Sarah Palin, Warrior Princess for God
Sarah Palin, Warrior Princess for God
by Marlene Winell, Ph.D.
(written mid-August, 2008, in the lead-up to the presidential election)
Palin is on a mission from God and she’s fighting a spiritual war. While that may sound extreme, it is exactly the mindset she has. It fits the bible-believing fundamentalist/evangelical subculture she is part of and it fits her language and behavior. Most people who have not been a “born-again” true believer do not realize what all of this really means. But the idea of Palin serving in high office is alarming to many former believers. Having been there myself, including an upbringing in the Assemblies of God Church, I will try to connect the dots and explain why this is serious.
The problem is not Palin’s attitude on specific issues like same-sex marriage, abortion, censorship, war, or even global warming, serious as these are. Nor is it about peculiar beliefs on creation, dinosaurs, God’s intervention on a gas pipeline, or Jesus coming back.
The problem is her mindset as a whole and her identity within that. A fundamentalist or evangelical believes the Bible is the literal word of God. Everything else flows from that. True believers view the world differently. They live in a different reality-one that is dangerous to humankind and Planet Earth.
The danger of the mindset for holding high office involves 1) Considering this world to be temporary, subject to God’s timeline from creation to cataclysmic end, 2) Believing in a spiritual reality that supercedes the physical one, and which is dictated by the terms of their religion, 3) Believing “true Christians” are called to leadership on earth in the meantime, to rule according to God’s will, and not human understanding, 4) Having beliefs that distort decision-making, morality, and priorities.
With a true believer at the helm of our country, we would have a person who is waiting to leave this physical realm to that alternate universe of eternal heaven. Meanwhile she would be keeping things tidy as one would manage a hotel room – not taking care of the serious business of foreign policy, famine, epidemic health hazards, nuclear threat, and environmental catastrophes, especially global warming. Sarah Palin isn’t worried about the polar bears. I know this attitude because we sang the song in church many times: “This world is not my home; I’m just a passin’ through.” I would bet any amount of money Palin knows this tune.
This is not about lacking respect for Sarah Palin’s religion. Having been there myself and treasuring it while it lasted, I know that this is a total conflict of interest. This religion simply does not mix with true investment in the ordinary affairs of humans on earth. You cannot straddle two worlds and do justice to either. Jesus said quite clearly, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (John 2:15). He also said many times to leave everything, take up your cross, and follow him – to a kingdom that is not of this world. So I would ask Sarah Palin – “Do you believe the words of Jesus? Do you love Jesus?” And with compassion, I would firmly say, “Then you have to choose.” As far as respecting your sincere faith, we, the people of the United States, have no interest in challenging it, only preventing the impact of your faith on us.
The reality of Palin’s religion
The media has remarked that when it comes to her faith, Palin has been “opaque.” They have said it’s hard to tell how much influence her religious beliefs would have on her governing. They have not asked direct, hard questions about her religion, perhaps because it seems too personal or they are trying to respect a separation of church and state. But the truth is, the impact of this particular religion would be huge and we need to recognize it. In my view, asking whether her beliefs will influence her governing is like asking a person in a car whether it will affect how they will travel.
Her religion matters to us because it matters to her. It’s not too personal when a leader is most of all concerned with enacting the will of God and claims to have direct access to God. Journalists need to ask Palin if she believes the Bible is the word of God, because all else follows.
Palin claims not to be Pentecostal any more but still goes to bible-believing evangelical churches and has active ties to the Wasilla Assembly of God Church. Their “non-negotiable tenets of faith” can be seen on their website and should be required viewing for every voter (http://wasillaag.org/index.php?s=au&nid=3734). We’ve heard about her belief in creationism and Jesus’ return, and seen her denial of human cause in global warming. She has not denied any of the fundamental beliefs that define evangelical Christianity.
(For the purpose of this paper, I will use the terms fundamentalist, evangelical, Bible-believing or born-again Christians, and true believer interchangeably because they are all Bible literalists who believe in exclusive salvation through the death of Christ and other basic tenets. Some evangelicals do not think every word of the Bible is without error but they do agree it is the inspired Word of God. Pentecostals, or charismatics, are also literal Bible-believers but with an added feature - see below).
In video clips of Palin, we have seen her mindset in clear display, including aspects of pentecostalism (http://newsproject.org/videos/134). In June, she addressed a graduating group of missionaries called the “Masters Commission” with language about prayer, spirit, and prophecy that was in line with her context – the Assemblies of God Church in Wasilla, where she grew up and attended until a few years ago. She asked the graduates to pray for things in the way that fundamentalists address God and ask him to intervene in human affairs – in this case praying for a gas pipeline and for the troops in Iraq who are doing a task from God.
She also added that they needed to have their hearts right or it wouldn’t work. She exhorted them to spread the spirit of prophecy in Alaska. She accepted the “laying on of hands” from her pastor as a blessing for her governorship, which he considered her call from God. She also allowed a minister to pray over her to protect her from witchcraft. These would not be acceptable actions to someone not immersed in this paradigm.
The pattern is clear enough to make this overall mindset worth examining in terms of Palin’s ability to govern. Sarah Palin is a fundamentalist/evangelical Christian, so we need to understand the belief system. There is a good reason Palin avoids discussion of her religion. Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians know that many of their views are contrary to those held by the majority of Americans, including mainline, moderate Christians. It behooves them to keep their beliefs under wraps while running for public office so that when they win, they can officially enact “God’s will.” This strategy of staying under the mainstream radar has worked for the Religious Right for gaining influence on school boards, textbook adoption groups, commissions, and leadership positions on local, state, and national levels. The temporary deception is considered okay because it is done in service of God’s will, and God is above human law and government.
