“What is objectionable, what is dangerous, about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents.”
Robert Kennedy, Pursuit of Justice, 1964
“The pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians…the ACLU, People For the American Way – all of them who have tried to secularize America – I point the finger in their face and say ‘You helped this happen.’”
Jerry Falwell, Christian Broadcasting Network, September 13, 2001
I’m going to go out on a limb here: Much of the Christian community is very closed off from what the rest of us call “reality.” I know, because I used to live in their world.
I grew up a fundamentalist, evangelical, born-again Christian. I was born again, oh, I don’t know, seven or eight times maybe–there was a lot of peer pressure. I went to Christian schools until I was sixteen. Bible class five days a week, church on Sunday–and my best friend was a Seventh Day Adventist, so even Saturdays had some religion in them.
The religious schools I went to, especially Village Christian in Sun Valley, CA, where I spent 7th through 10th grades, were clearly designed for indoctrination. Village Christian (school mascot: The Crusader–I shit thou not) ranks its first priority as encouraging “students to develop a personal relationship with Christ.” Want to know the second priority? “Each student will be able to describe a Biblically based relationship with Jesus Christ.”
These are the first two priorities of a school. (Replace “Christ” with “Mohammed” and imagine what conservative Christians would have to say about that.)
And believe me, Village Christian more than practiced what it preached. “Encouraging” students, when you control where they are and what they hear and what they do every minute of the school day, amounts to a bit more than “encouragement.” Every week was a trip through the same rundown: The secular world is evil (their word–not mine), the End Times are coming, you will go to Hell if you have not accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Every week was capped off by Chapel on Friday, where we would assemble for an hour, listen to a guest speaker describe how his acceptance of Jesus rescued him, and then there would be the altar call, and everyone who hadn’t accepted Jesus (or who had and just wanted to be born again again) would go up to the front and sob as the guest speaker or minister delivered a speech about their glorious rebirths while the rest of us watched them cry.
I was led to feel that Jews were doomed, and I felt guilty for not “witnessing” to my Jewish friends. I avoided them, not because I hated them or anything (there was never any outright anti-Semitism, except for that whole doomed-to-Hell bit), but because I couldn’t handle the crushing guilt, and at the same time I couldn’t bring myself to try to convert them.
One thing about the brand of Christianity I experienced, though–recovery from the indoctrination was not as arduous as it seems to be from other totalitarian organizations, like, say, North Korea, or that powerful religious cult whose name I am too frightened to utter in a signed post.
It was relatively easy to cast off the indoctrination. One day, at 15 years old, I just realized that the authority figures around me were full of shit, that the movement had nothing to do with morality or truth, and that I needed to get away. So I started violating the dress code, getting into trouble, quoting Ozzy Osbourne in my detention essays (when you were punished and sent to detention, you had to write an essay using Bible verses to explain why what you did was wrong)…and pretty soon my parents saw where things were headed and let me go to public school.
It was weird to experience the heathens in their natural habitat at first. The first time I heard a teacher say “damn” my heart skipped a beat. The first time I saw a student disagree with a teacher and engage in a debate I was floored. That never, ever happened in my prior authoritarian environment. I was scared out of my mind–just scared, I don’t really know why. I think it felt like I was watching the fabric of society tear apart before my eyes…and I knew what was gonna happen after that.
But pretty soon I realized that the heathens weren’t dangerous, that sex wasn’t evil, that the Four Horsemen were not due any day now, and that if I saw Jesus descend from the sky it would probably be because I was on shrooms (oh, did I mention I got into drugs, and they helped my recovery a LOT?).
There are some things I had to learn on my own. Logic was an acquired skill. Oh yeah, and evolution I had to find by myself, because it had already been taught in prior grades at my public school. Did you know that Darwin was not influenced by Satan? It was totally news to me. And the glorious Holy Crusades? Turns out that there were actually human-rights violations involved and stuff.
I’m an atheist today, but I get along with Christians very well (my writing partner, Keythe, is a practicing Christian).
Today, the most residual stress I get from my experience stems from the special knowledge I have about exactly that brand of Christianity our President subscribes to.
I mean, he’s not just some average United Methodist who goes to church on Easter and Christmas Eve. He’s not merely “religious” or just a “churchgoer.” At 40 years old he was “born again,” and he did it to replace alcoholism. To get over alcoholism, he had to seclude himself with a group of other born-again Christians, study the Bible nonstop, and let the power, wonder-working power of Jesus Christ replace that demon that made him want to drink.
And he hasn’t let go of that zeal. He doesn’t just look to religion for comfort. It rules his life, as alcohol once did.
He believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible. Thank God most Americans, even many self-identified “Christians,” don’t read the Bible. The nation would be scared to death.
And it probably should be. This is the man leading our nation into a war against Islam–er, terrorism. I try not to think about what the Revelation to John says about what needs to happen in this particular region in order for the End Times to come and everything to turn out okay for the Christians.
Honestly, I try not to think about it too much because it scares me to my core. Just the process of simple deduction is frightening…
2. Born-again Christians really do yearn for the End Times–at Village Christian we talked about the signs of the End Times literally every week. (Most popular theme for a collage in art class? “The End Times Are Coming–Can’t You Tell?”, illustrated by pictures from secular magazines that show the disintegration of society.) If a born-again Christian ever tells you he doesn’t yearn for the End Times, tell him I say he’s fulla shit. At Village, we couldn’t wait for the frickin’ Rapture.
3. The most powerful man in the world, commanding the mightiest army history has ever known, is a born-again Christian.
4. He is active in the Middle East. Very active.
I’m sure there are reasons not to be worried. But I haven’t found them yet. The last Crusades were about ridding the region of the wicked influence of Islam. Although Muslims have a keen sense of their history, our president is so tone deaf (he’s never set foot on Middle East sand a single day in his 56 years) that he doesn’t even know not to say the word “crusade.” I have little doubt that in private he and his fellow-believing inner circle regard the Crusades the same way that Village Christian publicly does–as one of Christianity’s finest achievements. (Any other view would be moral relativism.) You might doubt this. I can’t.
That’s the problem. When I imagine these men sitting together, planning the course of U.S. military action, I don’t have to speculate about one of the strongest and most intimate influences on each one of them. The problem is, no mind reading needed here, I know exactly how they think.