Fundamentalists and Great Fears
excerpted from the book
America Right or Wrong
An Anatomy of American Nationalism
by Anatol Lieven
Oxford University Press, 2005,
America is home to by far the largest and most powerful forces
of conservative religion in the developed world. The attitude
of these forces to key aspects of modernity as this is usually
understood was summed up in the 1960s by the leading Pentecostalist
preacher A.A. Allen: "The most treacherous foe in America
isn't Communism (as perilous as it may be), Nazism, Fascism or
any alien ideology, but MODERNISM,, (capitals in the original).
Allen's call to arms appeared in a booklet entitled "My Vision
of the Destruction of America:' The title in itself brings out
the contrast between the optimism of the American Creed and the
profound pessimism of Protestant fundamentalism as far as progress
in this world is concerned.
As Samuel Huntington has observed, "Those
countries that are more religious tend to be more nationalist".
Looking at the contrast between the United States and the rest
of the developed world, Huntington and others have explained early
twenty-first-century America's greater nationalism partly in terms
of its greater religiosity. This link to nationalism is especially
true of American fundamentalist Protestantism, which has particular
roots in the nationalist culture of the White South.'
... By no means all evangelicals are either
fundamentalist in religion (although evangelicalism and fundamentalism
share most core beliefs) or right-wing nationalist in politics.
For example, belief in the literal truth of the whole of the Bible
(known as inerrancy) is critical to fundamentalist belie Jut many
members of the broader evangelical tradition take a more nuanced
position. They are also less conservative in politics. Moreover,
Blacks make up a very considerable proportion of the evangelical
population in the United States and in the American South; for
obvious historical reasons they are not often led by their religious
beliefs into right-wing political positions! At the same time,
the fundamentalist wing of the evangelical tradition is a very
powerful ideological force in large parts of the United States
and retains elements Of thought which have come down with relatively
few changes from much earlier eras. Its origins are pre-Enlightenment,
and its mentality to a very great extent anti-Enlightenment. It
has also retained a strong element of geographical continuity.
While conservative religious belief is strong in Kansas and other
parts of the Midwest, and many new adherents to fundamentalist
groups are from the heterogeneous ethnic and cultural worlds of
newly growing cities in the Southwest and California, the heart
of their support remains what it has long been: the White South
and its outlying regions.
A religious map of the United States in
2000 still shows an unbroken belt of southern Baptist majority
counties stretching from central Virginia to eastern Texas, and
taking in northern Florida and much of Kentucky and Missouri.
Many others adhere to other evangelical and/or fundamentalist
churches, such as the Pentecostalists. As already explained, this
area is not just religious, but also home to some very tough,
strongly held and ancient social and cultural traditions, the
roots of which predate not just the nation's independence but
the first settlements in North America. A particular form of nationalism
is one of the most important of these traditions.
... The growing pluralism of sects in
the early and mid-nineteenth-century South was accompanied by
a sharp decrease in cultural pluralism and a growing culture of
orthodoxy, conservatism and conformism in religion and in social
and cultural life more generally. "By 1860, religious liberalism
was virtually dead in the South. The greatest beneficiaries of
this religious wave were the Baptist churches, which have continued
to predominate in the region to this day, followed by the Methodists.
In seeking to understand the deep cultural differences between
much of the United States and Western Europe, a combination of
the American Frontier and the role of the American Protestant
churches is of central importance. In both America and Europe,
much of the rural population remained largely medieval in its
thinking and behavior until the eighteenth and even the nineteenth
centuries (the last burning of a witch in France, with the apparent
collusion of local officials, took place in 1835). In Europe,
first the local upper classes, then the state, often through the
upper classes, played a leading role in civilizing the rural populations.
The churches played only a subsidiary role and by the later nineteenth
century were in full retreat across much of Western Europe.
In the newly settled parts of the United
States, neither a truly functioning state nor traditional upper
classes existed. In these areas, it was above all the churches
which prevented the settlers from lapsing into not only complete
barbarism but isolation-very often the church was literally the
only social institution in the entire district and the only place
where the local population met regularly; and it also was responsible
for the local school. Without the Protestant churches, the societies
of the American Frontier would have remained much more backward,
violent and medieval than has been the case. Thus the churches
have played an ambiguous role with regard to the modernization
of large parts of the United States: on one hand, they chastened
frontier medievalism and laid the basis for a modern social and
economic order; on the other, they created a religious culture
which has been in many ways at odds with modern culture as understood
in the rest of the Western world.
