I recently returned from a week at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Hiking the back trails of the great ancient gorge has been a nearly annual ritual for the past 39 years. There were five of us this year and a lot of nervous jokes about knee replacement surgery, the miracle of Flexeril, Vicodin drips, failing memory — “I don’t remember this thing being this deep … ” — and recollections of characters we’ve run into in years past. Like the rafting party nine or ten years ago led by, swear to God, some creationist preacher describing in ludicrous detail to his dozen or so wide-eyed client/chumps how the various layers of sediment, 5000 feet of them, were cut by the hand of the Lord Almighty in six short days, pretty much exactly as it says in the Bible.
The list of reasons for this hiking ritual is pretty long. But quietude is high up there. I like places where if you stop, calm your breathing and listen, the only sound is that of your own blood pulsing in your ears. The combination of that kind of tranquility and the long hours of exposure to blistering sun, jagged rock, flesh-ripping yucca and cactus gives the mind uninterrupted opportunities to mull … on the rampant, appalling bullshit up beyond the rim.
Prior to leaving, in fact in my bag on the plane to Las Vegas, was a copy of my nominee for the Post of the Year. Titled “Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a Republican Operative Who Left the Cult”, it was written by Michael Lofgren a 30-year staffer for the Republican House and Senate Budget Committees. No fan of Democrats or Barack Obama, Lofgren’s view from inside the belly of the modern Republican beast — a creature vastly different and devolved than the one he joined up with three decades earlier — is vivid, spot-on and unsparing.
His indictment of what the Republican party has become will of course outrage every conservative wedded more to electioneering than caring if what the party is selling these days makes any sense, Social Contract-wise. But among Lofgren’s indictments of his party was this:
3. Give me that old-time religion. Pandering to fundamentalism is a full-time vocation in the GOP. Beginning in the 1970s, religious cranks ceased simply to be a minor public nuisance in this country and grew into the major element of the Republican rank and file. Pat Robertson’s strong showing in the 1988 Iowa Caucus signaled the gradual merger of politics and religion in the party. The results are all around us: if the American people poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on questions of evolution versus creationism, scriptural inerrancy, the existence of angels and demons, and so forth, that result is due to the rise of the religious right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary or quaint beliefs. Also around us is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science; it is this group that defines “low-information voter” – or, perhaps, “misinformation voter.” …
It is my view that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism (which is a subset of the decline of rational problem solving in America) may have been the key ingredient of the takeover of the Republican Party. For politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes – at least in the minds of followers – all three of the GOP’s main tenets.
Televangelists have long espoused the health-and-wealth/name-it-and-claim it gospel. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God’s favor. If not, too bad! But don’t forget to tithe in any case. This rationale may explain why some economically downscale whites defend the prerogatives of billionaires. …
It is the apocalyptic frame of reference of fundamentalists, their belief in an imminent Armageddon, that psychologically conditions them to steer this country into conflict, not only on foreign fields (some evangelicals thought Saddam was the Antichrist and therefore a suitable target for cruise missiles), but also in the realm of domestic political controversy. It is hardly surprising that the most adamant proponent of the view that there was no debt ceiling problem was Michele Bachmann, the darling of the fundamentalist right. What does it matter, anyway, if the country defaults? – we shall presently abide in the bosom of the Lord.
The drive from Vegas to the North Rim of the Canyon requires passing through tiny, otherwise unremarkable Colorado City, Arizona, best known as Ground Zero for hyper-conservative religious Mormon pedophile/convict Warren Jeffs and his cult of uber-Mormon like believers. It’s a place where Old Tyme Religion has allowed a few ruthless alpha males to collect themselves a comely flock of child brides … under the banner of heaven, as Jon Krakauer put it in his book. (Being damned funny guys another ritual of ours requires our lone female hiking companion to get out and stroll about at the Merry Wives convenience store, just to see if she’s still got the magic to attract a suitor, wear a bonnet and submit to some good old fashion gender servitude.)
The cult of Colorado City is of course ridiculously medieval, yet little different from the credulous rafters soaking up the claptrap theo-geology lessons from their no doubt nicely remunerated float leader. But Warren Jeffs’ Colorado City is also only a couple of microns off the beam from the now normalized religiosity of Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and the whole evolution-denying, gay-intolerant, climate change scoffing modern GOP.
Not that mainstream religion offers any hope of tamping down this fear-borne nonsense.
Flash ahead to Neal Conan’s “Talk of America” show of last Thursday, with his guest panel of “Biblical scholars”. Submitted for our consideration as credible experts on religion, it produced instead a “Twilight Zone”-like spasm of dumbfoundedness. Here were a handful of America’s serious thinkers on religious matters arguing over the historical veracity of creation and original sin … you know, Adam and Eve and the talking snake. In fairness, one panelist was struggling to assert the compatibility of science and Biblical doctrine. But he was pretty well smothered by the “scholarly” view that faith — which could be your devout belief in a week of Creation, a stable of child brides or talking snakes — is every bit as valid, and in moral terms more valuable than science.
A concluding point was that to challenge the concept of original sin — which required Christ you see to die for our sins — is to challenge, in a mortal way, the bedrock foundations of Christianity. To which all I could say, as I drove along, was … “Are you fucking kidding me?” It’s a talking snake or bust? If Christianity (or Judaism, or Islam) can’t survive on the ethos inherent in The Golden Rule (or The Sermon on the Mount) it deserves to wither and die.
There are books worth of material within the convergence of religious superstition and politics, but at the moment only the modern Republican party has entered into an unconditional compact with a form of preposterously anachronistic, anti-intellectual religiosity. Democrats and liberals aren’t players in this game, and they may well be losers because of it.
You want religion? Let me tell you about the Milky Way over the Grand Canyon.