The Political God of American Evangelicals

Religious oppression is as old humankind. Tyrants of every stripe learned early on that the most effective way to subjugate their people was by convincing them that they were descendants of gods, if not gods themselves. Thus they could do no wrong. However unjust, cruel or stupid their decrees seemed, however depraved their life style was, the people had no choice but to revere and obey, under penalty of offending the gods, or the one God, as was the case with European monarchs well into the 19th century and, particularly, with Spanish rulers in the days of the Inquisition.

In modern times we have the example of Adolf Hitler, who portrayed himself as a reincarnated Teutonic God and was accepted as such by millions of alleged well-educated Germans. During Juan Peron’s reign in Catholic Argentina portraits of the dictator wearing a saint-like halo hung in public building, schools, and many private homes. In my native Cuba, haloed pictures of Fidel Castro, El Máximo Líder, were a common fixture in household altars alongside effigies of venerated Virgins and saints. Then there are the young suicide bombers in the Muslim world duped by a splinter faction of zealots into thinking that blowing up people at random is a sure ticket into heaven.

Here in America we have had our share of religious insanity. To wit, the Salem Witch Hunts; the Cross-burning KKK ; The Jesus-Hitler worshipping White Supremacist Militias; the mass suicide by poisoned Kool-Aid of 912 members of The Reverend Jim Jones’ People’s Temple; The ministries of Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Bakker and other scam televangelists; Pastor Terry Jone’s convicting the Koran of rape, murder and terrorism, and executing the book by fire, in accordance to Biblical law. (Death by firing squad or lethal injection, presumably, wouldn’t have been religious enough); The Reverend Fred Phelp’s Topeka, Kansas, Westboro Baptist Chruch’s campaign to disrupt military funerals in protest of the U.S. Armed Forces for allowing homosexuals to serve in their ranks; the rumor spread by homophobic religious leaders that Hurricane Katrina was sent by God to Punish New Orleans for planning to hold a gay convention, a warning replay of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the peddlers of holy water from the Jordan River, (Jimmy Swaggart among them), guaranteed to cure every physical, mental and emotional ailment known to man, for just $25 a quart.

But such religious perversions are relatively few. Though there are some 1,500 non-mainstream Christian sects in America with formidably long names —(the smaller and less significant the sect the more formidable its name) they tend to keep to themselves, meeting in modest buildings, often a converted garage or a mobile home, worshipping as they please, but doing no harm except maybe to the minds of the their adherents.

The same, though, cannot be said of our social conservative Evangelicals. Though their theology is grounded more on personal biases than in Scripture their moral values and ethics ring true with many level-headed Americans. But their aggressive meddling in politics, their insistence on bending the law of the land to suit their agenda is akin to the ploys of autocrats who bank on religion to ride-herd over their people. Ou Evangelicals would have fit in swimmingly with the social order of the Puritan theocracy of 17th century Massachusetts, but in our modern-day secular democracy, they have become an obstructive, retrogressive force. In effect, creating a de facto theocracy quite against the Constitutional principles they claim to uphold. Clearly, most have never read the document, and if they have, they did not understand it.

There was a good reason why the First Amendment to the Constitution begins with this clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The type of government the Founding Fathers had in mind was one in which consensus was reached by intelligent debate among the various branches and interest groups involved—the separation of powers principle. But as experienced debaters themselves they knew that once the God card was introduced in the debate, no further debating was possible. After all, how can the Omniscient, Omnipotent, Infallible Creator be questioned, much less contradicted, by worldly logic? If God is on your side, than those who are not with you are therefore ungodly, evil. In other ages and cultures—the Founding Fathers knew their history well—nonbelievers were routinely stoned to death or roasted alive. Given some panicky turn of events, this could happen in America as well. Hence the precautionary first clause of the First Amendment. Note how even in informal gatherings all conversation abruptly ceases or, worse, degenerates into a shouting match when someone evokes The Lord in support of his or her views.

This is not to intimate, of course, that our modern-day Evangelicals and their Tea Party adherents are a fanatical lot. Yet there is no denying that their political activism has done much to quell important political debate in America. Consider, for instance, the stalemate they have created in the House of Representatives over budget cuts, a matter vital to the nation’s economic survival, because that some agencies were underhandedly funding abortion, one of their pet sins (though abortion is not mention at all in the Bible.) Consider also how contrary to all sound advice and military intelligence, President George Bush asked Congress for and was granted license to invade Afghanistan and Iraq because, as he later explained “I am driven with a mission from God'. God would tell me, 'George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan'. And I did. And then God would tell me 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq'. And I did." Presidential hopeful Sara Palin echoed the sentiment: “War in Iraq is God's Plan." And to dispel suspicions that he might be a foreign Muslim and, thereby, burnish his true-blood American image for the upcoming 2012 elections, President Barack Obama recently declared that: "A call rooted in faith is what led me, just a few years out of college, to sign up as a community organizer for a group of churches on the south side of Chicago. And it was through that experience, working with pastors and laypeople, trying to heal the wounds of hurting neighborhoods that I came to know Jesus Christ for myself and embrace him as my Lord and Savior."

Further consider the socores political ads cropping up on TV at election time showing the candidates devoutly attending church with their family and quoting passages out of context from the Scriptures. None would dare give the impression that they are nonbelievers. And unless the economy improves and faith in the secular government is restored, come the 2012 elections the Evangelical sway will be even greater.

But maybe the Evangelicals are right. Maybe the separation of powers model that worked in the days of the Founding Father doesn’t cut it anymore in today’s fast-changing world. The nine members of China’s Political Bureau Standing Committee don’t spend months on end debating an issue. Right or wrong, they do what they think necessary after a few days or hours of deliberation. Maybe if we ratchet up our de-facto theocracy to a full-fledged one, and we all agree that the one God of the Evangelicals is on our side, maybe can react faster to the moves of our competitors abroad and preclude political stalemates at home. But that is grist for another blog.

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