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Two really devilish guys materialized in Toccoa, Ga., last month to harangue 600 true believers on the gospel of a thoroughly theocratic America. Along with lesser lights of the religious far right who spoke at American Vision's "Worldview Super Conference 2006," Herb Titus and Gary North called for nothing short of the overthrow of the United States of America.
Titus and North aren't household names. But Titus, former dean of TV preacher Pat Robertson's Regent University law school, has led the legal battle to plant the Ten Commandants in county courthouses across the nation. North, an apostle of the creed called Christian Reconstructionism, is one of the most influential elders of American fundamentalism.
"I don't want to capture their (mainstream Americans') system. I want to replace it," fumed North to a cheering audience. North has called for the stoning of gays and nonbelievers (rocks are cheap and plentiful, he has observed). Both friends and foes label him "Scary Gary."
Are we in danger of an American Taliban? Probably not today. But Alabama's "Ten Commandments Judge" Roy Moore is aligned with this congregation, and one-third of Alabama Republicans who voted in the June primary supported him. When you see the South Dakota legislature outlaw abortions, the Reconstructionist agenda is at work. The movement's greatest success is in Christian home schooling, where many, if not most, of the textbooks are Reconstructionist-authored tomes.
Moreover, the Reconstructionists are the folks behind attacks on science and public education. They're allied with proselytizers who have tried to convert Air Force cadets -- future pilots with fingers on nuclear triggers -- into religious zealots. Like the communists of the 1930s, they exert tremendous stealth political gravity, drawing many sympathizers in their wake, and their friends now dominate the Republican Party in many states.
Titus' and North's speeches, laced with conspiracy theories about the Rockefellers and the Trilateral Commission, were more Leninist than Christian in the tactics proposed -- as in their vision to use freedom to destroy the freedom of others. That's not surprising -- the founder of Christian Reconstruction, the late fringe Calvinist theologian Rousas J. Rushdoony, railed against the "heresy" of democracy.
A Harvard-bred lawyer whose most famous client is Alabama's Judge Moore, Titus told the Toccoa gathering that the Second Amendment envisions the assassination of "tyrants;" that's why we have guns. Tyranny, of course, is subjective to these folks. Their imposition of a theocratic state would not, by their standards, be tyranny. Public schools, on the other hand, to them are tyrannical.
North is best known to Internet users for his prolific auguring that a Y2K computer bug would cause the calamitous end of civilization. In the days prior to the advent of this millennium, North urged subscribers to his delusional economic newsletters to go survivalist and prepare for the end. Many did so, dumping investments and life savings, a big oops.
"I lost a million and a half dollars when I sold off real estate," one of North's fans, a home-schooling advocate from Florida, told me during a lunch break between lectures touting creationism and damning secular humanism. But my lunch companion still anted more than pocket change to hear North make more prophesies in Toccoa. "I believe Gary North on Bible issues," he explained. I suggested that false prophets often pocket big profits, but I was talking to deaf ears.
Hosting the "Creation to Revelation... Connecting the Dots" event was a Powder Springs, Ga., publishing house, American Vision, whose pontiff is Gary DeMar. The outfit touts the antebellum South as a righteous society and favors the reintroduction of some forms of slavery (it's sanctioned in the Bible, Reconstructionists say) -- which may explain the blindingly monochrome audience at the gathering.
The setting was the Georgia Baptist Conference Center, a sprawling expanse of woods, hills and a man-made lake in the North Georgia mountains. Four decades ago, the Southern Baptists officially declared, "no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state" and "the church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work."
Times change. The Baptists lust for power, and they demand the state to do their bidding. I guess that explains the denomination's hosting of theocrats no less rigid and bloodthirsty than the Taliban's mullahs.
DeMar christened the gathering with invective against science.
"Evolution is as religious as Christianity," he said, a claim that certainly must amaze 99.99 percent of the scientific community. Science is irrelevant to these folks.
Everything they need to know about the universe and the origin of man is in the first two chapters of Genesis. They know the answer before any question is asked. DeMar's spin is what he calls a clash of "worldviews." According to DeMar and his speakers, God sanctions only their worldview. And that worldview is a hash of enforcing Old Testament Mosaic law (except when it comes to chowing down on pork barbecue), rewriting American history to endorse theocracy and explaining politics by the loopy theories of the John Birch Society. (Christian Reconstructionism evolved, so to speak, from a radical variation of Calvinism, AKA Puritanism, and the Bircher politics of such men as the late Marietta, Ga., congressman, Larry McDonald.) For most of the four-day conference, DeMar turned the Bible over to others to thump. North blamed the Rockefellers and the Trilateral Commission for the success of secularists. Titus told of Jesus making a personal appearance in the rafters of his Oregon home.
