The March of Christian Dominionism 2: Where Did It Come From and How Does It Work?
Or “It’s NOT a cult! My beloved leader and all of his followers tell me so!”
Now that you’ve read “The March of Christian Dominionism 1″ and have a basic understanding of what Christian Dominionism is, let’s take a look at its history and methodology.
Dominionism is an offshoot of Christian Reconstruction, a radical philosophy made famous by R.J. Rushdoony early last century. Reconstruction calls for the replacement of man’s law with Biblical law with all that it entails. Rushdoony was a great believer in the death penalty for blasphemy (such as my poor, hypothetical rape victim from the first piece of this series), homosexuality, infidelity and other transgressions that would make an al Qaeda fanatic feel right at home. He popularized the concept that America was originally a Christian nation founded explicitly on Judeo-Christian principles and that we have strayed from that original, righteous path. Hence, the needed “reconstruction” of America.
Reconstructionism (and, by extension, Dominionism) is a postmillennial theology. Postmillennialists believe that the way must be paved for the return of Christ by building the Kingdom on Earth, here and now. By way of comparison, Premillennialists believe that Christ will return and take the faithful up into heaven, regardless of the state of the world or even believe that the worse things are, the sooner he will return (this does not lend itself well to a political philosophy of making the world a better place). Postmillennialists view this as a somewhat lazy way to get into heaven and believe they are mandated, by God, to take possession of the Earth and implement Biblical law in order to fulfill the prophecy of the end times. This seems particularly odd to me since being successful in this endeavor SHOULD mean that the Earth is a paradise (according to a very narrow and disturbing worldview). Where, then, does Armageddon fit in? God looks down, sees the world being run according his rules just the way he likes it and says, “Good job! Now I’m going to destroy it!”? But then, I’m just an ignorant atheist, so who cares what I think?
Moving forward from Rushdoony to the 1960s, Francis Schaeffer picked up the torch. While not a theocrat in the same way Rushdoony and Dominionists are, Schaeffer was very much invested in the “America as Christian nation” concept even as he shied away from equating faith with patriotism. It was fairly clear to him (as it is to liberals) that attaching one to the other denigrates both. He was, however, one of first evangelicals to make a concerted assault on legalized abortion. He set the stage for the Dominionists’ take on secular law: “It is time we consciously realize that when any office commands what is contrary to God’s Law it abrogates its authority” Sound familiar? It’s a religious version of “nullification” in which the law can be ignored but only when it was written by a Democrat.
As the movement solidified into a cohesive philosophy, Reconstructionist found that Premillennialists were beginning to embrace the idea of dominionism (obviously for different reasons but still…) and so they began to work together. This partnership was formalized with the establishment of the Coalition on Revival (COR). Formed in 1984, COR spent two years working out a literal blueprint of how life is to be lived under proper Christian guidance. Think of it as a Christian version of Sharia law (and that is exactly what it is). It dictates rules for law, government, education, science (no evolution, of course and Noah’s Flood was real), family – even rules for helping the poor and disabled.
Over the following years a number of “schools” have been set up to teach this singular worldview, and how to hide it from those who might recognize it for the extremism that it is. It’s not just a way to live; it teaches one how to think. Seminars are regularly held for activists to learn the proper way to disseminate these teachings among future political leaders to great effect. Tom Delay stood up before a crowd attending a “Worldview Weekend” in 2003 and said the following: “Only Christianity offers a comprehensive worldview that covers all areas of life and thought, every aspect of creation. Only Christianity offers a way to live in response to the realities that we find in this world. Only Christianity.” These are the people that are infesting and corrupting the GOP.
This is a bare bones history of the movement; there are many more important figures in the rise of the Dominionist movement such as Tim Lahaye, author of the fantastically popular and seriously disturbing Left Behind series. Lahaye is also a founding member of the highly secretive Council for National Policy, an organization that I only recommend you read up on if you don’t mind losing sleep for a few weeks. Or months. Another leading figure in the movement is widely cited “historian” David Barton. David Barton is a favorite of Glenn Beck’s which, frankly, should tell you everything you need to know about his credentials. I strongly encourage you to read more about this troubling philosophy. Chris Hedges’ American Fascists and Michelle Goldberg’s Kingdom Coming are an excellent start. Have some antacid on hand. You’ve been duly warned.
