Wednesday, December 10, 2008

When Faith Turns Deadly: Fundamentalist Religion, Politics, and Economics

I've been meaning to recommend an interview from the Alternet site several days ago ( It's Joshua Holland's interview with novelist Larry Beinhart. Holland focuses on Beinhart's new novel Salvation Boulevard, which explores the volatile intersection of fundamentalist religion and politics.

Some quotes worth pondering:

The primary function of fundamentalist religion is a world of order. Any religion, but on a sliding scale, the more fundamental, the more order. As someone who has been either a freelancer or an entrepreneur my whole life, I have frequently dreamed of -- but never chosen -- a life in which I didn't have to figure out what to do with myself every morning and in which structures were imposed from the outside. Not religious ones, but still, there's the same kind of desire.

One of the primary selling points of fundamentalist religion is patriarchy. A world in which wives and children obey the No. 1 male figure in the house. It's a pleasant fantasy. A very pleasant fantasy. And a common one . . . .

The great peculiarity -- to an outsider -- of religious and right-wing sexism is that there are many women who advocate such an order. It is PC to claim the patriarchy is imposed, and that if it weren't for the oppressors it would disappear. But in practice, it's often a co-conspiracy. That has to be understood, and that's actually a bigger stress.

+ + + + +

I think of Iran as America's dark mirror . . . .

We have had a Republican-led government for six years. It is a party whose dominant popular base is religious, desperately concerned with sexual issues. The Islamic government in Iran has a base of popular support. It is not an imposed foreign or socially alien dictatorship. The core of that popular support are the true believers. The ones who want women "decent" -- hair and body covered. Who want capital punishment for adultery.

There is also an intersection between religion and business. Religious organizations and religious figures are key players in the entire economy. Every business person I met in Iran said, "You can't do business without a mullah as a partner." Should you try, and you are successful, one of them will show up and announce that you have a partner or you're out of business.

It is more extreme than here. But that is only because they can. If Dr. [James] Dobson or Tony Perkins could make every business tithe and could then take that money and use it to get a stake in lots of other businesses, they would. You betcha.

Yes. It is a model for a Christian Republic of America. Slightly different costumes, kebabs instead of barbecue, but very similar (and no homosexuals! Remember, it's a choice, they can be retrained through prayer or severe chastisement).

A world of order. Centered on patriarchal fantasies. In which business and religion dovetail neatly, with big men (and big women made in the big-man mold) on top, in both cases. And in which fundamentalist Islam walks hand in hand with fundamentalist Christianity.

A frightening vision of our current cultural-political situation, in some respects, but a soberly correct one, it seems to me—one that could well become more than a fantasy, if we permit those with these fantasies to dominate our democratic process. Sometimes artists (poets, painters, novelists, etc.) have a keener vision of what's at stake in the world around them than believers and movers and shakers have. It's the creative people who are often the canary in the mine, whose witness we want to stamp out, because it makes us think about possibilities we'd rather not discuss.