God invades White House
'... surveys have shown, that many more Americans believe in the Virgin Birth than in Darwin's theory of evolution.' The Day the Enlightenment Went Out By GARRY WILLS nytimes.com/2004/11/04/
The 2004 US Presidential election has seemed to have obvious relevance for this inquiry into love, and its antithesis, domination. I've already made three tries to find a voice that is up to the task of writing about it. They all ran into the sand. Too reasonable. Too even-handed for the amount of feeling that I and lots of other people had running, both before and after the US election.
1. Satanic Theology
For months past I've been digging into what various people have had to say about fundamentalism, an article by Karen Armstrong, her book, The Battle for God, and Almond, Appleby and Sivana's summary volume, Strong Religion of a huge, 10-year, US funded, research study into fundamentalism world-wide, that includes details of the origins of such groups across America.
Here are some headlines.
Rolling back Secular Humanism
...Falwell and his associates in the Religious Roundtable and other Christian Right lobbying groups pushed Protestant fundamentalism toward a new, world-conquering pattern of political activism in reaction to the threatening pluralism of belief and lifestyle that appeared to be overtaking "Judeo-Christian" America. Strong Religion p156
A bid for power
After sifting what felt like a small galaxy of stuff on fundamentalism represented here by these quotes and my earlier article, I realized why I, and a lot of other people, not least the liberal-leaning inhabitants of the US, were so wound up about the 2004 US Presidential election result. It seemed to point to a threshold being crossed:
As Sister Joan Chittister OSB writing of the 2004 Presidential election puts it.
I would call it a warning, a signal of things to come, the klaxon of what is clearly a crossover moment in time, perhaps, but not a real profile of the historic American character and hopes....
...we did not, in this particular political exercise, see the fundamental ideals of the American public -- respect for differences, separation of church and state, the common good, and justice for all -- in full sway. We did see ideology at its most punishing, smothering and narrow worst.
...what we saw is what extremism
looks like, what cultural
evolution looks like, what fear looks like, what religion run amuck
looks like. We saw radical right fundamentalist religion pitted against
the most shameless definitions of secular liberalism as weak, immoral
and irresponsible. It was the battle of two one-eyed monsters writ
large. No nuances. No common ground. No common sense. No real
Joan Chittister, OSB
2. Enough of facts - my mind is made up
The 2004 US Presidential election result appeared to show that since 9/11 a majority of the American people have bought into a patriotic loyalty oath promoted by the US administration. One that entails believing in a '"war" on terrorism'; Iraqi possession of 'weapons of mass destruction'; Iraq as a complicit in the 9/11 attacks; and calling the attack on Iraq a "war". Aren't these fictions? Aren't they blatant pieces of trance induction intended to consolidate the power of the Bush administration through further terrifying the American population and marginalizing and denying dissent? The Power of Nightmares, the BBC2 series by Adam Curtis, (video Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) offered almost three hours of video evidence that this was a plausible explanation. If so, how come so many people signed up to this apparent failure of common-sense?
And then I remembered that the fundamentalism studies had shown that many millions of committed church-goers in the US, perhaps 30% of the population, live within the 'enclaves' of a variety of forms of christian fundamentalism. Through owning and controlling churches, schools, home schooling, colleges, publishing, broadcasting, and in some areas, even shopping, the enclaves seek to be self sufficient. What I hadn't appreciated was that such enclaves are a way of ensuring that people of faith are actively out of touch with other ways of being in the world. The enclave is a vessel of faith, of righteousness, and the god-less outside world is perceived as 'bad', even 'evil', to be avoided. Political choices within this cultural deafness filter down through charismatic, male, authoritarian, local or national religious leaders, and are re-enforced by a vast christian media network.
Ostensibly such enclaves, a key element of fundamentalism everywhere, are defending themselves from the moral decay of pornography, sexual freedom, political correctness, gay rights, feminism and the free-wheeling liberal critiques of secular institutions such as governments, universities, science and publishing. A closer look suggests that christian resistance to being over-run by liberal values has less to do with a perception of moral disintegration, and much more to do with holding on tight to a short list of the specific moral values that they have selected from the Christian story book; especially patriarchal male dominance, the subordination of women and the un-naturalness of homosexuality, and alongside these, the idea that the nature is a resource to be exploited.
