American Fundamentalists Forum, 27 June 2004
Los Angeles Valley College, Van Nuys, CA
Moderated by Ian Masters (host, Background Briefing, KPFK 90.7 FM Pacifica, Los Angeles)
with Dr. William Cook (University of La Verne)
Jean Rosenfeld, Ph.D. (UCLA Center for the Study of Religion)
Louis Vanedenberg (2004 Congressional candidate, Riverside, CA)
Joel Pelletier (artist, painter of "American Fundamentalists")

American Fundamentalists Forum 6/27/04

Louis Vandenberg: Welcome everyone to this intimate gathering. I used to play in rock bands and we had a kind of view that we would perform for anyone, anywhere, be it a laundromat or a major club or wherever. I'm happy that you came out, in even relatively small numbers, because actually I'm very proud myself to be associated with this painting, and I'm very proud to have the people that we have attracted to be on the panel here.

I'm Louis Vandenberg, the producer for Ian Masters' Background Briefing, KPFK 90.7 FM Pacifica in Los Angeles. We just came off of a three-hour program, sort of a marathon for us, in which we're trying to raise money in order to keep this, the premier alternative radio network in the United States functioning, and keep what I think is the premier asset (although some might say Amy Goodman, but in my view the premier asset up there in the pantheon with Amy Goodman and Larry Bensky, is one of the great alternative journalists in the United States - Ian Masters) to keep (Ian) on the air, and so I'm very honored to be associated with him and to be associated with the other people on the panel: Dr. Jean Rosenfeld, Dr. William Cook, and of course, the artist Joel Pelletier.

So let me just say that for 22 years Ian Masters has provided some of the most remarkable, insightful, penetrating programming to be heard on the American airwaves. He is in my view one of the great alternative broadcast journalists in the United States. Please welcome Ian Masters.

Ian Masters
Ian Masters: Thank you Louis. Today we are going to, inspired by this painting as we all are, we're going to try and talk about American Fundamentalism and its, I think, somewhat malignant effect on American politics. And we are privileged to have Jean Rosenfeld with us who will be, I guess, speaking first. I come at this subject, since I wasn't born here, with some dismay because in Australia we call religious fundamentalists "God Botherers," and they really have very little traction. The Mormons, when they knock on doors in Australia, they're welcomed, but they never convert anybody, and that's pretty true of most fundamentalists. I don't know, maybe it's a cultural thing but I'm not sure, perhaps being descendants of convicts we're somewhat better off than being descendants of religious fundamentalists, as the people who landed on Plymouth Rock were, as far as I know, were. And Jean, correct me if I'm wrong but they drove the people of England crazy. The Brits moved them to Holland, a normally very patient people. They drove them completely bonkers, and then they put them back on the ship and they sent them back to Southampton. And everybody came down to the docks and said no, we're not letting you off the ships: Go to America. Perhaps that's not a fair reading of history.

It's just fascinating to me to see people that I think should be, if they're not in strait jackets, they certainly should be under medication, being treated as normal people. I mentioned today on the air that I saw Anderson Cooper on CNN the other day and he had on Tim LaHaye, who's the author of this "Left Behind" series that apparently has sold billions, it's hugely successful. This was a man that was talking about the end of the world and the world ending in fire and all the plants and animals and all of human history going up and the righteous, you know, rising up in the Rapture, and of course the righteous are American Christian Fundamentalists. To my mind, if I have to spend eternity with those people, give me hell. This guy is, I think, certifiably insane. Not only is he certifiably insane, he has a sick investment in the end of humanity and in the end of all human creation. And if that's not bad enough, what about the birds and the bees and the animals and the plants that he's willfully wanting to extinguish? But nevertheless, Anderson Cooper treated him as though he were a sane individual.

And today we also talked about the Reverend Moon, who you may not know, was coronated in the Dirkson Office Building on March 23rd of this year, with a group of Congress people there kneeling at his feet, while somebody put a crown on his head. The senator who allowed this to happen has apparently remained anonymous, but that several congress people that were there -- one of them was the head of the Armed Services Committee, Curt Weldon -- are very prominent and powerful people who really do have power and influence. And again, they seem to be treating this nutcase as though he were a man of substance and importance.

