Michelle Goldberg appeared on MSNBC’s The Last Word detailing the origins of Michele Bachmann’s far right evangelical politics as outlined in her Daily Beast article yesterday. What madness is this? Will Americans wake up to the looming political threat of far right evangelical beliefs masquerading in certain candidates as mainline Christians and too often mistaken for ignorance or gaffes?
If you’re wondering why Michele Bachmann doesn’t seem to get history, economics, science or facts, it’s not because she’s stupid or gaffe prone. These are not mistakes; these are Bachmann’s real beliefs.
Goldberg explains, “She’s a perfect product of the religious right…” In detailing Bachmann’s biblical world view that stemmed from Francis Schaeffer, “All reality is determined by theological starting point, and so basically very single aspect of public life, science, history, economics, everything is determined by your religious beliefs and only those with the correct religious beliefs can correctly perceive any sort of reality, and it’s a way in which you can dismiss huge swaths of history, evolution, you can basically say that anything that doesn’t fit with your ideology is the product of mistaken theological premise.”
As author Frank Schaeffer (son of Francis Schaeffer) explains, “Michele Bachmann says certain things that sound crazy to the general public. But to anybody raised in the environment of the evangelical right wing, what she says makes perfect sense.”
Goldberg wrote yesterday,
Belief is the key to understanding Michele Bachmann, who announced her presidential candidacy during Monday’s Republican debate. Her impressive performance, which catapulted her close to the front of the presidential pack, surprised some, who perhaps expected her to be as inarticulate as Sarah Palin, to whom she’s often compared. But in Minnesota, even those who don’t like her politics say she shouldn’t be underestimated. “The fact that she’s not a heavy lifter, the fact that she’s relatively unconcerned about the substance of legislation, does not mean that she’s not crafty, that she’s not intelligent and she’s not fast,” says former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson, a Republican. Her ideological radicalism should not be mistaken for stupidity.
On Monday, Bachmann didn’t talk a lot about her religion. She didn’t have to—she knows how to signal it in ways that go right over secular heads. In criticizing Obama’s Libya policy, for example, she said, “We are the head and not the tail.” The phrase comes from Deuteronomy 28:13: “The Lord will make you the head and not the tail.” As Rachel Tabachnick has reported, it’s often used in theocratic circles to explain why Christians have an obligation to rule.
Indeed, no other candidate in the race is so completely a product of the evangelical right as Bachmann; she could easily become the Christian conservative alternative to the comparatively moderate Mormon Mitt Romney. “Michele Bachmann’s a complete package,” says Ralph Reed, the former Christian Coalition wunderkind who now runs the Faith and Freedom Coalition. “She’s got charisma, she’s got an authentic faith testimony, she’s a proven fighter for conservative values, and she’s well known.” She’s also great at raising money—in the 2010 cycle, she amassed a record-breaking $13.2 million in donations. (Bachmann’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.)
How extreme are her supporters? According to a recent poll, 35% of those who support Michele Bachmann thought the rapture was coming on May 21.
Unfortunately, the disturbing extremism that drives policies of hate toward those with whom Bachmann disagrees (most notably the gay and lesbian community) is just the tip of the religious extremism iceberg. While Bachmann is an extreme example of the far right religious movement threatening democracy in our country, if you listen to many of Republican candidates, you will hear the evangelical dog whistles that go over the majority’s head. Chris Hayes’ opened the MSNBC segment saying these dog whistles go over the “secular” heads, but I would expand that to going over mainline Christians’ heads as well, and that’s the trouble.
On the face of it, without delving into Bachmann’s troubling history on gay rights and abortion, Bachmann sells herself as a dedicated mother of 23 children (the majority of whom were fostered and while Michele leads us to believe she shepherded them from infancy on, she often only had them for weeks or months) who’s worked hard in the House and stands by her religious convictions.
The majority of Americans can admire Bachmann on the surface, and tend to assume that her religious beliefs are similar to their own or the Christians they know, and this is where the danger lay. If you haven’t been subjected to the Dominionist Reconstructionist religious views, you wouldn’t have thought twice about Bachmann’s far right evangelical signal during the debate, “We are the head, not the tail.”
The problem isn’t that Michele Bachmann is a devoted Christian, it’s that her brand of Christianity is an Old Testament fire and brimstone two eyes for an eye sect. Her brand of Christianity is so extreme as to deny science and snuggle up to the corporatists who share the belief that our resources are here to plunder. And most disturbing is the worldview of good versus evil, of a coming rapture that wars and destruction would signal. This is a belief system that automatically disqualifies the believer from being a steward of our land and people, because they seek the End Times — the return of Jesus Christ.
We saw inklings of this thinking in George W Bush, but the new crop of Republicans are an even more extreme version of this belief system than W. It’s a belief system that denies reality, history, and facts in order to sustain itself, but even more troubling, if you look far enough under the hood, it’s a belief system that not only seeks the destruction of the earth, but welcomes it and encourages it.
What madness is this? While Bachmann’s extremist ideology has been tempered in the House by being one of many, it’s absolutely unconscionable to think of our country being led by someone who holds these beliefs.
And yet any critics are called secularists, when in fact, Bachmann’s religion views even other Christian religions as the anti-Christ. As someone who believes firmly in the separation of church and state (and I need no better examples of the necessity of this belief than Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Scott Walker, and George W Bush), I think the time has come to challenge the language used about critics of the far right.
It’s not just atheists who have trouble with extremism; people of many faiths find religious extremism dangerous, especially when coupled with the power of government. For this reason, we need to shift the discussion about the importance of secular government back into the mainstream.
We shouldn’t allow this to be framed as a liberal issue, when it is in fact a critical issue facing our democracy that impacts all Americans. So long as we allow our ideology to separate self-labeled rationalists from all religious faith, we give power to the extremists lurking in the background with their moderate robes and wide smiles.
To this end, we need to take back the far right’s linguistic capture of the word “secular”. Secular does not necessarily imply lack of faith, but it does suggest that our government is not concerned with religion. To be for secular government should not imply that one is an “enemy of God”, and yet that is the narrative of the far right, which when lobbed at us tempts us to bite into the self-defeating fruit of a seeming extremism reaction that then allows secularism to be viewed as an extreme position held by atheists only, instead of the mainstream belief that it is.
Americans don’t wish to be governed by a religious extremist of any brand. The question is, will they see the wolf in sheep’s clothing before it’s too late? If 2010 is any indication of the general public’s awareness of this violent threat to democracy, I’m not comforted.