maximalism, or I want a sword for Christmas

LI has a small pain in the back this morning, due to some pinched nerve business going on in the lower lumbar region. And we have a debt on our mind – we floated this Lenin as the inventor of the modern party structure theme posts and posts ago, and hoped to have the wrap up with the usual bloggish smash and grab rampage through What is to be done? But… what is to be done? There are tides in the affairs of LI when we simply weaken, when the hams unclench, when we emanate a distinct aura of boredom. Not that we are bored, but … we are boring. The intellect dims, the jokes fall flat, either sucked into a black hole of infradig reference or limping around like retired vaudevillians. Every word that comes out of our keyboarding fingers has a vaguely p.r. sound – the blackboard scraping sound of clichĂ©.

So – we truly want to pursue the dialectic between agent and percipient, we want to poke and prod Lenin’s idea of the party as the manufacturer of theory, and to call y’all’s attention to the fact that this role is now taken for granted – or at least that one of the signs of true political sterility is that the party becomes the subject and object of political talk, becomes the percipient and the agent, and crowds out the spontaneous moment.

But no, lets go for something easier today. A reading suggestion – the new Harper’s has a story about fundamentalism in America by Jeff Sharlet that contains this interesting graf:

“Is "fundamentalism" too limited a word for a belief system of such scope and intimacy? Lately, some scholars prefer "maximalism," a term meant to convey the movement's ambition to conform every aspect of society to God. In contemporary America from the Cold War to the Iraq War, the period of the current incarnation's ascendancy--that means a culture born again in the image of a Jesus strong but tender, a warrior who hates the carnage he must cause, a man-god ordinary men will follow. These are days of the sword, literally; affluent members of the movement gift one another with real blades crafted to medieval standards, a fad inspired by a best-selling book called Wild at Heart. As jargon, then, "maximalism" isn't bad, an unintended tribute to Maximus, the fighting hero of Gladiator, which is a film celebrated in Christian manhood guides as almost supplemental scripture. But I think "fundamentalism"--coined in 1920 as self-designation by those ready to do "battle royal for the fundamentals," hushed up now as too crude for today's chevaliers--still strikes closest to the movement's desire for a story that never changes, a story to redeem all that seems random, a rock upon which history can rise.”

Sharlet writes in the very alarmed mode of a man who has discovered that his neighbors have been replaced by pod people. I am not as sure as he is that the fundamentalists are everywhere, or that they have as much power in America as he imagines. I like the phrase maximalism, though – since it does point to the odd way in which fundamentalists seemingly can’t get out of America. They import the new world into everything – the bible; the various wars jacked up by War Inc; life itself, the cosmos, and even that heaven in the sky, where even the traffic jams are fun – but of course, even God dare not ban the SUV. Especially as his son drives one.

Sharlet throws himself into the Fundie mindset, and in particular the new, alternative history approved by Bob Jones University and snakeoiled out there to the masses by Tim LeHaye.

“…I was "unschooling" myself, Bill Apelian, director of Bob Jones University's BJU Press, explained. What seemed to me a self-directed course of study was, in fact, the replacement of my secular education with a curriculum guided by God. When BJU Press, one of the biggest Christian educational publishers, started out thirty years ago, science was their most popular subject, and it could be summed up in one word: "created." Now American history is on the rise. "We call it Heritage Studies," Apelian said, and explained its growing centrality: "History is God's working in man."

My unschooling continued. I read the works of Rushdoony's most influential student, the late Francis Schaeffer, an American whose Swiss mountain retreat, L'Abri ("The Shelter"), served as a Christian madrasah at which a generation of fundamentalist intellectuals studied an American past "Christian in memory." And I read Schaeffer's disciples: Tim LaHaye, who, besides coauthoring the hugely popular Left Behind series of novels, has published an equally fantastical work about history called Mind Siege. And David Barton, the president of a history ministry called WallBuilders (as in, to keep the heathen out). And Charles Colson, who, in titles such as. How Now Shall We Live? (a play on Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture) and Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages, searches from Plato to the American Founders to fellow Watergate felon G. Gordon Liddy for the essence of the Christian "worldview," a vision of an American future so entirely Christ-filtered that beside it "theocracy"--the clumsy governance of priestly bureaucrats--seems a modest ambition. "Theocentric" is the preferred term, Randall Terry, another Schaeffer disciple who went on to found Operation Rescue, told me. "That means you view the world in His terms. Theocentrists don't believe man can create law. Man can only embrace or reject law."

History matters not just for its progression of "fact, fact, fact," Michael McHugh, a pioneer of fundamentalist education, told me, but for "key personalities." In Francis Schaeffer's telling of U.S. history, for instance, John Witherspoon--the only pastor to have signed the Declaration of Independence--looms as large as Thomas Jefferson, because it was Witherspoon who infused the founding with the idea of "Lex Rex," "law is king" (divine law, that is), derived from the fiercest Protestant reformers of the seventeenth century, men who considered John Calvin's Geneva too gentle for God. Key personalities are often soldiers, such as General Douglas MacArthur. After the war, McHugh explained, MacArthur ruled Japan "according to Christian principles" for five years. "To what end?" I asked. Japan is hardly any more Christian for this divine intervention. "The Japanese people did capture a vision," McHugh said. Not the whole Christian deal, but one of its essential foundations. "MacArthur set the stage for free enterprise," he explained. With Japan committed to capitalism, the United States was free to turn its attention toward the Soviet Union. The general's providential flanking maneuver, you might say, helped America win the Cold War.”

All of which would be more droll if one didn’t suspect that the Prez is, at present, very attracted to these ideas. A more frightening chock full of nuts fundie is the one who was just appointed the “anti-birth control czar,” Eric Keroak (who, inshallah, can't be, can't be related in any way to Jack!), about whom this Slate story delivers the goods.


Brian Miller said…
terrifying. absolutelt terrifying.
roger said…
brian, true. On the other hand, I think that you can get too close to the abyss when you poke your nosey parker nose into it - which I think happened to the Harper journalist. Although maybe I am just too fuckin secular, man. But I do live in the state that has promoted the Peckerwood Jesus into an official state religion - or at least the Governor, while running, did tell people that if you don't believe in the big J, sorry - it is hellfire time for you!

But the good news is that - why spend state money on heathens that are going to hell anyway? See, we can cut government on like education so that the successful - who God blesses - aren't oppressed by the Gov'mint by spendin on, like, pagans, Catholics, atheists and other riff raff.
Happy thanksgiving!
amir said…
LI, you are never boring!
amie said…
er, that would be amie in the previous comment.
roger said…
Amie, thanks! Although LI may never be boring, the dwarf inside the automaton - moi, in short -is, on the overwhelming testimony of acquaintances, brothers, sisters, lovers and guys on barstools at the Mean Eyed Cat, not so fortunate.
Thanks for this, Roger. I got the same impression. While there's no shortage of people who are genuinely maximal fundies, they tend to burn out and wear out their welcome, the latter especially amongst their own. Moreover, I don't buy into zealotry as driving force as much as it is the result of other driving forces, which I felt were too quickly dismissed in the first part of the article. And I have no qualms about negating the claims to faith of people whose every goal is a straightforward secular power grab, which fits in perfectly in utility to other power hungry freaks.
Brian said…
Well, as a skeptic with some bad tastes in music, politics, art, and orientation, the fundies do scare me pretty deeply. But, I think Mr. Scruggs is right, also-there is an awful lot of Leo Strauss worship going on-the money power will try to backstab their fundy allies if their real interests are threatened.