Disaster utopias

Hang in there ... this is another one of those long gotta-get-it-out-of-my-head-before-I-can-move-on posts. I'll try and do a fun post after this mass of thoughts has cleared my head.

Human behavior baffles me. It's one of the reasons I write. Stories are my way of trying on someone else's mindset in order to see how they think.

Sometimes reality intrudes. For the first six months after the 2016 election, journalist after journalist canvased America, trying to understand the phenomenon behind Trump's election. Nothing they said rang true to me.

I didn't--and still don't--buy into the theory that rural voters are stupid. Educated people live in rural areas too. People with college educations voted for Trump. Journalists' attempts to fit all of these groups into one mold felt like a jigsaw puzzle hammered together--the picture was disjointed at best, broken in other places. However, in reading all of those articles, I did find a couple of common characteristics in these voters: they were Evangelical (or identified with Evangelical churches) and they shared feelings of persecution exacerbated by the rhetoric of their pastors, the NRA, and straight-up lunatics like Alex Jones.

Remember that I was raised in the shadow of the Evangelicals. I talk a little about that here and also here, and probably somewhere else too, because religion and its grip on the supplicant's mind fascinates me. Anyway, the important takeaway from both of those posts is that throughout my childhood I was told not to question the authority of the Bible, or my minister. Likewise, politicians told me that they knew what was best for me, and based on their superior knowledge, I should simply accept my circumstances and be happy with what I had, because hey, questions are easy, answers are hard.

This is important, because the command not to question authority is drummed into a child's head from their first experience in church to their last. It's a form of brainwashing and explains why people like Alex Jones and Jim Jones can lead their followers to drink the Kool-Aid.

The indoctrination age also seems to have dropped too. When my daughter was very young, five or six, she wanted to spend a Saturday night with my niece and her family. I knew this meant she would end up going to church the next morning, but I figured, hey, little kids in Sunday school with Jesus and all of the baby lambs, what could possibly go wrong?

Over dinner that Sunday evening, I asked my daughter how church went and she proceeded to tell me about Satan and the demons from Hell and how the world was going to end in fire and blood. I inquired about Jesus and the baby lambs, and she told me the preacher talked about nothing but end-times. From that point forward, I took over my daughter's spiritual education, found a nice Episcopal Church (Catholic-lite, all the ritual, none of the guilt), and forbade my sister from taking my daughter to her cult-church again.

Bad experiences aside, I've always wondered why Evangelical ministers seize so fervently on these apocalyptic themes. It's almost like they exult in recounting the suffering to come.

And then, while doing research for my current novel, I think I accidentally stumbled on the reason. In this passage from The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology (p. 86), Goodrick-Clarke discusses Michael Barkun's theory of "disaster utopia":

"Barkun observes the ambiguity of disaster which, while obviously subjecting people to deprivation, can also produce unusual feelings of well-being. He notes that disasters often induce a temporary sense of common purpose and that 'invidious social distinctions disappear in a suddenly opened and democratized atmosphere.' This evaluation accords well with the euphoria implicit in the ‘Ideas of 1914′, and also illuminates [Guido von] List’s enthusiasm for the actual hardships of war. Because a belief in the millennium often assumes the occurrence of disasters that precede the epiphany, the sense of fellowship in the midst of actual disasters can appear to confirm the millenarian expectations. For List, suffering augured salvation."

Ah! said my brain as it is wont to do in these circumstances. This fits. These themes of end-times persecution give a lot of Evangelicals that sense of common purpose. Together, they will suffer through the occurrences of disasters, a process that will bring them all closer together in their shared adversity. The epiphany--or Christ's second coming--is soon to be had, delivering them from a world filled with pain and broken promises.

Suffering augurs salvation.

That's the Kool-Aid.

Some of us drink it, some of us spit it out.

Because no matter how Evangelical ministers might misrepresent the situation, Christians are not oppressed. Their churches flourish, their politicians are in office--misquoting Bible verses and making Jesus look bad--but there is no oppression here. No one is arrested for going to church. People might disagree with you (or your politics or your religion), but that's not the same thing as persecution.

Yet in the minds of those that adhere to the disaster utopia one cannot suffer without persecution. So the ministers and the NRA and the Jim Joneses and Alex Joneses of the world manufacture persecutions.

Remember how armies of ISIS troops were flooding over the Mexican border? Remember how Obama was coming to take your guns? And how Obama schemed his way into being elected for a third term? And how many of these things came to pass?

None.

They were lies predicated on fear.

Since those portents never came to pass, the groups propagating disaster utopias must find different ways to keep their base in a state of fear. Now they must manufacture new and improved terrors. They want their listeners to be scared of people different from themselves. They divide the world into right and wrong, black and white, right and left, conservative and liberal.

Subtleties cannot exist within these labels. Nuance mitigates the community's suffering, and without suffering, salvation remains distant, robbing the true oppressors--those that advocate disaster utopias--of their power over others. And therein lies the answer to Trump's success. He, and the politicians and the Evangelical ministers who supported him, convinced people they were victims of persecution. He told them what they were eager to hear: your circumstances are not your fault, it's all of those other people who are the problem and once they're gone, everything will be just fine for you, and enough Americans drank the Kool-Aid, and here we are.

Now the NRA and Alex Jones are telling people that disaster is once more upon us, and that people must fight with "clenched fists of truth," because it sounds manly, I suppose. These fighting words make them feel important, like they are embroiled in a holy war whereupon their suffering will bring them salvation.

That's their utopia, not mine. I'll take my epiphany without a disaster, thank you very much. I hope you'll join me in spitting out that brand of Kool-Aid too, because if we allow ourselves to be manipulated into another disaster, we might not find our way out.