So I don't know... I remember when the psychiatrist R. D. Laing in the 60's wrote a book, and this was in the height of the Cold War, and he posed the question: Who is crazier, the pregnant woman who feels she has a bomb in her womb, or the American pilot flying the B52 with hundreds of megatons of bombs in the bomb bay?

Anyway, let's get on with the subject, which, as I say, I'm not in anyway an expert on it. I just cannot believe that these people have the kind of influence and traction that they have. There's 43 percent of the American electorate that will vote for Bush blindly because he is a Christian, and that are voting for him as blindly as the Shiites in the south of Iraq will vote for Sustani or one of the mullahs. So you know, we do have in this global war on terror that we're supposedly fighting, there is this incredible paradox that here we are, trying to fight religious fascists abroad, and our government that's waging this war appears to be in bed with them at home.

Let's turn to Jean Rosenfeld. Try and fill us in on some of my puzzlements, and perhaps in a little while we can all have a question and answer and a discussion, and get some clarity here on why it is that this great and wonderful country is being hijacked by insane people.

Jean Rosenfeld
Jean Rosenfeld: Well, with that inimitable lead-in, Ian is a hard act to follow. But fortunately I have at my right here Dr. Bill Cook, who is a real expert on all the mythology that is expressed, or at least some of the mythology that's expressed in this wonderful painting.

I had the pleasure the other morning of spending a couple of hours up at the Getty Museum with Joel Pelletier, and had Joel tell me what he knew about James Ensor, the Belgian artist who did what he called the first Expressionist painting in European Art, "Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889."

And then he said, "You know, I do my own drafting, but this time I went into the Getty gift shop and I bought a slide. I projected it on this giant canvas and I drafted Ensor's outlines, and then I made my own painting." More or less, this is what Joel said, more elegantly than I'm saying it. And he went on to tell me a little bit about James Ensor, and his vision of Christ and the Millennium was very personal. Ensor felt that he was rejected by the art establishment. Up there in Joel's painting, where you see the four evildoers hanging, twas where the art critics of Brussels were, who Ensor felt were the evildoers with respect to him, while Ensor was the Christ figure.

I think what we have here is a completely original painting, despite the superficial resemblance to James Ensor's; and we have a painting for our time, not Ensor's time. Ensor's painting was never shown publicly. It hung in a bar for many years until the Getty bought it for $1.3 million which, you know, wouldn't buy a house in Los Angeles, but I guess it was a real steal. Now it hangs in its very own room. But Joel's painting is for public viewing and we hope this is just the beginning of more and more public viewing.

Let me just say a couple of things to kick this off that struck me about Joel's painting. It's visual. And why is that important? Because prophecy is visual, and oral it's not written. We are so used to reading things that we forget that prophets are people that are seized by God in a vision and told what to say, and are compelled by Jonah even to preach to their enemies in Ninevah. Now what am I getting at here? This is to a certain extent a work of prophecy, showing prophecy, but it's a false prophecy. I think that's the statement that I get out of Joel's painting. And that this is a vision of the world in 2008 after Armageddon. You know, the current Apocalyptic myth that infects the Religious Right in the United States is taken from that fellow hanging in the poster there, John Nelson Darby, who was an obscure Irish priest, started a group called the Plymouth Brethren that never took in the British Isles. But when the ideas came to America, they infected most of the American South and then penetrated into almost every Protestant church in this country. So what we have in American Fundamentalism is a unique type of religion that's only in America. And it does not translate across our seas, which protect us - or did, until we invented the airplane.

And so "Fundamentalism" has become the word with which we describe our enemies, the evildoers, hanging up there; as Islamic Fundamentalists; some people speak of Jewish Fundamentalists; and there are even Hindu Fundamentalists. But the truth of the matter is that the word really belongs in America.

The second thing that struck me about Joel's painting (other than its visual prophecy nature) is that it is a uniquely American painting. Aside from the four evildoers who are a sort of a foil for the Administration folks on the other side of the painting, it really is all about America. Not about Belgium, not about Islamic Fundamentalism, not about Al Qaeda. It's a critique of how our country, how the dominant political paradigm in our country has become a religious paradigm and a rejection of the Enlightenment values which many of us think this country was founded upon. In other words, it is a rejection of the Light of Reason. And it goes right back to the Fundamentals, and the people who penned them in the early part of the century. They were rejecting criticism of the Bible by mainstream theologians. They wanted to go back to the literal truth of the word of God, that the entire Bible was written by God and that it was inerrant -- you shouldn't change a word of it. So it's an American critique.

The third thing that struck me about the painting was that it's a Left Wing critique; it's a Progressive critique of politics. And that's important today because the Progressive critique is the only voice in opposition. It's the only loyal opposition. Pardon me Louis, but I think we agree that up until recently the Democratic Party's been relatively silent on this growing threat from the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, which started way back before 1980 and has been brewing ever since. There was the great shift of the Republican Party by American Evangelicals who bought into the Dispensationalist myth that very soon there was going to be a Rapture and then the Tribulation would come with all the hoards of the Apocalypse until finally, with all those coffins you see representing the individuals who die in a succession of horrible wars, only the remnant -- the righteous remnant -- would be saved, and you see those in the forefront of the painting.

Which brings me to the other thing that is very striking about this painting: Christ is an afterthought. Nobody's looking at the Christ figure. They are celebrating themselves. And that, I think, is a marvelous visual critique. I just want to say that if this is false prophecy, if many of us in this room believe that Armageddon is in the Dispensationalist notion that Christ is not going to come and save us all from this series of endless wars -- then I would regard what Joel is doing as true prophecy. I know he was shocked when I told him I thought he was taking on a prophetic role, but I do think he's taking on a prophetic role. Remembering that prophecy is visual, that it is speaking truth to power; it goes against the grain; prophets are flawed individuals - there's nothing saintly about prophets, they include a range of individuals, but what distinguishes them is that they have a vision. And their vision is the true vision of what really is going on. Individuals who can't read or won't read, like our President, they don't have to read. They can look at a Michael Moore film, which is kind of a streaming vision. Or they can look at Joel's painting and they can understand immediately what's going on.

As far as what's going on in the American scene, I wrote a paper about three years ago (and I'm going to let Bill Cook carry on in) which I argue that Fundamentalism was not the problem, that Fundamentalists and Evangelicals are not quite the same thing. There are those that buy into the myth of the Apocalypse that is being spread around by the Left Behind series, by Hal Lindsey for at least 20 years, and by others. But there are a couple of spin-offs from our strange American religion called Christian Reconstructionism and Christiian Identity, which are threatening. Christian Reconstructionism is not as violent as Christian Identity, and it may not believe that the Apocalypse is around the corner, but it is a very militant form of triumphal Christianity which, married with the triumph of Capitalism after the Cold War and with the military might that we hold, leads right into the whole doctrine of Preemptive War.

James Schlesinger said it beautifully right before the Iraq War, he said it twice on the Lehrer News Hour (on PBS): "We have the might, we have the military might, we have all the wealth, and therefore we can do what we want with it." And that is the basis of the Preemptive War Doctrine - "We can remake the world in our image, we can make the world into America." I think this plays back into the unique American fear, the paranoia and the paranoiac strain in the American character, which says "We are a City on the Hill, we are a new creation founded by the Sectarians that came over from Southampton and Holland, and we are the New Jerusalem, and that is our Destiny. God has protected us with oceans, and we are a continental power with a Manifest Destiny." Only once we bought into Globalization and airplanes it didn't work any more, so the missile shield is, in effect, a way to protect ourselves. We are an intensely isolationist and paranoid people, and until we break free of that fear and we become open to people who cross our borders in more ways than one, we will always have to have an enemy. And I think that's what it is: We need an enemy that can unify our diversity. Until we can accept our diversity as our identity, and that identity as being cosmopolitan and one with the world, I think we're going to be wrestling with this constant nightmare false prophecy of Armageddon that's just around the corner. Thank you.

Ian Masters: Thank you, Dr. Jean Rosenfeld. And I should have mentioned at the beginning, Jean is a researcher with the Center for the Study of Religion at UCLA. We're now going to hear from Dr. William Cook, who is a Professor of English at the University of La Verne. He's a frequent contributor to Counterpunch, and a writer on religion and politics. Welcome to Joel's painting. And Joel will be talking... since you're getting all these accolades Joel, we'll hand it over to you at the end.

William Cook
Willian Cook: Mark Twain made the observation that "Man is the only animal that has a true religion - several of them." And it occurs to me as I look at "God Bless America" flying in a banner in Joel's painting, that it reflects the reality of that commentary that Mark Twain made.

The banners and flags on cars that followed 9/11 capitalized on a belief that we've just heard about: the understanding that America is indeed the land given by God to the Chosen People, the Israelites of their day, who came here with the full understanding that it was the New Zion. They were capable in that time period -- 1636, six years after Winthrop arrived on the Arabella with his crew, and made the statement in their sermon on board the Arabella before they landed, about the City on the Hill -- that indeed they could take control of the land regardless of anyone that might live there. Indeed the "salvages," as they called them, were seen as Satan's minions, and they literally wiped out the Piquot Tribe in an extermination. And then they thanked God for blessing them in the process of exterminating a tribe.

That kind of belief gets beyond logic. It rests obviously on an incredible structure of belief in the hierarchy of those who led them thither, and their interpretation of God's Word. And God's Word resides in the Bible. But it depends on who interprets God's Word as to what impact that will have.

As I look at the painting - and I talked briefly with Joel before this session - I see two delusional mythologies resident here; he sees three. The two that I see follow in this manner. Leo Strauss, whose portrait is in a frame just off of the center at the bottom, is in one sense the mentor of a crew that we now call the NeoCons. Strauss understood that there is no morality in the world, and that there are those who lead and those who follow. I'm simplifying this, but in essence it's what it's all about. Those who lead are amoral, and they will use those who have a religion to their advantage. These people, or a good number of them - Wolfowitz, Perle, Cheney, Libby, Douglas Feith - there's a crew of them, many of them out of the American Enterprise Institute and the Project for a New American Century, who are now in major positions in the Bush Administration, including Elliott Abrams. Back 14 years ago, they designed a defense policy report using Straussian concepts, and that's where the first indication of preemptive strikes and the American/Pan-Americana concept reside. These ideas never came into play because Daddy Bush lost the election. And for eight years they had to sit out their desire to be in control. They attempted in '96 to bring their concepts to Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel. They brought them in '97 to Bill Clinton; Clinton rejected them. But with the potential to bring George Jr. into the White House, they rallied in order to get back into power.

The reality of their delusion is that there is no morality, that morality does not reside in the world as something you can pick up; it resides in people's hearts, and they have morality whether you want them to or not. You cannot legislate it out anymore than you can legislate it in. But they saw the opportunity to use the second delusion, and that is the Christian delusion that comes through Hal Lindsey and the Dominionist "End Timers" (in terms of theology); people who turn to the Book of Revelations in the Evangelical Christian Zionist Right Wing and used that book to rouse the fear of their congregations, both for dollar support and for political support.

And Ralph Reed and company, the whole crew that we find in the forefront of this painting, built up over a 30-year period of time going back to Lindsey's books in the 1970s (and he wrote over 20; he's one of the bestselling authors in the United States, and his books have sold in the millions), Lindsey pushes an Armageddon theology. Let me try to read a couple of lines, which give you his flavor. He proclaims that he purposefully writes books to way to shock people into believing in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. He's a good insurance salesman, by the way. He uses fear to threaten his customers with plagues that are revealed in the Acts of the Apostles and the Book of Revelation:

"The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood. With justice he judges and makes war. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down nations so you may eat the flesh of kings, generals and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all peoples free and slave, small and great. The Messiah slays the Antichrist and creates a new Heaven and a new Earth, and he judges the dead, saves the Christians, and casts the rest into eternal perdition."
Lindsey is a man who accepts the reality that his interpretations of these prophecies come directly to him from God. Here's a quote:
"I believe that the spirit of God gave me a special insight, not only into how John described what he actually experienced, but also into how this whole phenomenon encoded the prophecies so that they could be fully understood only when their fulfillment drew near. I prayerfully sought for a confirmation for my Apocalypse code theory."
And so we have then a self-proclaimed, inspired-by-God interpreter of the Bible, and he was a presence in the Ronald Reagan White House, along with a crew of Zionist Right Wing televangelists like Jerry Falwell, Mike Evans, and the ilk.

