HARPERS, MAY 2005. The latest (May) Harper's has three major articles and editor Lewis Lapham's preface on the subject of Christian fundamentalism and where it's taking us. The outlook is grim. Jeff Sharlet writes about Colorado Springs. He manages to get inside places most of us couldn't or wouldn't. Chris Hedges takes on the National Religious Broadcasters. And Gordon Bigelow writes about the evangelical roots of economics.
Harper's is not generous about allowing timely online access -- even partial access -- to their articles, not even to those of us who subscribe. Rather than take several hours to scan, edit and excerpt these articles, I'm counting on you to find a copy of the magazine and read it. I'll give you an idea of what you'll find, quoting some favorite passages!
SHARLET ON COLORADO SPRINGS. Jeff Sharlet's scary piece on fundamentalists near and in Washington from the 3/03 Harper's has been reprinted in its entirety in these pages a few months ago. You can find it here. His article in the latest Harper's, "Soldiers of Christ: Inside America's Most
Powerful Megachurch," illustrated by Thomas Blackshear (below left) takes on Pastor Ted Haggard, founder of the New Life Church (and considerably more powerful politically than the better known James Dobson of "Focus on the Family.") Sharlet writes:
...The story ... found in Colorado is about newness: new houses, new roads, new stores. And about oldness, imagined: what is thought to be the traditional way of life, of families as they were before the culture wars, after the World Wars, which is to say, during the brief, Cold War moment when America was a nation of single-breadwinner nuclear families...
New Lifers, Pastor Ted writes with evident pride, "like the benefits, risks, and maybe above all, the excitement of a free-market society." They like the stimulation of a new brand. "Have you ever switched your toothpaste brand, just for the fun of it?" Pastor Ted asks. Admit it, he insists. All the way home you felt a "secret little thrill..." This is the sensation Ted wants pastors to bring to the Christian experience. He believes it is time "to harness the forces of free-market capitalism in our ministry." Once a pastor does that, his flock can start organizing itself according to each member's abilities and tastes. Which brings us back to "Order." Key to the growth of evangelicalism during the last twenty years has been a social structure of "cell groups" that allows churches to grow endlessly while maintaining orthodoxy in their ranks..."
The language of the Christian right, Sharlet notes, "has become all-encompassing, mapped across not just theology but also emotions; across not just the Church but the entire world."
HEDGES ON THE NATIONAL RELIGIOUS BROADCASTERS. Chris Hedges, best known for his recent book, "War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning," tells of his journey to Anaheim "to observe the rising power of the evangelical movement at first hand... It is here, among friends, that the National Religious Broadcaster association -- which brings together some 1,600 Christian radio and television broadcasters, who claim to reach up to 141 million listeners and viewers -- is holding its annual convention."
Among other things, the NRB strongly opposes passage of hate-crime legislation. Hedges quotes Frank Wright, new president of the NRB: "If we had to give equal time to every oppositing viewpoint, there would be no time to proclaim the truth that we have been commanded to proclaim... We will fight the Fairness Doctrine, tooth and nail. It could be the end of Christian broadcasting as we know it if we do not."
James MacDonald, another evangelist and radio host also speaks.
He reminds us, quoting the theologian Peter Berger, that "ages of faith are not marked by dialogue but by proclamation" and that "there is power in the unapologetic proclamation of truth. There is power in it. This is a kingdom of power." When he says the word "power," he draws it out for emphasis. He tells the crowd to shun the "persuasive words of human wisdom." Truth, he says, does "not rest in the wisdom of men but the power of God." Then, in a lisping, limp-wristed imitation of liberals, he mocks, to laughter and applause, those who want to "share" and be sensitive to the needs of others.
Chris Hedges continues, taking us back to sanity:
I can't help but recall the words of my ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School, Dr. James Luther Adams, who told us that when we were his age, and he was then close to eighty, we would all be fighting "Christian fascists."
He gave us a warning twenty-five years ago, when Pat Robertson and other prominent evangelists began speaking of the new political religion that would direct its efforts at taking control of all major institutions... to transform the United States into a global Christian empire. At the time, it was hard to take such fantastic rhetoric seriously. But fascism, Adams warned, would not return wearing swastikas and brown shirts. Its ideological inheritors would cloak themselves in the language of the Bible; they would come carrying crosses and chanting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Adams had watched American intellectuals and industrialists flirt with fascism in the 1930s. Mussolini's "Corporatism," which created an unchecked industrial and business aristocracy, had appealed to many at the time as an effective counterweight to the New Deal...
BIGELOW ON CHRISTIANS AND THE MARKET. Gordon Bigelow's article, "Let There Be Markets," takes on economics "as channeled by its popular avatars in media and politics." They have made it, he writes "the cosmology and theodicy of our contemporary culture. More than religion itself.... it is economics that offers the dominant creation narrative of our society..."
By the time the term "economics" first emerged, in the 1870's, it was evangelical Christianity that had done the most to spur the field on toward its present scientific self-certainty.
Don't miss this article. Capitalism and Christianity marching on together...
LEWIS LAPHAM ON RELIGIOSITY. In "The Wrath of the Lamb," Harper's editor, Lewis Lapham, opens his monthly comments with comments on the press briefing last month by the National Association of Evangelicals which "declared its intent to lend a hand in the making of an American politics faithful to the will and "abundant wisdom" of God." Lapham writes:
Talking into account the many and atrocious proofs of God's incompetence as a politician, the announcemenbt in less troubles times might have been seen as a clownish hallucination or a bleak postmodern joke, but the association numbers its membership at 30 million exalted souls, one fourth of the nation's eligible voters, and so the news media in attendance were careful not to laugh when the telegenic pastors, smooth-faced and smiling, distributed a twelve page manifesto for a Bible-based policy entitled "An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility." The words were pretty enough, but to read the document with any care for its meaning was to recognize it as a bullying threat backed with the currencies of jihadist fervor and invincible ignorance...
He later warns us:
The delusional is no longer marginal, and we err on the side of folly if we continue to grant the boon of tolerance to people who mean to do us harm in the conviction that they receive from Genesis the command "to take dominion over the earth," to build the Kingdom of God, to create the Christian Nation. The proposition is as murderous as it is absurd...
And he quotes a wonderful reminder from Mark Twain about God as revealed in the Old Testament:
The portrait is substantially that of a man -- if one can imagine a man charged and overcharged with evil impulses far beyond the human limit; a personage whom no one, perhaps, would desire to associate with now that Nero and Caligula are dead. In the Old Testament His acts expose His vindictive, unjust, ungenerous, pitiless and vengeful nature constantly. He is always punishing -- punishing trifling misdeeds with thousandfold severity; punishing innocent children for the misdeeds of their parents; punishing unoffending populations for the misdeeds of their rulers; even descending to wreak bloody vengeance upon harmless calves and lambs and sheep and bullocks as punishment for inconsequential trespasses commited by their proprietors. It is perhaps the most damnatory biography that exists in print anywhere.
UPDATE: The May 11 edition of the Diane Rehm show on WAMU -- 10 a.m. ET -- takes up these issues. The audio is available after the show online here. The panel includes Tony Perkins, EJ Dionne, Bob Edgar, Chris Hedges.
ANOTHER UPDATE! Revealer has published online the first half of Jeff Sharlet's article on Colorado Springs.
AND YET ANOTHER UPDATE! "Slacktivist" has an interest call-and-response piece about Ted Haggard's evangelical theology here.