The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power
by Jeff Sharlet
First off, anyone who knows me even distantly, surely knows that my politics are on the left of the spectrum. I voted for Obama, knowing he was a universe better than McCain, but still far to the right of my hopes. I also have rejected the belief in God, after a childhood and early adulthood trying in vain to fit into Christianity and keep my conscience intact. So, in my case, this book is preaching to the choir, as it were.
The author has done copious research for this book, which is abundantly footnoted throughout, is organized, and in a readable prose. Sharlet is compassionate towards his subjects, which I admire. I don't know that I could relate to Christian fundamentalists with the same degree of grace which he did. Maybe it's distance. I was raised in that world, in the South, and he's a Jew from New York. My own wife, who's Jewish, is much more tolerant of Christian foibles than I.
My impression of the book is that it merely confirms most of the suspicions I've always had about American fundamentalist Christian belief and its relationship to political power. They are seamlessly intertwined, and it's a conscious thing. During the last election, before the primaries, when it was Hillary, Obama, and a half dozen Republicans, what struck me the most was the similarities between them. They're all Christian. And they use Christian rhetoric in their campaigns. It's impossible to be elected President of the United States if you're not a Christian. Barack Obama and Sarah Palin are at the opposite extremes in terms of sanity and intelligence, but they have a larger unifying commonality: Christianity.
The Family begins with Sharlet's tenure at a house called Ivanwild, which is nothing so much as a Christian frat house. There's even a house for women that they socialize with. It's outside Washington DC, and the residents pray and work for congress members. Christian ones. He also goes back to the Puritanical past, with Jonathan Edwards in colonial New England, through the 19th century, giving an illuminating picture of the role that fundamentalism has played in the United States since its beginning. The current organization called The Family was started in the 1930's as a reaction to labor unions, which reached the height of their power during the Great Depression. The bulk of the book illuminates the role that fundamentalist Christians have played in US history in the 20th century.
Here are my suspicions and beliefs that Sharlet corroborates in The Family:
1. Fundamentalist Christians have infiltrated the military.
2. Christianity is used as a unifying social force in order to maintain a complacent and content populace.
3. Christian leaders are held to a different set of rules than the rest of us. They are above the law.
4. Christianity's goal is consolidation of power, and assimilation of all peoples.
5. Fundamentalists want to dismantle secular, public education.
6. Fundamentalists want to dismantle unions, because they represent power outside of Christ.
7. Fundamentalists parade as populists, using abortion, unions, and gay rights as wedge issues. In reality, however, they are elitists. Working class fundamentalists gladly go along with this fiction. Why? Because it gives them membership in the larger movement.
Read the book. It's very important.
Days 1-3: Roswell, GA. This is where my sister, the author of Right Sides Together, lives. She's got a little garden, and grows a few of these, in addition to peppers, okra, and green beans:
Now, I know that my dear friends and family who live in California might disagree here, but there are no tomatoes that rival the ones grown in a Southern back yard. I had at least one tomato sandwich a day while I was there: white bread, either Colonial, Bunny, or Sunbeam, Duke's mayonnaise, peeled, sliced, tomatoes, and salt. The classic accompaniments are potato chips and iced tea. Some of us include the chips inside the sandwich, which some purists, I would imagine, frown upon.
Sunday at my sister's was rollicking fun. After errands with the niece, (13th birthday weekend) we settled in with a pitcher of margaritas by the pool. Brother-in-law and nephew were buzzing around, riding and maintaining bikes, while we girls did some serious relaxing. Eventually, having switched to wine - 2 white Bordeaux and our fave, François Chidaine Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, from the Loire, we made this red velvet cake for Darling Niece:
and, in its finished state: My sister does not believe in putting herself out over presentation! And, it was delicious.
Remembering that we were hungry, and had all these hungry people around us, we got down to dinner: I made a creamy, garlicky shrimp and pasta concoction to really accentuate the delight of the wine.
Large shrimp, parsley, lemon, garlic, chopped tomatoes, white wine, and heavy cream with linguine. Gilded the lily with Parmesan cheese. We also had corn on the cob. And, birthday cake. Wow.
