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Imagine a fundamentalist tent-meeting somewhere on the dusty plains of Oklahoma or Texas without the Devil? a spluttering preacher at the pulpit with nothing about which to shout and frighten people? Preaching the actual teachings of Jesus – so far as we know them, about peace and toleration – wouldn’t cover rental payments on the tent and electric organ.
That little thought-experiment offers genuine insight into the nature of American fundamentalism as well as insight into the terrible new era of perpetual war ushered in by that fine Christian gentleman, George Bush.
There is little doubt that the nature of a person’s religious universe shapes and orders his or her understanding of the physical one. We know the Catholic church for centuries fought scientific discovery, certain that questioning ancient preconceptions about nature also questioned aspects of the supernatural. This way of looking at things continues into the twenty-first century, especially in the gulag of creepy places that is George Bush’s America, places where they discuss topics like the Mark of the Beast in hushed tones.
It was that sly, clever Voltaire who declared, "If there were no God, it would be necessary to invent him." A slight altering of his words tailors them to the American experience. Simply remove the word God and put Devil in its place, for, although America is sometimes called a God-fearing nation, Devil-fearing is nearer the truth.
For many years, America enjoyed the blessing of having Communism against which to rage and threaten. It made for a balanced, harmonious universe: America as God’s Kingdom, ready with sword and buckler to defeat the Evil One, and all those other nations out there providing an unsaved mob to fill America’s tent and contribute to the mighty battle.
Communism as Evil One played to rave reviews for decades, but all good things do come to an end, including the planet itself if you embrace the tortured, perhaps psychotic, visions of the Book of Revelation.
America’s new Official Evil One is a little difficult to define, but some ambiguity likely serves the cause well. After all, those Americans who believe in speaking in tongues, as does the current Attorney General of the United States, don’t specify the languages. Any babble will do. It is clear, however, that America’s new Great Awakening has to do with Islam and people wearing strange headgear. In the humble, but direct, language of places like the Midwest and Texas, it’s about turban-heads. Unlike godless Communists, this newly discovered slithering mass of evil believes in God, but it might just as well not since it calls him by the wrong name and reads the wrong holy book.
Well, burning people alive was a specialty of the competing churches in Europe after the Reformation, a charming custom that Puritans brought to the land that would become America. The practice has gone through many changes and refinements, and it is jealously retained by America’s Hi-tech Army of Roundheads. As I write this, they are using helicopter gunships to burn and blow up women and children in Fallujah.
I came across a fascinating passage in Richard Rhodes’ excellent history, The Making of the Atomic Bomb:
"One of Roosevelt’s first acts was to appeal to the belligerents to refrain from bombing civilian populations. Revulsion against the bombing of cities had grown in the United States since at least the Japanese bombing of Shanghai in 1937. When Spanish Fascists bombed Barcelona in March, 1938, Secretary of State Cordell Hull had condemned the atrocity publicly…As war approached, revulsion began to give way to impulses of revenge…"
America, as we know, went, in a short time, from revulsion at someone else’s bombing to fire-bombing a number of cities and atomic-bombing two others. Before the ashes had cooled on a million or so innocent victims of air raids, that nest of vipers, the Communists, was released on the world. A long series of bloody, largely pointless, conflicts culminated in the holocaust-bombing of Vietnam and Cambodia. Hell, what’s a few million peasants when they might be demon minions of the Evil One?