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Fear Factor II: A Worldview Pervaded By Fear

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Much has been written in recent years --all around the anti-Bushite blogosphere-- about the way this Bushite regime has cultivated and exploited the fears of Americans in the wake of 9/11. It is clear that the regime has used the fear of Americans as an instrument against America-- as a way of enabling the regime to grab more power.

(See for example my piece, "An Open Letter to My Old Harvard Classmate, Tom Ridge," at

But not all parts of America have been equally responsive to the regime's scare tactics. The regime's manipulations have been most successful in those parts of America where the central role of fear was already deeply established. Indeed, one might go so far as to say that --more than any of the other presumed ideological bonds or supposed moral values that link the Bushite regime with its base-- the pivotal factor that connects the rulers with their supporters is fear itself: the rulers are selling it, and the supporters have been brought up to buy it.

Nowhere is this clearer than when it comes to that core part of the Bushite base, the Christian right. And so I'd like to take a moment to consider the role of fear in that worldview.

What clearer evidence of the deeply entrenched role of fear in that worldview could there be than the image some of their leaders present concerning how the Ruler of the Universe operates?

In the wake of 9/11, it should be recalled, two of the most prominent spokesmen of the religious right --Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson-- publicly declared that the catastrophe that had killed several thousand of our countrymen had occurred because of God's wrath at America. (God had "withdrawn" his "protection" from us, thus allowing the evil-doers to succeed in their attack.)

The reasons for this supposed wrath of God concerned two kinds of sin: one is America's supposed sexual immorality (tolerating homosexuality, for example) and its heresy (tolerating bad kinds of belief, and failing to establish --e.g. through prayer in the schools-- the priority of right kinds of belief).

(Pat Robertson has spoken for this God also in warning about catastrophes --hurricanes, for example-- with which God will smite towns and counties around the country who have refused to enforce the right morality and the right doctrine, such as a matter of homosexual rights in Florida some years ago, and the matter of teaching "intelligent design" in a Pennsylvania county last year.)

Of all the possible Gods one might conceive, the one at the heart of their belief system is one who gets so furious at people who do not toe his line on matters of belief and sexual conduct that he is willing to destroy cities in his rage.

No wonder a high degree of fear besets these issues of right personal conduct and right belief. And since this God is willing to express punitive rage against not only the wrong-doers and the wrong-believers but against the whole society that --in accordance with its liberal values-- even tolerates those sinners, no wonder the believers in this God cannot allay their fears simply by living and believing rightly themselves.

Clearly, if this is the nature of God, and if GOd is at the center of their worldview, it can reasonably be said that FEAR is at the center of how they experience the world. Even before the Bushites sought to inflame and exploit such fear, these people were operating in a world that is really frightening.

It is important for the rest of us to understand that experiential fact: in these countrymen of ours, we're dealing with people whose experience of fear is far stronger and more pervasive than most of us on the other side generally experience.

Following the trail of fear further, we might consider also how these people see the issue of CRIME. For one thing, that issue of crime --or of "law and order," as the Nixonians used the issue-- figures more centrally than on the progressive side of the divide. Again, the world is a more dangerous place for them. (And again, as I indicated in Part I, that doesn't mean that they are mistaken: it is possible to under-estimate as well as to exaggerate the dangers of lawlessness in one's society. A conservative has been defined as "a liberal who has been mugged.")

But still more telling is the importance that many of these Bushite supporters place on PUNISHMENT as the means to deal with people who do wrong. Just as their God is a punitive God, so also do they greatly prefer harsher treatment for criminals to the "coddling" that they see as the more liberal approach.

And then, of course, there is the emphasis they place on CAPITAL PUNISHMENT. The importance of this issue to many on the right is rendered comprehensible as a part of a larger pattern that reveals a fundamental belief about human behavior. That is the belief that PEOPLE ARE BEST GOVERNED BY FEAR.

To understand how people could come to that belief, or for that matter how they could come to an image of God such as that promoted by the likes of Falwell and Robertson, one could trace the experience of fear out of the realm of belief, out of the realm of the larger society, and back into the family.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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