When I was younger I loved to read books about the rise and fall of civilizations. Arnold Toynbee was one of my favorites. Moral decay is one of the obvious suspects in the downfall of earlier civilizations; wealth brings about the corruption of the work ethic and the spirit of sacrifice necessary for advancing group interests.
In Christian Nation: A Novel, Frederic Rush presents us with an interesting paradox: what if, in trying to repair moral decay, religious zealots bring about an even greater destruction?
The plot line is not too far-fetched. It begins with John McCain winning the 2008 presidential race by a few percentage points. A few months after his inauguration he dies from a stroke, leading to the ascension to the presidency of Sarah Palin.
Evangelical Christians have been plotting for this day for decades. While this book is fictional, the author brings in actual quotes of fundamentalist leaders to demonstrate that the creation of a Christian Nation is in the forefront of the hearts and minds of many current religious zealots.
What follows is the slow but steady decay of national institutions for the separation of church and state. The Supreme Court and the Congress get packed with supporters. A theocracy evolves after a civil war. The evangelicals are bent upon destroying evil, very loosely defined. The justification for this is found in both the New and the Old Testaments:
“Jesus said, ‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! …. Do you that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother….’” (Luke 12:49)
The brutality of religious fanaticism knows few bounds. World history is replete with examples of one group of people slaughtering another in the name of a greater divine glory.
My colleague Mark White rightfully worries about the nudging paternalism of a nanny state. This is nothing compared to the vicious paternalism of a theocracy which claims to know God's will. Imagine an American version of Iran, and it is pretty scary. Adam Smith was greatly worried by the mob hysteria produced by religious fervor, and it was one of the reasons he so thoroughly endorsed religious freedom and competition.
For those of us who are Christian but do not buy into literalist views, the battles to be fought here on earth relate mainly to the ideas and instincts that separate humans from one another – injustice, racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on. Uniting people and focusing on agape love—rather than the hatred and fear of division—is to me a more compelling religious mandate.
Rush’s account of a very different Christian Nation is deeply disturbing but well worth the read.
[Thanks to Bacon's Rebellion for introducing me to this book.]