I had a wonderful time with my sister and her family. They live so far away (or is it me who lives so far away?) that we don't get to do this very often. We watched Grey Gardens together, and played with the kids and pets, sat on the screen porch drinking wine and talking into the night. We went out to lunch, had pedicures, went to the grocery store, and talked about our aging parents. I was sad to leave on Monday morning, but I had to go and see Mom and Dad.
Days 4-6: Chattanooga (Hixson), Tennessee. Mom and Dad mostly go the the doctor these days. Mom still goes to choir practice and the Knitting Guild, and Dad likes to go to the grocery store and recycling center, but that's pretty much what they do. Dad's first request was for me to make some salsa, so I made him some Pico de Gallo with Mary's tomatoes and jalapeños, and Vidalia onions. He's one of those folks who think that cilantro tastes like soap, so I leave it out. Again, about those tomatoes, the juice that ran off them into the bottom of the bowl was a bright red that never happens with other tomatoes. It was an entirely different beast. The salsa was delicious. One of the places we ate was this BBQ stand: Chattanooga has so many places named "Choo Choo," it's not even funny. But the sandwich was great. Pulled pork with a vinegar sauce and coleslaw. We also had onion rings. If I hadn't been with Mom and Dad, I would have drunk a beer with it. It's a bit of a stretch for me to have wine at their table at dinner, much less lunch, so I refrained. Iced tea was the next best thing.
I went with Mom to the Knitting Guild meeting on Wednesday morning. Since I didn't have anything I was currently working on, she gave me a pattern for an afghan square. I keep forgetting how fun it is to knit! I also got to give her a fancy, lacy pattern scarf that I made back in the fall. Understand, I've been resisting knitting all my life. And now, finally, at 45, I'm becoming, not a pro like mom and sis, but a casual knitter. No pics here, unfortunately.
Days 7 & 8: Wandering around Tennessee: Through Facebook, I reconnected with my old college chum, Glenn Merchant, and I went to visit him and his family in Murfreesboro. On the way there, I stopped at Monteagle Winery:
I was sadly disappointed. Now, I didn't have much hope for the wine, as it's way too hot there, and the wine business is just too young there, but I expected them to at least be friendly!!!!! The woman was chilly to say the least, would only answer my questions with a yes or no, and poured a scant teaspoon of each wine into the glass. She may have done me a favor, however, as the finish from the muskedine wine tasted vile and chemical in my mouth as I drove away. They had a chardonnay variety that tasted more like a bad Muscat. Nothing I liked. But the least they could do is be friendly!
A much better, friendlier, and more fun stop was at the Jack Daniel's Distillery in Lynchburg:
This is our guide, Ron, sitting in front of the spring, the source of the water. I felt like I'd made it to the Promised Land!
This is an instance where, I think, a word says a thousand words!
As I said, the tour was great fun. They run them 7 days a week, they're free, last about an hour, and you learn enough about making whiskey, that, if you're like me, you would be sorely tempted to Try This At Home. Of course, the delightful irony here is that Lynchburg is in a dry county, and you can't have a sample, or buy it there. At the end of your tour they give you a glass of lemonade (best damn lemonade I've ever had!). Then, you bust it to the nearest wet county, and have a proper drink! Love the South!
I had a wonderful visit with my friend Glenn, and his family, going out to dinner, and driving around Murfreesboro at night with his son, and wife, Angela, in her cute new car, with the top down. We talked until everyone was yawning, and then parted ways. The next morning, I went to see my old drawing and printmaking professor, Christie Nuell, at MTSU. We had a marvelous visit, with Christie showing me the new facilities. Glenn and Christie are both very influential on my early artistic development, and I hadn't seen either of them for 25 years. Only after I left, did I realize how emotional it was for me.
Day 8, the evening, dinner with Annette and Greg. Annette and I have been friends since we were 12. Yes, 33 years, she and I have been friends. Unfortunately, her schedule didn't allow her to visit until Friday night, before I left on Saturday. We went to dinner at the Southern Star, in Chattanooga. I made the wonderful discovery that French Rosé and Southern food are meant for each other:
This is a Tavel, delicious, with a savory, minerally component. I had it with fried catfish, sweet potato fries, and cheese grits. Their tartar sauce had dill in it, and I can say it's the first I've ever really liked. Again, Southern food, grease, and rosé. Of course, Champagne would have been wonderful with the grits and fish, but the sweet potatoes really worked with Tavel.