In American politics, people like Tom DeLay, the Majority leader in the House, has stated, "Only Christianity offers a way to live in response to the realities that we find in the world - only Christianity." And the result is, if you add his power in the House to the money behind that power, and you add to that Tim LaHaye, who is the coauthor of the apocalyptic "Left Behind" novels, and Congressman Dick Army and Howard Phillips and Ralph Reed and Jesse Helms, all of whom belong to a group of Fundamentalist Christians that bring George W. Bush in as a speaker. And you bring these two delusional mythologies together - the Right Wing NeoCons following the delusion of Strauss, and the Right Wing Christian Zionists following the delusions of the interpretations of the Book of Revelation, and you find an incredible solid base of power in the administration that is currently in office in Washington DC.

George came to his born-again status through Billy Graham, in part through the Promise Keepers Vineyard movement, and the founders of that movement that push End Time theology and the interpretation of the Book of Revelation. They believe that before Christ can return in the Second Coming there will need to be the establishment of the Jewish state in the ancient lands of Judea and Samaria. And according to the Book of Revelations there will be a rebuilding of the Temple. That means that the current mosque that's on that land would have to be torn down. The Book of Revelations requires a battle between the Muslims and the Jews, and therefore, the need for the Christians to have the reestablishment of a Jewish state. They have raised in excess of $60 million to bring Jewish expatriates from Russia to Israel in order to populate the settlements that have been established in the West Bank and in Gaza. In essence, these settlers act to disrupt, tear down the infrastructure of the Palestinian towns and cities, and in that process are in fact creating terrorist acts. Their religious dollars are going toward this support. This is not pointed out to the people who are congregants and providing the support for the importation of Jews from around the world to Israel. But what it does is to create the means by which the fulfillment of the Book of Revelation can be met.

Simultaneously with that we have the Fundamentalist Zionists like Efi Eitan, who rules the National Religious Party for Sharon's coalition. He too is believing and extolling the virtues of the Book of Genesis and the covenant between God and his people that would establish the state of Israel. And so these two groups are coming together as a means of supplying the groundwork for the fulfillment of the Book of Revelation. That politically creates a problem for the United States, in that it ends up providing an unusual amount of support for the Israeli Right Wing government, and the result is a lot of anger around the Arab world.

If we look at these two delusional approaches, then, that are now in command of the American Administration, the issues that comes to my mind is the need for these people to suffer the consequences of what it is that they have wrought. If they are raising legions of people to aid in the development of policies that are destructive to America as a whole, they should be held accountable for that, just as George and Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld and Cheney should be held accountable for that they have done. There is where the delusion rests, it seems to me.

Mark Twain, in his War Prayer, makes the point that when a group calls upon God for aid in intervention, if you will, in their needs on this earth, there is implied in that an understanding that there's a second prayer and it means the destruction of those that the person praying is opposed to. That in effect is what happens when God blesses America. We are asking for his blessing at the expense of others around the world.

Ian Masters: Thank you Dr. William Cook. Let's hear from the artist Joel Pelletier, who is an independent musician, composer and multimedia artist living in Van Nuys. He has a degree in classical music composition from the Hartt School of Music, University of Hartford in Connecticut, where he also studied painting at the Hartford Art School with Rudolph Zallinger, the painter of the famous dinosaur mural, "The Age of Reptiles" at Yale's Peabody Museum. "American Fundamentalists" is Joel's first public showing of his visual art. Joel...

Joel Pelletier
Joel Pelletier: Thank you first everyone for being here, especially the people on the panel, and what you said so far. Being an independent artist in Los Angeles, for those of you who have been or are one right now, usually means you're a (quote) "unsuccessful artist." No one knows you're there; you're not making any money or anything. So the fact that people are seeing this and that people for whom I have respect and have spoken with are talking about it is wonderful, so thank you.

I painted this because I got really pissed off. And the angrier I got, the more I read about these folks and the more I researched this before I actually began painting it, and saw how connected so many of these people were, and how just because all of the guys in that corner had a lot of money, and they were putting it in to start cable networks for these guys, and research foundations so they could have titles in their names for all the guys in the center... The more I looked at this - I'm not getting classified information here, anybody can go on the Internet, anybody can buy the books that some of these folks and others have written, but we don't hear about it on what most people hear in the news all the time.

People wonder what can we do individually this election to make a difference, and how can we do anything individually? This is my answer for me. If I can take this and do forums like this anywhere in the country between now and November, that's what I'm going to try to do, and get people to hear it.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist. People look at me now... my wife thinks I'm crazy now because this is all I've been talking about for eight months. I am angry for a number of reasons. And one of the reasons I'm angry is because, as a musician during the 80's, I was in bands in Hartford, Connecticut and writing antiwar songs and anti-Reagan songs. I was described in a review as writing diatribes and things like that. And I had to admit, yeah that's true, that's what I was doing, that's what a lot of us were doing. So I tried to go another direction. For the last 20 years I've tried to be more concerned about the things that I thought were beautiful and worth saving and enjoying, rather than the things that I hated. You know, being an artist FOR something instead of AGAINST something.

But it has gotten so bad. It has gotten so scary. This seems worse than Germany in the late 30's - I believe that - and I had to say, fine, I'm going to have to go back to being one of these diatribe, ranting, raving lunatic activists until November. And then I can go back to what I want to do.

My major complaint and my major theme here is fundamentalism, and the attitude of Fundamentalism, which is binary - you're either good or you're bad, you're either right or you're wrong, that's it. Religious fundamentalism as we see it now says you only get to Heaven through OUR God, OUR way. The economic fundamentalists on this painting say that profit is everything; if you don't make a profit for you or your friends, you have committed a sin, which is why they are privatizing everything that they possibly can in the government, because somebody wasn't making money. And the political fundamentalists say that we are right about everything and you're right about nothing. And we have the power; we can do whatever we want, because we won.

I spent a year collecting material before I started this, then it took six months to paint, and every evening after painting for five or six hours here in the LAVC Theater Department (the only wall that was big enough to do it, and I want to thank people who run the theater department here for allowing me that opportunity) I would go home for two hours on the Internet and find out more horrible things about the people that I was painting, and finding the same names, constanty listed.

I think there's an awful lot of people up here who deserve to be seen. There's one gentleman on here that I had to research very hard just to find a photo, this guy down here who kinda looks dayglow. His name is Arthur Finkelstein. And under his photograph on the Internet, in two locations only on the entire Internet, it says "The only photograph of Arthur Finkelstein known to exist." Some of these people know the value of images, and the value of staying out of the public eye. Abu Ghraib was known about last November? September? I can't remember - but when did we all find out about it and actually care? When we saw the images.

Dr. Cook said something about the pilgrims. I have to take some personal responsibility and apologize, because my family - from my mother's side - are descendants of the Stantons. They were amongst the folks who returned on that second trip after that first winter in Plymouth, and waved to the surviving Pilgrims on land who didn't think they would survive, but made it because Indians helped them that winter. And after they got off the boat, over the next couple years, they proceeded to try to kill every Indian that was there. Those Fundamentalists only wiped out a small band of Indians. These Fundamentalists have the button, and that's the scary thing, and that's what pisses me off.

Tell all your friends in the - what color state are we? I don't remember - we're a blue state? OK. Tell all your friends in the red states. And if they've got a couch and a room to this to set this up, let 'em know, I'm on my way.

Ian Masters: Thank you, Joel. Let me introduce Louis Vandenberg - my producer, my right hand; candidate for the 44th Congressional District. He's an administrator for the University of California Riverside, and the Producer of "Background Briefing."

Louis Vandenberg
Louis Vandenberg: It can probably be assumed with reliable certainty that human beings have a sense of spirituality codified and expressed through religion. Why? Perhaps it's our sentience, our awareness of the world around us, our inner world; and of our mortality, and the mortality of others. The awareness of finality provokes a sense of fear, of future loss, loss of ego, loss of identity, loss of social contacts, loss of everything.

