The current Harpers features an article by Jeff Sharlet, "Through a Glass, Darkly: How the Christian right is reimagining U.S. history." The article is interesting in the way it historicizes contemporary fundamentalism. Sharlet rightly points out its recurrence in American history. We might say that the struggle over religion is one of the organizing struggles of American life, intertwined with struggles over race (with some Christians leading the abolition movement even as others attempted biblically to ground their authority over their slaves). Sharlett notes as well that the thirties were the least religious decade--we might consider the rise of the welfare state in this context. The article begins:
We keep trying to explain away American fundamentalism. Those of us not engaged personally or emotionally in the biggest political and cultural movement of our times--those on the sidelines of history--keep trying to come up with theories with which to discredit the evident allure of this punishing yet oddly comforting idea of a deity, this strange god. His invisible hand is everywhere, say His citizen-theologians, caressing and fixing every outcome: Little League games, job searches, test scores, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, the success or failure of terrorist attacks (also known as 'signs'), victory or defeat in battle, the ballot box, in bed.
We don't like to consider the possibility that they are not newcomers to power but returnees, that the revivals sweeping American with generational regularity since its inception are not flare-ups but the natural temperature of the nation. We can't coneive of the possibility that the dupes, the saps, the fools--the believers--have been with us from the very beginning, that their story about what America once was and should be seems to some great portion of the population more compelling, more just, and more beautiful than the perfunctory processes of secular democracy.
In the context of a criticism of efforts to 'explain away' fundamentalism in terms of class envy or the desire for a father figure, Sharlett writes:
The old theories have failed. The new Christ, fifty years ago no more than a corollary to American power, twenty-five years ago at its vanguard, is now at the very center. His followers are not anxiously awaiting his return at the Rapture; he's here right now. They're not envious of the middle class; they are the middle class. They're not looking for a hero to lead them; they're building biblical households, every man endowed with 'headship' over his own family. They don't silence sex; the promise sacred sex to those who couple properly--orgasms more intense for young Christians who wait than those experienced by secular lovers.
Readers of I Cite with Lacanian or Zizekian inclinations might start to get a little excited at this point. For, it seems that Shalit has provided us with an interesting clue regarding the current link between neoliberal capitalism and Christian fundamentalism, namely, enjoyment. Rather than preaching abnegation or renunciation (and structuring enjoyment sacrificially as worked in the good old days of the Protestant work ethic), Christian fundamentalism today commands enjoyment. In a way, it out does the superego injunction to enjoy linked to consumerism by urging and extra intensity that doesn't conflict with the market but amplifies it. Perhaps it makes sense to say that Christian fundamentalism channels (brands?) market enjoyment into the whole fundamentalist way of life--Christian bookstores, music, movies, scrapbooking accessories, seminars, radio, etc.
Shalit writes (in a way that suggests he's read The Time that Remains):
Intensity! That's what one finds within the ranks of the American believers.'This thing is real!' declare our nation's pastors. It's all coming together: the sacred and the profane, God's time and straight time, what theologians and graduates of the new fundamentalist prep schools might call 'kairos' and 'chronos', the mystical and the mundane. American fundamentalism--not a political party, not a denomination, not a uniform theology, but a manifold movement--is moving in every direction all at once, claiming the earth for God's kingdom, 'in the world but not of it' and yet just loving it death anyway.
Loving it to death. Amen.