Ideology — following any ideology — is, to some extent, a retreat from reality.
Have you ever tried to argue with a neo-conservative? It’s hopeless. Utterly hopeless. It’s possible to argue with Roman Catholics, even about touchy subjects like abortion, and get reasonable explanations. It’s possible to argue with even the most devout members of other mainstream religions, to argue with members of the various New Age groups. But don’t bother to try arguing, or even discussing, anything with members of the more extreme evangelical groups. It’s like talking to the Living Dead. I don’t know where the figure “40% of the population” comes from, but this is being used for the number of people in the US who now belong to these groups, and they are assumed to be the Republican base. If this is correct, we’re in real trouble, because there’s no rational way to get through to them without deprogramming them.
What are the characteristics of cult members? Using the members of the extreme evangelical groups as the primary example, above all, a self-justified feeling that everyone else is wrong and they are right. They know the truth, the whole God-given truth, and those who don’t believe them are going to Hell or worse. Thus they withdraw as much as possible from the rest of society because society is corrupt and may corrupt them. These are the home schoolers whose children must not be exposed to corrupt society, and they have established their own colleges and universities, so generations of them have no idea how the rest of society functions. These are usually very nice people, extremely helpful because being helpful is usually part of their belief system, kind to their families and friends — but God help you if you inadvertently trample on any of their beliefs or refuse to be converted. You have shown that you are one of the Damned, worthless, to be despised and exploited.
At various times and places spirituality has included, and can still include, such practices as human sacrifice, using the sacrificed as fertilizer, murder, suicide, suicide and mass murder by crashing planes into buildings, cannibalism, animal sacrifice, various forms of physical mutilation including circumcision, castration, burning oneself alive, walking across burning coals, whipping oneself until one bleeds, ritual bloodletting often involving tongue or penis, sleeping on a bed of nails, lust for apocalyptic end times, martyrdom, being joyfully fed to lions, disposing of one’s possessions, becoming a beggar, purposefully living in total isolation under extreme conditions in caves, on top of poles, in cells, in the desert, living with lions or other dangerous wild animals, identification with wild animals or birds, becoming a hermit, not speaking for the rest of one’s life, sitting in one spot for days, extreme self-denial, fasting to the point of death, banning particular foods, sexual abstinence, sexual excess, sexual ecstasy, various forms of intoxication, exorcism of various kinds of demons or spirits of the dead, and the list goes on and on. Make no mistake about it; however crazy these practices may seem to us, many of these practices continue in various societies, including ours, to this day, and vestiges of them continue in even the most civilized spiritual practices, often barely noticed and rarely commented on. Also, make no mistake about the fact that all these practices have been considered to be of extreme spiritual value, many still are – and, within the context in which they were experienced, they probably did have extreme spiritual value. One could argue that religion exists as a means of controlling the irrational — and, at other times, for making expressing the irrational socially acceptable.
So — what is the relationship between the Republican Party and this particular kind of religious group? Those of us who don’t belong to groups of this type, and have little contact with them except to be occasionally baffled, have no idea what’s really going on. G.W. Bush himself was converted by such a group and attributes his sobriety to them. What does this mean for foreign policy? I haven’t read any of the popular novels about the Rapture, with a macho Christ vengefully punishing the Unbelievers while the Believers blissfully float heavenward, but I do know that one of the main tenets of belief in the End Times is that the Jews must be in Israel. We are still so close to the year 2000 and its irrational expectation of the End Times that apocalyptic visions as the basis for foreign policy are especially dangerous. NYC’s democratic ex-Mayor Ed Koch is planning to vote for Bush because he believes that Bush will stand firmly behind Israel. Perhaps he should look into the reasons why Bush is likely to do this and consider the value of a more rational approach to solving the problems of the Middle East than the beliefs of those who are capable of blowing up the world, not just the Middle East, thinking they are bringing about the Rapture.
An equally dangerous aspect of the attitude of G.W. Bush and his fellow believers is that they are convinced that they have the TRUTH, and that if they have any doubts they have only to use their direct pipeline to God to get the TRUTH. Anyone who disagrees with anything they believe, no matter how minor or silly, is thus absolutely wrong, an unbeliever, and damned. Thus their total vindictiveness. This attitude allows for no correcting errors, no reality testing. The fact that other members of the administration are not members of evangelical groups makes little difference. Many of them are firm believers in the philosophy of Leo Strauss and thus cynically believe they should encourage and exploit the “believers” because, to them, religion IS the opiate of the people, and the “masses” should be kept sedated so they will be easier to manipulate. And just who are the “masses?” That’s us, folks, you and me, and everybody we know who is not a member of that select elite. On the one hand despised as damned if we don’t “convert,” and on the other hand cynically manipulated.