“Palin owes her career to the grassroots stealth strategy that the Religious Right adopted in the 1990s,” says Michelle Goldberg, an expert on the rise of Christian Nationalism. Goldberg visited Wasilla and found Palin to be a pure product of the movement, an “unparalleled triumph.” A former organizer on the religious right, Frank Shaeffer, points out the potency of being a true believer. Convinced of being on a mission from God, a candidate is energized and will do whatever it takes, including deception and lies. Connections have been made between Palin’s pastors and churches and extreme groups like the Third Wave movement determined to take over the U.S. government (http://www.alternet.org/story/97939/). However, her evangelical identity is enough of a concern.
There is little doubt that Sarah Palin considers herself called by God to lead America. She asked her former pastor for examples of biblical people who were great leaders and what was the secret of their leadership. The pastor suggested she re-read the story of Queen Esther, the Jewish woman who rose to be queen of Persia and help her people. (Esther also ruthlessly slaughtered her enemies). And now the fundamentalist/evangelical community is calling Palin a modern-day Queen Esther, miraculously provided by God to save America.
Palin speaks with the absolute conviction of her cause, which is highly valued in this subculture of Christianity. Her language and aggressive style fit the profile of the true believer. While she strikes some listeners as mean-spirited, it makes sense if one is waging a battle of good and evil. The gloves come off and all is fair game. Everything about Palin makes sense as a package, and this is what we need to be concerned about. Sarah Palin, a princess with God her father and King, is a warrior and on a mission. She is “Sarah, Warrior Princess for God.”
Why this matters so much
To be a true Bible-believing fundamentalist or evangelical Christian, this defines everything about you, except the most trivial matters (like what flavor ice-cream you prefer). The worldview is so encompassing, authoritarian, and powerful that it defines who you think you are, the way you view the world, history, other people, the future, and your place in the world. It defines reality by dictating that your purpose for existence is to follow God’s plan for your life.
It also colors and controls the way you see everything with mechanisms of immense power. Children are indoctrinated when they are too young to know they are receiving the memes of this cultural transmission, and believers are held in place by an underlying fear. After all, evangelical Christianity threatens hell-fire. Believers are submerged in a self-perpetuating and self-replicating system that is impossible to see out of if you truly believe the basic tenets of the religion. You are like a fish, swimming in your own reality, albeit shared with other fish.
Considering Sarah Palin, her identity is the important thing – not her attitudes on certain topics. A true believer is first and foremost just that, and the loyalty is clear. If she means it when she claims to have an evangelical faith, this identity is much more important than being a mother, wife, governor, woman, or vice-president. Just as a fish will behave as a fish would in a world of water and do the things that are required of that identity (or not be a fish), Sarah Palin is bound to behave as an evangelical would in the rarified world of evangelical Christianity, or simply not be an evangelical. In other words, she has no choice, except to give up her faith. And that isn’t going to happen.
Why am I saying this so strongly? Well, I’ve been there and I know what this is like. You cannot go against any key component of the religion without betraying all. Theologically, this is a package deal. You cannot believe one part of the Bible and not another, because the entire book is considered straight from God, every word. If you believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection, you must believe in a six-day creation, Noah’s ark, and the coming of the Anti-christ. You cannot pick and choose which teachings you like or which moral guidelines you agree with. Otherwise, the house of cards comes down, you betray the entire Christian community, and you lose your salvation.
I can tell you and many thousands of ex-believers can tell you that this is tremendous emotional and cognitive pressure. When you are conflicted as you navigate a complex situation, this pressure will always push you into aligning with what fits your religious worldview. You have no choice.
"To understand Sarah Palin, you have to realize that she is a religious fundamentalist," said Howard Bess, a retired liberal Baptist minister living in a town near Wasilla. "The structure of her understanding of life is no different from a Muslim fundamentalist." This is who she is, not just what she believes. People in this country have questioned whether a devout Muslim should hold office since their first allegiance would be to their religious code and not U.S. law. However, a Christian fundamentalist would be the same.
Sarah Palin’s identity as true Bible-believing fundamentalist/evangelical Christian is exactly the most thrilling thing to the Religious Right. They don’t need any more information. For them, the facts that matter to the rest of us make no difference, ie, her lack of experience and knowledge. Her qualification is simply one thing – she is a true believer who has been called by God and God will guide her. This one idea has enough symbolic power to sweep away any rational discussion of her governing abilities. On Christian websites, Palin is being compared to Queen Esther of the Old Testament, saving a nation in trouble. The excitement is tremendous, based entirely on a perception of her, a symbol complete with meaning because it fits the meme complex of the fundamentalist religion. For these voters, nothing else matters, just as the evangelical supporters of Bush voted for him because he said he was a born-again Christian. They approved the label, and according to surveys, knew very little about his policies; it didn’t matter.
With Palin, the unthinking symbolism is even more powerful because she gives plenty of evidence of being the real thing. She speaks with absolute certainty because she sincerely believes in her own cause – the “cause of Christ.” “Nothing instills conviction like believing you're on a mission from God. If you're going to fool others, you have to fool yourself,” says a former evangelical organizer. Palin is not simply using the evangelical voting block like McCain to win an election. Palin wants to restore America to its “Christian heritage.” demonstrated by actions she took in Alaska. This myth of Christian roots is another matter of symbolic importance to millions of voters and dismissive of the facts.
