Tuesday, December 05, 2006

More Bachmann stuff...Part II

Here is the second portion of the Bachmann post! I've always been a big fan of the stuff at Dump Bachmann, now we have to work harder to ensure the people of the 6th really know who we elected!

So now it’s 1999—I’m living in Minnesota and I’ve got two new hobbies: listening to the evangelical radio and trying to get up to speed on the local politics.

I’d married a Minnesota girl, but all I knew about Minnesota politics was just the stuff that I’d picked up from watching the national scene. I knew that the state had trended liberal for a long time, for a least a generation. I knew and admired the career of Hubert Humphrey, a liberal Minnesotan who made a big difference in American civil rights.

But it turned out that I’d picked a very bizarre time to arrive. A professional wrestler, one of the funniest trash-mouths I’d ever seen on East Coast TV broadcasts of professional wrestling—had just been elected governor of the state. I found out that about ten years after Ronald Reagan had left office, the state was starting to trend Republican—conservative Republican. One of the two senators was a conservative; a former local TV news anchor who’d run as a sort of Gingrich Republican. The mayor of St. Paul was a former yippie from Brooklyn who somehow had morphed into a Republican conservative after the Gingrich revolution.

Clearly, the liberals here were on the run and the conservatives on the rise. The AM radio was populated with Rush Limbaugh clones who delivered these wall-to-wall conservative diatribes, seven days a week. That was not new to me; that situation is basically the same in every large radio market I’ve lived in for the past fifteen years. Conservative talk radio is everywhere because it sells, because there’s a huge market for people who spew the propaganda that conservative audiences need to hear.

But this local Christian radio they had was something else again. For me, it was new twist: the conservative line—but married to Jesus, God, and blatant commercialism.

Clearly these people, the broadcasters and their audience, had constructed a world of their own, a reality all their own. In that reality, the Bible was indisputably “inerrant” when it spoke to matters of history and even science. For example, evolution—biological change over time--was a “farce”; a misguided “theory” foisted on the public by dangerous enemies of God that the broadcasters called “secular humanists.” And there was a ‘conspiracy’ among scientific publications to suppress scientific truths that leant support to the Biblical account of creation. The world and the universe weren’t billions of years old—no more than ten thousand years old, perhaps even as young as six thousand years old.

The broadcasters invited guest speakers on the air to explain that we found dinosaur fossils because there were dinosaurs aboard Noah’s Ark; one of them even theorized that those of us who got to heaven could have pet dinosaurs there if we liked. The most respected and popular radio speakers told the audience that one of the reasons that scientists clung to evolution was that they had an “anti-supernatural bias.”

I also learned about the regular audience for this kind of broadcasting. They were afraid. Sometimes the people who called in were afraid of demons; all of them were afraid of Satan. They believed that he was a very real being and a very real force in the world, actively tempting them in their daily lives. When it was revealed that the divorce rate for “believing Christians” was higher than for non-Christians, it was suggested that this was because Satan himself had singled out the Christians for special persecution, sent more troubles to their marriages than other peoples’. Worse than that, Satan was also actively misleading people who didn’t believe in their particular kind of Christianity: the liberals, the scientists who accepted evolution as a fact, the governments who were enemies of the United States. Anyone who questioned the inerrant truths of the Bible, as this audience understood those truths—was at best a dupe of Satan, and at worst his unwitting ally against Christ and Christians.They were afraid of other Christians, too.

They were afraid of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses; their beliefs were dangerous heresies that would consign the unwary to eternal flames. They were afraid of “false prophets”: some of these had broadcast ministries that were leading millions of self-styled Christians to perdition. They even had doubts about their own salvation—many of them were concerned that they or their fellow churchgoers weren’t “really” saved, that they didn’t have the “real” faith or the “right” faith. Some said that they thought they had been “saved” but that they might have been deceived or deceived themselves into thinking that they were—when they weren’t.

They feared for Christians who practiced yoga. They were afraid of homosexuals and “the homosexual agenda for America.” They were afraid of feminists. Many of them were convinced that we were living in the “end times”—the last, apocalyptic days before the end of this world. All of them believed in the Antichrist; there was much speculation about who he was and where he was living right now (he was almost certainly alive right now, even if he hadn’t revealed himself.) Most of the fans who called in, and many of the broadcasters believed in the “rapture”: the 19th century Christian doctrine that in these last days, Christian believers would literally be caught up and transported directly to heaven so they would not have to live through the unimaginable sufferings that God was going to visit on unbelievers in the seven years before Christ returned to Earth.

You should have heard the calls I heard coming in to these stations in the months that preceded Y2K. To their credit, many of these Christian broadcasters tried to soothe the callers: yes, we were in the end times, but Y2K was not “the end”—no, you should not sell all your belongings and buy canned goods and gold. (But these Christian radio stations sold commercial time to people selling gold and gold coins as an investment; they still do.)

There was much, much more like this. The theology that these people had constructed for themselves sounded a lot more like a complex game of Dungeons and Dragons than the thinking of Martin Luther or Karl Barth. It was clear that these people conceive of themselves as living in a state of siege, with supernatural enemies driving the non-believers up against the gates of true believers—outside the gates, people who were choosing abortion were slaughtering the innocents, Hollywood was waging a cultural war to undermine values and faith, the mainstream media was deliberately deceiving them by reporting lies and distortions. The people within the gates lived terrified in a terrifying world, and these broadcast ministries seemed to be doing what they could to feed that terror and paranoia.

And I learned that this strange world they had constructed for themselves exercised real power and influence over the world outside; the world the rest of us live in. I knew that was true because I would sometimes hear the most influential people in our state government come on these stations to address this audience and its specific concerns. Mostly Minnesota Republicans: I heard gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty come on the radio to calm their fears about whether he was “pro-life” enough or not. I heard Secretary of State Kiffmeyer appear regularly. House Speaker Steve Sviggum also appeared to talk about his agenda. The message was sent was that the audience should support these candidates, these politicians.

Over the past six years I’ve heard many, many candidates for office appearing before this audience of “believing Christians”, appearing alone and unchallenged by opponents, to tell this audience that their views were in line with those of the audience. The radio church was promoting these people as “godly” candidates. I regularly heard the broadcasters announce their belief that George W. Bush was a “godly” man. It reminded of the early medieval history I’d read, when the Church of that day signified that Christian barbarian kings had been chosen by God to lead, by placing crowns upon their heads before the assembly. These radio broadcast “ministries”, as they often styled themselves, were playing kingmaker in local Republican politics—identifying the candidates that sincere Christians should support in office and at election time.