And, finally, dessert:
Pecan pie. We devoured it.
And, then, Saturday was spent coming back home. Debby and Jackson picked me up, and it was wonderful to be reunited with both. I'm so happy to be back home! Sitting on the front porch in the dusk with Debby was bliss. And I smiled the whole time at the Farmer's marked this morning, even though the tomatoes aren't quite as magical. It's a small price to pay for living in paradise!
The next morning, the kids came back with the "good" news: The people at the wildlife center said that if the babies were returned within 48 hours, the parents would come back and save them. So, they took the box, and we put it on the roof, closer to the tree. Nothing. No crows. Silence. For about three days. After trying to climb the tree, kicking around crazy ideas about how to get the birds back into the nest, the kids next door gave up, and took them back. They would hand feed them, and return them to the wild when they could fly. "Great," I thought. "They're going to have some great pet crows."
After a couple of days, we got the sad news that one of the birds had disappeared. We were sure a cat had gotten them. There are dozens on the street. Then, when Debby took out the trash one day, sitting on the woodpile, was the missing baby, looking very chipper! For the past few days, there had been much crow noise, and we thought that they were scolding the kids next door. Turns out they were doing that, but also they were feeding and caring for the stranded baby who'd escaped. To make a long story short, the kids next door brought back their crow babies, who were significantly weaker and tamer than the one who'd escaped and been taken care of by its parents for four days.
Now it's been four or five more days, and the racket in the back is pretty much continuous in our crow nursery. Our black cat, Little, is beside himself. He goes out and just looks at them. The crow parents go crazy, and Little just sits, looking at the babies, hanging out. Then, the noise gets too much, and he comes into the house and yowls at us, until we let him out again, and he starts again with the crows. On Sunday morning, I was making coffee, when I heard a male voice, repeating something that I didn't understand until about the fourth repetition: "Shut up!" Wondering what in the hell was going on, I looked out to see one of the college kids, standing in front of the garage, a foot from the babies, looking up at the cawing crows, yelling at them to shut up. It was hilarious. When I poked my head out the back door to wish him good morning, he asked me how long the racket would continue. I guessed it would last until the babies learned to fly, and suggested earplugs. He relented and left.
So, we've got these baby crows, and a cat who loves them more than anything. We've got the biggest ruckus you can imagine, and get to watch the amazing parenting skills of the crows as they feed and protect their stranded young. It's really amazing. Crows will survive. They don't need our help.
I went to The Wine Country for a tasting of Burgundy: Domaine de Montille and Duex Montille. They are two winemakers who are a brother and sister. The brother makes reds, the sister whites. They were lovely. We had a total of 8 wines, and I bought 2. The red, 2006 Domaine de Montille Beaune Premier Cru "Les Perrieres", has a light, transparent ruby color, expansive nose with cherries and roses. It has a good amount of acid, very subtle oak, clear, intense cherry fruit, and will age well for 20+ years. It's delicate and graceful, but intense and powerful at the same time. This isn't a big dark, purple, inky wine. Those are lost on me. I'm thinking that this might be a retirement wine. The white, 2006 Duex-Montille Rully, is Chardonnay-based, its color a pale gold with a slight greenish tint around the edges. There was some sweetness on the nose, as well as some earthy funk. This wine, like many white Burgundies, is richer and fuller than the red. It has light oak, unobtrusive, with flavors of apple, lemon curd, a little cream, and citrus. It will age for at least 10 years. I'll see if I can keep it in my cellar that long.
After the tasting, as we were wandering around the store, the consensus among my wino buddies was that we needed to continue the evening. So, each of us (3) bought a bottle to take back to my house. The empties are shown below:
2008 Chateau Saint Pierre Rosé - Light salmon pink, chalky, mineral, dry with tart fruit. Very good start to the evening.
2006 Duex-Montille Rully - described above. A rich, round white Burgundy.
2007 Fritz Haag Riesling Kabinett. Pale straw in color, with petrol nose, flowers, citrus, and tart acid. Slightly sweet. Rich and Concentrated.
2006 Joh. Jos. Prum Auslese. Pale gold color, petrol again, on the nose with citrus, flowers, spice, and fruit. Sweet. The richest wine of the night. I pulled it out of the cellar when it was clear that we weren't finished after 3 bottles.