Fear and Anger lead to the Dark Side of Religion
Despite being ostensibly “Christian”, Dominionists act more like a cult then a church. I know there are some irreligious people out there snickering that “all religions are a cult.” Stop that!! Don’t make the mistake of lumping Dominionists in with regular church-goers. They are radically different. They prey (pun very much intended) upon those who have little to lose or are lacking in a strong sense of self or have simply fallen into despair.
Just like a “traditional” cult, these “churches” teach their followers how to gain the trust of others by forging a bond (sometimes real, sometimes false) over a shared tragedy or hardship. This trust is then used to pull the mark into the social circle of the church. As time passes, church activities, picnics, concerts, meetings, etc. become all consuming. Coincidentally (but not really), previous social contacts are severed and atrophy. This is how a cult isolates the convert.
Once the isolation sets in, demands are made of the convert: You must stop listening to rock ‘n’ roll. No, you mustn’t read Stephen King’s books. Yes, you can go to the movies but only those that are church sanctioned, other films are degenerate. Sure, you can go to your friends’ wedding but your friend isn’t “saved” like we are and that would disappoint us. You don’t want to disappoint us do you? We’re your family! You mustn’t EVER disappoint your family!
It’s a bit more complicated than this but you get the gist. The convert is separated from friends and relatives. Perhaps not physically but certainly emotionally. This creates a psychological dependence while providing a constant threat of being expelled from the new “family.” For the kind of people that are susceptible to this kind of manipulation, expulsion from what they consider a safe harbor from the cold harshness of the real world is tantamount to a death sentence. In reality, it’s nowhere nearly that terrible but you wouldn’t know it from the blind obedience such a threat instills in these poor bastards.
But fear of expulsion only takes you so far. In order to form a cohesive group that will think and act as one (specifically, by following orders without question) there must be an external pressure. For Christian Dominionists, this pressure takes the form of a vast conspiracy arrayed against them.
Stop me if this sounds familiar: “Homosexuals are destroying this country! Radical, Godless liberals are assaulting Christianity! If we don’t stop these Socialists they will round you up and put you into camps just like the Nazis!” If you need more of this, just turn on Fox, go to a Tea Party or listen to AM talk radio. It will become very clear, very quickly, that, to the Right, there is a literal war going on and the Left is, literally, trying to destroy them, the country and everything that is good and decent in the world.
We have met the enemy and they are completely made up.
This siege mentality is incredibly dangerous to democracy. The threat of invasion or attack can weaken the knees of even the staunchest Liberal and the need for revenge can be all-consuming. One needs to look no further than the months and years after 9/11. In response to this attack we curtailed our civil liberties, decimated the Constitution, quashed legal (and perfectly legitimate) dissention, invaded two countries, pissed away our moral high ground, angered the entire planet… the list goes on and on and on. All in response to the threat of a few hundred or thousand religious fanatics hiding in caves (and one very comfortable compound but now just caves again). If we were willing to go that far to counter a threat from that small of a group, how far do you think Dominionists can get their followers to go to combat the shadowy forces of a vast secular, gay conspiracy?
While fear binds them together, anger is the force that drives them. A constant thread of violence and warfare runs throughout the movement. They are not just Christians but “Christian Soldiers” in battle against Satan and his minions, Liberals. These “soldiers” are inundated with images of the Apocalypse and how the sinners will be destroyed even as they themselves are saved from the horrors to be unleashed. Anyone that opposes the “will of God” is an enemy. Suspiciously, the “will of God” is strikingly similar to the will of the Right Wing and, even more suspiciously, extremely dissimilar to what the Bible actually says.
But that doesn’t matter. Dominionists MUST have an enemy to focus on to motivate the troops. For the moment, it’s homosexuals, abortion and Sharia law. In 2004, there was a massive effort by the Religious Right to paint gay marriage as THE defining issue of the election and it worked. During a time of war and an economic downturn, millions of conservative voters were somehow convinced that the terrible threat of gay marriage was far more important than the bungling job Bush and the Republican Congress were doing. Where was this idea planted? Christian Dominionist churches (as well as plenty of other, non-Dominionist but still conservative ones).
