Progressives too live in a fantasy world. On a regular basis they declare that the culture wars are over and that the Religious Right's domination of the national political scene is waning. They keep saying that because they never bothered to understand what it was that pushed the Evangelicals so far to the right.
As the New York Times noted in the context of an article on how the social conservatives are once again dictating the political agenda of the Republicans (March 27, 2011):
While social conservatives have long wielded a greater influence in Iowa than in many early-voting states, a bitter fight here over same-sex marriage and rivalries among some of the state's conservative leaders have amplified the issues and might help define the message of Republican candidates in ways that could resonate nationally.
No events have focused solely on the economy, job creation or even the health care law that is widely reviled among Republicans. Instead, the most prominent platforms for candidates to introduce themselves have been a number of forums -- three last week alone -- before socially conservative audiences in Iowa... Several Republican prospects appeared here Saturday at the Conservative Principles Conference sponsored by Representative Steve King of Iowa, one of the party's firebrands in Congress, who argues that "culture, not the economy, is the most important thing" in choosing a nominee.
Get it through your head: 2012 will -- once again -- be about social issues: abortion, gay rights et al.
Because the media, the progressive movement, and most Americans don't understand -- or do anything to counter -- the influence of far right religious conservatives who long ago hijacked the Republican Party.
I know, I used to be one of them as I describe in my new book Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics -- and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway. (I was a religious right anti-abortion activist/sidekick to my evangelical leader father Francis Schaeffer.)
America has a problem: It's filled with people who take the Bible seriously. America has a blessing: It's filled with people who take the Bible seriously. How does this blessing coexist with the curse derived from the same source: the Bible? The answer is that the Bible is a curse or a blessing depending on who is doing the interpreting. Sometimes belief in the Bible leads to building a hospital. Sometimes it leads to justifying perpetual war and empire building. Same book -- different interpretation.
If the history of Christianity proves one thing, it's that you can make the Bible "say" anything. When you hear words like "We want to take back America for God!" the twenty-first-century expression of such theocratic ideas can be traced back to some of my old friends: the Reconstructionists.
Most Americans have never heard of the Reconstructionists. But they have felt their impact through the Reconstructionists' profound (if indirect) influence over the wider (and vast) Evangelical community. In turn, the Evangelicals shaped the politics of a secular culture that barely understood the Religious Right, let alone the forces within that movement that gave it its edge. The Americans inhabiting the wider (and more secular) culture just saw the results of Reconstructionism without understanding where those results had come from -- for instance, how the hell George W. Bush got elected and then reelected!
If you feel victimized by modernity, then the Reconstructionists had the answer in their version of biblical interpretation. Reconstructionists wanted to replace the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights with their interpretation of the Bible.
In the Reconstructionists' best of all worlds, Eddie Izzard would have been long since executed for the "crimes" of inappropriate wardrobe, not to mention "blasphemy." If given the chance, they would burn people like my (Evangelical best selling author Edith Schaeffer) mother at the stake for her "heresy" of explaining away the nastier bits of the Bible or at least not living by its meaner rules.
Most Evangelicals are positively moderate by comparison to the Reconstructionists. But the Reconstructionist movement is a distilled essence of the more mainstream Evangelical version of an exclusionary theology that divides America into the "Real America" (as the Far Right claims only it is) and the rest of us "Sinners."
And it was those "Real Americans" who were Bush's base. The Reconstructionist worldview is ultra-Calvinist but, like all Calvinism, has its origins in ancient Israel/Palestine, when vengeful and ignorant tribal lore was written down by frightened men (the nastier authors of the Bible) trying to defend their prerogatives to bully women, murder rival tribes, and steal land.
In its modern American incarnation, which hardened into a twentieth-century movement in the 1960s and became widespread in the 1970s, Reconstructionism was propagated by people I knew and worked with closely when I, too, was both a Jesus Victim and a Jesus Predator claiming God's special favor.
The leaders of the Reconstructionist movement included the late Rousas Rushdoony (Calvinist theologian, father of modern-era Christian Reconstructionism, patron saint to gold-hoarding haters of the Federal Reserve, and creator of the modern Evangelical homeschool movement), his son-in-law Gary North (an economist and publisher), and David Chilton (Calvinist pastor and author).)
No, the Reconstructionists are not about to take over America, the world, or even most American Evangelical institutions. But their influence has been like a drop of radicalizing flavoring added to a bottle of water.
Though most Evangelicals, let alone the general public, don't know the names of the leading Reconstructionist thinkers, they helped create the world we live in -- where a radicalized, angry Religious Right has changed the face of American politics.
Writer Chris Hedges has called this the rise of "Christian Fascism," where "those that speak in the language of fact... are hated and feared."
Anyone who wants to understand American politics had better get acquainted with the Reconstructionists. Reconstructionism, also called Theonomism, seeks to reconstruct "our fallen society." Its worldview is best represented by the publications of the Chalcedon Foundation, (which has been classified as an antigay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center).
According to the Chalcedon Foundation Web site, the mission of the movement is to apply "the whole Word of God" to all aspects of human life: "It is not only our duty as individuals, families and churches to be Christian, but it is also the duty of the state, the school, the arts and sciences, law, economics, and every other sphere to be under Christ the King. Nothing is exempt from His dominion. We must live by His Word, not our own." Until Rushdoony, founder and late president of the Chalcedon Foundation, began writing in the 1960s, most American fundamentalists (including my parents) didn't try to apply biblical laws about capital punishment for homosexuality to the United States.
This theology was the American version of the attempt in some Muslim countries to impose Sharia (Islamic law) on all citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
It's no coincidence that the rise of the Islamic Brotherhoods in Egypt and Syria and the rise of North American Reconstructionism took place in a twentieth-century time frame -- as science, and modern "permissiveness" collided with a frightened conservatism rooted in religion. The writings of people such as Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and those of Rushdoony are virtually interchangeable when it comes to their goals of restoring God to His "rightful place" as He presides over law and morals.
It was my old friend, the short, stocky, bearded, gnomelike, Armenian-American Rousas Rushdoony who in 1973 most thoroughly laid out the Far Right/Religious Right agenda in his book The Institutes of Biblical Law. Rushdoony changed the definition of salvation from the accepted Evangelical idea that it applies to individuals to the claim that salvation is really about politics.
With this redefinition, Rushdoony contradicted the usual reading of Jesus' words by most Christians to mean that Jesus had not come to this earth to be a political leader: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).
According to Rushdoony, all nations on earth should be obedient to the ancient Jewish/Christian version of "God's Law," so that the world will experience "God's blessings." Biblical salvation will then turn back the consequences of The Fall, and we'll be on our way to the New Eden. To achieve this "turning back," coercion must be used by the faithful to stop evildoers, who are, by definition, anyone not obeying all of God's Laws as defined by the Reconstructionist interpretation of the Bible.
... And that is the context of the story that the New York Times and the rest of the media miss. They just never have bothered to do the homework needed to know what and why and where this tired old story keeps coming from. When Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour, et al pander to the religious right on the social issues what they are doing is paying tribute to the Reconstructionist movement, even if they've never heard of it.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His new book is Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway