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Subject: Evangelism, authoritarianism, & the GOP

Written By: MaxwellSmart on 08/11/06 at 1:02 am

Yet another thread that started as a reply on another thread...

The Republican party harnessed the power of evangelism in the 1970s.  Evangelism was nothing new, of course, but in the '70s, the "televangelists" gathered their nationwide followings--Falwell, Robertson, Bakker, Swaggart, and so forth.

Evangelism exists in the Northeast, but it is not part of the culture.  Ecclesiastical culture up my way tends to be quite ecumenical and concerned more with social justice than salvation.  Part of its problem is it is stodgy and bland.  Doesn't get your emotions fired up.
I started listening to charismatic evangelical preachers a while back.  I listened to their tone of voice.  Their use of inflection, you know, the old Holy Roller style.  I listened to their wrathful tones about sin and burning in hell.  I listened to their paternalistic reassurance about the eternal love of Jesus, and about the power of God to guide and comfort you in hard times.  Many of these recordings are of preachers sampled in music by artists such as Negativland, Steve Fisk, Front 242, Zoviet France, David Byrne, Emmanuel Madan, and others.  Some of it I heard on religious broadcasts on the AM band.
I dropped my judgments of the evangelical preaches and just listened to the power of the voices. They don't call it "charismatic" for nothing.
Some recordings draw me to listen over and over again, such as the raging charismatic on Steve Fisk's "The Kennedy Saga, chapter VII," the inspirational preachers on Emmaneul Madan's "Freedom Road," or the revivalist preacher talking about Jonestown on Zoviet France's "Ram."   I also picked up broadcasts from "holy roller" preachers on stations such as AM 1170 from Wheeling.

A political speech I always remembered was Zell Miller's 1992 endorsement speech for Bill Clinton.  Miller is not a preacher himself, but he comes from the same religious revivalist background.  Miller spoke in that fired-up charismatic tone about his dirt-poor upbringing in rural Georgia, and the commonality with Clinton's upbringing,  Miller talked about how he became "Give 'em hell Zell," but what I remember most is the charisma, the gesticulation, and the passion...something sorely missing in Dems from my state, Michael Dukakis, Paul Tsongas, and John Kerry!*

The party that harnessed the evangelical of fervor, certainty, and rhetorical captivation for itself has the power to enthrall a great percentage of the American public.  I only came to that conclusion after the last presidential election.  I could no longer deny even to myself the power of evangelism in so-called "Red State America."

Two other factors make this possible: authoritarianism and anti-intellectualism.
What comes first? Christian fundamentalism or the need to be led by a strict father figure?  They seem to got together.  The Republican party is based on a corporate hierarchical model.  The message and the purpose is more unified than it looks.  Republicans deny conformity. They argue the differences between social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and foreign policy conservatism.  These differences are small potatoes compared to the unity of their self-righteousness.  No matter what kind of conservative you are, you like a central authoritiy figure.  Maybe it's the CEO, maybe it's the President, maybe it's Leo Strauss, maybe it's Jesus.  The authority figure has the simple answers to the complex questions.  The authority figure stanches your doubt.  The authority figure will save your soul from the devil, save your family from terrorists, and save your money from the taxman.  You are right not because of your own analysis and synthesis of the world you see around you.  You are right because you believe in God, and God says you are right, or you belive in doctrine X, and doctrine X says you are right.  Question all who do not believe in your faith, but never question your faith!

The most powerful of these doctrinal faiths is religious fundamentalism, and you can see it getting more powerful all the time.  Ann Coulter's attempt to call herself a Christian fundamentalist may seem risible to those of us on the other side of the fence.  We see another degenerate rich girl who used sex appeal to make her way in life.  However, to authoritarians, she is a reassurance.  She is much like Limbaugh.  She lets you know it's OK to hate the liberals, because you are right and they are wrong.  God says so.  Coulter's conversion is another calculated PR move.  She will have more appeal to the evangelicals if she IS one of them.  It is working. 
"Gullible" is the wrong word.  "Need" is the right one.  It is not a question of Ann Coulter convincing the evangelicals that she really is one of them.  It is a matter of Coulter agreeing and affirming..."Your beliefs in a vengeful Jesus are valid.  Your hatred of liberals is valid.  I can tell you why."

Haven't thought this all out.  Could write about it all night, but I will let it stand for now.

*The saddest thing about Miller's keynote address at the GOP convention was not that he was a total renegade.  It was not that he was angry, either.  Some of the most power evangelical/charismatic diatribes I have heard were angry as hell.  The sad thing about Miller at the 2004 GOP convention was how he had lost the inspirational force I saw a dozen years earlier.  He seemed reduced to a bitter and p*ssed off old bigot.  It was pitiful to watch!

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