So we have a huge population in the U.S., around 70 million, of literal bible-believers who potentially care very little about Palin’s real qualifications to govern. “The most humble Christian is more qualified for office than the best-educated pagan,” said Gary Cass of Reclaiming America for Christ, the political machine that brought four million new evangelical voters to the polls in 2004 and put Bush back in the White House.
There are signs of Palin’s success as a symbol. On an evangelical website, we read the breathless hope of this subculture that feels persecuted in today’s world of moral decay: “Could it be that someday Sarah Palin could be the president of the United States? Is she, like the ancient Queen Esther, destined to be the matriarch of her people? As was the case with Esther, is it the same with Sarah? Has she been lifted up for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14). . . This God-fearing woman, who many voters believe is an answer to their prayers, has special needs. Her husband and average American family have been advanced into a modern-day David-meets-Goliath scenario. This diamond in the rough appears wired to answer the gigantic call, and if she has been lifted up for such a turbulent time as this, then bipartisan prayer is the call of this all-important hour.”
With characteristic fear, the author cites the dangers in the world, - terrorism, financial disaster, natural cataclysms, and threats from Iran and Russia (all signs of the “end times”). From this mindset, the answer is always spiritual and biblical, not human or rational. The author, Bill Salus, goes on to quote 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
The human role here is sin and guilt for the problems, and the solution is for God to use a person of his choosing. Salus continues, “when America woke up to the invigorating news that Sarah Palin was on the Republican ticket. . .Christians began rejoicing – the resounding voice of one nation under God with liberty and justice for all” and called for a prayer: “Heavenly Father, we know according to Daniel 2:21 that it is You that changes the times and seasons, and furthermore, the One who establishes our leaders. We lift up Sarah Palin and her family to You for love, guidance and protection during these troublesome times. We ask that You would hear our pleadings in heaven, forgive us our sins, and bless our nation, that we could again resemble America the beautiful, a bountiful land of opportunity. If it is You that has lifted Sarah up to encourage and restore us at such a time as this, then Thy will be known, and done, on earth, and in America, as it is in heaven.”
Another Christian writer put it more strongly: "Sarah is that standard God has raised up to stop the flood. She has the anointing ... I now have that same sense about Sarah Palin (to have an important end-time role). . . Only God knows the future and how she may be used by Him, but may this noble woman serve to bring renewal in the land, and inspiration.”
(However, fundamentalists forget that God is never mentioned in the Book of Esther, ie, God never sent Esther, nor did Esther ever say her belief in God helped her defeat her enemies, whom she slaughtered).
Clearly, evangelical voters also need hope. Why not Obama? Because it has to be hope that fits their paradigm. The world is frightening and the religion offers easy solutions. Also, evangelicals are indoctrinated to fear anything outside the belief system. Even good things are suspect because they can be a deception of Satan (II Corinthians 11:13-15). An email circulating in the evangelical community implies an evil cause for Obama’s popularity: “an invisible factor may be a strong spiritual force behind him, causing some people to actually swoon in his presence...”
The belief system and how it would affect governing
Creation to Armageddon: God in control
In the fundamentalist/evangelical worldview of the Assemblies of God and other churches, this world is temporary and subject to God. His all-powerful decisions and actions are what count, and we are subject to his timeline. Christian believers are saved and nonbeliever’s are damned. The faithful are only remaining on earth to help fulfill God’s plan. This world will eventually burn (2 Peter 3:10); lifetime is but a blink of an eye in the eternal scheme of things.
God created the earth in six days just six thousand years ago. Adam and Eve disobeyed in the Garden of Eden and since then, all humans are born sinful. Satan is a creature who fell from heaven and rules the earth, which is fallen. Because of Original Sin, even “good” people are still evil and doomed to eternal damnation unless they, “accept Jesus as their personal savior,” and be “washed in his blood.” They must believe Jesus died on the cross for their sins and God demands a blood atonement in order to forgive (John 3:16).
Palin’s true belief in this salvation story and the Bible stories like Creation will certainly affect the way she considers people and policy. Faith-based initiatives would be favored and Bible teachings pushed in schools. She is already involved in getting Intelligent Design taught in Alaska, and she has hired Christian employees.
In this framework, all of history is a part of God’s plan, set on a timeline leading up to the final Judgment Day. Before that final event, there will be a Rapture where all believers, alive and dead, will be caught up in the air with Jesus and go to live with him forever. The Anti-Christ will rule on earth for a terrible period called the Tribulation until Jesus returns to earth (the Second Coming), as a conquering king with his armies. He will defeat all the forces of Satan in the Battle of Armageddon and set up a 1000-year theocratic rule called the Millennium. Then the final Judgment will determine human destinies for Heaven or Hell, and Satan will be bound in hell for eternity.
These are all considered to be literal parts of God’s plan and so believers are very concerned about the “end times.” There are presumed signs of the end to watch for, including events of our day like war, climate change, and natural disasters. Jesus said he was coming soon and the Bible has many dire warnings. People have expected his imminent return for over 2000 years. (see www.raptureready.com for a current version.
This includes Sarah Palin. A resident of Alaska, Philip Munger, described his encounter with her when she was on Wasilla’s Planning Commission in 1997. She said she fully believed the signs of Jesus returning soon “during MY lifetime,” were obvious. “I can see that, maybe you can’t – but it guides me every day.”