For each individual, death is a private apocalypse, a catastrophe of the self, the natural reaction, the fear reaction. The fear reaction has been, in some estimations, a central factor in motivating a religious experience on a personal level, and in the practice of religion as a primal human phenomenon. We seek meaning and permanence, and in their absence we will impose it. Some religious traditions attempt to answer the fear and mystery of death by living the embrace of life, the experience of it all, joy and pain, as something rich, textured, deep, alive. To live is to experience it all, to embrace it, to succumb to the mystery of eternity. This is a religion of spirituality, of liberation - liberation from the fear of death.

Another route is to focus on death, to live a life which is not really about living, but about what takes place AFTER we live. Upon this void is imposed a system of order, of rewards and punishments, of obedience, servitude and conformity. The ineffable mystery transforms into a Pavlovian simplicity presided over by an invisible friend in the sky. The structure of heaven and hell is made rigid with set rules.

Here's where the trouble begins.

When the fearful faithful are gathered and the priest, the pastor, the leader emerges who mediates between the flock and God the infinite. It is a slippery slope from priestly power to political power to economic power. And power corrupts. And thus begins a prison of fundamentalism with bars made of fear.

The separation of church and state was a brilliant innovation, expressed as it is in Article 6 of the United States Constitution. Is there something unique in the expression of, in the shape, manner and form of American Fundamentalism? I think so. It was early on, as Alexis de Tocqueville observed,

"Here and there in the midst of American society you meet with men full of a fanatical and almost wild spiritualism, which hardly exists in Europe. From time to time strange sects arise which endeavor to strike out extraordinary paths to eternal happiness. Religious insanity is very common in the United States."
Why keep church and state separate? Because religious insanity will trump law and reason every time. Because democracy is not a concept found in the Bible. It is a creation of man. Because, as Blaise Pascal put it, "Men never do evil so completely as when they do it from religious conviction." Because democracy is only an idea, it is not a given. It takes only one generation to destroy it - this generation, today. We're living in history now, and what we do as citizens will affect the world forever.

George W. Bush and his Fundamentalist allies have transformed the United States into an Apocalyptic suicide cult. And he, George Bush, wants you to drink the Koolaid. Just say no.

Fundamentalism is a rape of the spirit, a prison of the soul, and a death of the mind. It is a warship of death. It is stem Matos, a love of death. It is death itself. It must be exposed and rejected. Our democratic system and our Constitution's 6th Amendment is a radical formulation in human governance. It has its own spiritual substance. It says that if we are the creation of God, then we exist in totality as beings in all respects, including the essential gift of reason and the awareness of being.

From reason comes law and science. From awareness comes our moral structure. THIS is a spirituality of liberation, of life. It's where democracy lives. Our system allows us to make our own spiritual arrangements, to seek meaning, to seek God in a way that is intimate, personal and real. Our system protects God-made man from man-made God. We must preserve it.

When I saw Joel's painting I saw a unique work combining art, politics, philosophy and religion. Joel gets it. And I'm proud to associate myself with this work. His motivations are my motivations.

Ian Masters: Well thank you Louis - that was a very wonderful speech. The quote that you mentioned there, by the way, was from William Jennings Bryant, who ran against McKinley during the Gilded Age, 1896 wasn't it? That election, which is reminiscent of this upcoming election, where the Republicans outspent the Populists (they weren't Democrats so much as Populists), something like 95 to 1, in those days Fundamentalist religions appeared to repose on the Left, the farmers and the workers. Remember, Jennings Bryant was the guy that defended Creationism in the famous Scopes trial, which was turned into "Inherit the Wind," a great movie.

But one of the things that William Jennings Bryant said in the course of that campaign - by the way, he lost almost by Florida proportions, it was pretty close - he said, "The great challenge of the 20th Century (this was at the end of the 19th Century) is to protect the God-made man from the man-made God - the corporation." And he understood at that point, the famous Santa Clara County vs. Sante Fe Railroad decision was taken a little bit before then, and that made the corporation a person in law, with the protections of the 14th Amendment, and we've been blighted by that conundrum ever since. It's one of those things that we keep thinking we have to DO something about - there's a long list of those, and that's probably the hardest to climb.

