Saturday, June 25, 2011

Michele Bachmann anti-sharia but Christian Reconstructionist?

Matt Taibbi's informative and characteristically irreverently critical profile of Republican Presidential Candidate and Tea Party darling Michelle Bachmann, Michele Bachmann's Holy War Rolling Stone 06/22/2011, includes a parenthetical comment articulating something I've been thinking:

This background is significant considering Bachmann's leadership role in the Tea Party, a movement ostensibly founded on ideas of limited government. Bachmann says she believes in a limited state, but she was educated in an extremist Christian tradition that rejects the entire notion of a separate, secular legal authority and views earthly law as an instrument for interpreting biblical values. As a legislator, she not only worked to impose a ban on gay marriage, she also endorsed a report that proposed banning anyone who "espoused or supported Shariah law" from immigrating to the U.S. (Bachmann seems so unduly obsessed with Shariah law that, after listening to her frequent pronouncements on the subject, one begins to wonder if her crazed antipathy isn't born of professional jealousy.) [my emphasis]
Even assuming for purposes of discussion that "anti-sharia" advocates actually know what sharia is (Islamic religious law), the US system of laws is a secular system. US laws and courts, including on the state level, cannot enforce religous law on either believers or unbelievers. We could get into some interesting hair-splitting over how religious law is regarded in the context of family law or contract law; but it doesn't change the basic reality that US law is secular law and religious law cannot be applied as such by American courts. (Or European courts for the most part, either; they have their "anti-sharia" hysterics there, too.)

Conservative fear-mongers over "sharia" like Bachmann can't easily acknowledge this. Pointing out that it would require a change in the entire Constitutional order to impose sharia law in the US wouldn't make it sound like an immediate threat that average Christian white folks in America should be in a panic over.


But Christian nationalists in the US also embrace a concept, rooted in the ultra-Protestant Christian Reconstructionist thinking, that the Constitution is founded on Christian religion and Christian law. And that the US government and courts can and should impose Christian religious law on believers and non-believers alike. This is a very widespread view among fundamentalist and Pentecostal political activists.

Warning of the dangers of religious law in the form of sharia, Islamic religious law, is a projection of what Christian nationalists profess to want in the US, although they are often diffident and evasive about it when dealing with non-believers, including Christians who don't share the Christian nationalist faith. (See Julie Ingersoll, Washington Post Story Gets Christian Reconstructionism Wrong Religion Dispatches 08/16/2010.)

Taibbi explains how Bachmann uses her I'm-as-dumb-as-you-are style of populism, which incorporates a great deal of white-Christian-as-victim attitude:

"There's always this mechanism available to Bachmann," says Elwyn Tinklenberg, the Democrat she defeated in the congressional election that fall. "No matter what they say, there is this attitude that 'these poor Christians are being picked on.'" Cecconi agrees, saying that Bachmann has discovered her blunders only serve to underscore her martyrdom. "I've seen her parlay that into 'Look how downtrodden I am,'" she says. "It works for her."
This is also a useful description of how that victim pose works for her and her fellow Christian nationalists:

Snickering readers in New York or Los Angeles might be tempted by all of this to conclude that Bachmann is uniquely crazy. But in fact, such tales by Bachmann work precisely because there are a great many people in America just like Bachmann, people who believe that God tells them what condiments to put on their hamburgers, who can't tell the difference between Soviet Communism and a Stafford loan, but can certainly tell the difference between being mocked and being taken seriously. When you laugh at Michele Bachmann for going on MSNBC and blurting out that the moon is made of red communist cheese, these people don't learn that she is wrong. What they learn is that you're a dick, that they hate you more than ever, and that they're even more determined now to support anyone who promises not to laugh at their own visions and fantasies.

Bachmann is the champion of those tens of millions of Americans who have read and enjoyed the Left Behind books, the apocalyptic works of Christian fiction that posit an elaborate fantasy in which all the true believers are whisked off to heaven with a puff of smoke at the outset of Armageddon. Here on Earth, meanwhile, the guilty are bent to the will of a marauding Satan who appears at first in the guise of a smooth-talking, handsome, educated, pro-government, superficially pacifist, internationalist politician named Nicolae Carpathia — basically, Barack Obama. [my emphasis]
If Taibbi seems to express the point harshly, his way of putting emphasizes why apologetic reassurances from liberals that they really don't hate religion are not going to be persuasive to Christian nationalists. This is the same technique that Leo Löwenthal and Norbert Guterman found in their study of anti-Semitic extremists published in 1949, Prophets of Deceit: A Study of the Techniques of the American Agitator (1949)

Seizing on the "simple folk" theme as a pretext for fostering an aggressively anti-intellectual attitude, the agitator describes his American Americans as a people of sound instincts and, he is happy to say, little sophistication. He suggests that, on one level, the conflict between his followers and the enemy is nothing but a clash between simple minds and wise guys, level-headed realists and crazy sophisticates. He delights his followers by proclaiming his own lack of intellectuality ...
He raises a point that should be a legitimate issue in the campaign:

When Bachmann finished her studies in Oklahoma, Marcus instructed her to do her postgraduate work in tax law — a command Michele took as divinely ordained. She would later profess to complete surprise at God's choice for her field of study. "Tax law? I hate taxes," she said. "Why should I go and do something like that?" Still, she sucked it up and did as she was told. "The Lord says: Be submissive, wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands."
Here she's saying as a matter of her Christian faith, she believes she should obey her husband's orders. It's an entirely sensible and legitimate question for opponents and journalists to asks whether she applies that approach to decisions she would be making as President.

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