"Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces
all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies,
with crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and
creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty."
- Hannah Arendt, "The Origins of Totalitarianism"
The current Republican administration would not be in power
without the support of the fundamentalist Christian movement.
The administration wears its so-called "morality" and "family
values" on its sleeve. They should be profoundly humbled by
the facts that George and Jeb Bush and their families have
12 arrests to their name; that their children have serious
substance abuse problems; and that both their administrations
are implicated in and compromised by influence peddling scandals.
But Pharisees, as Jesus noted, can easily "overlook the beam
in their own eye".
It is long past time for people outside the fundamentalist
religious community to put this administration's claims of
virtue to the test. America has been subjected to twenty years
of denunciation by a stream of fundamentalist crackpots, from
the greed-ridden Jim and Tammy Bakker to the health-challenged
Oral Roberts; from the sex-ridden Jimmy Swaggart to the anti-Semitic
Pat Robertson. If America's diverse spiritual traditions fail
to use our freedom of religion to defend ourselves against
these relentless reactionary rantings, we will soon lose those
freedoms to theocracy.
This administration prefers to proceed in secrecy, doing
its work without public overview or input. It hides behind
the most transparently duplicitous and high-handed press secretary
since the days of Richard Nixon. Given the effort to prevent
the public from seeing the truth, it is inevitable to focus
on the few high-profile independent actors in an administration
noted for its slavish conformity.
We choose the mystical number of three to study the spiritual
message of this administration: George W. Bush - the Dark
Son; John Ashcroft - the Dark Father; and Dick Cheney - the
HATING THE HUMAN MIND
George Bush, admitted to Harvard and Yale via alumni preference
and God knows what insider connections, revels in his scorn
for intellectual achievement. He brags about his C average.
He mocked Al Gore's ecological literacy and governmental experience.
In fact, he is a virtual poster child for the anti-government,
anti-intellectual forces that dominate the radical right-wing.
This government installed itself, in a typical end-justifies-the-means
stealth campaign, hiding behind the deceptive slogan of "compassionate
conservatism" and invoking "states rights" until it needed
to crush those rights in a cynical and unconstitutional ruling
from a politicized Supreme Court. But to talk of deception
and cynicism is to digress from the main point about George
The main point is that he has repeatedly expressed contempt
for the abilities of the human mind. He has a medieval cast
of mind, in which blind faith brings salvation, while thinking
and doubt are the snares of the devil. He is an incurious,
uncaring man who wouldn't lift a finger to defend the governmental
system he finds himself leading, except to help his cronies
pocket their share of the take. He follows the ideology of
those who installed him, finding the Enlightenment, and the
American system of government which it produced, to be part
of some anti-religious conspiracy. Meanwhile, his co-conspirators
in the reactionary Federalist Society endeavor to rewrite
history, freezing the interpretation of the Constitution at
the date of its writing, and claiming that the Founding Fathers
(Deists and Freemasons, almost to a man) really intended America
to be a fundamentalist theocracy.
But, we have seen such anti-intellectualism many times in
history. Every authoritarian regime from the Spanish Inquisition
to the Nazis to Pol Pot to the Taliban put intellectuals at
the top of their hit lists and declared dissent to be a "thought
crime". An ignorant population is a controllable population.
A government of men instead of laws guarantees that the rich
and powerful remain unanswerable to laws and taxes that are
applied only to the poor.
George Bush is the personification of the corruption of money,
a subject much discussed by Christian theology. His contempt
for learning and government is the logical outcome of a life
of sweetheart deals and unearned rewards. In some ways, George
Bush is as out of it as the Peter Sellers character in "Being
There". He says what little is on his mind, and the spin doctors
interpret it as wisdom. The man is a dangerous satire perpetrated
by the most cynical cabal in our nation's history.
HATING THE HUMAN BODY
What could be more revealing of John Ashcroft's tormented
soul than his inability to stand in front of a work of art
that depicts the human body? A stylized art deco statue of
a woman with a bare breast is too much for one of the most
powerful men in our government.
Here is a chief law enforcement officer who staunchly defends
the right of citizens to arm themselves to the teeth, without
regard for a toll of death and injury of both innocent bystanders
and abused family members unmatched in the Western world.
He pursues the NRA's agenda with a religious zeal, he blocks
the FBI from violating the gun rights of terrorists already
detained without habeus corpus; he also blocks the investigation
into anti-abortion terrorist cells who have made Anthrax threats
and hoaxes. In short, here is a fundamentalist who believes
that the other side deserves to die; and he is willing to
pervert the law to that end.