Hard-line evangelical Protestants in the United States coined
the name "fundamentalists" for themselves in the 1920s
because of their desire for a return to what they viewed as the
"fundamentals" of Christianity, including a literal,
word-forword belief in the Bible. Their origins were "reactionary"
in the strict sense; they were reacting against key aspects of
twentieth-century modernity." These religious elements form
part of the wider world of American radical conservatism and radical
nationalism, of which Hofstadter wrote that "their political
reactions express a profound if largely unconscious hatred of
our society and its ways .... The extreme right suffers not from
the policies of this or that administration, but from what America
has become in the twentieth century."
... from the very first days of the American colonies, the settlers'
belief that they were a people chosen by God was accompanied by
an Old Testament belief that God was a "God of Warre."
The image of the ancient Israelites and their battles with their
neighbors was used to justify wars against latter-day "Amelekites,"
whether Indian or French, and God was held to fight for the Americans
in those wars.'
... the situation of politically conservative American religious
believers is that the laissez-faire capitalism which they support
is not only undermining their economic world, but through the
mass media and entertainment industries is also playing a central
role in biting away at their moral universe.
Conservative religiosity ... plays a very important part in U.S.
politics, and especially in the Republican Party. Its growth has
formed part of the "southernization" of that party in
recent decades. According to the Christian Coalition, the leading
grassroots political organization of the American Christian Right,
29 senators out of 100 and 125 House members out of 435 voted
100 percent of the time in accordance with the Christian Coalition's
own principles in 2001 (the last year for which figures are available);
in other words, more than a quarter of the members of both houses
of the U.S. Congress. Of these, 15 senators and 64 congressmen
were from the Greater South, or just over half of the Christian
conservative bloc in both cases (more than double the South's
percentage of the U.S. population as a whole)
Fundamentalist religiosity has become an integral part of the
radicalization of the Right in the United States and of the tendency
to demonize political opponents as traitors and enemies of God
McCarthyism was ... the classic example of a movement which brought
together previously mutually hostile groups of White "middle-class"
Americans behind an essentially nationalist program strongly marked
by traditions of Protestant cultural paranoia, but in ostensible
defense of the American Creed of freedom, democracy and law. It
succeeded in uniting ultra-nationalism, "Lockean absolutism"
(in Louis Hartz's phrase), psychological hysteria, religious -cultural
reaction, bitter class resentment and (to a lesser and more ambiguous
and veiled extent) anti-Semitism in one mass of hatred. McCarthyism
was in some ways a precursor of the alliance between the White
South and culturally conservative Northern and Midwestern White
ethnic groups which at the start of the twenty-first century forms
a key foundation of the Republican Party, and of which nationalism
is a vital element.
McCarthyism thus also symbolizes the way
in which certain previously excluded ethnicities have been able
to merge with the old "core" groups through militant
nationalism. McCarthy was prefigured by the fascistic "radio
priest' Father Charles Coughlin, in the mid-1930s, who similarly
mixed anticommunism and anti-elitism, although in his case-due
to the Depression and the legacy of Catholic social thought-he
also included explicit attacks on capitalism and was much more
McCarthy himself was a Catholic Irish
petty bourgeois from a farming background in Wisconsin (with a
German American mother). His alliance with Protestant WASP (White
Anglo-Saxon Protestant) reaction was created by a mixture of anticommunism
and bitter class resentment. Viewed in its own terms, McCarthyism
seems like a modern version of the irrational "Great Fears"
of peasant Europe (as the "witch hunt" analogy is of
course meant to suggest). Viewed as a rather typical petty bourgeois
nationalist maneuver to displace existing WASP elites by accusing
them of a lack of patriotism, it becomes much more comprehensible,
and even rational."
Although the [fundamentalist] churches were largely absent from
politics and government from the 1930s to the 1970s, they did
not withdraw from society. On the contrary, these decades saw
the evangelical churches spread both to new media-television--and
to new areas of the United States." Even though televangelist
Billy Graham himself was in most ways a political moderate, the
world he represented also played a great part in McCarthyism.