We need to think about how serious it is for Palin to say that. She would agree with fundamentalists that our entire world is headed for an apocalyptic end. As such, global warming is not a crisis, along with other environmental challenges, because it will all be over soon. In fact, believers consider it heresy and arrogance to think that “man” is controlling the destiny of the earth with carbon emissions. True believers look forward to the theocratic reign of Jesus on earth, when he will solve everything. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Everything is ultimately in God’s hands; therefore humans cannot be responsible for climate change. God will create a “new heaven and a new earth” (2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1).
If Sarah Palin believes this, and she does if she is an evangelical Christian as she claims, then she cannot be seriously committed to long-term earthly responsibilities. All of her dealings will be filtered through this belief in the End Times. Fundamentalist writers have produced best sellers that have linked Biblical prophecy to current events and identified modern countries that they claim will play a part. I would be very surprised if Palin has not read, The Late Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsay.
Russia is assumed to be on the side of evil, as well as any Communist nation. Conflict in the Middle East is expected and practically welcomed. Iraq is said to be the site of the Garden of Eden and Baghdad is Babylon, a name in Revelation synonymous with Satan. It’s no surprise that Palin called the war there a task of God; she’s not the only one who thinks the troops are battling evil. Christian missionaries have moved in to evangelize, taking advantage of the “freedom.” Now Iran is said to be a major player in the End Times scenario, so fundamentalists have no problem with expecting our next war there.
A widespread belief among evangelicals is that Israel will play a major part in the End Times because the Bible says the Jews will regain all of their promised land and the temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem before Christ returns. Christian Zionists point to 1948, when the nation of Israel was established, as the beginning of the End. Sarah Palin is a strong supporter of Israel, stating that we should not second guess what Israel needs to do to defend itself.
A true believer in high office in the U.S. would always be alert to identify the people and places and events that are figuring into the final battle of good and evil. Relationships with other world leaders would always have this background as a framework, causing an obvious limitation on global cooperation. In fact, part of the End Times prophecy involves global unity, which is a bad thing because the Anti-Christ will rule and eliminate religious freedom. So many fundamentalists oppose the U.N., and are suspicious of international treaties and organizations. They agree that the U.S., which is obviously on God’s side, should not be hampered with such things as arms agreements or the International Criminal Court because we need to be free to mete out justice.
Another prophecy of the End Times has to do with the gospel reaching every nation of the world. Hence, churches are working very hard on bringing this about, and opposing any threat to their freedom of movement. One of the objections raised about cutting carbon emissions, was that it would interfere with the evangelism goals of the church.
During Reagan’s presidency, James Watt, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and an evangelical, famously said that the environment was not that important because the earth was going to burn. Palin does not consider global warming to be man-made. With an attitude that is so anti-science, how can she possibly lead in finding solutions? Right now we have major crises to cope with and we cannot have someone in office who simply considers war and global warming to be hopeful signs of the end.
It’s not enough to cling to the words of Jesus: “People will faint as they fearfully wait for what will happen to the world. Indeed, the powers of the universe will be shaken. Then people will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draws near.” (Luke 21:26-28)
A supernatural lens
What is the fundamentalist view of reality? Literal, Bible-believing Christians see the world supernaturally. They believe that there is a spiritual plane that is much more important than the physical one we all live on. The stakes are as high as they can get. Matthew 10:28 says, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
On this spiritual plane, good and evil entities are fighting over the ultimate fate of the universe, and every human soul in it. Fundamentalists believe that even though God and his army of angels and believers will win the war, Satan and his demons are still very real and very dangerous, and will try to steal souls, ruin lives, and even destroy whole societies in the meantime.
I Peter 5:8, “The devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” is taken quite literally. Another passage is Ephesians 6:12, which describes an entire unseen reality: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
“Spiritual warfare,” is a concept in the Bible and has become a serious topic among fundamentalist/evangelical churches. From a young age, followers - such as those seen in the movie, “Jesus Camp” that they are engaged in a war – one that is spiritual instead of physical. They are taught to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand,” (Ephesians 6:13). The armor includes a breastplate of righteousness, a helmet of salvation, a sword which is the word of God, and a “shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.” The evil day is a reference to the end times, also described in lurid detail in the book of Revelations. But until history comes to an end and God’s righteousness is meted out, Christ’s followers, as members of God’s army, are expected to do battle for Him.
Sarah Palin apparently believes she needs protection from witchcraft, since she accepted prayers for that purpose from a minister experienced with such things. In her belief system, witches are people who are being directly guided by the devil. A geographical area can also be possessed of demon spirits or witchcraft. Since a Christian is vulnerable to attacks of Satan, especially when doing God’s work, it’s not a bad idea to pray for protection.
Imagine Palin as our head of state thinking she is in a cosmic battle with God on her side and opponents reduced to evil-doers (hmm, familiar?). Analysis of issues would be horribly simplistic, the importance of being right would create blinders and arrogance, and diplomacy skills would be deplorable. The U.S. already says it doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. Fundamentalist Christians are taught to have zero tolerance for Satan. In this spiritualized worldview, everything is assessed in terms of being “of God” or not. That is, there are good and evil forces out there, and if you perceive something or someone to be on the “other side,” you act accordingly – with defense and with aggression.
You fight the good fight for God. You don’t compromise, negotiate, or appease. You don’t even try to see another point of view. Any change in policy would be seen as weakness, not having the strength of your convictions, perhaps “waffling” under evil influence. Sarah Palin, and others, have made much of any changes by Obama or Biden regarding the Iraq war. Getting new information makes no difference with this mindset. She accused Biden of waving a white flag of surrender.
