Juan Cole has a good opinion piece on the Salon about the American fundamentalism. It begins with:
It isn't just Michael Schiavo -- even George W. Bush has drawn the wrath of American evangelicals. In February 2002, the president and Laura Bush visited a Shinto shrine in Japan, to which they showed respect with a bow. They were immediately denounced by evangelical organizations for having "worshipped the idol." To listen to the anguished cries of disbelief from Bush's Christian base, you would have thought he had met the same fate as Harrison Ford in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," where Indie was hypnotized by the evil rajah into worshipping the pernicious Hindu idol of the thugees.
The reason for the evangelicals' frenzy is the first two commandments of the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments), said to have been given to Moses on Mount Sinai by God. The first says, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." The second says, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God..." George and Laura's respectful nod to the spirits in the Meiji Shrine violated those precepts in the eyes of true believers.
Cole then goes on to discuss the question whether the United States is a Christian state or not, and points out that the number of people regarding themselves as Christians is falling while the numbers of those of other religions or none are rising. Still, Christianity is by far the most common religion in this country.
Does this explain why the country is currently being governed by a small but vociferous number of fundamentalists? For despite all appearances to the contrary, the numbers of religious extremists are still quite low:
Both the reelection of George Bush and the Schiavo travesty have heightened the sense that the religious right in the United States is all-powerful. Reading the press, you get the impression that almost all Americans are devout Christians, people who believe in a literal heaven and hell and spend their idle moments devouring the "Left Behind" novels about the end of the world. This isn't true -- and it's getting less true all the time. While evangelical Christians are a significant political force, they are probably only a fifth of the country, and not all of them are politically conservative: Only 14 percent of voters in an exit poll for the presidential elections in 2000 characterized themselves as part of the "Christian right."
If the fourteen-percent figure expresses the true size of the fundamentalist voting block how did it manage to overtake the most powerful country in the world? And what do the other Christians think about this? Even if the higher figure Cole cited is correct it is still puzzling how the takeover came to be. I believe that it has something to do with the truly sick marriage between Big Money and Fervent Faith (truly sick, because of the offspring of such couplings produce in new laws). The corporate Republicans needed the votes of the fundamentalists and thought that they could handle them by throwing them bits and pieces of meat (women's rights, anti-evolution school curricula)when they got too hungry, while all the time making sure that they were not overfed in order to guarantee their continuous attendance at the polls. It's a tricky act and one that seems to have gone seriously wrong. I wonder if the money-Republicans ever have sleepless nights over what they have done to this country?
Whatever the explanation of our impending transformation into a theocracy, the truth is that religious fanatics are still a minority in the United States. But you would not assume so by watching the political television shows or news programs. There was a time when certain personalities on the fringes were viewed with embarrassment by even other Republicans, and this time was not that long ago. Today these same personalities have their own mainstream television shows.
Fundamentalists are important for George Bush, of course. He needed their votes to get elected, even if the elections were not otherwise completely fair. And George Bush is important for the fundamentalists. He is their golden boy, the "ethical" president, the one who thinks like they do. I remember a television program about the household of one fundamentalist family. The walls had a picture of Jesus, a picture of George Bush and a stuffed moosehead. A trinity of a kind, perhaps. Though the moosehead and the picture of George seem to violate the Second Commandment.