Cooped Up

August 27, 2011


“America has a blessing,” said Frank Schaeffer, ” it’s filled with people who take the Bible seriously.”

Schaffer is the son of Francis Schaeffer, who was an American Evangelical Christian theologian. Some scholars credit Francis Schaeffer with helping to spark the rise of the Christian right in the United States. Frank Schaeffer was not only the son, but a student and follower of his father. He now has a different take on the things he and his father preached.

“America has a problem: it’s filled with people who take the Bible seriously.”

In the same breath Frank Schaeffer also said this. How and why could both be true? Ah, therein lies the nuttiness of early 21st Century America  —it’s a matter of interpretation says Schaeffer.

Roshi Bob observed that,“The ability to hold two contradictory thoughts in the skull at once and accept both, which George Orwell called ‘doublethink‘, is the genius of politics and religion.“

Contradiction is just not a problem for some.

For instance, a modern Bible fundamentalist will bad-mouth science on one hand while enjoying its fruits on the other. This is why, by Biblical standards, to be an American in 2011 is to be partly schizophrenic. And to be a Republican is to have more personalities than Dr. Jekyll —at least it seems so as the GOP  sloughs reason to become a party of yes-men for its fundamentalist base.

The question of how a collection of books such as the Bible, conceived and written in the Near East 4000 years ago, could be taken literally by some is perplexing.

The Epic of Gilgamesh was created about the same time in the same area, but few people today believe that Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, was two-thirds god and one-third man; or that “Gilgamesh then traveled to the edge of the world and learned about the days before the deluge and other secrets of the gods and recorded them on stone tablets.” Yet many modern folks have no problem believing Moses parted the Red Sea and came back from a mountaintop encounter with god bringing stone tablets too  —the Ten Commandments to be exact.

The trick of religious dominion is that Bible believers, like believers of the Koran, or of any religious scriptures, stamp their book “written by God”. That’s when the trouble begins. And when such books become the basis of political thought or the benchmark of policy the trouble mounts by leaps and verses, especially in difficult times.

To emphasize this here’s Roshi Bob again in a short poem on the matter:

Besides the Bible
there are other books
besides the Koran

It’s not good
to be cooped-up
in any one book
during the winter
of our discontent:

cabin fever.

But being cooped up in one book is just the ticket for some (while some find it stifling, some find it cozy). In fact, there’s been some talk in the media lately about an idea and movement called “Christian Dominionism”. It was ignited by a recent article authored by journalist Michelle Goldberg which ties Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry to this movement.

Dominionist thought, according to Goldberg, is just what the word implies. Christian Dominionists believe Christianity must be the dominating force of American life; of its politics, its laws, it’s education, it’s entertainment, its religion —of all aspects of American culture and society. They think American life must be Bible based.  Call it “Christian Sharia Law” after the Muslim version of dominionism feared by many on the right.

But some suggest Goldberg may be a little hysterical about this. Lisa Miller, religious columnist of the Washington Post, pushed back at Goldberg, writing, “Here we go again. The Republican primaries are six months away, and already news stories are raising fears on the left about ‘crazy Christians’.”

Still, whether we believe Goldberg or agree with critics such as Lisa Miller, as thoughtful people we should at least be wary of candidates who talk as if they have a special relationship with god or believe they know what god wants. The world has suffered the actions of too many people who thought they knew what god wanted. Acts-of-god political movements have been more devastating than acts-of-god typhoons and tsunamis.

So I hope that we will really pay attention to what a candidate says and assume that what he or she says is an indication of what drives them; then, based on their utterances, we might envision the policy lines they will pursue as president. Assume that if a candidate speechifies (as Michelle Bachman did), “There are hundreds and hundreds of scientists, who believe in Intelligent Design,” that she will not be inclined to support solid science in schools, but might rely on four-millennia-old legends to educate our children.

John Haldeman, Richard Nixon’s Chief of Staff, commenting on the unraveling of their Watergate story told his boss that it was hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube once the truth had oozed out. In this one thing, at least, Holdeman was correct. We have to get it into our heads that it might be even harder to reverse the direction of an oozing theocracy once a fundamentalist president accedes to power.

Founding father James Madison, in an 1803 letter objecting to the use of government land for churches, warned, “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries,” which is a wise and rational declaration to counter the irrationality presently troubling us.

by Jim Culleny
for The Shelburne Falls Independent


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