Fundamentalists quote Jesus, who said, "He who is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23) (again, hmmm). As a government leader with this belief, you wouldn’t want to sit down and talk with other world leaders you consider evil, just out of principle. Your judgment of them would be more important than finding a practical solution to differences, because you might have to concede something. Sarah Palin seems to have this attitude about diplomatic discussion. And she has no problem seeing reality in black and white terms. About Middle East conflict, she said, “I know who the good guys are here and who the bad guys are.”
In this paradigm, all people are divided into good and bad. The religion has absolutely no allowance for pluralism of belief. If you are not Christian, eg. Muslim, you are on Satan’s side. Humans are divided into saved and unsaved, sheep and goats. The attack on the Twin Towers was seen as an attack of Satan by many believers. The idea of tolerance is anathema. Truth and justice are absolute and static, not evolving, eg, the Ten Commandments or the Leviticus verse about homosexuality. Believers find comfort in the idea of God as a Rock of Ages and the Bible as a guidebook for all time. Where a secular view might see an unvarying course of action as unwise when circumstances change, a believer in this alternate reality would see it as faithful and true, despite any new facts.
God is considered pure and does not tolerate even the smallest sin. So if people or nations, or even policies get labeled evil, then diplomacy and compromise is doomed. A leader with this attitude is more likely to resort to war, and call it a righteous war against evil. There is no room for ambiguity or changing direction. Believers were impressed with the Bush mantra of “stay the course.” It’s very close to a Bible verse – 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” Sarah Palin seems to have no problem with going to war with Russia.
This kind of dichotomous thinking is limiting for all of us, but dangerous on the national level. George W. Bush said, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” and alienated other nations. A fundamentalist has enormous trouble with complexity and ambiguity. The appeal of the religion is in its certainty, safety, and simplicity. To have this, believers must accept the whole Bible as inspired by God and must not question or think critically. After a long time in this numbing environment, the intellectual suicide is evident. Thinking in terms of right and wrong, good and bad, friend and enemy, saved and unsaved, cripples your ability to approach matters with creativity and openness to options. The habit of judging people and putting them into camps prevents you from understanding and appreciating diversity.
In this complex world, we need leaders who have full respect for all peoples and the skills to collaborate with them. We do not need leaders who self-righteously polarize with words like “enemy,” “evildoer,” “evil empire,” “axis of evil,” or “crusade.” George W. Bush said, “Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.” Asked about her experience with Russia, Sarah Palin said, “When Putin rears his head and comes into U.S. airspace. . .” as if he were some kind of animal.
Advancing God’s will
Being a true believer carries a mandate to do the Will of God while on earth. There is no way around this. It is essential to the theology. You have given up your own life to follow Christ; you must empty yourself of your own will and desires and then God will use you as a channel for his will (Galations 2:19-20). Essentially, all true believers are on a mission from God. It goes with the territory.
I can attest to the impact of this worldview because I grew up with it. No serious believer can simply live a normal life. The spiritual world dictates everything of importance and the foundation is fear. No matter what life you may lead, you must have your salvation in order or risk eternal punishment as well as torment if you are “left behind” after the Rapture. Believers are taught that God has a plan for your life, so every sincere follower is obsessed with figuring out what this is (often causing much anxiety).
In general the Christian task is called the “Great Commission” wherein Jesus presumably exhorted his disciples to spread the gospel: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew28:18-20). This has made sense for hundreds of years, understood as something to do while waiting for Jesus to return. Of course the world has continued on, and believers have been left with the question of earthly society. European history is full of battles over who is wielding authority for God.
The United States was partially founded by people seeking religious freedom, and this is a cherished idea today. An important component is the separation of church and state. Traditionally, Bible-believers have been content to stay out of politics, instead looking forward to a heavenly kingdom. Trying to improve society or solve the huge problems of the planet was considered a waste of time, and better left to the Conquering King when He arrives. (This version of Christ is by far more popular than the suffering savior or the teacher of the Sermon on the Mount). Even now, believers often seem to have a smug satisfaction of being right about unseen realities, and looking forward to revenge at the final Judgment.
However, something interesting has happened among Bible literalists in the last few decades. The notion of “prophecy” has changed. Instead of just being a prediction of what will happen, it is now a description of what believers are obligated to bring about. Instead of just waiting for Jesus to come back, they believe they are supposed to pave the way for the Messiah by doing things that are predicted such as preaching the gospel to every nation in the world. Missionary organizations take this very seriously.
But action does not include long-term gains for the planet. The complacency about environmental and social issues is because big problems are signs of the end. In fact, I’ve been in church when people were happy about war breaking out in the Middle East because it meant Jesus was coming soon. Nonbelievers are told to repent and draw close to God for protection while there is still time.
But it remains that Jesus has not returned. Meanwhile, believers consider it their responsibility to keep our country as Christian as possible. The fear in the religion paints a frightening picture of what things would be like if God were out of the scene and not part of our national identity. Believers are obsessed with the idea of the U.S. having Christian founders and fight to control history books. Believing in a six-day creation of the universe buffers against the fear of not being special in God’s eyes. Returning to a fantasy “Christian nation,” means protection against all the enormous challenges of our day.