I served them with salami, garlic soft cheese, aged Gouda, and crackers. We had a great night, talking about wine, and immersing ourselves in pleasure.
The next morning, Debby and I had a brunch for some people she's working on a project with. We chose an easy menu: Bagels, lox, cream cheese, the garnishes, and scrambled eggs. Here are the two wines:
Left: Villa Granda Veneto Pinot Prosecco Rosa - Dry pink bubbles. Light and simple. Great with lox.
Right: NV Agrapart & Fils 7 Cru, Champagne. Blanc de blanc. Dry, lean, and mineral, with toast. Delicious.
But the day wasn't over! We had a family Seder, and I took two wines, which, unfortunately, I didn't photograph.
1. 2005 Clos du Val Chardonnay, Napa. This style of wine isn't what I like at all, but Debby has an aunt who likes it. She was very happy with it. It was rich and buttery, with pineapple and sweet wood. Too cloying for me, but lots of others seemed to like it.
2. 2006 François Chidaine Le Tuffeaux. Delicious. Off dry, with a pure, focused citrus edged fruit. There's something wild and rustic about it that I love.
3. My brother in law opened a California Chardonnay that surprised me: 2005 Justin. By no stretch of the imagination was it anywhere as good as the Chidaine, but I liked it better than the Clos du Val.
This morning (Sunday), the kids - Jesse, Raul, Louis and Viv, came over, and I made breakfast. We had French toast, bacon, juice, and J. Laurens N.V. Cremant de Limoux Blanc de Blanc. It's a sparkling wine that tastes fairly close to Champagne for about a third the price of a low end bottle. Toasty on the nose, clean fruit, fine mouse.
Now, it's early evening, and time to prepare myself for school. Spring break just ended.
My creative endeavor tonight was:
The vegetable at the top of the plate is purple cauliflower and new potatoes roasted with olive oil and garlic. When it was done, I tossed it with chopped fresh basil and crumbled bacon. Yum.
The meat at the bottom of the plate is a pork chop cooked with sauteed onions and garlic, with saffron.
The wine? Champagne, Baby! Agrapart & Fils N.V. Brut Blanc de Blancs Les 7 Crus. $34.00 at my local wine store.
This is a seriously delicious meal. The moral of the story? Pork and Champagne is a good thing. Also, yes, the economy sucks. Yes, Debby and I are tightening our belts. I, for one, am cutting my own hair, and painting my own fingernails. Because, Champagne is beautiful. And sometimes you have to choose your pleasures.
Bright and early, Vivi-dee stood by the bed, and informed me that the sun was awake. Indeed. So, this Groggy Grandma proceeded to spend the morning assising the making of Valentines:
This was extremely instructive, first of all. I sat there with this child who paints at preschool, and so, is an authority. But, what I saw was this fearlessness about experimentation. She pushed the media. She mixed colors, directed the compositions, and placed things intuitively on the paper. If you look closely at the compositions, they are very fresh. She used techniques that teachers try in vain to get older students to use, like layering of color, use of positive/negative space, activating the entire picture plane, etc. Of course, when she gets older, she'll most likely be like everyone else, and start worrying about doing it right, making mistakes, all the stuff that causes artist blocks. But for now, she's got absolute freedom. The moral of this story? Find a kid who hasn't been to Kindergarten yet, and make art with them. Watch them work. Learn from a master.
This week has been a rollercoaster. I feel like my relationship with my country is one of those dysfunctional ones discussed in an advice column. I'm angry about Rick Warren being given a plum spot in the inauguration. My feelings were smoothed out by interviews with V. Gene Robinson, the gay Episcopal bishop, who urged GLBT's to forgive Obama for his repugnant choice, and get back on the train. I set the DVR to record HBO's "We Are One" program at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday. I caught the tail end of the program on TV last night, and was so elevated by emotion, that I went out and did something I've never done before: I bought an American flag at Debby's request, and we put it up on the front of the house, in joy both at MLK day, and tomorrow's inauguration. Now, this. I get around to watching Gene Robinson's invocation at the beginning of the program, a big reason for my excitement about the whole thing, and it was left off the program. Robinson, the Gay Olive Branch, was left off the broadcast. The inauguration committee said the invocation was the "Pre Broadcast." This is bullshit.