The American churches, and especially
the evangelical and fundamentalist ones, were able not just to
retain but in some respects to expand their followings at a time
when in the rest of the developed world, religious belief and
practice was in deep decline.
The shift of the Southern Baptist Convention to de facto support
for the Republican Party from the 1970s has stemmed from a general
White Southern move in that direction, but has also reinforced
that trend. It has left Democratic Southern Baptists like Bill
Clinton and Al Gore in a decidedly minority position within their
own church. In most of the South, their faith was of limited help
to them among Whites in either 1992 or 1996, and Gore's failure
to carry the region in 2000 helped doom his bid for the presidency.
Also of great importance has been the
replacement of urbanization with suburbanization. Urbanization
around the world has generally marked a radical shift in environment
and values from culturally homogenous small towns and rural areas
to heterogenous, ethnically, culturally and even racially mixed
cities. A transformation in values, including most often a decline
in religious faith, has been the general long-term result; stemming
of course from the disintegration of small, relatively isolated
Suburbanization is a rather different
matter. It allows-and, in its American form, is explicitly or
implicitly intended to allow-the preservation of a smalltown world
as far as family life and culture are concerned: racially homogenous
and also potentially at least culturally homogenous, traditional,
church-going and patriotic. The spread of (softened and modernized)
forms of Southern culture, including country music, to much of
the rest of the United States can be traced in part to the move
of "middle-class" Whites away from urbanism and toward
suburbanism. If therefore American nationalism in 2004 sometimes
resembles European nationalisms before 1914, the reason is because
in some American regions, aspects of society and culture are closer
to those of Europe of 1914 than to those of the Europe of 2004.
In the preservation of this re-created
small-town atmosphere, the evangelical Protestant churches have
played a very important role, which has helped not only to preserve
them in their traditional heartlands, but to expand them to much
of the rest of the United States .71 Indeed, the strong recovery
of religious belief and practice in the United States after World
War II was contemporaneous with the astonishing growth of suburbia,
and probably closely associated with it."
The figures both for religious belief
in the United States and for the strength within this sector of
the "fundamentalist" element are somewhat disputed.
A 1993 Gallup Poll showed 42 percent of Americans describing themselves
as "born again." This figure, however, includes both
many members of the so-called mainline churches for whom this
is more a formal statement of theological belief than a deeply
felt personal statement, and Black evangelicals, who with rare
exceptions are not led by this belief to vote Republican. A 1996
study by George Barna found 66 percent of Americans saying that
they had made a "personal commitment to Jesus Christ,"
up from 60 percent in the 1980s. About one-third of the public
attends church (or other places of worship) once a week and another
third at least once a month. The remaining third never attends."
According to an authoritative survey conducted
in 2000 by the University of Michigan, White evangelical Protestants
(including churches defining themselves as fundamentalist) made
up 23.1 percent of the U.S. population in that year. This made
evangelical Protestants the second largest Christian group, after
Catholics with 27.3 percent. Although they have spread all over
the United States, by far the greatest concentration of evangelicals
remains in the Bible Belt of the Greater South and its outlying
Mainline Protestants (Episcopalians, Methodists,
Lutherans, etc.) came third, with 21.2 percent of the U.S. population.
Between 1971 and 1990 evangelical churches gained more than 6
million new members; the mainline ones lost some 2.6 million .12
Black Protestants accounted for 7.6 percent of the population;
"other religions," 4.5 percent; Jews, 2 percent. In
a striking divergence from Europe, only 14.4 percent of respondents
described themselves as "secular." As the term "Bible
Belt" suggests, these figures include very noticeable regional
variations. In 1986, according to Gallup, 48 percent of Southerners
(more than twice the national average) described themselves as
"born again" Christians, compared to 31 percent of Midwesterners
and only 19 percent of Northeasterners (the wicked, atheist "East
Determining how many of these people possess
truly "fundamentalist" beliefs or support the agenda
of the Christian Right in politics (closely associated in turn
with populist nationalist attitudes) is a difficult question."
A Pew poll of March 2004 indicated that 40 percent of Americans
believed in the literal, word-for-word truth of the Bible, with
another 42 percent declaring that it is the word of God, but not
necessarily true. Of course, most of these people do not attempt
to match behavior to beliefs, but nonetheless this world of belief
does give the more determined minority a wide ocean of public
acceptance in which to swim, something that does not exist elsewhere
in the developed world. According to Gallup, 18 percent of Americans
polled in 1993 believed that floods that year were a punishment
by God for the sins of the people living on the Mississippi River."