But as Rep. Walter Jones said at the Reclaiming American convention, “You cannot have a strong nation that does not follow God.” and they worry that we have fallen from our place in God’s plan which included prosperity and being a world superpower. A scripture quoted is Proverbs 14:34: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”
Katherine Harris said, "If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin," she said, citing abortion and gay marriage as two examples of that sin. Believers in this group think our nation is in rebellion against God and will suffer the consequences, including terrorism. They are certain that if Christian leadership doesn’t turn things around, the country is doomed. They want leaders true to a strict interpretation of biblical law to fight evil and never compromise.
Sarah Palin’s religion is a blatant conflict of interest if she were to take office. She could not honestly claim to uphold the Constitution in the way others outside her paradigm understand it. This is because believers clearly believe God’s will is above government. A Washington State senator, Ellen Craswell, was a believer who wrote about the Biblical basis for Christian involvement in politics and government. She quoted the Bible several times to explain how civil government exists and functions by God’s command. She said crisis and civic duty are inferior and ineffective motivation for Christians to be in politics if they are seeking God’s will for their lives.
Rather, she said Christians should be in office in obedience to God and to fulfill His purposes. She stressed the destiny of the Christian in office, disparaged compromise, listed ways the Bible could dictate policy, and said a civic leader is ultimately accountable to God. This is not democracy. This is not “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” A true believer in public office will above all consider him or herself to be a citizen of heaven and charged to do as Craswell said – “the will of God in establishing justice and maintaining civil order.” Unfortunately, the type of order might amount to a kind of Christian Taliban.
I would like American journalists to ask Sarah Palin if she believes the Bible is the literal Word of God. If the answer is “Yes,” then we would know all we need to know – all the other attitudes and beliefs follow – and we would be in deep trouble with her in power.
God the advisor
In providing leadership, a fundamentalist expects to turn to God for guidance. This would be more important and respected than any other source of information or expert advice – about scientific findings, domestic policy, international relations, or anything else – unless the advice fit the religious paradigm. Many believers liked it when Bush said he looked to his “higher father” for guidance.
Fundamentalists are taught to distrust themselves. “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) and to be suspect of all human knowledge or wisdom (I Corinthians 1:19-21). A basic tenet of the faith is that true knowledge is revealed by God, not the result of human inquiry.
This is a very limited democracy of course - humans do not have the wisdom, strength, or moral fiber, and must therefore trust their leaders. Democracy is a stopgap until we have the true theocracy Christ will bring to earth. A compromise is to have God’s anointed in power, wielding any amount of authority in his name. Listening to the masses is not important because humans are basically incapable, stupid, and sinful.
Therefore, decision-making is based on discerning the will of God. Believers claim to get this guidance by reading the Bible (God’s Word), prayer, or hearing from another believer whom God is using to deliver a message. What does this mean? It means believers do what they think is right and then attribute it to God, especially if they are in positions of power. Recall G.W. Bush’s remark about God’s direction on Iraq. In other words, a believer in power can do anything, and justify it. What appears to be humility in deferring to God’s will turns out to be arrogant and delusional.
Unfortunately, with the true-believing Palin in high office, she would not simply be using this as an excuse to take an action, but would actually believe it.
Decisions would not be based on human rational thought or concrete evidence, both because that does not fit the paradigm and because a fundamentalist leader is unlikely to have the reasoning skills.
Of course, for fundamentalists, this is an asset, not a problem. To argue against worldly knowledge, they quote a favorite verse, Corinthians 1:27: "But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty." On a Christian website, Sarah Palin was described as being in a David-and-Goliath struggle. As a simple woman from a humble background, her faith in God was much more important than any credential. Her so-called qualifications for office are simply not relevant!
Evangelical everywhere are constantly admonished to pray for their leaders. Since God is considered an entity that will cooperate with this if enough prayers are raised, believers can then consider their civic duty done, and their leaders will then get what they need from God directly. In Jesus Camp, a memorable scene was bringing out a life-size cardboard image of Bush for the children to pray for.
Sarah Palin will have special appeal to fundamentalists who believe in the “guidance of the Holy Spirit.” Beyond the basic salvation plan, true Pentecostals such as members of the Assemblies of God also believe in a “second blessing,” which involves being filled with the Holy Spirit. This enables you to have a more direct line to God and exercise the “spiritual gifts” named in the Bible, including speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, and “knowledge” such as Palin’s former pastor claimed. This helps a Christian to follow God’s will and be a channel for God instead of making your own decisions and enacting your own will, which is likely to be wrong and bad because humans are often deceived by Satan.
Signs of Palin’s Pentecostalism include the videotape of her being blessed to be protected from witchcraft, and her remarks about the “word of knowledge” in her call to the governorship. She does believe in direct guidance from God, as indicated in her remarks to the (graduates) in June: “and that spirit of revelation also, including that spirit of prophecy, that God’s gonna tell you what’s goin on, and what is gonna go on, and you guys are gonna have that within you and it’s just gonna bubble up and bubble over and pour out throughout the state of Alaska.” Certainly, she is expecting the same for herself.
A special kind of morality.
The fundamentalist mindset also distorts commonly accepted human morality. Nonbelievers often wonder how believers can go along with all the atrocities in the Bible, either ordered or sanctioned by God. Yet, within the closed system of the religion, this is not a problem because God knows all and everything is part of His plan. We are not to question or put our standards of morality above God’s. So even though none of us would send our worst enemies to hell for eternity, we have to accept hell as one of God’s “mysterious ways.” This makes it possible to accept war with equanimity, along with torture, and any other treatment of “evildoers.”