One of the jokes, Jean, is that if you talk to God you're considered to be religious, but if God talks to you you're a schizophrenic. You mentioned in your talk the Christian Reconstructionists, and I think you implied that they're in many ways more dangerous than the Falwells and the Robertsons (as bad as they are), so it is true that what guides this and these are apparently more intellectual than these kind of sort of snake oil salesmen. Isn't it true that the Christian Reconstructionists, the Whitehead Institute and all these people, they take as their role model Oliver Cromwell because Oliver Cromwell overturned a sitting government? These people are avowed anti-Constitutionalists insurgents...

Jean Rosenfeld: Absolutely. And what the American public did not know about the impeachment scandal was the role of Christian Reconstructionists in it. Paula Jones was being defended by the Rutherford Institute, and a man who lived and died at the same time as Oliver Cromwell was Samuel Rutherford, for whom the Rutherford Institute is named. That was back in the 1600's. And as you know, Oliver Cromwell was the first and only dictator in the history of Britain. He was part of a Puritan experiment, and his confreres were among Joel's ancestors, I believe, in Massachusetts Bay Colony. At one time it looked like the great New English Right of the 1600's was not going to work. He thought of escaping to Massachusetts, so he may have been one of our Founding Fathers, but we escaped him.

Oliver Cromwell, the dictator of England, his group followed the legal philosophy of Samuel Rutherford, and the book by Sam Rutherford is called "Lex Rex (The Law is King)." That was a revolutionary statement because, you see, "The King was the Law" in England. And what Oliver Cromwell and his confreres taught, and actually put into action, was that when the King did not observe God's law, the King should be overthrown. In fact, they arrested King Charles, and they executed King Charles in January of 1649. And in January of 1998 the Grand Jury heard from Monica Lewinsky. And it was the people who defended Paula Jones in her suit against President Clinton who brought this information on which Ken Starr deposed the president, and the Grand Jury took evidence and called Clinton before them. These kind of movements look to the past, and to the mythology of the past, to enforce their visions of what God's Law is, and what the political situation should be, they often pay attention to special dates. It's absolutely no coincidence that they chose the same date on which the King was beheaded to call the sitting president to account. Now that also happened to be a day in which he gave a speech, though it was a bit postponed. Nevertheless, I noted these parallels right away. I tried to bring them to the attention of the New York Times religious writer, but I didn't get much of a response. I tried to bring them to the attention of some of our California senator Diane Feinstein, but I didn't get much of a response. It wasn't a vast Right Wing conspiracy, it was just these Christian Reconstructionists with their own notions of how history should unfold, including "Lex Rex," which by the way is revered by the Rutherford Institute (and John Whitehead, the head of the Rutherford Institute is right there in the painting, by the way, and the philosopher of the Reconstructionists is R.J.Rushdoony, who's up there, associated with him is Francis Schaeffer, who's also on the painting).

Christian Reconstructionism is a triumphal movement that believes that Christianity will prevail throughout the Earth. It's a little bit like Osama bin Laden's philosophy (I've been studying him for the last 2 1/2 years), in that he wants to establish a worldwide caliphate. Christian Reconstructionism only wants to convert the entire world to Christianity. So you can see that the Christian Reconstructionists have a particular mirror that they hold up to the Islamic enemies and they say, no, WE'RE going to get there first, you're not going to get there first. So it's a kind of Apocalyptic mirror which leaves us in a very dangerous situation.

We a situation in which the American legal establishment is deeply influenced by Christian Reconstructionism. I might add that, as intellectuals, they also target for conversion law students, and they try to put in judges like Judge Roy Moore, who believe in God's law as the law of the nation, who regard this as a Christian republic, who in essence want to hijack us for a Cromwellian type return to the governments like the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It's American Puritanism, pure and simple. And it's very interesting that those who criticize from within the Islamic moderates, who criticize the Islamic Jihadists like Osama bin Landen, call them "Puritans" too. So you have an immovable, intolerant force against an immovable, intolerant force. And this is why I say that Christian Reconstructionism is the movement, the social and religious movement born in the United States, that I fear the most.


2004 Joel Pelletier