmosphere of smiling Christian pod people, most of them clones of Jerry
Fallwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.
But how many outsiders know the depth and
specificity of political
indoctrination in these schools? For example, Patrick Henry College in
Purcellville, Virginia, a college exclusively for Christian homeschoolers,
offers programs in strategic government intelligence, legal training and foreign
policy, all with a strict, Bible-based "Christian worldview." Patrick Henry
is so heavily funded by the Christian right it can offer classes below cost. In
the Bush administration, seven percent of all internships are handed out to
Patrick Henry students, along with many others distributed among similar
religious rightist colleges.
The Bush administration also recruits from
the faculties of these schools, i.e. the appointments of right-wing Christian
activist Kay Coles James, former dean of the Pat Robertson School of government,
as director of the U.S. office of personnel. What better position than the
personnel office from which to recruit more fundamentalists? Scratch any of
these supposed academics and you will find a Christian zealot. I know because I
have made the mistake of inviting a few of these folks to cocktail parties.
One university department head told me he is
moving to rural Mississippi where he can better recreate the lifestyle of the
antebellum South, and its "Confederate Christian values." It gets real
strange real quick.
Lest these Christians be
underestimated, remember that it was their strategists whose 'stealth
ideology? managed the takeover of the Republican Party in the early 1990s.
That takeover now looks mild in light of today's neocon Christian
implantations in the White House, the Pentagon and the Supreme Court and other
federal entities. As much as liberals screech in protest, few understand the
depth and breadth of the Rightist Christian takeover underway. They catch the
scent but never behold the beast itself.
Yesterday I heard a
liberal Washington-based political pundit on NPR say the Radical Christian
right's local and regional political action peak was a past fixture of the
Reagan era. I laughed out loud (it was a bitter laugh) and wondered if he had
ever driven 20 miles eastward on U.S. Route 50 into the suburbs of Maryland,
Virginia or West Virginia. The fellow on NPR was a perfect example of the need
for liberal pundits to get their heads out of their asses, get outside the city,
quit cruising the Internet and meet some Americans who do not mirror their own
humanist educations and backgrounds.
If they did, they would grasp the importance The Rapture has taken on in American national and international politics. Despite the media's shallow interpretation of The Rapture's significance, it is a hell of a lot more than just a couple hundred million Left Behind books sold. The most significant thing about the Left Behind series is that, although they are classified as "fiction," most fundamentalist readers I know accept the series as an absolute reality soon coming to a godless planet near you. It helps to understand that everything is literal in the Fundamentalist voter universe.
(But you won't)
Yes, when The Rapture
comes Christians with the right credentials will fly away. But you and I, dear
reader, will probably be among those who suffer a thousand-year plague of boils.
So stock up on antibiotics, because according to the "Rapture Index? it is
damned near here. See for yourself at http://www.raptureready.com/
. Part gimmick, part fanatical obsession,
the index is a compilation of such things as floods, interest rates, oil prices,
global turmoil? As I write this the index stands at 144, just one point below
critical mass, when people like us will be smitten under a sky filled with
deliriously happy naked flying Christians.
But to blow The Rapture off as
amusing-if-scary fantasy is not being honest on my part. Cheap glibness has
always been my vice, so I must say this: Personally, I've lived with The
Rapture as the psychologically imprinted backdrop of my entire life. In fact, my
own father believed in it until the day he died, and the last time I saw him
alive we talked about The Rapture. And when he asked me, "Will you be
saved?? Will you be there with me on Canaan's shore after The Rapture?? I
was forced to feign belief in it to give a dying man inner solace. But that was
the spiritual stuff of families, and living and dying, religion in its rightful
place, the way it is supposed to be, personal and intimate---not political.
Thus, until the advent of the of the new radical Christian influence, I?d
certainly never heard The Rapture spoken about in the context of a Texan being
selected by God to prepare its way.
Now however, this apocalyptic belief,
yearning really, drives an American Christian polity in the service of a grave
and unnerving agenda. The psuedo-scriptural has become an apocalyptic game plan
for earthly political action: To
wit, the messiah can only return to earth after an apocalypse in Israel called
Armageddon, which the fundamentalists are promoting with all their power so that
The Rapture can take place.
The first requirement was establishment of
the state of Israel. Done. The next is Israel's occupation of the Middle East as
a return of its "Biblical lands," which in the radical Christian
scheme of things, means more wars. These Christian conservatives believe peace
cannot ever lead to The Rapture, and indeed impedes the 1,000-year Reign of
Christ. So anyone promoting peace is an enemy, a tool of Satan, hence the
fundamentalist support for any and all wars Middle Eastern, in which their own
kids die a death often viewed by Christian parents as a holy martyrdom of its
own kind. "He (or she) died protecting this country's Christian values."
One hears it over and over from parents of those killed.
The final scenario of the Rapture has the
'saved? Christians settling onto a cloud after the long float upward, from
whence they watch a Rambo Jesus wipe out the remnants of the human race. Then in
a mop-up operation by God, the Jews are also annihilated, excepting a few who
convert to Christianity. The Messiah returns to earth. End of story.
Incidentally, the Muslim version, I was surprised to learn recently, is almost
exactly the same, but with Muslims doing the cloud-sitting.
If we are lucky as a nation, this period in
American history will be remembered as just another very dark time we managed to
get through. Otherwise, one shudders to think of the logical outcome. No wonder
the left is depressed. Meanwhile, our best thinkers on the left ask us to
consider our perpetual U.S. imperial war as a fascist, military/corporate war,
and indeed it is that too. But tens of millions of hardworking, earnest American
Christians see it as far more than that. They see a war against all that is
un-Biblical, the goal of which is complete world conquest, or put in Christian
They will have no less than the "inevitable
victory God has promised his new chosen people," according to the Recon
masters of the covert kingdom. Screw the Jews, they blew their chance. If
perpetual war is what it will take, then let it be perpetual. After all,
perpetual war is exactly what the Bible promised. Like it or not, this is the
reality (or prevailing unreality) with which we are faced. The 2004 elections,
regardless of outcome, will not change that. Nor will it necessarily bring
ever-tolerant liberals to openly acknowledge what is truly happening in this
country, the thing that has been building for a long, long time---a holy war, a
covert Christian jihad for control of America and the entire world. Millions of
Americans are under the spell of an extraordinarily dangerous mass psychosis.
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