A true believer does not really have a personal morality – it has been relinquished to an institutional standard and unquestioned. A believer is taught to have no faith in their own instinctual reactions and judgments. 2 Corinthians 10:5 is quoted often: “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” You are taught from the very beginning not to think for yourself and your emotions are considered a worthless barometer. This is why believers appear so harsh – they have become numb. In fact, there is great scorn for humanism and warnings about having such pride as to form your own moral judgments. For example, if you think a Hindu might go to heaven, or you approve of your friends’ same-sex marriage, you are simply wrong. This morality is very black and white; grey areas or looking at context is criticized as moral relativism – a slippery slide into sin. Fundamentalist parents prefer home schooling and the control of Christian schools so children can “learn right from wrong.” This kind of education also allows them to indulge in forced ignorance by depriving children of knowledge that conflicts with dogma, such as evolution or comparative religion. How can a world leader possibly approach issues this way? Even cultural differences in the world make it much more complicated.
However, aggression and dishonesty are fine if it serves the spiritual battle. According to Frank Schaeffer, who has experience working with the Religious Right, “Palin doesn’t actually believe the rehearsed smears she’s telling about Obama, but she does believe that she is morally right in lying. If lies will help her win, Palin believes God’s will is being done. . . Palin is by the nature of her beliefs a born, in fact eager, liar. She can do no other. She must lie or admit she is wrong, about just about everything she believes in, from a young earth, to dinosaurs roaming the planet alongside men, to the nature of global warming, to Israel’s place of primacy in the prophetic “End Times” and lately, as to the causes of the economic meltdown. . . . lying for God is okay, in fact it’s good. Her biblical heroes (King David, Samson, Queen Esther. . .) all lied for God when they needed to in order to defeat God’s enemies.”
Essentially a true believer has a strange code of ethics – adherence to absolute authority for fear of punishment (a very low score on Kohlberg’s stages of moral development), fear and inability to make one’s own judgments, a focus on right and wrong, and an acceptance of violence or twisting of usual moral guidelines if it serves God’s cause. With such a person in office, we would essentially have a leader with no recognizable moral core.
Choosing what’s important.
This religion dictates priorities. It reduces people to principles. It is far more important to stay true to God and God’s will than to attend to people’s needs. Thus is makes sense to neglect the needs of women when upholding an anti-abortion principle or not attending to the needs of gay people while defending an anti-homosexuality principle. Empathy always takes a backseat to this objective set of standards. There is little recognition of changes in principle that have actually taken place in religious circles, such as moving from supporting slavery to condemning it. There is still the idea of God’s “law” governing all and the fear of violating it.
Moreover, the presumed “sins” going on in our country – promiscuity, homosexuality, abortion, pornography, hedonism, rejection of God – are part of the “enemy within” and taken seriously as activities of Satan and signs of the end times. Believers are obligated to fight these evil forces. Banning books would be appropriate. Another danger is that God will withdraw His blessing from America, which they consider blessed by God and a “beacon on a hill,” with a mandate to help the rest of the world. The remark from Jerry Falwell about the sin in America that brought about 9/11 was about this fear and the anger directed at the sinners. Rev. Richard Cizik is an evangelical global warming advocate who has been criticized by other evangelicals, including Dr. James Dobson. He was said to be detracting attention from more important issues such as abortion and same-sex unions.
As far as international relations, fundamentalists do not want peace among nations. According to the theology, peace by human effort is not possible, goes against Bible prophecy, and could even be Satanic since it is the Anti-Christ in Revelations who brings world peace and then evil totalitarianism. So even though Jesus is supposed to be the prince of peace and gives his followers peace, they simply do not believe in working for earthly peace. They believe there is righteous conflict going on between good and evil forces now and it will culminate by necessity in a very bloody Armageddon. I’ve known fundamentalists who feel sorry for the deluded “peaceniks” or even judge them for falling for Satan’s deception.
While nonbelievers think it is tragic the way religion separates people, fundamentalists quote Jesus, who said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. . .He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10:34 - 37). To be a true follower, then, you must get used to rejecting family as well as all the other heathens in the world. You also have to be emotionally adjusted to the idea that the vast majority of humankind will be suffering torment in Hell while you bask in Heaven.
On the international stage, a fundamentalist in high office would be concerned that the U.S. is on the side of God and will win any conflict. American evangelicals favor the image of this country as blessed by God and charged with bring the Christian gospel to the rest of the world. Of course we bring our corporations and military too, but that is part of our “Manifest Destiny.” They like being a “beacon on a hill,” praying for our troops to win against the “enemy,” and saying “God bless America.” The words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God we trust” on our money is very important. Missing from this is understanding how we come across to other people in the world as we claim a monopoly on the supreme being of the universe.
The negative attitude about peace among fundamentalists is in I Thessalonians 5:2,3: “The day of the Lord shall come like a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape,” All of the many books and movies about these “last days” hammer in the inevitability of war and great suffering before Jesus will come back. In 1972, a terrifying movie was made called A Thief in the Night, which many thousands of evangelical children were forced to watch. The fictional story features the “mark of the beast” – 666 – the global rule of the Anti-Christ using the United Nations Imperium for Total Emergency (UNITE), the disappearance of millions of Christians, a woman who dreams she is chased by evil forces, and then wakes to find her husband “raptured” and she is indeed left behind.
Decades later, even people who have left the faith still suffer irrational fears lodged in a primal fear of abandonment. The more recent Left Behind series of books sold millions and sales shot up after 9-11. From this mindset, buzz words that trigger fear include cooperation, unity, treaty and peace. I would certainly expect Sarah Palin to have been through all of this indoctrination, and it would obviously affect her approach to diplomacy. Would she really be committed to helping the United States live peacefully in a world that requires all nations to cooperate to survive?
