Fundamentalists and Great Fears

excerpted from the book

America Right or Wrong

An Anatomy of American Nationalism

by Anatol Lieven

Oxford University Press, 2005, paper


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.

Godly Republicans
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 and America.

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 overtly anti-Semitic.

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 communities.

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 regions.

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 Coast" again).

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 Episcopalian!

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, defensive and

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 in Israel.

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 Virginia family.

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 His aid?"

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."

America Right or Wrong

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