The 2004 US Presidential election appears to have been won as this BBC report confirms, on the basis of large numbers of christian conservative voters seeing George W. Bush as embodying these selected 'moral values'.
God invades White House
3. Unpicking the power of righteousness
In the task of understanding the 2004 US presidential election result, research into the moral values of christian fundamentalism has been vital. What feeds and sustains such values? Yet another strand of American research, this time by cognitive scientist and linguist George Lakoff, shows how notions such as 'moral values' are human constructions, rooted in the human capacity for metaphor:
God is naturally more powerful than people
People are naturally more powerful than animals, plants and natural objects
Adults are naturally more powerful than children
Men are naturally more powerful than women. Lakoff Moral Politics p81
Might the heightened awareness and level of feeling that many people have about the 2004 US Presidential election amount to some intuition that we are living through a critical point in history. One where the "morally superior" rich of America, led by a charismatic (and Calvinist) leader, license themselves to further institutionalize a belief in the equivalence of righteousness and wealth? Have we reached a threshold where we realize, to our horror, that the Bush administration is leaving behind secular, liberal plurality; leaving behind justice, negotiation, and the rule of law; and is intent on installing a 'Kingdom of the God-fearing'?
I'm reminded of a New Yorker cartoon where, as Adam and Eve disport themselves in the Garden of Eden, the hand of God, waving a warning finger, reaches out from the heavens, and a voice declaims, "Rule No:1 don't piss me off". This seems to epitomize the Bush administration style. Well hidden behind often Orwellian language (The "Clear Skies Act 2003" licenses industry to pollute - The"Healthy Forests Initiative" licences the damaging clear-cutting of forests) are the god-given absolutes of biblical inerrancy. These highly selective fear-laden fragments of the Christian story cascade down through layer on layer of authoritarian, patriarchal, (and usually male) leaders, to terrify other, subordinate creatures, and thus much of the rest of the world, into compliance with American interests.
God invades White House
4. Holding the Big Picture
Was the distress many of us felt about the Bush re-election due to it seeming to threaten the negation of so many of the socially vital gains of recent decades?
Or as I fancy, is it more a matter of two steps forward, one step back?
Am I taking refuge here in ungrounded optimism, some resuscitation of the much derided notion of 'progress'? Perhaps, but I am old enough to have seen a major over-arching development in recent decades—the evolution in attitudes to childcare. Childcare has moved away from the fear-filled alienation of authoritarian control—toward nurturance and gentleness—meeting the child's needs rather than controlling their behavior, (the UK, trailing other European nations, is even legislating to criminalize smacking children). Along side this in the last 30 years I have seen the gradual emergence into public consciousness of child abuse, neglect, bullying, paedophilia, and domestic violence.
All of which amounts to a raising of consciousness about domination, albeit haphazard and fragmentary, and often highly contested. But I have the sense, looking at the 'big picture', that history is inexorably moving in this direction, If you are skeptical, I recommend Lloyd de Mause's History of Childhood, which shows extremely convincingly the historical trajectory from astonishingly abusive parenting, toward more caring, more loving, more child-centered approaches to upbringing and child-care. With, as a likely consequence, the moderation and/or marginalizing of domination. Locally it can be hard to see but generationally it seems to be a notion that has legs.
God invades White House
5. The politics of identity demolition
De Mause's psychohistorical approach has been complemented by George Lakoff's notion of two divergent parenting styles that he details in Moral Politics, see this article for a brief account. He calls them 'Strict Father' parenting and 'Nurturant' parenting, and he equates these with a conservative and liberal politics that correspond to each parenting style.
Christian and islamic fundamentalism both appear to to enthusiastically endorse 'Strict Father' parenting i.e. patriarchy.
Here are a couple of items from a modern (1972) christian child-rearing manual:
Obedience is the most necessary ingredient to be required from the child. This is especially true for a girl, for she must be obedient all her life. The boy who is obedient to his mother and father will some day become the head of the home; not so for the girl. Whereas the boy is being trained to be a leader, the girl is being trained to be a follower. Hence, obedience is far more important to her, for she must some day transfer it from her parents to her husband. . . .