True bible-believers also have a problem with working on things like starvation, poverty, water shortage, or epidemics. If these are part of the end-time prophecy, some would even consider it sinful to oppose these problems. Escalating crisis only means the end is near. At the same time, Jesus has not returned, and there are also messages in the Bible about taking care of the needy. A compromise has been to do good deeds in tandem with evangelism. Missionaries do this effectively in other countries (along with teaching English!) and churches do it in the U.S. with federal money for faith-based initiatives.
One might wonder why the Religious Right is so tight-fisted with social welfare programs, given that Jesus talked about giving up riches and helping the poor about forty times. After all, if we are staying on earth for a while, wouldn’t Christian leadership champion justice? The official reasoning comes from a Bible verse constantly quoted: “If a man will not work he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Many also believe in the “prosperity gospel” which teaches that God blesses those who are obedient. Therefore poor people are not just lazy, they are sinful.
This religion is about individuals getting saved, not communities. As a fundamentalist believing this, you would focus on securing your own salvation by “believing in Christ,” and expect poor people to stop being “idle,” and get right with God if they expect to fare better. This theology, unlike moderate, liberal Christianity, is completely focused on the death of Christ, not his life or his teachings. “Good works” are even derided as a deception of Satan if someone has not uttered the “sinner’s prayer” and been saved by grace. This world and this present life pale in importance compared to having life insurance for the next. Again, the supernatural is utmost.
For a person in government leadership, these attitudes are obviously dangerous. How can Sarah Palin, if she has any of these beliefs, possibly have a compassionate, down-to-earth approach to social problems? How can she think rationally about the complex issues of racism, poverty, or crime in America if she thinks in simple terms of merit and sin? It would be very easy to agree with the rich and powerful of this country that they somehow deserve their privilege, not examining how it was acquired or the simple lack of a level playing field for our working and middle class. How can she think about our massive prison system without considering it reasonable to simply use punishment as a means of control?
Fundamentalists do not mind seeing the “guilty” suffer. People are essentially objects, not real people. They are either objects of fellowship in the faith or objects of conversion. Those who don’t convert are on the side of Satan by their own choice, and thus deserving of the most severe consequences. This includes all the Jews who do not accept Jesus when he returns in fiery glory to Jerusalem. “There is no peace, says my God, for the evil-doers” (Isaiah 57:21). Revenge is a big theme in the Bible: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20).
A thoroughly indoctrinated fundamentalist cannot avoid damage to their natural emotional responses or a twisting of good moral instincts. Conforming to dogma takes precedence and the bedrock of it all is the literal reality of Hell.
A leader with this worldview would need to be strong in their religious principles and “never blink,” a phrase Palin has used. Careful consideration and questioning would not compare to obeying the will of God if there were any contest. The dogma is as set in stone as the original Ten Commandments. There would be no need for true humility in the face of ignorance because a believing leader can always consult God and be sure of a course of action.
Danger and high stakes
All of this certainty and fantasy in today’s complex world is dangerous indeed. We must not have a Vice-President suffering from such delusion – even if millions of others suffer the delusion with her. There was a time when all of humanity thought the world was flat. Today, the stakes for such massive error are much higher. A Bible-believing true believer is like a bird in a large cage of other birds, waiting for a day of release and in the meantime taking charge of the cage. But there is something very wrong about the picture. The ruling bird does not take the community or health inside the cage seriously.
So I have a message for you, Sarah, Warrior Princess for God, from all of us who know what you are up to. How dare you presume to take responsibility for our country and our planet when you, in your own mind, do not consider this home? I mean home for the long haul, not just until your rescue arrives from space. How dare you look forward to Christ’s return, leaving your public office empty like a scene from the movie, Left Behind?
Furthermore, how do you know Jesus is really coming? For over 2000 years he has not shown up. Perhaps that is why you and the Reclaim America team are trying to seduce him back by creating a theocratic state with draconian laws. Many of you are trying to force “prophecy” now. Jesus is taking too long; this must be very upsetting. You appear afraid and very angry. You deny yourself pleasure in hopes for afterlife reward and you hate us for sinning in ways you cannot. There is no fun in fundamentalism, is there? You can never be good enough to relax by spiritual standards, and you cannot relax as a simple mammal on Earth either.
Plus, what if you are completely wrong? Or, I should say, dead wrong, because that’s what you will be. On the grand scale, if you keep going like this, denying global warming, branding people and countries “evil” and supporting war, neglecting global issues of justice and health, you can create the apocalypse you talk about. You will have a self-fulfilling prophecy. And as it gets worse and worse, with world-wide crisis all around you, and you look up for redemption, you just may not see it. What then? In that moment, you and all who have shared your delusion will have the most horrifying realization imaginable. And it will be too late. Too late to avoid destruction and too late to apologize to all the people who tried to turn the tide and needed you on board. When our children ask why we did not act, what will you say?
And you, John McCain, how dare you endanger all of us for the sake of your politics? How dare you choose a partner who is all symbol and no substance, preying on the fears of millions of Americans. Shame on both of you. Leave this beautiful, fragile earth to us, the unbelievers in your fantasy. We are willing to work hard to do everything humanly possible. In our view, that’s quite a lot, because facing reality as we understand it is the key to creative problem-solving. We are willing to take responsibility for creating a vibrant, healthy, just world that works for all. It’s the only heaven we have and you have no right to make it a hell.