Here's the link to the text of Robinson's invocation:
Now, in my anger, I want nothing to do with this inauguration. But I know how it will go. Obama will show up at my door, contrite and with flowers. He'll apologize, and promise it will never happen again. He'll take me out to dinner. He'll whisper sweet nothings. He'll convince my friends that he really will behave in the future. They'll tell me he's come around, and I'll believe them because I want to believe them. He'll get me to come back. And then, when I'm inconvenient or embarrassing, he'll throw me back under the bus. And it will happen again and again, because dysfunctional though my relationship with him is, he's better than anything I had before.
After this 3 week interlude, we then have 3 more weeks in the fall semester, which ends the first of February. Then, the spring semester runs until the 3rd week of June, with only Spring Vacation and the occasional 3 day weekend interrupting the flow. You would think that this would make for some great uninterrupted instruction, but the reality is that spring is Testing Season. High Stakes testing will completely disrupt classes until the end of May, at which time there will only be about 3 weeks left in the school year.
So, that's my day job. It's important for me to remember that it is simply my day job, which gives me time to make art, and happens to be one of the rare steady paychecks for artists in this culture. And, I'm very aware that, in this economy, it's not only artists who have a hard time hanging on to a job. I'm damn lucky, and I know it.
This year, I made lots of art, and grew a lot. I only participated in 2 group shows, but got one award and a positive review in the Long Beach Press Telegram. I've been percolating an idea for an installation, and will pitch it around to different venues around town.
I've developed a sometimes all-consuming interest in wine in the past year. I've become a regular at a great wine store here in the LB area. Wine is like art. Drinking good stuff is, for me, like looking at a work of art. I can understand the structure of the two things in the same ways, and the beauty of them is compelling for me. Fortunately, for my health, my compulsion to make art, and my modest financial status keep me from going too overboard here.
In 2009, the area of my life that I need to address the most seriously is my health. I've put on a lot of weight in the past 3 years, after having been pretty thin for the first time in my life, between about 2002 and 2005. This is a lifetime struggle for me. I've talked about it before. It's just something I have to deal with.
So, in the last week of my 3 week winter vacation, I'm putting my head together for teaching art history to a great group of kids. I'm taking them to MOCA on the 15th of this month to see the Louise Bourgeois show. It should be a good trip. Once in awhile, as a teacher, you get a class that you just - like. This one is composed of kids who are difficult, strong-willed, physical, intelligent, and clever. And we had a great time at the Getty Center back in October. It was also one of the most tiring trips I've done, because they would not be herded around by a docent. They wanted to look at the art, they wanted to explore the garden, they wanted to come find me and talk to me about what they saw, they wanted to go off and see what other things were in the galleries, and most of all, they wanted more time than we had on that one day. So, this time I'm taking them to a much smaller place with a more focused current exhibition. (But, damn, like Christopher Knight recently commented, it would be wonderful if they also had room for the permanent collection to be on display too!)
I've got 4 months to teach these kids Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Enlightenment, Romanticism, Modernism, 20th century, and Post Modernism, before they get tested on 20,000 years of art history for the Advanced Placement exam. What have I taught them so far? Prehistory, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, Buddhism, Hinduism, India, Japan, China, and how to write an analytical essay on art. I've taught them that museums are wonderful places to go, and that a painting can be more seductive than anything they've ever seen before (actually Titian @ the Getty did that for me). Did I mention that this is actually just my day job? Oh, well. Damn lucky to have an interesting, satisfying, soul-feeding day job.
Debby and I have had a momentous year. We got married. Our middle kid moved back to the LA area after living in the South for several years, I think 6 or 7. Our youngest kid is doing very well in school. He's a sophomore at Humboldt State, up in NorCal, and is thriving up there. Our oldest kid and her husband are dealing with a sick older child and 2 toddlers. They work hard. We help as much as we can.
I have lots of hopes and fears for 2009. I fear the economy will get worse. I fear civil rights will be eroded even more by religion that they were this year. I fear that my (day) job will continue to get more and more difficult as public schools are stretched thinner and thinner, while being mandated to achieve more and more. I fear that Obama will turn out to be just like all the rest of the Presidents we've had.
But, humanity will keep on. I'm a small speck in a big world, and that can actually be liberating. And there's always art.