This means that she should never be allowed to argue at all. She should become submissive and obedient. She must obey immediately, without question, and without argument. The parents who require this have done a big favor for their future son-in-law. (Hyles, How to rear Children p158 in Lakoff: Moral politics)
Such 'Strict Father' parenting naturalizes domination and subordination, and as Lakoff shows in this article, it shapes conservative political beliefs in the US.
My guess is that part of the considerable distress and alarm that many people such as myself have felt around the re-election of President Bush, is that it signals a move toward the consolidation, and even extension, of the 'shock and awe' of America's 'full spectrum dominance', at home and abroad, 'strict father' politics.
However, as the 'strict father' approach to childcare gives way to a more 'nurturant' approach, many people sense intuitively that the expressions of ('strict father') 'family and moral values' that shape the Bush Presidency are facing backwards in history. They are in regression from a secular plurality where, unencumbered by patriarchal theology, a rich variety of social movements such as feminism, minority rights, gay rights, abortion rights, racial justice, innovative spiritualities, and ecological awareness, have gained legislative and popular recognition. What these movements have in common is that they roll back the 'folk theory' of the naturalness of domination, especially male domination, perhaps most effectively and essentially, in child-care.
And on the other side of the coin, exactly these developments appear to be anathema to fundamentalist christian church-goers.
Fundamentalist enclaves see these secular expressions of 'modernity', or as I would fancy 'post-modernity', as a revolt against God. And if you are a person of faith, who "bears witness", "walks with the Lord", "is busy harvesting souls", or "excising the cancer of deviation, sexual or otherwise", a revolt against God is the ultimate challenge. Why? Because it threatens identity demolition. Faith, like the optimism in this text, is an investment in a big idea, a "Yes". If significant doubt arises, such a 'Yes', can morph into a "No". If your whole identity is invested in the "Yes" of christian or other fundamentalism, based on the inerrancy of biblical texts, then de-construction or questioning of this faith has to be strenuously resisted. After all, none us want to 'go out of our minds'.
God invades White House
6. Echoes and resonances
For US christian conservatives, the secular values of plurality, diversity, negotiation and power-sharing do realistically threaten identity demolition.
American christian enclaves have reacted to these perceived challenges to their faith with the classic characteristics of fundamentalism world-wide. They have selected scriptural items that support the present controversies while neglecting others, adopted moral manicheanism, signed up to absolutism and inerrancy, and framed the struggle as millennialism, the end of history.
...fundamentalism selects some aspects of modernity to affirm and embrace. Much of modern science may be accepted, for example, and modern technology such as radio, television, VCR's audiocassette tapes, telephone banks, and modern mailing techniques are effectively employed. p95
...fundamentalisms select certain consequence or processes of modernity and single these out for special attention, usually in the form of focused opposition... abortion in demand in the United States. p95
Absolutism and Inerrancy
Millennialism and Messianism
Do you find echoes and resonances between the 2004 US presidential election and these headlines from the ten year study of fundamentalism around the world into christian fundamentalism? Here are some further quotes from that study that may account for the sense of urgency that has energized the christian right in recent years.
God invades White House
7. Death of the American dream of invulnerability
Initially I bought into the trance induction of accepting the appalling 9/11 damage as an unprovoked attack on the US by Islamic terrorists. That was how it looked. And then, as day by day the media built up the posture, constantly reinforced by the Bush administration, that the US was an entirely innocent victim, the trance bubble popped. as though US complicity with oppressive authoritarian regimes in Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israelestine were not part of the historical record. A huge store of goodwill was sacrificed.