At the heart of what was taught by a succession of speakers:
Education earned the most vitriol at the conference. Effusing that the Religious Right has captured politics and much of the media, North proclaimed: "The only thing they (secularists) have still got a grip on is the university system." Academic doctorates, he contended, are a conspiracy fomented by the Rockefeller family. All academic programs (except, he said, engineering) are now dominated by secularists and Darwinists.
"Marxists in the English departments!" he ranted. "Close every public school in America!"
Among North's most quoted writings was this ditty from 1982: "[W]e must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation...which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God." Titus followed that party line when he proclaimed that the First Amendment is limited to guaranteeing "the right to criticize the government," but "free expression is not in the Constitution." When I asked him if blasphemy -- castigating religion -- was protected, he shook his head.
Like North, Titus sees public education as decidedly satanic. Also, welfare. He contended the Founding Fathers -- and Americans today -- owe their "first duties to God. It's not just worship. It's education... welfare to the poor. Welfare belongs exclusively to God. Why do schools fail? They're trying to do the business of God. Medicaid goes. Education goes. The church gets back to doing what it should do." And what should the church be doing According to these self-appointed arbiters of God's will, running our lives. And stoning those who disagree.
At the Toccoa conference, DeMar organized several debates -- and he commendably invited articulate opponents of his creed.
One was Ed Buckner, a retired Georgia State University professor, unabashed atheist and a member of the Atlanta Freethought Society. He debated Bill Federer, who makes a living trying to prove America's founders intended this to be a Christian nation.
Buckner offered to concede the debate if Federer could disprove any one of four points: Americans don't agree on religion, human judgment is imperfect, religious truth can't be determined by votes or force and freedom is worth protecting. Federer ran from the challenge, and instead offered a litany of historic quotes showing that most of America's founders believed in God.
Federer never got the point that if, as he argued, government should endorse his faith today, tomorrow officials might decide to ban his beliefs.
The other debate featured University of Georgia biologist Mark Farmer versus Australian "young earth" creationist Carl Wieland. Farmer, religious himself, tried to explain that no evidence had ever damaged evolutionary theory -- at best, creationists point to gaps in knowledge.
"Yes, we don't know the answers to everything," Farmer told me. "That's what science is all about, finding answers."
It would be easy to dismiss the Reconstructionists as the lunatic fringe, no more worrisome than the remnants of the Prohibition Party. But, in fact, they have rather extraordinary entrée and influence with top-tier Religious Right leaders and institutions.
James Dobson's Focus on the Family is now selling DeMar's book, America's Christian Heritage. Dobson himself has a warm relationship with many in the movement, and he has admitted voting for Reconstructionist presidential candidate Howard Phillips in 1996.
TV preacher Robertson has mentioned reading North's writings, and he has hired Reconstructionists as professors at Regent University. Jerry Falwell employs Reconstructionists to teach at Liberty University. Roger Schultz, the chair of Liberty's History Department, writes regularly for Faith for all of Life, the leading Reconstructionist journal.
Southern Baptist Bruce N. Shortt is aggressively pushing his denomination to officially repudiate public education and call on Southern Baptists to withdraw their children from public schools. Shortt's vicious book, The Harsh Truth about Public Schools, was published by the Reconstructionist Chalcedon Foundation.
There are big theological differences between the Religious Right's generals and the Reconstructionists. Traditional Christian theology teaches that history will muddle along until Jesus' Second Coming. That teaching is tough to turn into a political movement. Reconstructionists preach that the nation and the world must come under Christian "dominion" (as they define it) before Christ's return -- a wonderful theology to promote global conquest.
In short, Dobson, Robertson, Falwell and the Southern Baptist Convention (the nation's largest Protestant denomination) may not agree with everything the Reconstructionists advocate, but they sure don't seem to mind hanging out with this openly theocratic, anti-democratic crowd.
It's enough for Americans who believe in personal freedom and religious liberty to get worried about -- before the first stones start flying.
John Sugg is senior editor of Creative Loafing Newspapers. He was the recipient of the 2005 Society of Professional Journalists "Green Eyeshade" award for serious commentary, and he has won more than 30 other significant awards.
The "C" Word By Bill Zide t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Tuesday 13 June 2006
No, not that word.
Once upon a time there were real "Conservatives." They believed in fiscal and political responsibility. They expounded on the virtues of getting government out of people's lives. They talked about caution with regard to the use of military force and foreign intervention. They even promoted a policy of governmental accountability. Many of these people existed in the Republican Party. They might have been off track, behind the curve possibly, or at times deluded, but most tended to be civil, honorable and sincere. They were more often than not the necessary loyal opposition.
