Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Apocalyptic politics

Chip Berlet has a really good summary of apocalypticism and its role in American politics, specifically with the Christian Right, Palin's Apocalyptic Nightmare?: The End Times and Christian Right Dominionism Talk to Action blog 09/09/08. It gives a good perspective that recognizes that the conventional assumption about Christianist politics that it will fade away or be overwhelmed in the Republican Party by the Wall Street wing of the Party have proven wrong - for decades now.

Advocates of what we now call "Christian Right" politics were largely marginalized in the 1960s because they had no large mass base and no major leaders that were focused on developing an effective Christianist politics.

A key assumption that scholars of religion, historians and politicians shared was that, at most, distinctive Christian fundamentalist interventions into politics would be cyclical, lasting for a few years and then fading out. The model for this notion was the rise of fundamentalist activism in the 1920s, when they had a famous capable spokesperson in the form of William Jennings Bryan. The thinking was that fundamentalist theology was intensely otherworldly in the sense that its expectations of seeing the works of God realized in society were low. And therefore they would get periodically worked up over some issue like Communism or pornography, but that public political efforts on their parts would soon recede.

That's not happening now, as Berlet explains:

In foreign policy what is it? According to Midnight Call magazine, not only are abortion and the feminist movement and gay rights all signs of the End Times, and part of the satanic end-times plan to betray Christianity, but they imply strongly, and sometimes state outright, that The Antichrist is part of the system that is building world cooperation through the United Nations and other groups. They specifically think that the one-world religion of the Antichrist is probably Islam. Now, this provides a tremendous motivation for the so-called "war on terror." Because this is not just a war on terror, it is a war on the satanic religion of Islam.

I would think in a civilized society this would be recognized as outrageous religious bigotry, and the fact that it is not being condemned is terrifying to me. But, beyond that, if Christ is coming back for the premillennialist, where does Christ land? Why, he lands on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. What is currently on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem? A mosque and several Islamic religious shrines.

This is how one gets into an intractable battle where there is no solution for the Middle East. If, in fact, Israel represents God's plan for the return of Jesus, there is no reason to have any criticism of any Israeli government policy whatsoever. If you think this is not important in the Bush Administration, I suggest you do a little reading into the role of Christian Zionism in building the most hardened kind of support for aggressive policies by the Israeli government.
I believe I understand the thinking behind the following recommendation. I would even share it in some situations, I would guess:

It is important, then, to ask ourselves a question. If we are asking people on the Christian Right, especially Dominionists, to stop engaging in demonization, we need to inspect some of our own language. I am uncomfortable when I hear people of sincere religious faith described as "religious political extremists." What does that term mean? It is a term of derision that says: We're good and they're bad. There is no content. We are not talking about reproductive rights; we are not talking about separation of Church and state. The word "extremist" [sic] just becomes a label.

So when we enter into this dialogue over the outcome of these religious beliefs, and where it is going to take America, we need to avoid terms like "religious political extremists" or "lunatic fringe." [minor spelling corrections made]
In terms of establishing religious common ground on really religious issues, like God's relationship to humanity, the nature of Scripture, science and Scripture, and so on. Such an attitude is more appropriate.

But what happened to Obama at Rick Warren's event this year with Obama and John McCain is a warning for Democrats that, when it comes to Christianist politics, playing nicey-nice requires people on the other side willing to reciprocate. And that doesn't describe most of today's Christian Right, so far as I can see. Obama basically got ambushed by a Republican-leaning Warren, who denounced him for his views on abortion immediately afterward.

With hardcore dualists, fear is a major motivation in their religious thinking: fear of the world, fear of enemies, fear of their own thoughts and impulses. Moving away from that way of thinking requires some kind of alleviation of that fear. Seeing people who aren't motivated by the same fear is a big part of that. But if opponents of the Christian Right take a position of begging the zealots to be more understanding, that is more likely to communicate fear rather than freedom from fear.

It seems to me that a dialogue between Christian Right hardliners can only take place on the base of realistic, focused interchanges. If mainstream participants accept false charges, e.g., "Democrats are hostile to people of faith", they make any real dialogue impossible.

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