Then followed the acting out of revenge on Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries on earth—and so recently an ally against a previous 'evil empire'—the USSR (check out Stallone's Rambo 3 for details) and not long after, the illegal attack on Iraq. In a massive betrayal of trust, the Bush US administration followed, and later (Iraq) exploited, a political need to rationalize the newly exposed vulnerability of the US and justify vengeance. Rarely in history can 'persecutor' have reversed into 'victim' and back to persecutor so quickly,
From the perspective of several years on, 9/11 looks like an incident in a war of attrition between fundamentalist ideologies, christian and islamic, that has been going on since at least the Iranian hostage crisis and Beirut bombings. The two ideologies seem to have much in common, not least profoundly misconstruing each other. Islamists see the US as the epitome of a satanic modernity that is a threat to the Koran based culture. Since 9/11, the US has behaved as though the modern methods of fundamentalist islamists such as Osama bin Laden and al Queda posed a critical challenge to the US world hegemony. As though the overwhelming asymmetry of wealth and resources didn't exist.
I have to keep reminding myself that fundamentalism is archaic only in it's beliefs, in its methods it is typically highly innovative and indeed persons willing to kill themselves, and thus make routine objects such as home videos, cars and planes into very lethal weapons, are very modern form of weaponry.
So, following 9/11, in the US and al Queda, we appear to have two opposed fundamentalisms each out to undermine or destroy the 'modernity' of the other. However if we pop the trance bubble of feeling equally terrified of both of them, what we see is a gigantic asymmetry, the stupendous technological power and might of the world's only superpower severely challenged by the strikingly modern innovations of al Queda's networked autonomous cells and suicide bombers. But, as I have learned to appreciate, (see BBC2 The Power of Nightmares video Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) while undoubtedly posing some risk, the fear of an Al Queda attack has been hugely inflated for political reasons by the US and British administrations.
It is not difficult to see how the US would see such critical innovations as suicide bombers as doubly threatening, because ultimately there is no secure defense against them, thus key aspects of US technological might are rendered obsolete overnight. And of course it is not only the opposed forces that are asymmetrical, the level of damage, however painful to us, in New York, Madrid, Bali and Morocco, is as nothing caused by the generational damage wreaked by the US, think Philippines, Vietnam, South America, Palestine, Iran, or Saudi Arabia.
And yet, was there not always the option, as the UK (IRA) and Spain (ETA) have seen, of refusing to buy into the fundamentalist (terrorizing) trance of 9/11? Of seeing these as damaging actions of dissidents, a (major) nuisance, but part of the price of democracy; of choosing to respond by asking, 'Why us?'. 'Why now?'. Why couldn't the US administration do this?
God invades White House
8. Rolling Back Modernity
For US christian conservatism, 9/11 provided both a confirmation of its apocalyptic visions and a priceless window of opportunity. Both of these fed the unprecedented vigor of the 2004 presidential election campaigns in which—as Esther Kaplan details in With God on Their Side— through America's born again, Calvinist leader, George W. Bush, christian fundamentalism continued its invasion of the agenda of the US administration. Their intention, as I hope may already be clear—rolling back modernity; at home, liberal modernity, abroad, islamic modernity. Putting god in the White House.
So what is this liberal modernity that the US christian enclave (strictly speaking this should be plural) feels so threatened by? A rich variety of legal assertions of human rights and the criminalizing of sexual and racial discrimination—not to mention animal rights—that have made their way on to the statute books. Liberal modernity favours tolerance, mutual support, cooperation, the right to dispose of our bodies, especially if we are women; to share power, to negotiate, to live within the law, to honor the public and the private universes, to help the needy, to honor dissent? A list that even Jesus might endorse, were He around to be asked.
Darwin and DNA
The pre-modern narratives of christian enclaves have no place for the sheer plurality of modernity—astrophysics, molecular biology, sociology, psychology, evolution and stem cell research. But as it seems to me, what will ultimately consign christian fundamentalism to the history books lies in the spiritual, political and psychological de-construction of our folk theories of reality—the post-modern universe—that shows the extent to which all such stories are humanly constructed. And parallel with this—the generation of new spiritualities that are outside patriarchy, that favor authenticity and open-ness and that honor the sacredness, the intrinsic value, of all life.
Perhaps ultimately what traumatizes, and thus petrifies the fundamentalist imagination, is an awareness that, running through all these lines of post-modernity is a core human discovery, transparent and dramatically fruitful in physics for decades; that what we see, and the knowledge we generate, is shaped by who is looking. And the more intensively we look into nature, the more there is to find, and the more what we find echoes who we are. A paradox from which there is no escape, nor is there need for one.
