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  • Creepy Christianity and September 111
  • Toby Miller (bio)

I begin with a quotation about the United States in 2004:

[H]airy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong's moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us...

Is this the irritated rant of an urban hipster, mercilessly mocking those beyond the world of downtown lofts and polymorphous pleasure; words dropped from a laptop while hurtling across the so-called fly-over states? No. The quotation comes from a true son of the Midwest, Garrison Keillor (2004). One must ponder hard a nation where the vast majority attests to the existence of a devil and individuated angels; 45% of people think aliens have visited Earth; three times more people think there are ghosts than was the case a quarter of a century ago; and 84% say there is posthumous survival of the soul, up 24% on 1972 (Hutton, 2003a; Mann 2003: 103; Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2004; Gallup, 2002-03; O'Connor 2005: 8).

The population's embrace of such beliefs places it alone among nations with advanced economies and educational systems. Ninety-six per cent of citizens believe in a higher power, and 59% state that religion is crucial to their life. This is more than twice the proportion for Japan, South Korea, Western Europe, and the former Soviet bloc (Luhrmann 2004: 520; Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 2002). Seventy-nine per cent of US citizens identify as Christian, with 41% converts to fundamentalist evangelism, and 18% aligned with the religious right. Evangelicals speak of an almost physical transformation, from a faith based in ideas to something that resembles transubstantiation—a trance-like condition of intimacy (Newport and Carroll, 2003; Luhrmann, 2004).

This is not quite what social science predicted—neither right-wing modernization theory nor Marxist developmentalism. And for many [End Page 118] people, a trend in the direction of faith is regarded as a sign of spiritual renewal and even moral superiority. This religious turn dates from President Jimmy Carter's decision to roll back special privileges accorded to Christian academies that exempted them from Federal taxes. The end to that outrageous subsidy pushed creepy Christians into the political domain (Rieder 2003: 30). And since Richard Nixon had scored zero on political morality, post-Watergate Republicans proceeded to stress personal morality, targeting the left and social movements in areas of symbolic power. Campaigns for civil rights, feminism, and gay liberation provoked a counter-offensive by fundamentalists (anti-obscenity and anti-abortion) nationalists (anti-flag-burners and English-Only advocates) and political conservatives (anti-affirmative action and anti-civil rights) (Schmidt, 2000). Time-series analysis demonstrates that the last three decades have seen activist Democrats become more secular and modern, and activist Republicans more religious and anti-modern. Since 1972 and George McGovern's candidacy for the Presidency, through quasi-evangelical presidents in Carter and Bill Clinton, Democratic partisans have favored abortion, queer rights, and women's issues, and Republicans have been vehemently opposed, from the moment they ably alliterated McGovern's Democrats as the party of "Acid, Amnesty, and Abortion" (quoted in Rieder 2003: 23). Migrating "southward down the Twisting Tail of Rhetoric," Republicans focused on "the misty-eyed flag-waving of Ronald Reagan who, while George McGovern flew bombers in World War II, took a pass and made training films in Long Beach" (Keillor, 2004).

But it would be wrong to regard this as an organic movement from the ground up. Corporations were major supporters of right-wing think tanks from the 1970s, as complaints from the magazine Commentary and other periodicals about a left élite in and around government grew in appeal. Coors brewers, the Scaife family, and the Hearst Foundation funded anti-arts groups, and "Defund the Left" appeared on the letterhead of the Republican Conservative Caucus. These reactionary forces believed that progressive politics was using public money to challenge conventional...


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