Thursday, February 09, 2006

Meet Sam Brownback

Or the impression of him that Jeff Sharlet gives in his Rolling Stones article of this influential fundamentalist politician. Reading through the article made me nauseous and scared and shocked, and then I decided that Sharlet was probably exaggerating. But I don't know. A Catholic website has given a few criticisms of the piece, but on the whole I haven't found any major rebuttals.

This suggests that the article might be mostly not unrepresentative of Sam Brownback. Which would make him the equivalent of Taliban's mullah Omar or the now-dead Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran: a religious revolutionary. Whether this is true I don't know, but Brownback is certainly no feminist:

Now, Brownback seeks something far more radical: not faith-based politics but faith in place of politics. In his dream America, the one he believes both the Bible and the Constitution promise, the state will simply wither away. In its place will be a country so suffused with God and the free market that the social fabric of the last hundred years -- schools, Social Security, welfare -- will be privatized or simply done away with. There will be no abortions; sex will be confined to heterosexual marriage. Men will lead families, mothers will tend children, and big business and the church will take care of all.

The Catholic website criticizing the article, TheFactIs, argues that none of this can be attributed to Brownback, that it is simply the author's own opinion. Perhaps. But if this turns out to be genuine Brownback, after all, I'd like to point out that in that case he wants to establish a weird hybrid of the jungle and Talibanism in this country.

He is running for president because murder is always on his mind: the abortion of what he considers fetal citizens. He speaks often and admiringly of John Brown, the abolitionist who massacred five pro-slavery settlers just north of the farm where Brownback grew up. Brown wanted to free the slaves; Brownback wants to free fetuses. He loves each and every one of them. "Just . . . sacred," he says. In January, during the confirmation of Samuel Alito for a seat on the Supreme Court, Brownback compared Roe v. Wade to the now disgraced rulings that once upheld segregation.

Fetuses are sacred. Take note of that. Sacredness is a religious concept. So is Opus Dei, the ultra-conservative movement that was Brownback's avenue into the Catholic faith.

And here is how Brownback spends his time when he visits his home in Topeka where Mary, his wife, and their children live while Brownback works in Washington, D.C., to bring Christ to the government:

On Sundays, Brownback rises at dawn so he can catch a Catholic Mass before meeting Mary and the kids at Topeka Bible Church. With the exception of one brown-skinned man, the congregation is entirely white. The stage looks like a rec room in a suburban basement: wall-to-wall carpet, wood paneling, a few haphazard ferns and a couple of electric guitars lying around. This morning, the church welcomes a guest preacher from Promise Keepers, a men's group, by performing a skit about golf and fatherhood. From his preferred seat in the balcony, Brownback chuckles when he's supposed to, sings every song, nods seriously when the preacher warns against "Judaizers" who would "poison" the New Testament.

Promise Keepers don't allow women as members. One of their basic tenets is male dominance in families.

Brownback was placed in a weekly prayer cell by "the shadow Billy Graham" -- Doug Coe, Vereide's successor as head of the Fellowship. The group was all male and all Republican. It was a "safe relationship," Brownback says. Conversation tended toward the personal. Brownback and the other men revealed the most intimate details of their desires, failings, ambitions. They talked about lust, anger and infidelities, the more shameful the better -- since the goal was to break one's own will. The abolition of self; to become nothing but a vessel so that one could be used by God.

They were striving, ultimately, for what Coe calls "Jesus plus nothing" -- a government led by Christ's will alone. In the future envisioned by Coe, everything -- sex and taxes, war and the price of oil -- will be decided upon not according to democracy or the church or even Scripture. The Bible itself is for the masses; in the Fellowship, Christ reveals a higher set of commands to the anointed few. It's a good old boy's club blessed by God. Brownback even lived with other cell members in a million-dollar, red-brick former convent at 133 C Street that was subsidized and operated by the Fellowship. Monthly rent was $600 per man -- enough of a deal by Hill standards that some said it bordered on an ethical violation, but no charges were ever brought.

The group was all male and all Republican. Hmm. I wonder what on earth they might have talked about?

This stuff worries me. Both the implied plans to subjugate women anew, the all-male centers of secret power and the stench of Margaret Atwood's Gilead in all of this.

But it could be that the article paints an exaggerated picture of Brownback. Could be. So far I haven't found that giving the wingnuts the benefit of doubt is very useful.

While looking for material on Sharlet's piece I found out that what aroused most comment was this part of the original article:

He has worldly proof, too. "You look at the social impact of the countries that have engaged in homosexual marriage." He shakes his head in sorrow, thinking of Sweden, which Christian conservatives believe has been made by "social engineering" into an outer ring of hell. "You'll know 'em by their fruits," Brownback says. He pauses, and an awkward silence fills the room. He was citing scripture -- Matthew 7:16 -- but he just called gay Swedes "fruits."

Well, he didn't, not really. What I think he said was that the Swedish society, its high standard of living, its high-quality public education and its low crime rates are all fruits of their acceptance of homosexuality, and that we shouldn't follow on that dangerous path. Instead, we should build a Taliban-like society in which women stay in the kitchen and in which men meet in small cells to talk religion, politics and self-flagellation.