There are a number of different explanations as to how this has come about. Certainly one of them is the election of a President who never appreciated and certainly does not respect the importance of consensus building by national leadership. Civil war is just under the surface of every society. This is not to say we are on the verge of civil war – quite the contrary. However, when the glue that holds us together is steadily eroded by a polarizing leadership then the groundwork for later conflict is laid. Good leadership should enable the moderates and marginalize the extremists. We have seen the opposite in recent years.
President George Bush has sought guidance and support from the fundamentalist strain of Christianity which has chosen to exercise -- or to be used by, depending upon your point of view -- conservative political power. This group is known by different names: Christianists, the Religious Right, theocons, etc. These people and their ideas are not new. What is new is their influence and access to power.
Karen Armstrong has written a number of books on the subject of religion. She writes in a column in today’s Guardian about the Christian fundamentalism and the Bush Administration. She writes,
… fundamentalists want to win a battle for God; liberals andYou can read the entire article here.
secularists are fighting for truth and rationality.
The same passions are likely to be aroused by President Bush's
decision last week to veto the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which would
have loosened the restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research. …
His opponents point out that while the president zealously
champions the rights of the unborn, he is less concerned about the plight of
existing American children. The US infant mortality rate is only the 42nd best
in the world; the average baby has a better chance of surviving in Havana or
Beijing; infant mortality rates are unacceptably high among those who cannot
afford adequate healthcare, especially in the African-American community. And,
finally, at the same time as Bush decided to veto the stem cell bill, Israeli
bombs were taking the lives of hundreds of innocent Lebanese civilians, many of
them children, with the tacit approval of the US.
Is there a connection between a religiously motivated mistrust of
science, glaring social injustice and a war in the Middle East? Bush and his
administration espouse many of the ideals of the Christian right and rely on its
support. American fundamentalists are convinced that the second coming of Christ
is at hand; they have developed an end-time scenario of genocidal battles based
on a literal reading of Revelation that is absolutely central to their theology.
Christ cannot return, however, unless, in fulfilment of biblical prophecy, the
Jews are in possession of the Holy Land. Before the End, the faithful will be
"raptured" or snatched up into the air in order to avoid the Tribulation.
Antichrist will massacre Jews who are not baptised; but Christ will defeat the
mysterious "enemy from the north", and establish a millennium of peace.
This grim eschatology, developed in the late 19th century, was in
part a reaction to the "social gospel" of the more liberal Christians, who
believed that human beings were naturally evolving towards perfection and could
build the New Jerusalem here on earth by fighting social injustice. The
fundamentalists, however, believed that God was so angry with the faithless
world that he could save it only by initiating a devastating catastrophe; they
would see the terrible battles of the first world war, which showed that science
could be used to lethal effect in the new military technology, as the beginning
of the End.
The fundamentalists' rejection of science is deeply linked to their
apocalyptic vision. … They all condemn the attempt to reform social ills. When
applied socially, evolutionary theory "leads straight to all the woes of modern
life", says the leading ID ideologue Philip Johnson: homosexuality, state-backed
healthcare, divorce, single-parenthood, socialism and abortion. All this, of
course, is highly agreeable to the Bush administration, which is itself
selectively leery of science. It has, for example, persistently ignored
scientists' warnings about global warming. Why bother to implement the Kyoto
treaty if the world is about to end? Indeed, some fundamentalists see
environmental damage as a positive development, because it will hasten the
This nihilistic religiosity is based on a perversion of the texts.
The first chapter of Genesis was never intended as a literal account of the
origins of life; it is a myth, a timeless story about the sanctity of the world
and everything in it. Revelation was not a detailed programme for the End time;
it is written in an apocalyptic genre that has quite a different dynamic. When
they described the Jews' return to their homeland, the Hebrew prophets were
predicting the end of the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BC - not the
second coming of Christ. The prophets did preach a stern message of social
justice, however, and like all the major world faiths, Christianity sees charity
and loving-kindness as the cardinal virtues. Fundamentalism nearly always
distorts the tradition it is trying to defend.
Whatever Bush's personal beliefs, the ideology of the Christian
right is both familiar and congenial to him. This strange amalgam of ideas can
perhaps throw light on the behaviour of a president, who, it is said, believes
that God chose him to lead the world to Rapture, who has little interest in
social reform, and whose selective concern for life issues has now inspired him
to veto important scientific research. …