Mafiosi for Jesus

20 05 2008

What is “The Family?” Let’s back up for a minute.

It’s easy to write off the nutjob wing of modern Christianity as, well, a bunch of nutjobs, but you have to remember that those nuts come in at least two different flavours. On the one hand, you have the “premillenialists.” These are the guys who believe in phenomena like the Rapture, which is the notion that

believers will, “in the twinkling of an eye,” be taken body and soul into heaven to meet Jesus Christ — this, just as the world is on the brink of seven years of unprecedented suffering and strife, preceding the Second Coming and the end of history.

Actually, this is a particular variety of premillenialism that is popular among conservative Christians today, and is more accurately known as dispensationalism. But the basic idea is that, after the Rapture and the Second Coming, Jesus will reign on Earth for literally 1000 years, until the Last Judgment.

The other flavour of nutjob Christianity is known as postmillenialism. On this view, Jesus (and his lawyer) are coming back, but only after (not necessarily literally) 1000 years of Christian dominance over the world. As Wikipedia helpfully explains, there are nice postmillenialists and nasty postmillenialists. The nice postmillenialists hold that this Christian Age of Aquarius should only be achieved from the bottom-up, using good old-fashioned revivalism and proselytism to win people’s hearts and minds. The nasty postmillenialists favour a top-down approach: in their view, “society should be governed exclusively by the law of God as codified in the Bible, to the exclusion of secular law,” and ruled by Dominionist Christians.

The movement approaches the advent of the ideal society in a very patient manner. They are confident that God will win, just no time soon. Therefore, the reconstructionist need not engage in active social rebellion. Simply, the movement attempts to gain ground where possible, and then, offer resistance to opposition, thereby protecting the gain so far. A perpetual commitment to combat evil in all forms on the individual level will eventually turn the tide of the oppression. So, there is no sense of urgency concerning the timeframe of establishing the ideal society, much less a sense at all of violently overturning greater political or social spheres.

The Republic of Gilead would not exactly be regarded as a dystopia by these guys, though they would not approve or see the necessity of the means by which this fictional polity was brought into being.

As you can see, premillenialism and postmillenialism are qualitatively different (premillenialism gave the world the Left Behind series; postmillenialism gave the world the “Wedge Document“), though they are probably equally threatening to human civilisation: the latter, obviously, because it is totalitarian; the former, because its eschatology promotes unethical and irresponsible behaviour towards other people and the environment, on the assumption that the Second Coming is either just around the corner (so who cares what happens to the planet in the meantime?), or might even be elicited (i.e. through war or nuclear devastation).

“The Family” is a postmillenialist organisation that has been influential in American politics since the early days of the Cold War. According to Jeffrey Sharlet, who spent some time undercover with the group,

The Family is, in its own words, an “invisible” association, though its membership has always consisted mostly of public men. Senators Don Nickles (R., Okla.), Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), Pete Domenici (R., N.Mex.), John Ensign (R., Nev.), James Inhofe (R., Okla.), Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), and Conrad Burns (R., Mont.) are referred to as “members,” as are Representatives Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), Frank Wolf (R., Va.), Joseph Pitts (R., Pa.), Zach Wamp (R., Tenn.), and Bart Stupak (D., Mich.). Regular prayer groups have met in the Pentagon and at the Department of Defense, and the Family has traditionally fostered strong ties with businessmen in the oil and aerospace industries. The Family maintains a closely guarded database of its associates, but it issues no cards, collects no official dues. Members are asked not to speak about the group or its activities.

Indeed, the only activity the group publicises is the National Prayer Breakfast. And what do these men want to achieve?

The goal is an “invisible” world organization led by Christ — that’s what they aspire to. They are very explicit about this if you look in their documents, and I spent a lot of time researching in their archives. Their goal is a worldwide invisible organization. That’s their word, and that’s important because it sounds so crazy.

What they mean when they say “a world organization led by Christ” is that literally you just sit there and let Christ tell you what to do. More often than not that leads them to a sort of paternalistic benign fascism. There are a lot of places that they’ve done good things, and that’s important to acknowledge. But that also means they might be involved with General Suharto in Indonesia and if that means that God leads him to kill half a million of his own citizens then, well, it would prideful to question God leading them.

“The Family” favours a more “muscular” (and masculinist) Christianity: they don’t like abortion or homosexuality, but their main concerns, Sharlet claims, are “capitalism and power,” which accounts for their schmoozing of non-Christian dictators from around the world. Alarmingly, they profess an admiration for Hitler, Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot, Genghis Khan and even Osama bin Laden: all men who, they believe, “changed the world through the strength of the covenants they had forged with their ‘brothers.'” Naturally, they are opposed to democracy–“Christ’s kingdom is not a democracy”–and do not see the conversion of the electorate to fundamentalist Christianity as a necessary step in the establishment of this kingdom.

Asked why there has not been more media coverage of “The Family,” Sharlet (in a 2003 interview) cites the war.

On the other hand, and this isn’t a conspiracy theory, if they can’t see it then it’s not there. I mean if you read that your local congressman is sitting there saying Hitler is a leadership model, the local paper should at the very least call up and say, “Congressman Tiahrt do you believe Hitler is a good leadership model?” If he had said, “Noam Chomsky is a great philosopher” then there’d be an investigation in a minute.

Why they are not following up on it? I don’t know. Partly because it’s so crazy, and partly because there is this idea that religion and politics are separate and religion is a personal thing. The media has always been pretty dumb when it comes to religion.

You can hear more from Sharlet in this recent Bloggingheads discussion. See also Wikipedia and SourceWatch.

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5 responses

20 05 2008
Sean the Blogonaut

This shit just gets more ridiculous and depressing everyday. Lets start or own secret atheist society :).

Step one steal underpants.

21 05 2008
lance1977

I think you should seek listen to The Spirit of Truth.

21 05 2008
Psychodiva

Sean- can they be frilly ones or plain tighty whiteys?

21 05 2008
Sean the Blogonaut

Psychodiva,

Doesn’t matter as long as we get to step 3 – Make profit.

15 06 2008
Things they’d have difficulty believing in Salt Lake City XVIII « Five Public Opinions

[…] Sydney Morning Herald reports on The Family, the “most influential and enduring religious force” in US politics that you never knew […]

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