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Tiptoeing Towards Theocracy

By       Message Bob Burnett     Permalink
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In difficult times, nations sometimes embrace extreme solutions.  In 1494 Florence became a Christian Republic and Savonarola commenced his inquisition.  In 1932 Adolph Hitler became chancellor of Germany and launched the Third Reich.  Now America is in turmoil and Republicans offer a radical vision - Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry.  Is the US sliding towards Theocracy?

Girolamo Savonarola by Fra Bartolomeo, c. 1498 (from wikipedia)

In 1494, Florence, Italy, was in economic and social turmoil.  Catholic Priest Girolamo Savonarola declared Florence a Christian Republic and formed a Theocracy.  Claiming to receive direction from God, Savonarola preached about the Last Days, and sparked a moral "purification" campaign.  Homosexuals and liberal thinkers were killed, thousands of books were burned, and gangs ravaged Florence looking for indications of moral laxity, resulting in the notorious "Bonfire of the Vanities."

In 1932, Germany was in economic and social turmoil.  Fascist Adolph Hitler, head of the National Socialist German Worker's Party, became Chancellor and then dictator.   Claiming divine inspiration, Hitler preached about German destiny and racial purity, promoted Aryan supremacy, and launched the Third Reich.   Jews, Romani, homosexuals, and liberal thinkers were killed, thousands of books were burned, and gangs ravaged Germany looking for indications of moral laxity, resulting in the notorious Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass."  (Hitler didn't form a theocracy, but he did co opt the church with his "Positive Christianity".)

In 2011, America is in economic and social turmoil and Republicans offer the solution of Theocracy.  It's been tried here before.  The Massachusetts Bay Colony was a Puritan Theocracy - in 1660 Quaker Mary Dyer was hanged on Boston Common for advocating her religion.  Until the nineteenth century, several states had official Christian churches.   Nonetheless, the separation of church and state seems a solid legal principle -- "free exercise" of religion is in the First Amendment of the US Constitution (the notion of "separation" came from an 1802 Thomas Jefferson letter).

Recently, Republicans and Democrats have argued about the notion of the US as a "Christian Nation."  In 2007 John McCain stated, "T he Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation."  Yet in 2009, Barack Obama remarked, "One of the great strengths of the United States is ... we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values."

Now Republican presidential candidates Michele Bachman and Rick Perry actively advocate Theocracy.  They believe the US was founded as a Christian nation and disdain the notion of separation of church and state. 

Bachman and Perry are proponents of radical Christian fundamentalism, Dominionism.  Dominionists believe the US should be a Christian nation; their version of Christianity should be the state religion; and Biblical law - the Ten Commandments - should be the foundation of the US legal system.  (They also believe that God gave humans "dominion" over all life on earth.)

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Writing in the NEW YORKER, journalist Ryan Lizza examined Michele Bachman's radical views: "Bachmann said in 2004 that being gay is 'personal enslavement,' and that, if same-sex marriage were legalized, 'little children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal and natural and that perhaps they should try it.'"  "She believes that evolution is a theory that has 'never been proven.'" Bachmann is anti-abortion and believes Christianity should be taught in public schools.

Rick Perry has similar beliefs.  Writing in THE TEXAS OBSERVER, journalist Forrest Wilder described Governor Perry.  He's allied with the " New Apostolic Reformation" wing of Pentecostalism and believes he's a modern-day prophet directed by God to purify the US by becoming President.

Why have Republicans turned to such extreme candidates?  It's consistent with a disturbing change in their base.  The most recent Pew Research Report on US politics described: " the emergence of a single bloc of across-the-board conservatives. The long-standing divide between economic, pro-business conservatives and social conservatives has blurred. Today,  Staunch Conservatives take extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues -- on the size and role of government, on economics, foreign policy, social issues and moral concerns. Most agree with the Tea Party and even more very strongly disapprove of Barack Obama's job performance."

While only 11 percent of registered voters, staunch conservatives are angry, energized, and well funded. They're united by a dislike of government, a belief in state's rights, and disdain for President Obama.  Staunch conservatives are white, conservative Christians, advocates of unfettered corporate capitalism, who see Obama as black, Muslim, and a socialist.   Staunch conservatives share many ideas that fueled the Confederacy.  Not surprisingly, Dominionists seek to redefine the civil war as a conflict between "a Christian Nation," the South, and barbarians led by the Northern elite.

 In difficult times, nations sometimes embrace extreme solutions. Now America is in turmoil and Republicans offer the radical Theocracy of Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry.  

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.

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