Now, "Conservative" has become a particularly dirty word. Worse yet, it seems to be heading toward becoming totally meaningless altogether. Once, the root of the word "Conservative" was "conserve," a word that implied caution and preservation. Now, it seems that this new brand of "Neo-" or "Theo-Conservative" that populates the rank and file of the current GOP leadership has put the "con" back into "conservative." They are more about being against things than being for anything real or substantive. It's all about the "Con": Conceal. Conceit. Concoct. Condescend. Congest. Confabulate. Confederacy. Contradictory. Conformity. Confound. Confrontational. Confused. Conglomerates. Conjecture. Conquest. Conflagration. Conflict. Condemn. Convicted. Con-men. Consolidation. Conspiracy. Consume. Contorted. Contrivance. Control. And, always, always - Contributions.
Interestingly, the "cons" missing from their agenda and concept of the world include: Concern. Contraception. Constitution. Consistency. Conscience. Contriteness. And, always, always - Consequences.
If you are a moderate Republican (a nearly extinct breed) you must be built of stern stuff or simply be a certified masochist. They hate you. No, really really hate you. You are a RINO (Republican in name only). Even though your values are the values of such other "RINOs" as Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln. You are not really a Republican. They need you to hold the seats that no conservative can win, but don't confuse practicality for love. And, should you ever dare to contradict the will of the Right (a rare thing in these days of the lock-step GOP), then you are a traitor (their words, not mine). If you dare to stand up and call them out on a lie, a contradiction, a crime or even treason - you are the criminal. They will call you disgruntled or crazy. And in extreme cases, they will risk national security itself to get back at you. Welcome to the new world order of the GOP.
The Party of Ideas
The Right is always telling us they are the party of ideas. And they are. The problem is that most of their ideas are from the 19th century. For instance, they are awfully fond of Social Darwinism, (although not actual Evolution theory because that involves science). This is a theory that generally believes nature decides who succeeds in business and society, so people always get what they deserve. Essentially, it suggests what we see around us is simply a result of the natural order of things. Natural economic and social selection decides who prospers and who is relegated to a life of menial subsistence. Yet, the fittest to survive are inevitably always rich, privileged and connected. That's just how things work out apparently. Of course, it isn't nature that cares about the color of your skin, or attacks your religion or relegates women to subservient positions regardless of their skills. That takes deliberate action and a system created to those purposes. Still, by the logic of the Right, slavery could be perfectly justifiable, just like keeping women from voting.
The Right tells its constituency that it's about Guns, God and Gays. Always claiming that "they" (Progressives, terrorists or possibly aliens) will repeal the 2nd Amendment and take away our hunting rifles (useful to say in order to get people fired up, even if it's not true or possible). They want to protect the 1st Amendment right to worship freely as long as they get to decide who you worship. Naturally this would involve getting rid of the Establishment Clause within the First Amendment. Should we ever lose track of what they really want, the Theo-Cons keep reminding us we are a "Christian country" even if the facts, Constitution, founding fathers and reality say otherwise.
As for homosexuals, these people have a dangerous agenda that includes serving honorably in the military, monogamous marriage with legal benefits, and raising children. A dangerous agenda to be sure, that apparently threatens the American way of life. Clearly, they must be stopped before they decorate and renovate any more houses, or win any more medals. If we don't stop them, this country will be exactly the same as it is now, only with good color coordination, designer furniture and more organic vegetables.
It seems all the "ideas" of the Right are based on two basic principles which define them to their core: Fear and Entitlement. We have seen how they propagate fear to justify their actions and abuses. But, in a sense it goes deeper than that. They are about the fear of change, progress and responsibility. If they accept change and progress then it involves giving up some of what they have taken for themselves. And, if they accept responsibility it means having to act accordingly and care about the effects of their actions on others. As the Party of the rich and connected, there has always been a sense of entitlement built into the GOP and right-wing mentality. There has to be, to justify the inherently lofty and privileged status they have created for themselves. In the last thirty years they have cleverly extended this sense of entitlement by telling Theo-Cons that they are entitled to power because they are the "right Christians" and to Neo-Cons by offering them a big piece of the pie. Almost everyone loves being told they are special, chosen and entitled. Religion has often served in this way, specifically in old Christian Europe and in many parts of the Muslim East. However, all the religious wars in Europe caused modern Europeans to abandon true state-sanctioned religion. Yet, here in America it's back. Their actions, however, seem in contrast to many of the actual teachings of Christ. Many of these "Christians" aren't about turning the other cheek and helping the less fortunate, but more about self-righteousness and demagoguery.
