Wednesday, March 09, 2005


Should we pity the fools?

An article that's good as far as it goes but does not go far enough.
Made-in-America Wahhabism

The Christian right is our own brand of extremism.

By William Thatcher Dowell

There is a certain irony in the debate over installing the Ten Commandments in public buildings. The Second Commandment in the King James edition of the Bible states quite clearly: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the Earth below, or that is in the water under the Earth." Few people take this as a prohibition against images of stars and fishes. Rather it cautions against endowing a physical object, be it a golden calf or a two-ton slab of granite, with spiritual power.

In trying to promote the commandments, the Christian right seems to have forgotten what they are really about. It has also overlooked the fact that there are several versions: Exodus 20:2-17, Exodus 34:12-26, and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Different language in Catholic Bibles and the Jewish Torah offer more variants.

Which should be enshrined? That is just the kind of debate that has been responsible for religious massacres through the ages. It was, in fact, the mindless slaughter resulting from King Charles' efforts to impose the Church of England's prayer book on Calvinist Scots in the 17th century that played an important role in convincing the founding fathers to separate church and state.

The current debate, of course, has little to do with genuine religion. What it is really about is an effort to assert a cultural point of view. It is part of a reaction against social change, an American counter-reformation of sorts against the way our society has been evolving. Those pushing to blur the boundaries between church and state feel that they are losing out — much as, in the Middle East, Islamic fundamentalists fear they are losing out to "Western values."

The reactions are remarkably similar. In the Arab Middle East and Iran, the response is an insistence on the establishment of Islamic law as the basis for political life; in the United States, school districts assert religious over scientific theory in biology class, tax dollars are going to the faith-based, and the Ten Commandments are a putative founding document.

In fact, George W. Bush may now find himself in the same kind of trap that ensnared Saudi Arabia's founder, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud. To gain political support, Saud mobilized the fanatical, ultrareligious Wahhabi movement — the movement that is spiritually at the core of Al Qaeda. Once the bargain was done, the Saudi royal family repeatedly found itself held political hostage to an extremist, barely controllable movement populated by radical ideologues. The evangelical movement in the U.S. nudged the president back into the White House, and Bush must now try to pay off the political bill for its support.
Or at least, pretend to.

These American “Whahhabis” have signed themselves up for a brutally, casually cynical deal with George W. Bush, and they are guaranteed to be frustrated by it. The Christian wingnuts won’t get what they want, what they think they’re owed, any more than the farmers or veterans or others who supported Bush will. The only part of Bush’s constituency that will get what it wants is the group that paid for it – big business.

I'm not sure whether or not to pity the Christian wingnuts or shake my head at their stupidity. Because they have never gotten what the want, what they think they're owed, by the leaders of the right wing. And they never will get what they want, what they think they're owed, because if they got what they wanted, they would either want more or they would go home, satisfied. And, satisfied, they are no more useful to the right wing leadership than a satisfied Palestinian population would be to the leaders of Syria and Libya and other rejectionist states in the Middle East.

Should we want them to figure out just how thoroughly they are being used - and traduced - by their supposed leaders or should we want them to continue to lavish their hopes and dreams on people who have no intention of actually delivering for them but who only want to keep them angry and active?

These people are dangerous, but they are not the biggest threat to our country. Fraudulently trying to "fix" Social Security; perverting the bankruptcy laws; giving ever larger tax breaks to the wealthy; and every other form of corporate protection this Administration has lavished on its sponsors - that's what is going to ruin America. Battles with the Christian Right are, if not a sideshow - the potential threat to our liberties and, should they succeed in forcing "Creationism" or "Intelligent Design" or any other form of anti-Darwinist nonsense onto our curricula, the threat to our educational and scientific future, is real - but giving full way to the extremist free marketers' malignant fantasy of an America where there is no protection of any kind for the masses would effectively and retroactively prove Marx right, which I doubt is what they have in mind. The damage to our environment, to ordinary people's health and lives, to families, to the elderly, to the poor, to the shrinking middle class - the Bush Administration's corporate agenda will result in the destruction of more effective rights and liberties than the worst that the theocratic right is capable of.
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