Also as Attorney General, he has been complicit in the denial
of basic Geneva Convention rights of citizens to captured
Taliban sent to Cuba, rights that even Colin Powell understands
are in our own best interests to uphold. Pictures of these
prisoners' treatment has provoked cries of torture from countries
that understand modern psychological coercion. To see men
drugged, hooded, and chained in awkward postures is to be
reminded of medieval stocks, not to mention the instruments
of the Inquisition. Mr. Ashcroft simply passed the bureaucratic
buck for this situation to the Pentagon, like a modern-day
The Dark Ages were full of people like John Ashcroft. Hair-shirt
wearing people for whom everything was a symbol of another
world. People who believed that cats were witches familiars
and that any forceful woman was a witch or a harlot. People
for whom the human body and human non-religious artwork was
nothing but an occasion of sin. People who would say: "kill
them all; God will know his own".
It is fitting that Dick Cheney should, as we are constantly
told, spend most of his time hiding in a cave underground.
When he was above ground, he was making statements like, "conservation
is for wimps". Here is a tough guy of the old school, a true
troglodyte. You won't find him weeping over environmental
But what do you expect from an oil man, a group that sees
itself as bending nature to its will? This is a man who can't
seem to take the hint from four heart attacks that maybe he
should change his diet and his lifestyle. He doesn't see it
that way. He thinks he can stonewall his body the same way
he has been stonewalling the GAO over his Energy Task Force.
The problem is that he has committed our entire country to
stonewalling global warming, nuclear power accidents, habitat
destruction, oil spills, water pollution, and every other
profitable but immoral cost-externalization of the heavy industries
of his campaign contributors. It is no wonder that this administration
has received a failing grade from environmentalists. It has
installed rabid opponents of the environment to lead (read
destroy) the EPA. The first undeniably broken promise of the
Bush administration was its unilateral withdrawal from the
If there is a religion that 20th century science has not
undercut, it is environmentalism. But, that gentle religion
is no match for the fundamentalist control freaks, from James
Watt through Gail Norton, who have carried out the environmental
agenda of Dick Cheney and the oil industry. That agenda is
nothing but the rape and pillage of our irreplaceable natural
heritage at the maximum possible rate.
THE FIRST SACK OF WASHINGTON
We have completed our spiritual inventory, and found our
Trinity to be a spiritually bankrupt group of Pharisees. Actually,
to be fair to the Pharisees, at least they had some knowledge
of the law with which they sanctimoniously berated their social
inferiors. The Unholy Trinity currently in control of our
government came out of the most lawless, hardscrabble parts
of our continental nation. Not to put too fine a point on
it, they are both secular barbarians and religious Neanderthals.
They have come to Washington not to serve, but to take. Like
the Venetians of the Fourth Crusade, they have come to Constantinople
on the Potomac claiming a religious mission; but they really
have a secret agenda to sack the town. After all, these Greek
Orthodox folks, like Dukakis and Tsongas, aren't really Christians.
Like the Crusaders, whose mention gave George Bush one of
his many diplomatic black eyes, this administration will take
all the money they can grab, and God help anyone, Christian
or not, who gets in their way. So far they have grabbed a
$4 Trillion tax cut, and they are demanding more. They have
no use for art or real education. What barbarian does? All
that want is money and weapons and power. They want women
to behave like good barbarian women: submit, bear children,
and never talk back. They want men to be tough, not smart,
except at making money or killing people cleverly. They want
education to be about religion, just like the fundamentalist
Islamic madrassas which produced the Taliban. They plan for
a theocratic state.
They are a home-grown Inquisition, which has the powerful
backing of corporate business. The merchants of the bazaar
have always been able to prosper under the Church by paying
deference and bribes. Because the corporations have concentrated
media ownership, the new American Inquisition has a powerful
propaganda arm. And soon, as digital freedoms are rolled back,
in the name of both anti-terrorism and the Intellectual Property
rights of media corporations, they will have a network of
digital spies and stoolpigeons that the Torquemada or Lavrenti
Beria would have killed for.
If we do not act soon, our children will be turning us in
to whatever we name our digitally-enhanced version of the
KGB. There is little time before a spiritual darkness falls
upon us. The vast mass of historically unaware people are
oblivious to the fact that we are being attacked by cynical
charlatans hiding behind the religious freedom that has, until
recently, been the genius of our country. In the face of such
a gullible population, is it too simple-minded for spiritual
people to say that the Bush administration is the work of
But, even if such a nightmare comes to pass, it is not the
end of history. Like the Spanish Inquisition, our new Holy
Terror is fueled by a finite stream of raw-material-derived
cash. In our case, it is oil money. Like the Roman Empire,
we are gutting our democracy, our economy, and our social
capital to establish "latifundia" in far off places, for the
enrichment of the ruling elite. When the oil loot and the
economic tribute we can extract from our IMF control of the
world's money runs out, the places to which we have shipped
our manufacturing base will have us for lunch. Or, if the
latifundia system has been sufficiently compartmentalized
to prevent local rebellions, the final collapse could send
the entire planet into a new dark age, exacerbated by unprecedented
overpopulation, pollution, and resource depletion.
Maybe then there will be a genuine spiritual revival in America
- a revival which respects those parts of this material world
which spiritual people value, over which spiritual people
believe it is our life's work to exercise wise stewardship:
the human mind, the human body, and our natural environment.