In his new best-seller, American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, Kevin Phillips takes a position that's the flip side of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
Two days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the United States, Falwell and Robertson proclaimed on the 700 Club that Mohamed Atta and his cohorts were able to successfully pull off the attack because America was too secular, i.e., insufficiently religious.
Phillips takes the opposite view, arguing that America is being destroyed by true believers, by those among us who are too religious, i.e., insufficiently secular.
As Falwell stated it on Robertson's cable television program on Sept. 13, 2001: "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'"
Robertson added the Supreme Court to the discussion. "We have a court that has essentially stuck its finger in God's eye," he asserted. "We have insulted God at the highest levels of our government." Hence, "God Almighty is lifting his protection from us."
It's like Star Wars, except with a theological component. God kept a protective shield up around Manhattan and the Pentagon until people like Ellen DeGeneres got their own talk shows.
For Kevin Phillips, it's the reverse. The United States is coming apart at the seams because it is too radically religious. Government policies, he argues, are increasingly being shaped around religion, shaped by those who see things more in apocalyptic terms than through the down-to-earth eyes of rationality and pragmatism.
"The rapture, the end-times and Armageddon hucksters in the United States rank with any Shiite ayatollahs," charges Phillips, "and the last two presidential elections mark the transformation of the GOP into the first religious party in U.S. history."
The title of his book, American Theocracy, Phillips explains, "sums up a potent change in this country's domestic and foreign policy making -- religion's new political prowess and its role in the projection of military power in the Middle Eastern Bible lands -- that most people are just beginning to understand."
There's something more to the American "preoccupation" with the "Middle Eastern Bible lands," something more doctrinal, Phillips contends, than securing energy supplies or rooting out al-Qaeda's training camps. "In addition to its concerns with oil and terrorism, the White House," run by "an elected leader who believes himself in some ways to speak for God," is "courting end-times theologians and electorates for whom the holy lands are already a battleground of Christian destiny."
Straight out of Dixie, according to Phillips, a "high-powered, crusading fundamentalism" has bit by bit succeeded in creating a "southern-dominated, biblically-driven Washington GOP" and a national Republican Party in which 40 percent of its voters are Christian evangelicals, fundamentalist or Pentecostals.
The danger, warns Phillips, is that this "end-times electorate" doesn't see it as all bad if everything blows up: "Many, many millions believe that the Armageddon described in the Bible is coming soon. Chaos in the explosive Middle East, far from being a threat, actually heralds the awaited second coming of Jesus Christ."
Four decades ago, Phillips was happy about the expanding Republican electoral coalition when he wrote The Emerging Republican Majority. Today, he sees a GOP that's "become more and more like the exhausted, erring majorities of earlier failures" and a United States that's become "the world's leading Bible-reading crusader state, immersed in an Old Testament of stern prophets and bloody Middle Eastern battlefields."
The end result? "Historically," writes Phillips, "great powers have too often gone out in blazes of religious invocation." Rome "held up the cross" as it faced military defeats, as did Spain, while the "vestments of crusaderdom cloaked imperial Britain's overreach in World War I and its aftermath."
Regarding all of the above, I don't buy it. Perhaps I'm too secular, but I'd say the World Trade Center was hit by a surprise attack because of major bungling in our intelligence bureaucracies, not because God was up in arms about the American Civil Liberties Union. And regarding America as a "crusader state," I'd say it's been more about securing oil than hoping for Armageddon.