The other day I had the misfortune of coming across Donnie Swaggart on a channel surf. He is the son of the disgraced, fire and brimstone televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. I never thought anyone could be more horrifying of a preacher than Jimmy, but his son appears to have successfully surpassed his father in being a completely repugnant and hate-filled lunatic. It seems the progeny of televangelists strive to excel at medievalism and vitriol. One look at Franklin Graham should confirm this to almost anyone.
I ran across the blustering extremist Chuck Hagee on another day and had to question my own ears. His sermon sounded more like a war room briefing for Dr. Evil in an Austin Power’s movie. He “educated” his congregation, with the measured cadence of a a traveling snake oil salesman, on Iran’s nefarious plans somehow known only to him. He warned his followers of the perils of not “blessing” the state of Israel even though this smacks of idolatry, a grave sin in his religion. But the camera panned out to his megachurch filled with saucer eyed congregants applauding when he talked about bombing the Islamic Republic in a pre-emtive strike. My skin literally crawled.
The same was true of Donnie Swaggart’s tele-church. Applause and “praise the Lord’s” rang out after each screaming rant against Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, or marriage equality and transgender people, or “abortion” doctors and “lukewarm Christians” and all I could do is feel a deep sense of grief and dread. Is this emblematic of a dying empire? Are they a foreboding sign of the Dark Ages we stand poised to enter given our planetary trajectory towards ecocide and climate chaos? With a bombastic egotist, proud of his racism and misogyny, running for the highest office in the nation against a promoter of military aggression and defender of the corporate plutocracy, could this portend a dystopic landscape in the not too distant future?
As the Mayan civilization died their leaders became even more fevered in their bloodlust for scapegoats. Human sacrifice was amplified to frantically stave off the ravages of crop failure and drought. Life in the cities became a living hell for many. And in ancient Rome the plutocracy became more obsessed with bread and circuses to distract demoralized masses from their misery as they feasted on whatever remained in their dying empire. The megacity of the 21st century appears to be setting itself up for similar horrors but on a global scale, with those on the margins of empire suffering the greatest and most immediate pain. And in the midst of this I see preachers like Swaggart, Graham and Hagee gleefully celebrating apocalypse and ushering in a new era of “Inquisition” where anyone “otherized” is fair game for scapegoating. It would be unfair and inaccurate to paint all evangelicals with a broad brush, but it is a fair conclusion that after each coming drought or flood certain zealots, like the aforementioned televangelists, will jump up to point a finger of blame at the refugee, or those who oppose war, or the gender non-conforming person, or the immigrant, or the socialist, or the woman wearing a hijab. This is not so far fetched a scenario when one considers that one front runner in US Presidential elections spews racist xenophobia to cheering crowds and a sycophantic media, and the other has a long history of warmongering and reactionary policies.
Americans have a remarkable capacity to think theirs is a society that is exceptional even with mountains of history to demonstrate otherwise. And they have been fed a steady diet of pablum to sate any thirst or longing for knowledge about the world in which they are a part of. Consumerism is the real religion of America, and it is the greatest threat to all life on the planet. How, then, will they react when their world begins to disintegrate in this new epoch of ecocide and the Anthropocene? When climate change becomes the unbearable reality? When the infrastructure that is taken for granted begins to fail? History has dark lessons to teach us on how that might very well look. If allowed, those who peddle fear and those who revel in authoritarianism will marry each other at the first winds of peril.
And with daily reports of temperature records being broken, drought and crop failure expanding, the oceans dying and fresh water waning, I cannot help but fear that those winds are beginning to blow in earnest. If they are, God help us all.
Kenn Orphan 2016