So, out of these two aspects of Fear and Entitlement, all the "ideas" of the Right flow. Social Security "Reform" is an attempt to rid the country of a program that insures the survival of some of the least amongst us. They would like to do it in the open, but it is by far one of the most successful and popular programs in the history of the country. George W. Bush's bold failure in trying to cover this intent by claiming it was in serious solvency trouble and creating "private accounts" shows the depths to which they will sink to achieve its dissolution. Neither of these things were true, but by trying to claim Social Security was an investment program, when it's actually an insurance program, shows you what they are really after - the money they feel entitled to.
Tax giveaways to the rich and large corporations are the traditional standby of the Right and are cleverly disguised as "Tax Reform" or "Tax Cuts," when they are in fact really Deficit-Financed Revenue Giveaways and redistributions to those who already have most of the country's capital. The end result and intent is to under-fund the government and social programs, thus weakening it at all levels. This creates what amounts to, as some have dubbed it, a centralized Kleptocracy, where those who can take will take all they can. There is no accountability or real oversight, and government comes to serve corporations and the established wealth. This is the GOP's Corporate Ownership Society (which they try to call an "ownership society" except the owner is ultimately a company or bank rather than an individual). All this leads to the majority of the country's wealth and resources being controlled by the largest corporations and richest individuals.
In other words George W. Bush, the Radical GOP Right and their cohorts are in the process of trying to turn the United States into a Latin American Oligarchy. Before one dismisses this theory, consider that many of the countries in Latin America were controlled by old European colonial families (much like the Bushes here) who were heavily involved in corporations connected with the state and originally aided by religion (in Latin America's case, the Catholic church). This triumvirate of interests creates a government of the few wealthy land-owning elite over the many (often indigenous) poor. Most of the keen "ideas" and plans of the Regressive Right seem to add up to waging war on the middle class, by decreasing or stagnating wages, reducing educational opportunities, increasing survival costs while reducing social supports. The Oligarchies of Latin America tended to have small middle classes, but a very large source of cheap and vulnerable - often unskilled - labor. They didn't have much of a social support structure or freedom of speech. They, like Bush and the GOP, worked steadfastly against unions and the rights of workers, always favoring management instead. This is essentially a Plantation Culture - or what has been also been referred to as "Plantation Capitalism," which was also the original culture of the American Antebellum South: a culture that more and more centralizes wealth and power in the hands of the few, while making the bulk of the population dependent on them to survive. So, while many in Latin America are trying to break through centuries of stagnation and oppression, we seem strangely headed the other way.
Naturally in this country the corporate and government structure is built into a large standing military, what the enlightened Republican President (and former General) Eisenhower dubbed "The Military Industrial-Complex." As Chalmers Johnson has eloquently pointed out, this permanent structure of corporations, military and government guarantees lucrative contracts and profits for those involved in making weapons and supplying the military. So, as war becomes incredibly profitable, it becomes inevitable that we are going to see a lot more of it. You can't buy more weapons and ammunition or build more bases and landing strips unless you are using them and developing new ones. Now, there are real threats, but when anything is this profitable, you start finding more reasons for war and making up new ones if you need to. The Cold War may be over, but the smaller hot wars across the globe may be even better business. Why even develop new sources of energy and promote conservation when you can get oil and a lucrative war too? The Soviet Union as boogieman has been successfully replaced by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in a new "war" that can never end.
The problem is that it is the poor and young who always get stuck fighting those wars. Patriotism is always the best device to recruit them. After all, it's what got poor white farm boys in the South to fight for and defend the land and wealth of rich white plantation owners during the Civil War. The very slavery that kept them poor (by keeping their own wages down and reducing the available paying jobs) was something they came to champion, because they were told they were better than the slaves because at least they weren't black. So, they fought to preserve a system that in the end kept them poor. They too were told it was about "values" and what they were "entitled" to as Americans. There is a certain dark genius to it that Karl Rove could appreciate and steal from. He may not be original, but he knows what works. Thomas Frank explains in his book just how Kansas has embraced a political path that is slowly destroying its own economy and infrastructure. Yet, they continue down that road to oblivion and even hope to take the rest of the country with them.
Some would argue that since many of these people believe in the "End of Days" scenario they think they see in the Book of Revelation, oblivion may be exactly what they seek. They feel they will be saved, and that this has to happen so that they can meet their maker. So, they work hard to help it along.
So, in this day and age, a "Conservative" has little to do with what was once "Conservatism." Instead, it has been successfully replaced by a self-destructive ideology that is a hybrid of Corporate Plantation Capitalism and Religious Extremism that now rules the GOP. So, now with the Right firmly in charge we take the Great Leap Backwards from a multi-cultural democracy based on checks and balances, to Corporate-Religious Oligarchy promoting a great leap backward.