Saturday, October 2, 2010

American Politics and the Insidious Influence of Religion

As a child, I watched my practical, rational grandmother disappear from time to time, replaced by a pietistic, emotional, slavishly devoted fan of Billy Graham whenever the evangelist came on television. I remember how she would skimp on groceries to send money for his “work”—the work of using the newly unleashed power of television to inspire more and more followers to send more money.

As a Catholic, I was enjoined from paying much attention to teachings of Protestants or the ravings of televangelists. I couldn’t have known at the time that I was seeing the first volleys of a culture war that would derail American progress, threaten the world economy, and even lead America (with a born-again president at the helm of the nation) into a war of aggression and other atrocities.

Frank Schaeffer spent most of his childhood at l’Abri, his parents’ religious compound in the Swiss Alps, which became a mecca for those seeking salvation through magical thinking and simple, absolute answers to every human question. Many who found their way there (including the indomitable Billy Graham) returned to America as founders of the “religious right”—the movement that, more than any other, has made America vulnerable to the influence of extremists and opportunists.

Schaeffer’s book is entitled Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. In it, he argues that the religious-right leaders who infiltrated American government during the last half of the twentieth century—and who exert enormous influence over it today—were not and are not just political “conservatives” but rather “anti-American revolutionaries.” Far from wanting their nation to succeed, these fanatics were (and are) “gleefully betting on American failure” in order to turn their own dire predictions into self-fulfilling prophesies.

“In the crudest form,” Schaeffer explains, “this was part of the evangelical fascination with the so-called end times. The worse things got, the sooner Jesus would come back. But there was another component: the worse everything got, the more it proved that America needed saving, by us!”

In a nutshell, this explains why the minority party in Congress today—who, with the exception of a few eccentric secular libertarians, almost universally profess to be “born-again Christians”—have been not only betting on the failure of American government but doing everything in their power to ensure that it happens. Under an administration that they can’t control, their only objective is to snatch back the reins of power so they can continue their “work”—the work of subverting religion to serve the interests of the rich and powerful: to make the rich richer and the poor subservient to the wishes of those who claim to know best (because God speaks to them directly).

After decades of secrecy, the influence of religious, right-wing extremism on American government is beginning to be exposed by a few courageous journalists and writers. Responsible voters will take heed and question the motives of any political leader who claims to speak for God.

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