Tue. Jun 25th, 2024

A friend sends me today a link to David Byrne’s blog. 

Byrne’s latest entry is about ultra-Christian, ultra-right wing community schools that conflate the Bible with a political agenda.

Are these not the Western equivalent of the ultra fundamentalist Muslim madrasas, he asks.

Indeed. Who would argue with that?

I was reminded while reading the story of a documentary on the very same subject that I saw 20 or 25 years ago. The fact is, these Christian-political schools have been with us a long time and yet we periodically rediscover them with a jolt of wowwhaddayaknow?

And then we forget about them again because, perhaps they seem just one of the USA’s endearing idiosyncrasies until the next social or international crisis brings them bobbing again into our consciousness like an epiphany.

The documentary I saw all those years ago in Britain showed us a community in which questions were banned. Even in libraries. Especially in books. Oddly the library featured did in fact have books in it. We don’t know what they were, but we do know that, for example, Hamlet was not in it: “To be or not to be …”

Writing a book that doesn’t include a question must be as easy as writing a novel without the letter e, as that French guy did some years ago.

Hey, doesn’t the Bible have questions in it? Perhaps that was banned from the library too.

This documentary was made back in the Reagan years and it told us about an umbrella organisation of Christian groups that drew up its own lists of which candidates for the national legislature they approved of and wanted in, and which they didn’t approve of and wanted out. They had a 70 percent success rate in getting their way. 

I read another article recently (damn, why don’t I keep copies of these things?) that traced the assertiveness of the Christian fundamentalists in politics back to the immediate post-war years. Only that long? The nation was founded by fundies.

It ain’t just the lunatic fringe that that has an essentially political agenda in its schools.

The US is the only ‘developed’ country in which educators are fighting about whether to teach creationism or evolution — it is probably the only place in the world where Genesis is considered a scientific treatise.

The US has the further distinction of being the only rich country in which the students pledge allegiance to the flag and which has classrooms and teaching materials branded by large corporations. It is the only country where religion, ideology and the interests of big business converge so completely in even the state (public) school system.

The irony is that the working-middle class Conservative Christians keep in power an otherwise unelectable plutocracy that has nothing to do with its fan base. The Republicans have over the years forged links with these people knowing them to be wholly visceral voters whose buttons are lit up with neon: America is great; we are the master race; God, abortion, taxes, guns, profits; we hate liberals, homosexuals, non-whites, foreigners (who are all, to varying proportions, a mixture of the above).

All the plutocracy has to do is keep on message with the push-button issues and, as Byrne points out, the Christian Imams are reciprocating by instructing their flock to assimilate non-Biblical concerns such as global warming into their teaching. 

A perfect symbiosis.

It is not new. It has informed American politics to a profound degree for decades. And we are still not used to it.

August 8, 2006

Supplemental, 2023: The story on DavidByrne.com about the Christian madrasas has apparently been removed in a major makeover, or perhaps simply moved. DavidByrne.com is still with us and still groovy.

By chris page

Magazine editor, writer of fiction and non-fiction; exile; cat person; red wine for blood and cheese in his soul. Chris Page is the author of the novels Weed, Sanctioned, Another Perfect Day in ****ing Paradise, King of the Undies World, and The Underpants Tree. He is also a freelance journalist, copywriter, editor, cartoonist, illustrator, graphic designer, and consultant in the use and abuse of false moustaches (don’t wear them — you’re welcome — the invoice is in the mail).

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