In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair's
far more moderate and "mainline" Protestant views have
been toned down by his advisers for fear of public mockery and
alienation. Advisers would never recommend this in the United
States. By 1976 the overtly born-again religious identity of presidential
candidate Jimmy Carter of Georgia was already sufficiently appealing
to the electorate that President Gerald Ford felt impelled also
to declare himself "born again"-even though he was an
With the exception of George H. W. Bush
(Bush Sr.), all subsequent U.S. presidents have also declared
themselves born again-and in the case of Reagan and George W.
Bush (Bush Jr.), it would seem, quite sincerely. In a poll conducted
in 1998, 56 percent of Americans declared that they would not
vote for an atheist as president (admittedly a big change from
1958, when 82 percent said this)." Playing on this sentiment,
Bush Sr., like all Republican candidates over the past generation,
declared in 1992 that "I believe with all my heart that one
cannot be President without a belief in God' In 1996 more than
one-fifth of registered members of the Republican Party described
themselves as belonging to the Christian Right. In the 2004 Democratic
primary campaign, several candidates declared, most improbably,
that they had discovered religion while campaigning."
It has been suggested that between one-third
and one-half of the White evangelicals (including the fundamentalists),
or between about 7 percent and 12 percent of the whole population
of America, support the Christian Right or at least share its
ideology. However, the strength of the fundamentalists, like the
strength of some ethnic minorities, lies not so much in numbers
but in relatively greater social and political commitment: high
rates of voter turnout, willingness to agitate over particular
issues, readiness to make personal sacrifices of time and money,
and concentration in politically strategic regions.
As Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed
has noted, over time concern over education and other local issues
made Christian conservative activists into a formidable force
in local politics (on school boards and the like), laying the
basis for their later success in national politics: "The
advantage we have is that liberals and feminists don't generally
go to church. They don't gather in one place three days before
the election." Conservative Christian colleges have also
proved a useful source of Republican campaign workers.
The power of the fundamentalists, like
that of other highly motivated minority groups, has been greatly
increased by the generally very low voter turnout in U.S. elections.
Thus in the congressional elections of November 2002, the Republicans
made extensive gains in the Senate and House of Representatives
with the votes of only some 15 percent of all registered voters.
Of a figure this small, the fundamentalists obviously can form
a very large and powerful proportion.
To conservative Christian America, the "counterculture"
in general appeared as an unspeakably hateful, diabolical attack
on its idea of society. Limited but vocal sections of American
youths revolted against military service and patriotic values;
and for the first time in its history, America was defeated in
a major war." The Catholics had been hated in the past, but
at least their ideas of family, sexual morality and manly behavior
were not really different from those of the hard-line evangelicals.
To a traditional mind, the American culture which developed after
the 1960s by contrast seemed like something out of Hieronymus
Bosch, literally a pandemonium of scarcely credible monsters and
abominations; and much of television constitutes nothing less
than a daily assault on their world of faith and culture. Finally,
beginning with the oil shock of 1973, the 1970s saw the end of
the long postwar boom and the beginning of three decades of unprecedented
long-term stagnation in real incomes for the American middle classes.
The old White working class of the Midwest had gotten used to
a world in which respectability and steady work guaranteed a steadily
rising income and social status. The end of this world has been
a dreadful blow to their "moral economy." These defeats
provide much of the explanation for the embittered, mean-spirited,
aggressive edge to the contemporary American
right wing and to the American nationalism it espouses. Even when
apparently in power, these people still feel defeated.
Millenarians and Nationalists
Of the American evangelicals, significant
numbers also hold millenarian beliefs, beliefs with frightening
implications for their holders' attitudes to the world outside
the United States. In 1977 the number of American premillennialists
alone was conservatively estimated at 8 million. A Pew poll of
May 2004 had 36 percent of respondents declaring that the book
of Revelations is no metaphor but "true prophesy." Premillennialists
believe in Christ's bodily return before his thousand-year earthly
reign; postmillennialists (a majority of the mainline Protestant
churches), on the other hand, believe in his return only after
the Millennium has already been established by the power of God
working through his people. This is a distinction with crucial
implications for attitudes to politics, history and the possibility
and desirability of Christians seeking to bring about positive
social change in this life. The great majority of the leaders
of the Christian Right have been premilennialists, and often from
a more extreme variant of this belief known as dispensationalism.