This may sound like a big old conspiracy but what would you call it when pastors from all over the country have a monthly teleconference to discuss strategies and issues of a decidedly political nature? Not sure? Ask Tony Perkins and his Family Research Council. They’re one of many Religious Right Wing groups that organize churches nationwide and essentially hand them marching orders. The politicization of houses of worship is a deeply disturbing trend. It is in these sanctuaries that people are most vulnerable and the most easily swayed. Millions are organized to support whatever agenda a select few at the top have crafted. The irony that the Gospels of Jesus are used to rally the unwitting faithful to oppose aid to the sick and the poor and to further the goal of Dominionism is lost only on these abused worshipers. Despite the restrictions supposedly placed on churches by the IRS, these bastions of Right Wing politics preach a very specific message of how the congregation should vote. Their growing numbers and fervor make them a powerful voice in politics.
And Bush’s “Faith Based Initiative” gave these groups quite the boost.
Imagine a lobbying group that had unrestricted access to the President and his staff, played a key role in crafting policy, and received billions of taxpayers’ dollars to further their work of undermining the framework of democracy. Your blood would boil if just a regular lobbying group, say Big Oil, engaged in such borderline illegal activities. Now imagine that it was a group that is expressly separated by the very Constitution the President is sworn to uphold from intermingling too closely with the government. That was life under the Bush administration and the damage continues to unfold today.
Supposedly, the Faith Based Initiative was to provide billions to religious organizations in order to help the homeless and hungry. In reality, it funneled all of that taxpayer money to sympathetic churches that were then empowered to spread the Good Word about religious conservatism. How do we know this? Because one of the more vocal critics of this scheme was the late Jerry Falwell. Oddly enough, Falwell seemed to be one of the few conservatives aware of the fact that the Presidency might not always BE occupied by a Dominionist. What happens when a centrist or, God forbid, an actual liberal takes office? That money won’t go to just good and decent Christian churches, but might end up in the hands of Jews and Muslims! This very real concern (Obama did exactly this when he took office) gives the lie to the philanthropic conceit of the original program. If the true goal is to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless, who cares what religion takes up the task? But, of course, that was never the intent. The Bush Administration, (deeply steeped in Dominionism or did you think their Crusade against Islam was a coincidence?), abused its power to erode the barriers between Church and State and fatten the purse of the Dominionist movement at the same time.
Since then, Dominionists have lost their hold on the White House, so they have turned their focus towards Congress and the State legislatures. Now, conservatives are ANGRY! Republicans are OUTRAGED! The supposedly “grassroots” Tea Party is FURIOUS! Why? GAY MARRIAGE and ABORTION and SHARIA LAW!!! Just as in 2004, a flailing economy and two wars (and two half-wars) just aren’t as important as stopping these supposed engines of social destruction. Yes, these issues took a back seat to the economy for the 2010 elections but what did the newly triumphant GOP House majority tackle once it took power? Did they immediately focus on the economy and create millions of jobs? No. They attacked gay and reproductive rights and held hearings on encroaching Sharia.
The Religious Right has lapped it up. Their anger at these sinful activities is undiminished. Gays want to make their children into sex slaves. Abortionists want to wipe out black people. Never mind that 60 years ago, these were the same people declaring that mixed race marriages were the devil’s work, now THEY are the defenders of the black race against the depredations of secular liberals. Consistency is not a strong point for Dominionists and it doesn’t need to be. As long as they keep their flock angry and afraid, there is no limit to the lies they can sell. A prime example of this is, again, none other than Jerry Falwell who, during the Civil Rights movement, often championed the cause of George “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever” Wallace. After 1970, when blatant racism became a liability, Falwell dropped his public bigotry. Instead of standing up and announcing his “change of heart”, Falwell quietly had copies of his old speeches destroyed. He moved forward as if he had never supported the Segregation movement. Down the memory hole it went and the Religious Right played right along with the lie.
Fear and Anger, the very core of the Dominionism movement. Is it any wonder they are impossible to engage in rational debate or compromise? We’ll look at this parallel world where science is bad, women are obedient, the Founding Fathers were all Christian and home is where the school is in my next frothing liberal lament.