04/22/2011 10:34 am ET Updated Jun 22, 2011

How the Very Rich Use Old-Time Religion to Restore Feudalism

The ultrarich have a problem. They are few and we are many. Throughout much of history, this was not much of a problem -- they just told us what to do, and, on pain of whipping or worse, we did it.

But now we live in a democracy that features universal adult suffrage. They are few and we are many. This presents a challenge -- and they have a solution: It's called religion.

The ultrarich are using religion as a political weapon in ways not seen since Pope Urban II launched the first Crusade back in 1095. From the ludicrous ballot measure in Oklahoma to "protect" that state from sharia law to legislation in Tennessee meant to reinfiltrate creationism into science classes to gay marriage hysteria to attacks on funding for family planning in the name of saving "babies" (even "babies" who consist of just one cell), these efforts all have one thing in common: they exploit religious fears to elect officials who serve the interests of the superwealthy.

That the American political system now exists primarily to serve the ultrarich seems incontestable: The minimum wage, which once lifted people out of poverty, now mires them in it. Even while the Tea Party screams itself blue in the face about taxes, the proportion paid by ultrarich and the corporations they own has dwindled -- to zero, for many. At the same time, the ultrarich have taken an ever-growing share of the nation's wealth, while the middle class has shrunk. Don't take my word for it.Look at the graphs, read the stats, listen to Warren Buffett or watch the clip of these wonderful guys, who call themselves Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Responsibility.

It's not just that the ultrarich -- the top 1 percent who now hoard nearly half the wealth of the nation -- are intent on ducking taxes. Aforementioned exceptions aside, billionaires like the Koch brothers, the Scaifes and other seem intent on destroying the middle class. But they can only do it with help. They are few and we are many. Their salvation comes from the religious right, who in turn can only get elected by ordinary working stiffs -- Joes and Janes who have doubled their productivity while taking a pay cut, lengthening their workdays and, in many cases, losing their homes.

Yet, these working folk who so admire Sarah Palin and think the Donald is a hoot continue to elect far-right Republicans who are out to screw them -- indeed, whose goal is to strip them of the little remaining power they have by crushing their few surviving unions and to reduce them to sullen servitude. Why? It all goes back to the first Crusade.

As with the 9/11 attacks, Pope Urban had a handy provocation: Muslims had been attacking cities in Anatolia, now part of Turkey, and the Eastern Orthodox Church's Emperor appealed for help. In a weird parallel to George W. Bush's two-war response to 9/11, the Pope declared that the West would not only invade Anatolia but would march on to liberate Jerusalem, a city that had been under Muslim control for more than 400 years.

"The West must march to the defense of the East. All should go, rich and poor alike. The [Christians] must stop their internal wars and squabbles. Let them go instead against the infidel and fight a righteous war. God himself will lead them, for they will be doing His work. Here they are poor and miserable sinners; there they will be rich and happy."

And there you have it. The classic solution of the ruling class to discontent among the masses: Launch them on a holy war. Then as now, the invasion was initially a success and eventually a disaster. Then as now, it led to unholy slaughter and deadly stalemate. When it was all over, the surviving crusaders returned to a feudal drudgery whose only innovation was the various plagues the soldiers brought back with them from the East. Within a few centuries, a third of all Europeans lay dead from one disease or another.

Things are not that bad today -- at least not yet. But the superwealthy have a clear strategy and goal: to distract the masses with endless "holy" wars here and abroad while they go about restoring feudalism (which they, with a fine sense of irony, call "freedom"). The question is: are we the many going to let religion be the anvil on which we forge our chains?