In 1987, 63 percent of Southern Baptist pastors declared themselves
to be premillennarian."
A very much larger number of Americans
have some belief in "prophecy": that the Bible-and especially
the Book of Daniel and the Revelations of St. John provides accurate
predictions of future events."' The widespread nature of
this belief is indicated by the popularity of millenarian religious
fiction, such as Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth (35 million
copies sold by 2004) or, more recently, the Rapture series by
Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. To date, this series has sold
more than 62 million copies, putting the Harry Potter series to
shame and making it by a long stretch the most successful series
in the history of American print fiction. LaHaye was a cofounder
(with Jerry Falwell) of the Moral Majority, the pioneering Christian
Rightist group which laid the foundations for the later and much
more successful Christian Coalition.
These readership figures demonstrate once
again a profound distance between a considerable part of the American
population and modernity as the rest of the world understands
it, as well as the rationalist and universalist principles of
the American Creed. Not only is this tradition deeply and explicitly
hostile to the Enlightenment and to any rational basis for human
discourse or American national unity, it cultivates a form of
insane paranoia toward much of the outside world in general. Thus
The End of the Age, a novel by the Christian Rightist preacher
and politician Pat Robertson, features a conspiracy between a
Hillary Clintonesque first lady and a Muslim billionaire to make
Antichrist president of the United States. Antichrist, who has
a French surname, was possessed by Satan, in the form of the Hindu
god Shiva, while serving with the Peace Corps in India."'
These books are also utterly, shockingly
ruthless in their treatment of the unsaved--in other words, the
vast mass of humanity. In accordance with one strand in prophetic
belief, the Rapture series begins with God's elect being taken
up to heaven in an instant, and dwells lovingly on the immense
casualty rates that results as pilotless planes and driverless
cars crash all over the world--with most of the victims presumably
going to hell.
The moral tone of such attitudes has real
consequences for how these believers think about the world today.
Thus I remember the words of my born-again landlady during a stay
in Washington in 1996-97. When challenged that the Bible cannot
be literally God's word, for in this case sections of the Books
of Exodus and Joshua in particular would make God guilty of ordering
genocide, she replied, in honey-sweet tones, "But don't you
see, if those people had been wiped out 3,000 years ago as God
ordered, we wouldn't have all these problems in the Middle East
today' Some millenarian language achieves a kind of pornography
of hatred in its description of the fate of the damned, especially
those from nations hostile to the United States." As these
words suggest, one of the most important effects of millenarian
thinking in the religious conservative camp in recent years has
been to help cement the alliance of this camp with hard-liners
This alliance has become one of the most
important practical connections between the religious conservatives
in America and aspects of contemporary American nationalism. In
the context of American nationalism, of particular interest is
"Dominion" or "Reconstruction" theology-a
relatively minor current in itself, but which has been of great
influence in the thinking of leading figures in the Christian
Right like Pat Robertson.
This theology is based on Genesis 1:26-29,
in which God gives to Adam and Eve dominion over earth and all
its plants and creatures. These words have been taken by Christians
of the "Dominion" persuasion as giving Christians dominion
over Earth and has been used as an antienvironmentalist argument,
since God has so given Christians the right of unlimited exploitation
of Earth's resources. Because America is in the general evangelical
view the world's leading Christian nation, the implications for
American power are also clear: "Our goal is world domination
under Christ's lordship, a 'world takeover' if you will .... We
are the shapers of world history."
These beliefs play their part in fueling
the tendency of the American Right to implacable nationalist moral
absolutism, with a succession of foreign leaders, from Hitler
to Saddam Hussein, identified as Antichrist or Antichrist's servant.
(Earlier, of course, the Vatican often had played this role.)
Because Satan is supposed to be deceitful and alluring, these
leaders do not even have to be actively hostile. In these circles,
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was widely identified with Antichrist
precisely because of his popularity in the West. Both millenarian
belief itself and the tendency of its American exponents to link
it to hard-line U.S. foreign and security policies were given
a tremendous boost by the Cold War and the much wider image of
the Soviet Union as an "empire of evil'
Because Antichrist is supposed to extend
his dominion over the whole earth, these millenarian beliefs fuse
with nationalist ones in absolute, untrammeled American national
sovereignty to produce the widespread and pathological hatred
of the United Nations on the American Right, and the dark fantasies
associated with these views-which are extraordinarily widespread
in American society, and by no means just in the Bible Belt."