And just as threatening to the fundamentalist christian sensibility, post modernity tell us about process, reflexivity, emotionality, nurturance, metaphor, transference and so on. Above all it tells us about power, its nuances and its ubiquity. It shows us that just as there is no escape from our personal constructions of reality, so there is no space that is free from power relations. And as power thus deconstructed comes out in into the light of day, the inequities and injustices of its distribution in the world come into sharp focus. And nowhere is power thus rendered transparent, more visible, than in relations between parents and between them and their children. And so we arrive again at the feminist critique of patriarchy, of male dominance. In the new narratives of sexuality, intimacy and power, to quote the title of recent book, power is not biologically determined but is a matter of negotiation.
And this I believe, is ultimately what is indigestible for the christian and conservative right in the US. Understandably, because for many believers, many people of faith, to acknowledge, let alone embrace, the discoveries of post-modernity would, as I have mentioned earlier, be tantamount to identity demolition.
The 2004 Presidential election generated a lot of heat, not only in the US. This I feel was due to the correct perception that it involved a sharp confrontation between such divergent approaches to power. For the moment, in electing George W. Bush, the conservative christian right, have succeeded in forging a shield against the intrusions of modernity that they feel so much pollute and demean the purity of the Christian message. They succeeded in overwhelming the constituencies of people who value a post-modern approach to spirituality, one that supposes multiple stories rather than the single Big Idea of the Christian narrative.
However, the jury is out on whether they have defeated the post-modern narratives of plurality and power-sharing, or whether the Bush Presidency will prove to be a nightmare from which the world will one day awaken, a dream that will eventually implode, more than likely economically, or due to the wounds from a deepening, self-created, Middle Eastern crisis—as the Bush administration continues to insist on crashing America into the world.
Lastly and not least, there is a sense in which the US polity behaves as if the whole of psychology did not exist. As though for 100 years, and especially the last 50 years, not least in the US, there has been a wonderful flourishing of psychological knowledge about group, inter-personal intra-psychic and social relations.
And I guess... psychology is one the core sticking points for the vast majority of the christian right, since it is built around the notion of 'process', of 'reflexivity', of becoming aware of how we do what we do, of the context and antecedents of our actions, of becoming competent emotionally, of being able to investigate and integrate the shadowy reaches of our identity and re-evaluate, re-create, and regenerate, aspects of ourselves that are over- or under-endowed. So far as we become even a little bit aware of 'process', we will be likely to to notice when someone is attempting to entrance us. We'll be better able to see through and out the other side of a religiosity that functions as a kind of exclusive (and excluding) loyalty oath, that disallows choice and dissent, and, through denying the Christian message of love and tolerance, legitimates violence.
God invades White House
This attempt to compost the distress deriving from the 2004 US Presidential election and the culture of domination that sustains it, has lifted some of the bad emotional weather it generated. But I am left with a troubling outcome to this line of inquiry.
Because they are often structured round a few unifying, faith-based Big Ideas—
patriarchy, or male dominance—christian conservative groups seem more able than liberals to agree on campaign strategies that favour a narrow range of issues with which large populations can identify. Media coverage that repeats such notions ad infinitum through interviews, photo-opportunities and commercials, amounts to trance induction, and such spellbinding promises of 'security' in the face of the inflated threats of a 'war on terror', can come to dominate political discourse, as they did in the 2004 Presidential election.
If, by contrast, you favor a paradigm of human relations that values diversity, plurality, nurturance, equality and empathy, these generate multiple messages, multiple meanings, multiple aims, that can seem incoherent en masse (though not necessarily locally). Politically this seems to me very problematic. How do liberal ideas hold their place in the world without compromising their diversity?
So a key ongoing element of this inquiry into domination is how to resolve this dilemma. How can we create institutions, descriptions, naming, metaphors, and symbols, that hold true to notions of plurality, authenticity, nurturance, empathy, caring and love? So that they hold their value in contests where a handful of big ideas shaped by covert notions of absolute truth are used to sustain and regenerate control and dominance.