Many years ago-during the second Bush’s administration, I read the book The Family. I already had a deep sense of the deep problem this country faced because of the role religion had been allowed in the decision making process that is the essence of democracy, a process that needs be based in rationality if meaningful and effective debate is to take place as citizens use their intelligence to make decisions that affect the lives of millions–actually billions–of other people. I watched as presidents, all I had experienced in my lifetime, gave credence to religion, honored it, made sure that the people of the country knew that they were religious people themselves and treated whatever foolishness came from whatever pulpit-well, except for a few–as something not only as important as the rational, but something bigger, a way to truth they gave legitimacy even when the pronouncement of churches would be understood to be pure horse shit by any mildly thoughtful human being.
I wondered about the Billy Graham phenomenon throughout childhood, wondering why my Jewish parents would watch the crusades as if to not do so was un-American, and I saw presidents who I did respect treat the lout as something other, as a high ranking American dignitary, a man endorsed by the leader of the country as a special man, as a man beyond good. A holy man. Few held such stature and the highest elected officials in the nation conferred it upon him, one after another, never one to say anything publicly ever about who the man was or what he really represented. Of course,
Popes and priests and pastors and reverends and rabbis held special places in the culture, too, people “above,” people to be respected automatically for the clothing they wore and the places where they worked. I listened to some of them sometimes and what they said, what of it made sense, made no more sense than what others around me had to say, but still, what they had to say was to be respected more than what those others had to say because they were religious people, anointed not only by their churches but by American society and its leaders, as something better.
As it turned out, a frightening many of these men–always men then–were some of the most rotten human beings on the face of the earth and rarely brought forth to account for their sins. This was before the born-again Eva but ngelical movement rose in anger against those heretics who were trying to bring sense to the scene, beginning to question the righteousness of religion as a force in civic life in a democracy. TV preachers were not a new thing when Jim and Tammi Baker came to do their salvation work, but they tested tolerance for the kind of outright stupid garbage people in the United States might buy. Jim and Tammi sold well. And when more traditional, well-know, well respected TV men of the cloth began to show too much of what was beneath the coverings, they were forgiven, most keeping their spots on the networks for their Sunday shows. Baker, the born again and, therefore of the purer kind to his audience, was caught with his pants down he and his kept a good amount of money for their “good works.” Tammi became a talkshow phenom and Jim is, I think, preaching on cable somewhere now.
Ronald Reagan gave these nutcases the presidential nod for their work on several occasions and the right-wing christian movement was christened with a presidential blessing. George W. Bush won election on the “strength” of his alliance with the right-wing christian movement and told the American people that he made his decisions with the help of God. Not the big flinch that, in a sensible society, should be expected.
Pure insanity, I thought. A culture undermined by its cultural-religious underpinnings, its hopes for a sensible democracy being made impossible by the acceptance of nonsense as information on par with that the was sensible.
Jeff Sharlet’s book blew my mind. It came out while I was flipping out over our then Congressman, John Ensign, a real scumbag who, it turned out was living in a boarding house in D.C. where other evangelical holies lived as members of what Sharlet called “The Family.” The story the book tells is beyond comprehension because it deals with an incomprehensible reality that played–still plays a role–in American politics. American politicians, for the sake of a god, working with African dictators to get legislation passed to make homosexuality a crime punishable by death!!!!!!!!
Much more in the book that is cringeworthy because of who the cast of characters is and the role they have been and are allowed to play in the life of this nation gone insane.
Now Netflix is running a short-series based on Sharlet’s work. I haven’t seen it but I will. I think others should too, to get a little deeper understanding of the madness that still is allowed to serve as legitimate contribution to our political discourse.