Why I am not quite an atheist
By Rosalea Barker
It's comforting to believe that God sees into the hearts of all mankind. And there you have it - the sum total of my religious beliefs. The words may be a little old-fashioned: for example "mankind" is code for "people". And "God" is code not just for the Christian God I encountered in the King James version of the 'Holy Bible' at Sunday School and Bible Class as a child and teenager, but also Judaism's Creator and Islam's Allah.
In fact, even those three concepts don't begin to address what I believe the word "God" to mean. To get back to my one-sentence declaration, it's comforting to believe that some intelligence other than a puny human one sees into our hearts. How many times have you been misunderstood in your intentions, or have misunderstood the intentions of others? No need to be hurt or judgmental - God has got the good oil on it. Perhaps God's not even an intelligence but a spiritual force of perpetual feedback, reinforcing good intentions with good outcomes, even when those good intentions go awry or go unnoticed.
"Good." What's that, then? God only knows. So if only God knows what good is, and only God can see into our hearts, why are we steaming at top speed to Armageddon because extremists in all three of those religions base their religion on literal interpretation of texts that were written long after the "fact" of divine dictation - texts that have been translated and retranslated according to the interpretation of the various times? It's like a cart with three wheels - each of which is made out of a snake swallowing its own tail - lurching out of control and no-one has the gumption to stop it.
I'm prompted to write on this subject because of a book I bought at the Goodwill (op-shop's) New Year's Day sale. To adapt a recent credit card ad: 'dynamics of american politics', $2.99; 'YOU and the United States', $1.99; 'Winning the New Civil War', priceless. The first book is a late seventies university text, the second one a primary school history and social studies text for 10-year-olds, and the last one was published in 1991.
It's by Robert P. Dugan, Jr, who at the time was the director of the Office of Public Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals in Washington DC. It's subtitled 'Recapturing America's Values' and Appendix III is Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech, which was given to the NAE in 1983. The Soviet Union was the evil empire in those days.
The book is a guide to getting the evangelical Christian agenda enacted at all levels of politics. It espouses the 100-10-25 method of activism: 100 percent of evangelicals active at a minimum level by voting; 10 percent active at a maximum level by becoming involved in party politics, perhaps even running for office; and 25 percent active at a moderate level by supporting campaigns as volunteers and as donors.
The title of the book comes from an address given in 1990 by a psychologist, James Dobson, to a convention of National Religious Broadcasters, in which he said: "We are engaged at this time in an enormous civil war of values." Dobson was a hot property for several Republican presidential campaigns, but not with the 2000 one, perhaps because of being photographed with Mother Teresa - Catholicism has sent more souls to damnation than any other Christian cult, say some evangelicals.
According to its website, the organisation of National Religious Broadcasters "exists to represent the Christian broadcasters’ right to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world." It was formed in 1944, two years after the National Association of Evangelicals had been established in order to strategise a resurgence of belief in the Bible as literal truth and the interweaving of that belief with civil law. It is "the major alternative to the National Council of Churches in American church life", says Dugan.
Back in 1990, an evangelical who had been an advisor to presidential candidate George Bush, a member of his White House transition team, and then for almost two years, special assistant to the president in public liaison - Doug Wead - said in an interview that politicians treated the evangelical movement "like a seven-foot tall high schooler who can't play basketball. If he ever learns how to play he's going to be awesome. In the meantime, they'll do everything they can to take advantage of his awkwardness..."
(Here is what Doug Wead says about himself now on his own website: "During the early 1988 George Bush presidential campaign, Wead reported to son, George W. Bush and serving as a liaison to constituent groups. He was deputy director of voter coalitions and later served as Special Assistant to the President in the Bush Senior, White House. Time magazine referred to him as 'the man who coined the phrase 'the compassionate conservative in 1982.' Dan Rather interviewed him on The CBS Evening News, the first night of the Gulf War." His latest book, 'All the Presidents' Children' is due for release in February 2003.)
