08 June, 2005

Grassroots theocracy

A small brick roadside Protestant church along state highway 60 near White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia is decorated with new, crisp, red-white-and-blue ribbons. Out front stands a big white signboard, the kind that often blocks the sidewalk at a used car dealership on a suburban strip but fitting in surprisingly well on the carefully mowed church lawn by the paved parking lot in a lush river valley in the most culturally Confederate of the historic Union. Red lettering on the sign proclaims, "One Nation Under God." Though blue-staters like myself might read the line as jingoistic repetition of a nationalistic slogan, the sentiment contains a vigorous sense of rebellion.

An anti-authoritarian sensibility pervades American life. It's one of the most exciting and refreshing aspects of living in this country, one of the reasons I've spent my adult life struggling to find health insurance here rather than retreating to the comfort and generosity of my other home and native land. The same rebellious spirit exists on the freeway, where everyone drives 8 or more mph over the speed "limit," in our lungs, where 80 percent of US residents say they have at least tried smoking pot, and in the workplace.

The growing theocratic sentiment in the United States arises from a sense -- misguided, perhaps, but genuine -- that liberals have taken over the country and are enforcing secularism in violation of American history.

What's amusing about this is that liberals who support separating church and state also feel like underdog rebels. They pay attention to the unreligious deism of the Founding Fathers, rather than the intensely conservative Christianity that led to the invention of "freedom of religion." They see a creeping theocracy in laws controlling gay marriage and reproduction, rather than the decline of right-wing religious values with the advent of gay rights and widespread acceptance of abortion.

I have no idea if there's really a trend in either direction, or if the coasts are really diverging from the interior, or the cities from the country, or what. All I know is the sense stays strong of grievance and victimization and righteous rebellion. And that's a sign of hope.

(Now if some of these "victimized" Christians could learn the other side of history...)

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