Sunday, February 15, 2004

The Despoiling of America
In the wake of Friday's post about Steve Erickson's LA Weekly piece on the conflict between Secular America and Theocratic America comes an article by Katherine Yurica. She's a researcher who's studied Pat Robertson's religious empire, and she's published a piece on her website titled "The Despoiling of America." If Yurica read the Erickson piece, she might substitute the word "dominionist" for "theocratic." She argues that the Bush administration is driven by a religious philosophy that substitutes Old Testament values for New--a philosophy that allows its adherents to do anything, even performing acts that most religious people would consider sins, in order to reach its goal of complete political domination of the United States and the world. The ends--a world in which all people must recognize "the crown rights of King Jesus"--justify the means, which is one of the points Erickson made about Bush believers and their approach to governance.

You may be tempted to believe, if you read the Yurica piece, that her argument is overblown and nearly hysterical, because what she is describing sounds almost loony, given our pluralistic traditions. But in the end, your disbelief in the likelihood of her story comes from your idological location, which is most likely in what Erickson called "the secular center," which "won't accept that there's a culture war going on." While people in the center envision a coming-together of religious folk from all across the spectrum, overcoming their differences to pursue religiously inspired goals for the improvement of humankind, the dominionists define the "true" form of Christianity in a very specific, narrow way. It has specific rules for taxation, jurisprudence, war--more like a legal code than a philosophy, and its legalistic form brooks no variation. It would look on the communitarian ideals espoused by the likes of a Jimmy Carter or a Desmond Tutu to border on heretical. (Read Yurica's hair-raising sections on why dominionists believe they have no duty to help the poor or care for the sick.) Just as you don't win a shooting war by surrendering your troops in a battle, you don't win a cultural or religious war by surrendering your tenets to heretical variations.

I have been waiting for years for mainstream denominations to stand up against the spread of theocracy. While there are stirrings now and then, there's still no broad and widespread movement to say, "No, you're wrong about this, and here's why." There's a tendency for mainstreamers to look at the charismatics, pentecostals, and evangelicals who make up the bulk of the theocrats and feel as though everyone has common ground to stand on because they're all Christians, so their differences are bridgeable and not, in the end, a very big deal, so why fight too hard over it? But keep in mind that generous interfaith impulse is a feeling not necessarily reciprocated by the theocrats, who, as Randall Terry famously put it, "don't want pluralism." Fact is, the theocrats would lump followers of the so-called "mainstream" churches into the secular horde--and headed for Hell as surely as any other heathen.

In his annotation on the State of the Union for the Atlantic, James Fallows noted the presence of coded religious language that would speak directly to the theocrats in Bush's audience while zooming right over the heads of secular listeners. Theocrats, dominionists, call 'em what you will, count on the fact that the great secular unwashed (co-religionists of other denominations included) doesn't understand their language. And if the great secular unwashed doesn't understand the language, they can't know they're in a fight--and may not know until it's mostly over. "The Despoiling of America," even though it has some faults, helps with the translation.

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