7 The European Union too can be made to play this apocalyptic
role, for example in the pages of the millenarian journal The
Philadelphia Trumpet, which sees the EU as a new "Holy Roman
Empire" under German rule. "8 The Trilateral Commission
and the Council on Foreign Relations have also frequently been
portrayed as agencies of Antichrist for world unification and
domination. Antichrist himself of course is rarely an American,
although his deluded minions may be; and President Kennedy was
cast in the role of Antichrist by some millenarians in the South.
Millenarian beliefs also indirectly influence
a wider American "ecology of fear," to use the phrase
coined by Mike Davis for Los Angeles, and therefore a wider culture
of national paranoia and aggression. "9 As Paul Boyer points
out in his magisterial book on this subject, the strength of millenarian
feelings among a minority of Americans means that they have also
had an effect on wider culture, feeding into Hollywood films such
as the Omen series, science fiction novels and pop music.",
Often these fantasies have a racial edge.
Thus in 1999 Jerry Falwell warned his followers to prepare for
possible chaos as a result of computer meltdown (consequent on
the so-called Y2K or Millennium Bug problem) by stocking up on
essential supplies. These he said should include arms and ammunition,
to protect the well provided (the Careful Virgins, if you will)
against the hungry and improvident others-and we can be pretty
sure what colors he imagined those others were going to be. Drawing
once again on "Heartland" anti-immigrant and antiurban
sentiments, much of apocalyptic literature is set amid urban collapse
and upheaval. Hal Lindsey was possessed by pathological fear of
the "Yellow Peril"-a fear which he has now transferred
to Islam. '2'
Finally, in the context of American traditions
of defeat and their link to paranoia and aggression, we must note
the strong element of class resentment in the whole millenarian
tradition. This resentment was superbly analyzed by Norman Cohn
in his famous book The Pursuit of the Millennium, in which he
saw the millenarian cults of medieval and early modern Europe,
with their dreams of an egalitarian kingdom of God and the obliteration
of the unrighteous rulers and masters, as acting in some ways
as precursors of communism (and in some cases of modern anti-Semitism)."'
While they were analyzing 500-year-old
cults, Cohn and others failed to notice that millenarian groups
embodying the same tradition were still alive in the America of
their own day. In the United States, there is a very strong correlation
between such beliefs and poverty, residence in the countryside
and small towns and above all lack of education."' This mixture
of course fed into wider Southern and Heartland resentments of
the East Coast elites and lower-class resentments of the elites
in general, especially those widely identified as of "alien"
origin, such as bankers. Indeed, some historians have seen U.S.
fundamentalism as a whole as a form of "opium of the people'
a process which diverts socioeconomic resentments into a form
which is hostile to the culture of the elites but does not threaten
their actual power.
Again and again in millenarian fiction,
wealthy, educated and prestigious figures perish and go to hell
because of their wicked lifestyles, while simple, ordinary, God-fearing
believers are saved. Millenarian writers equally regularly excoriate
American hedonism and consumer culture. As throughout history,
American millenarianism is to a great extent a religion of the
disinherited, a form of spiritual socialism for people who are
not able for whatever reason to be socialist"' According
to Billy Graham, "Let me tell you something: when God gets
ready to shake America, he may not take the PhD and the DD. God
may choose a country boy. God may choose a shoe salesman like
He did D. L. Moody (a popular fundamentalist preacher earlier
in the century] .... God may choose the man that nobody knows,
a little nobody to shake America for Jesus Christ in this day
Evangelical and especially millenarian
preachers speak of the future kingdom of Christ on earth in terms
strongly reminiscent of those of Karl Marx. The kingdom will be
essentially a greatly improved America, stripped of poverty, sinfulness
and alien values: "much like the present life... but missing
all the imperfections that have destroyed the full and true meaning
of life?' Christ's reign will bring "labor, adventure, excitement,
employment and engagement." There is a very strong stress
on the equality-including economic equality-of all believers in
this future kingdom, in which all men will be kings."'
