"The devil went down to Georgia/He was lookin' for a soul to steal."
-- Charlie Daniels Band
Toccoa -- Two fellows materialized in Georgia last month and harangued 600 true believers on the gospel of a thoroughly theocratic America. Along with lesser lights of the religious right who spoke, the men called for nothing short of the overthrow of the United States of America.
Herb Titus and Gary North aren't household names. But Titus has led the legal battle to plant the Ten Commandants in courthouses -- including Georgia's Barrow County. North, an apostle of the creed called Christian Reconstruction, is one of the most influential elders of American fundamentalism.
"I don't want to capture [mainstream Americans'] system. I want to replace it," fumed North to a cheering audience. North has called for the stoning of gays and nonbelievers (rocks are cheap and plentiful, he has observed). Both friends and foes label him "Scary Gary."
Are we in danger of American Taliban? Probably not today. But Alabama's Roy "the Ten Commandments Judge" Moore is one of this congregation. They're the folks behind attacks on science and public education. They're the ones who have tried to convert Air Force cadets -- future pilots with fingers on nuclear triggers -- into religious fanatics. Like the Communists of the 1930s, they exert tremendous stealth political gravity, drawing many sympathizers in their wake, and they now dominate much of the Republican Party.
Hosting the gents was a Powder Springs publishing house, American Vision, whose pontiff is Gary DeMar. The outfit touts the antebellum South as a righteous society -- undoubtedly the reason for the blindingly monochrome audience at the gathering.
The setting was the Georgia Baptist Conference Center, a sprawling expanse of woods and hills near Toccoa. Four decades ago, the Southern Baptist Convention officially declared, "The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work."
Times change. Southern Baptists lust for power and demand the state do their bidding. I guess that explains the church's hosting of theocrats no less rigid and bloodthirsty than Iran's mullahs. The "meek" in Jesus' sermon on the mount, North said, "didn't mean the wimps."
DeMar christened the gathering with invective against science. "Evolution is as religious as Christianity," he said, a claim that certainly must amaze 99.99 percent of the scientific community. Science is irrelevant to these folks. Everything they need to know about the universe and the origin of man is in the first two chapters of Genesis. They know the answer before any question is asked.
DeMar's spin is what he calls a clash of "worldviews." According to DeMar and his speakers, God sanctions only their worldview. And that worldview is a hash of enforcing Old Testament Mosaic law (except when it comes to chowing down on pork barbecue), rewriting American history to endorse theocracy, and explaining politics by the loopy theories of the John Birch Society. (Christian Reconstruction evolved, so to speak, from a radical variation of Calvinism, aka Puritanism, and the Bircher politics of such men as the late Marietta Congressman Larry McDonald.)
For most of the four-day conference, DeMar turned the Bible over to others to thump. North laced his diatribes with conspiracy theories about the Rockefellers and the Trilateral Commission. Titus told of Jesus making a personal appearance in the rafters of his Oregon home.
Despite the facade of religion, the tactics proposed by the men were more Leninist than Christian -- as in their vision to use freedom to destroy the freedom of others, and to turn America into a rigid Ecclesiastical/political straitjacket. When I asked one attendee, for example, what he thought of North, he proffered a sheet of quotations. One 1982 North quote was highlighted: "[W]e must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation ... which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God."
North is best known to Netizens for his prolific auguring that the Y2K computer bug would cause the end of civilization. In the days prior to the advent of this millennium, North urged subscribers to his delusional economic newsletters to go survivalist and prepare for the end. Many did, dumping investments and life savings -- a big oops.
Education earned the most vitriol at the conference. Effusing that the religious right has captured politics and much of the media, North proclaimed, "The only thing [secularists] have still got a grip on is the university system." Academic doctorates, he contended, are a conspiracy fomented by the Rockefeller family. All academic programs (except, he said, engineering) are now dominated by secularists and Darwinists. "Marxists in the English departments!" he ranted. "Close every public school in America!"
A Harvard-bred lawyer whose most famous client is Roy Moore, Titus said the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms) "was designed to go shoot a tyrant." Titus made clear that officials who won't let him impose his religion on you and me qualify as tyrants.
Among his other points: The First Amendment is limited to guaranteeing "the right to criticize the government," but "free expression is not in the Constitution." When I asked him if blasphemy -- castigating religion -- was protected, he shook his head.
Like North, Titus sees public education as decidedly Satanic. Also, welfare. He contended the Founding Fathers -- and Americans today -- owe their "first duties to God. It's not just worship. It's education ... welfare to the poor. Welfare belongs exclusively to God. Why do schools fail? They're trying to do the business of God. Medicaid goes. Education goes. The church gets back to doing what it should do."
That, according to these self-appointed arbiters of God's will, is running our lives. And stoning those who disagree.
Want to be a theocrat? Contact American Vision (800-628-9460, www.americanvision.org). Want to thwart theocracy? Contact Atlanta Freethought Society (www.atlantafreethought.org) or Americans United for Separation of Church and State (www.au.org).
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