02/22/2012 11:38 am ET Updated Apr 23, 2012

Crosses and Flags

Whenever certain folks are in a shitload of trouble, when they are desperate and afraid, they hit hard and hit low and just keep goddamn hitting. Blindly, sloppily, cruelly.

I mean, where were people hurting the most right after September 11th 2001? In their hearts, their marrow. Every American felt supremely, viciously violated and justifiably so. It was a genuine devastation that struck deep into the collective American psyche, the ache of which will resonate for generations.

And it was through that tragically unifying event that saw true heroism and true faith emerge from the hearts beating beneath the breasts of ordinary people. No one will forget nor take for granted that day, nor would ever dare to.

Yet from that darkest of national moments on, all any politician bent on power needed to do in order to provoke a crowd's ire, shame opponents or strike fear into perceived enemies was invoke 911.

It was a sacred invocation.

And like many such sacred invocations, it has been sinfully abused. In speech after speech given by the 2004 Republican presidential hopefuls, 911 was hurled about with total disregard for its true meaning and used rather as a carnival barker uses garish hyperbole to peddle the snake oil to the worked-over assemblage. And it was disgusting.

Yet it did nothing to tarnish the reality of that day and the actions of the truly heroic and innocent participants. The truth of that reality outshines even the cleverest of swindlers who try to use it for personal and political gain. And their swindles grow ever more transparent as time and sanity persist.

But now it is religion that's being used as a cudgel, wielded by those who would use the lessons of The Bible to secure for themselves and their moneyed sponsors a position of power that other modern industrial nations have seen fit to deny whenever the urge struck some power-mad sect bent on theocratic dominion. They are seen for what they are: retrograde fringes of thought and ideology, throwbacks to darker ages. They still threaten but thankfully fail to find effective purchase in mainstream society.

But in recent days, to see religion used in the same way 911 was those few years ago is to once again have the opportunity to place under a microscope and see what comprises the current incarnation of these so-called "conservatives"; one can readily observe that along with having taken pages from Orwell and Machiavelli in their attempts to manipulate society and gain national control, they are now perhaps accidentally embodying Upton Sinclair's prescient statement as well: wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.

They shame the idea of conservatism by fully embracing profligacy and greed rather than classic conservative tenets of thrift and patience and wisdom. They have become paranoid and xenophobic to the point of comedy, their high profile emissaries decrying education (except in the home), health care (except when it can be purchased at the highest cost), women's health (except when it comes to their maintenance as vessels for seed) and government (except when it sanctions unregulated, unfettered commerce). They decry Evolution yet seek to abide by the cruelest of Darwinian concepts in letting the sick and the elderly and disenfranchised go the way of nature. It's a cynical posture and a slap in the face of the conscientious and articulate conservatives like Buckley or Safire who had the guts to own their own beliefs and still have a stake in Democracy; the current crop of pretenders seem to want to do away with Democracy altogether. And those on the Right still in possession of sanity -- who do exist -- are bullied into complicit, pitiful silence. This is anything but conservatism. It is, in fact, as Sinclair said it was.

The same way 911 was almost sullied by misuse, so is religion being similarly abused, its profundity pawned for power's sake. But the shameful misappropriation of memes and themes to further profit-based and people-intolerant agendas is part and parcel of the current quasi-conservative. Every utterance invoking God's outrage at certain lifestyle choices, every robotic accusation that Obama's politics are "radically Islamist" brings the GOP ever closer to a fate shared by none other than Lot's wife. In this case, however, considering the damage incurred at the use of this destructive and hateful strategy, it would be a conflagration devoutly to be wished. And truly deserved.