We human beings are fearful things. And, being the clever creatures that we are, we like to put names to our fears. As the long list of our fears grows, so does our collection of words we use to describe them.
This provides entertainment on its own. Consider, for instance, Coulrophobia, the fear of clowns (etymologically, the fear of those who go around on stilts). It’s a surprisingly common fear, but what can you say about a species that needs such a word?
Or consider Glossophobia. Etymologically, this one is “tongue-fear,” but it is not someone who is afraid of tongues. It means the fear of speaking in public. Not uncommon, but…
And we keep coining them.
How about Nomophobia? That is the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. It’s literally a contraction of “no mobile phobia.” Now really.
Of late, I’ve noticed a growing phobia of my own. It seems there are some people in the Christian Evangelical movement variously known as Dominionists and Christian Nationalists. And they scare the hell out of me.
These folks believe in a sort of a Christian version of Shariah Law called Theonomy. That is, they believe that our society should be governed by the law of God as contained in their reading of the Bible. They don’t believe in secular law. In fact, “secular” is something of a curse word to them.
It would be easy to dismiss them as simple nutbags, but that would be both wrong and dangerous. While they are not a majority of American Evangelism nor of the political Right Wing, their ideas have penetrated both and have become part of the accepted beliefs and discourse of the Religious Right.
For instance, they believe that this American republic began as a Christian entity and has somehow moved away from those “true” origins. They reject the historicity of the Enlightenment’s impact on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The separation of Church and State they regard as a deliberate misinterpretation of the plain language of the Constitution.
One could argue that those notions are flatly contradicted by the historical record and, as such, doomed to pass away with other delusions that have overtaken the American body politic. Problem is, Dominionists have no intention of allowing any such corrective view to be passed onto their followers. So there now exists a substantial body of histories and textbooks that present their views as facts. And those histories are being read and cited by Christians and those textbooks are being taught.
At the level of faith-in-action, I can see no fundamental difference between these folks and the Islamic terrorists. By which I mean that people everywhere who believe that they are the exclusive holders of God’s truth are the worst The-End-Justifies-The-Means people in the world. Knowing they serve a higher good, they will dissemble, they will lie, they will cheat, in fact they will commit almost any crime in the service of their greater goal.
It was fairly easy to dismiss someone like Jesse Helms as a bigoted blowhard. Something of the same emotion may be aroused by James Dobson. But I suggest that when you look at young, trim, disciplined people like Tony Perkins or Blackwater’s Erik Prince, you are confronting a different kind of animal. These are the new breed. And the new breed are intent upon infiltrating the government and, more particularly, the military, and they seem to be succeeding.
Let me cite one example: There was a lot of press recently about just how deeply they had penetrated the Air Force Academy at Boulder, Colorado. Generals were encouraging evangelical beliefs and punishing those who didn’t conform. Jews and other non-Christians were being harassed and told their beliefs would adversely affect their careers. And despite the publicity, the secular watchdogs tell us there has been no real housecleaning there. Senior brass clearly see nothing fundamentally wrong in one’s religious beliefs being a determinant in one’s career.
Or another example: The Dominionists have also specifically targeted elite military groups like the Navy Seals. With some success. Reports have come out of Seal teams who consider themselves “Christ’s warriors.” A prime example of that process is Blackwater’s CEO, Erik Prince, an ex-Seal, who has been described as a “Christian Supremacist.” Journalist Jeremy Scahill has declared on Bill Moyers Journal that all of Blackwater’s leading executives are dedicated to a Christian supremacist agenda. Ex-Seal evangelicals are virtually guaranteed employment with Blackwater.
In politics, Mike Huckabee declared himself in favor of at least one part of an overtly Dominionist agenda. On January 14, 2008, he said, “I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that’s what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view.”
The point here is not whether or not Huckabee was wise to say that. What is important is that a fairly experienced public figure, running for a national office, felt that talking about revising the Constitution to conform to “the word of the living God” was within the norm of American politics.
There is a dark corner of the human psyche that western democracy has long recognized and tried to exclude from the public discourse. We know that there have always been those who are so conscious of their superior virtue that they feel themselves qualified to control their brethren, whether their brethren agree or not. We know that cohesive true-believers are dangerous far beyond their numbers. And, worst of all, we know that no crime against humanity is beyond the self-righteous. For the self-righteous can rationalize the morality of any crime.
Once upon a time there was a group of Jews who were proudly conscious of their superior knowledge of God’s will and their own transcendent virtues. They were called the Pharisees. Over the centuries their very name has come to mean any self-righteous sect claiming moral superiority.
So here’s my new affliction: I suffer from Phariseephobia