With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil -- that takes religion. ----- Steven Weinberg
History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes. ----- Thomas Jefferson
Although he might not agree with my use of the term "Crackpot Christians," Kevin Phillips is certainly correct when he claims that "the radical side of U.S. religion has embraced cultural antimodernism, war hawkishness, Armageddon prophecy, and in the case of conservative fundamentalists, a demand for government by literal biblical interpretation." [American Theocracy, p. 100]
These Crackpot Christians are largely responsible for placing one of their own, George W. Bush, in the White House. Their astounding ignorance, unquestioning faith, war hawkishness, and fascination with the End of Time subsequently rendered them gullible to the Bush administration's lies and exaggerations about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (especially the apocalyptic "mushroom clouds") and ties to al Qaeda. Thus, they cannot escape responsibility for supporting an illegal, immoral invasion of Iraq.
Judging by recent polls, Crackpot Christians continue to provide the residual support that prevents the total collapse of the worst presidency in American history. Their insouciance toward the ever worsening daily horrors in Iraq - so vividly reported by Jeffrey Gettleman in the August 2006 issue of GQ -- is daily testimony to their moral degeneracy. And, by their refusal to repent and improve, Crackpot Christians become responsible for the precipitous collapse of U.S. moral authority now occurring around the world.
Yes, thanks to the moral degeneracy fostered by Crackpot Christians and the perverse "moral clarity" of their leader, the world now considers the United States to be a country more evil than it was when President Clinton merely disgraced the White House with immoral sexual escapades.
But, then, Crackpot Christians have a long history of moral degeneracy. Simply look back to America's Civil War and you'll find southern clergymen - clergymen! -- citing verses from the Bible (e.g., Exodus 20-21, Matthew 10:14 and Ephesians 6:5-6) to justify slavery. According to Martin E. Marty (perhaps, our foremost authority on religion in America), "The South especially cherished the most literal readings [of the Bible], because on these terms it could find biblical passages in support of slavery." [Pilgrims in Their Own Land: 500 Years of Religion in America, pp. 302-303]
"Scripture, the Confederate clergy advised, even justified secession." [Phillips, American Theocracy, p. 144] And even after Union forces delivered God's just retribution (speaking in Crackpot Christian terms) for the South's evil ways, southern clergymen soon were abetting their perpetuation -- which subsequently spread into America's southern Midwest and across America's Southwest -- by fostering the self-deception of "redemption."
Readers of Michelle Goldberg's new book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, can see Crackpot Christianity at work today, subverting America's liberal democracy in an attempt to impose Christian "Dominion" - essentially southern political and religious culture -- over the entire country. According to Ms. Goldberg, "Dominionism is derived from a theocratic sect called Christian Reconstructionism, which advocates replacing American civil law with Old Testament biblical law." [p. 13].
"'Dominion theologians,' as they are called, lay great emphasis in Genesis 1:26-27, where God tells Adam to assume dominion over the animate and inanimate world." Moreover, "dominionism...has been hugely influential in the broader evangelical movement," [ibid] thanks to the influence of the Crackpot Christian par excellence, Pat Robertson.
Thus, both the threat posed by Crackpot Christianity and the source of its moral degeneracy spring from attempts to impose on others the ridiculous belief that the Bible is literally true and inerrant. Fifty-five percent of Americans believe the Bible to be literally true. And when you ask Evangelical Protestants whether the Bible is literally true, an astounding 83 percent say, "Yes."
Astounding? Yes, incredibly! Especially when you consider the informed observation of New Testament scholar, Burton L. Mack. According to Professor Mack: "Despite the enormous investment in biblical studies in our society, there is actually very little public knowledge about the Bible. One cannot assume that anyone knows why the individual books of the Bible were first written, how they were understood by those who first read them, when and why they were brought together in a single volume, what the historical significance of that moment was, how the Christian church has reinterpreted all of them many times in the course of Western cultural history, and what the lasting effect of that layered text has been." [Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament: The Making of the Christian Myth pp. 3-4]
Here's an example that demonstrates the problem of thoughtless biblical literalism. When polled, 60 percent of Americans asserted that the Hebrew Bible's description of Noah's Ark is literally correct. Yet, biblical scholars have uncovered evidence, which indicates that the Hebrew Bible contains two stories about Noah's Ark. They derive from distinct sources that they call P and J.
Thus, P (Genesis 6:19) has God instructing Noah to bring one pair (male and female) of each animal into the ark while J (Genesis 7:2) has God instructing Noah to bring seven pairs of clean animals and one pair of unclean animals. Moreover, P tells us that the flood lasted a year (370 days), while J claims it was forty days and forty nights. Finally P (Genesis 8:7) has Noah send out a raven, while J (Genesis 8:8) claims it was a dove.
But biblical scholars also know that Moses did not write the Pentateuch. First, as Richard Elliot Freedman has observed: People "noticed that the Five Books of Moses included things that Moses could not have known or was not likely to have said. The text, after all, gave an account of Moses' death. It also said that Moses was the humblest man on earth; and normally one would not expect the humblest man on earth to point out that he is the humblest man on earth." [Who Wrote the Bible? p. 18]