It would be quite wrong though to portray
this segment of belief in America as purely the province of the
poor and marginalized. On the contrary, as Boyer, Grace Halsell
and other students of the subject have emphasized, it has considerable
influence both among the regional elites of the South and West
and among the Republican national elites. The Pentecostalist faith,
closely linked to millenarian belief, includes in its number John
Ashcroft and a row of senior military officers. Pat Robertson,
cofounder of the Christian Coalition, who has spoken of liberal
America doing to evangelical Christians "what Nazi Germany
did to the Jews," is the son of a U.S. senator, from a patrician
The link between millenarianism and radical
nationalism was exemplified by Lieutenant General William G. "Jerry"
Boykin, a Pentecostalist believer appointed in 2003 as deputy
under-secretary of defense for intelligence. A minor scandal developed
in that year when the content of some talks Boykin had given to
U.S. evangelical church groups made their way into the national
media. (President Bush eventually condemned General Boykin's statements,
but did not dismiss him from his post-one which, it may be noted,
later involved a measure of responsibility for the intelligence-gathering
strategy which contributed to the abuses of Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.)
Among other things, General Boykin declared
that America is a "Christian nation" and that George
Bush had been elevated to the presidency by a miracle-an idea
with which many Democrats would agree, but not quite as Boykin
meant it. Of judgments by the U.S. Supreme Court of which he disapproved,
Boykin said, "Don't you worry about what these courts say.
Our God reigns supreme." He informed his listeners that in
examining photographs of Mogadishu, where he served as a special
forces officer, he found an unexplained black mark, which he explained
as a manifestation of evil; and that on 9/11 terrorists actually
took over two more planes, but they were "thwarted by the
hand of God."
America's enemy in the war against terrorism,
he said, is Satan, and Satan will be defeated only "if we
come against him in the name of Jesus?' Most famously, Boykin
said of a Somali warlord, "I knew that my God was bigger
than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol?"
This last was widely described as crude machismo, which it may
have been, but it was also a straight biblical reference, to the
victorious contests of Hebrew Prophets with the priests of Baal.
Similar statements concerning Islam have emanated from several
leaders of the Christian Right like Franklin Graham (son of Billy),
Jerry Falwell and the Reverend Ted Haggard, president of the National
Association of Evangelicals.
Concerning the United States itself, leading
officials of the Bush administration made no secret of their belief
that the American state rests on essentially religious foundations,
that "the source of freedom and human dignity is the Creator,"
in Ashcroft's words."' Even Vice President Dick Cheney sent
a Christmas card in 2003 with a message asking, in the words of
Benjamin Franklin, "And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground
without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without
Boykin's remarks indicate two salient
features of this sector of American society, as discussed above.
The first is their intense nationalism. As for the English and
Scottish Puritans of the seventeenth century, from whom they derive
their religious culture-as indeed for the Israelites of the Old
Testament-their God is essentially a tribal God, a Cromwellian
"God of Warre" who fights for them against Amelekites,
Irish papists, Red Indians, Mexicans, Spaniards, Germans, Japanese,
Communists, Russians, Chinese, Vietnamese, Muslims and any other
enemy who comes along.
The second is that their religion-based
culture is to a very great extent premodern and definitely pre-Enlightenment.
A comparison of Boykin with his equivalents in other contemporary
Western armed forces is instructive. A great many French, British
and Russian officers would feel more comfortable in the nineteenth
century and some surviving aristocratic elements in the eighteenth.
British officers in particular sometimes have an affection for
horses which trembles on the brink of impropriety. However, the
golden ages which they yearn for are still post-Enlightenment.
Unlike General Boykin, they would not feel at home in Cromwell's
New Model Army. The extent of this ideologically premodern sector
in the United States is greater than almost anywhere else in the
developed world-except for Northern Ireland. This kind of religious
nationalism is fueled both by religious moralism and by a paranoia
fed in turn by a feeling of cultural embattlement. In the words
of Richard Hofstadter: "Since what is at stake is always
a conflict between good and evil, the quality needed is not a
willingness to compromise but the will to fight things out to
the finish. Nothing but total victory will do. Since the enemy
is thought of as being totally evil and utterly unappeasable,
he must be totally eliminated .... This demand for unqualified
victories leads to the formulation of hopelessly demanding and
unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely
attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid's frustration."
Right or Wrong