Getting back to 'Winning the New Civil War', Dugan extrapolates the basketballer analogy: "One of these days, that evangelical seven-footer will become coordinated and fulfill his potential. The elections of 1980, 1984, and 1988 felt the impact of an identifiable evangelical vote... Suppose knowledgeable evangelicals, given a clear choice in an off-year Senate election, turn out a significantly larger vote than the rest of the population?" There is no doubt, he says, that evangelical Christians can win the new Civil War by the sheer weight of their vote.
By 1994, their support of the Republican Party had ended the 40-year grip the Democrats had on the House of Representatives. In 2002 - an off-year Senate election - they helped restore the Senate majority for the Republicans, and within a few weeks the new Senate leader was Bill Frist, first elected in 1994, and whose 2000 campaign contributors included executives of EMI's Christian music label and of Sparrow Records, which specialises in contemporary Christian music. Hey, he's from Tennessee, they're into music, right? His Senate website lists him simply as a Presbyterian, but there are evangelical versions of that church.
His motto is "You can't cross a chasm in two small jumps", and according to his former chief of staff, Nashville lawyer Mark Tipps, Frist really believes in the Biblical adage "To whom much is given, much is expected." Last July he went to the Sudan in a job-swap with Franklin Graham, the founder of Samaritan's Purse, a self-declared evangelical Christian organization, whose statement of faith is the same as that of the NRB, including their belief "in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost, they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation."
Given the strong appeal of evangelicalism to those who have hard-to-break habits or whose momentary negligence has caused the death of someone dear to them, it's one short leap to the conclusion that the current occupiers of the White House are deep in its grip. If you think my imagination's got the better of me, what about this comment from an 'LA Times' review of 'The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush' by David Frum, the speechwriter who coined the phrase "axis of evil". Says the LA Times reviewer: "Frum, a self-described 'not especially observant Jew,' found himself working in 'the culture of modern Evangelicalism' that prevails" in the White House.
If that is the case, two recent statements made by George W. Bush are alarming. He petulantly told a reporter at his Texas ranch that it is his (GWB's) job to decide to go to war, as if he had a toy he wasn't going to part with, and he said in last Tuesday's economic speech that he loves his country more than he loves his political party. Is Bush ignoring the moderate voices within his party in order to fulfill some evangelical destiny he's been led into believing he and this country has?
Can't you just hear his evangelical advisors? Especially since he was sworn into office by one of their own, the same Chief Justice William Rehnquist whose opinions about the separation of church and state are quoted in Dugan's book, and which form part of the leaflet now given to churches who want to take advantage of the faith-based initiatives Bush signed into law just last week. Don't you think they're saying: "The Day of Judgment is nigh and you're the one who's going to allow the children of Israel to live in their promised land, at which point comes Judgment Day, and true believers will be saved. This is your chance to be a seven-foot giant, Mr President."
Indeed it is, Mr President - by standing up and saying "I believe that God sees into the hearts of all mankind. It is not my job to manipulate His judgment or the timing of it."
The job for the rest of us is to get an electoral system into place that doesn't allow any one group within society to hi-jack the democratic process by stealth the way evangelicals have hi-jacked the Republican Party. If their numbers do represent a third of the vote in the US as Dugan claims, then let them aim to win a third of the seats in legislative bodies elected using proportional representation.
And, for the information of folks heading off to the Persian Gulf for deployment who-knows-where - and it could easily be Sudan or Israel - here is what the evangelical movement thinks of 18 to 24-year-olds, according to Dugan's book: "Especially vulnerable to the individualistic, relativistic, and hedonistic spirit of the times, it is fortunate that, unlike their elders, they send a low percentage of their number to the polls."
It is FORTUNATE, he says, that young people don't take part in democracy. I suppose it's fortunate because it gives the Commander in Chief the equally "fortunate" opportunity to send a high percentage of their number to their deaths, not in defence of this nation but to bring about the second coming of Christ.
God save us from those who presume to know what's in the heart of God, whatever religion they may be.