The Grand Inquisitors

By Pettifer, Ann | The Humanist, May-June 1997 | Go to article overview
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The Grand Inquisitors


Pettifer, Ann, The Humanist


Fourteen percent of the American population, given the opportunity, would impose a Christian theocracy on the country. This figure comes from a survey conducted in 1996 by the Gallup International Institute for the American Jewish Committee, the latter having good historical reason to get the wind up when Christian nationalists are on the move.

Formerly separated, Catholics and Protestants are busy burying the hatchet and avoiding old doctrinal differences in the pursuit of a common political vision: one nation of clean cut, conformist subjects ruled by an omniscient, punitive male deity. The god they obviously have in mind is the one who dispatched "his only begotten son" into the world to get slaughtered so as to ransom the rest of us.

How worried should the rest of us be--the 86 percent who would prefer not to live under the 14 percent's god? Realistically, are these new Christian nationalists all that scary?

If the movement was simply a back water phenomenon led by polyester suited, blow dried chaps of the Pat Boone variety, we might rest more easily at night. As it is, the leaders are slick, influential types, masters of propaganda whose goal is the defense and maintenance of a largely unfettered free market. However, as the country comes increasingly under the pressure of the destabilizing forces that the free market brings in its wake, the drive is on to identify scapegoats. The constant bar rage of sermons on the phantom decline in morals is a ploy to distract folk from focusing on their economic woes. The elite shaping and directing this movement is comprised of powerful, well connected white men. One of them--Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia--has already decried the enemy in the context of a Kultur Kampf out to sabotage the country's "cherished Christian beliefs."

Also in the Catholic column are Father Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Navak, and the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, John O'Connor. Neuhaus and Novak are seasoned barkers for American corporations. Neuhaus edits the Christian Capitalist's house journal, First Things, which is busy banging the drum, warning of the end of democracy and flushing out the usual subjects: liberal legislators, feminists, and homosexuals. In Leninist mode, Neuhaus has revolution on his mind: "Only the church collectively can decide at what point a government becomes sufficiently corrupt that a believer must resist.... revolution can be justified from a Christian viewpoint." For years, he and Novak meddled in politics via their Institute on Religion and Democracy which, during the 1980s, helped to micro manage American colonialism in Central America, giving succor to murderous U.S. satraps.

Failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork is another member of the pack; he serves as a pamphleteer for the Christian nationalist agenda. This man is a serious hater. His wretched, mis-anthropic screed, Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, had even the usually cool New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani in a lather. Appalled by such pronouncements as "The desire for equality is in large part rooted in self pity and envy," Kakutani dismissed Bork's book as "ugly and intemperate."

One of the more disturbing aspects of this whole spectacle is the confusion these religious nationalists generate in stretches of the secular media. Be cause they crusade under the Christian flag, the supposition is made that they are, indeed, what they say they are: namely, Christians. The truth is otherwise. There is about all these men a touch of Dickensian caricature; they are villains in the Victorian utilitarian mold of a Josiah Bounderby. However, their strategy for the revolution--the subjugation of the American demos--owes more to a book written by John Locke in the seventeenth century (another period of social and economic upheaval).

In The Reasonableness of Christianity, Locke advances the idea that Christianity is an excellent lever for social control.

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