CHRIS ROPER: They sure ain’t angels
Make fun of fundamentalists at your peril — they’re a growing army, leaving polarisation and disinformation in their wake
The final days of the US elections gave us many mind-boggling moments. Many people’s favourite will be the decision by Donald Trump’s campaign team to host a media conference in a nondescript parking lot, in front of a landscaping business whose name they apparently confused with that of a high-end hotel, and which is sandwiched between a crematorium and a sex shop.
Precisely the metaphor Trump deserves, many have pointed out.
The Four Seasons Total Landscaping company has embraced serendipity, and is now selling merchandise featuring Trump puns. You can buy $5 stickers declaring "Make America Rake Again" or "Lawn and Order", and I’m sure hundreds of people are.
But the Trump team’s incompetence, along with his supporters’ rapid devolution into armed farce, was at least of this earth, albeit the stupider bits that — like the Four Seasons Hotel, apparently — don’t show up on most maps. The truly mind-boggling moments came from heaven.
The gimcrack jewel in the crown of fundamentalist Christian insanity was the video of Trump’s spiritual adviser, Paula White, praying that angels from Africa will come and save Trump’s election.
"I hear a sound of victory, the Lord says it is done. For angels have even been dispatched from Africa right now," she prayed.
Actually, it’s probably worth quoting a chunk so that you get the full flavour of the woman who has been advising Trump on the way of the spirit. It might give you some insight into his blighted psyche.
"For angels are being released right now. Angels are being dispatched right now.
"Amunda, acka, atta, racka, dayda, packa, sanda, atta, amba, orsa, katta, reekay, panda, atta, reekay, deedy, asha, tar.
"For angels have even dissphur … dispatched from Africa right now, Africa right now, Africa right now. From Africa right now. They’re coming here. They’re coming here. In the name of Jesus. From South America, they’re coming here, they’re coming here, they’re coming here, they’re coming here, they’re coming here.
"From Africa. From South America. Angelic forces. Angelic reinforcement. Angelic reinforcement. Angelic reinforcement. Angelic reinforcement."
There was much ribaldry in responses to the video, with many people pointing out it would probably be impossible for the African angels to get visas, and that calling for African angels to fight for a man who called their countries "shitholes" was asking a bit much.
I also found it humorous — until I came across a tweet explaining what "African angels" really are.
Rebecca Diamond of New Brunswick, Canada, is going to be surprised to find herself quoted in a magazine from one of Trump’s shithole countries, but here we go.
"The White Supremacy Gospel believes that angels are constantly in Africa (and South America, specifically Brazil). They are engaged in ‘spiritual warfare’ à la the Book of Daniel. They can be summoned from this great warfare as needed," she tweeted.
"The reason they hang out in those two places are because black people have especially nefarious demons attached to them — ones they brought with them when they ‘came to America’ and that Whiteous people have been in battle with ever since."
If this is true (I’m finding it difficult to fact-check, but luckily Gareth Cliff has told us all that fact-checking is for ninnies, anyway), then it’s not so funny any more, is it? Just common or godly racism.
The net result of fundamentalists foaming at the mouth in the US is funding for anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice Christian groups in Africa
White might be the one who launched 1,000 memes, but she’s by no means an outlier in religious craziness. Right Wing Watch, an organisation that "monitors and exposes the activities of Radical Right political organisations", lists dozens of examples of fundamentalist Trumpist Christians saying outrageous things on video.
Here are a few, to give you a full sense of how deranged this stuff is.
"Right-wing pastor Jim Garlow leads a group prayer that ‘a fear of God’ will fall on Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and cause them to repent for trying to steal the election from Trump."
"QAnon conspiracy theorist Mark Taylor declares that any Christian who voted for Biden has ‘brought a curse upon yourself and your family, your children, and your children’s children down to the third and fourth generation’."
"Former congresswoman Michele Bachmann calls on God to ‘smash the delusion, Father, that Joe Biden is our president. He is not.’"
And possibly the craziest of all, because it makes superficial sense on first reading: "Right-wing pastor Terri Pearsons calls on God to do ‘whatever it takes’ to ensure that Trump is re-elected, even if that means holding ‘another election’."
We might be tempted to just laugh all this off (or embrace it, I suppose, if you’re also a fundamentalist Christian — but I would hope, if you are, you’ll have stopped reading by this point). But making fun of fundamentalism can be a mistake. Before you know it, it’s in your backyard and doing some damage.
Our very own Eternally Reverend Kenneth Meshoe of the African Christian Democratic Party tweeted his support for Trump, asking his followers to pray "specifically for President Donald Trump to be re-elected".
Why, you might wonder, does Rev Ken care about the US elections? Indeed, why do I? A legitimate question, given that I’m devoting an entire column to it.
Perhaps another excerpt from a White prayer will help explain that. In January, a video surfaced of White praying the following: "We command any satanic pregnancies to miscarry right now! We declare that anything that’s been conceived in satanic wombs that it will miscarry, it will not be able to carry forth any plan of destruction, any plan of harm."
There is a direct line between the ease with which White calls for miscarriages and Trump’s anti-abortion global gag rule and restrictions on funding for African NGOs that work in sex education.
As The Guardian notes, quoting the International Women’s Health Coalition: "‘People are dying’ in Africa and South Asia as a result of policy that bans aid to foreign groups who support abortions."
What it means:
Trump’s popularity shows the strength of religious extremism and the dangers it poses
And this is one of the reasons people like Meshoe were longing for another Trump term — because the net result of fundamentalists foaming at the mouth in the US is funding for anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice Christian groups in Africa.
According to Satan’s New York Times, "about eight in 10 white evangelical voters supported Trump in the 2020 election … just as they did in 2016. At every turn of his presidency, he gave them everything they wanted: 200 federal judges appointed for life. An embassy in Jerusalem. Anti-abortion policies. Two Supreme Court justices, and then in the final hours, a third."
And the kicker: "Social conservatives also celebrated the election to the House of at least 15 new women who oppose abortion rights, more than doubling their numbers in the previous Congress."
So as much as we might choose to laugh at people like White, they have a very real effect on our societies and democracies.
In his excellent book, Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalisation, Reza Aslan writes that "despite all the confident predictions one hears about the death of God, the truth is that religion is a stronger, more global force today that it has been in generations. At the dawn of the 20th century, one-half of the world’s population identified itself as Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or Hindu. One hundred years of social progress, technological innovation, and scientific advancement, and that number now stands at two-thirds."
He adds: "It is the conservative and fundamentalist believers who outnumber, and increasingly outpace, the moderates and liberals."
So this isn’t just a warning for those of a secular bent, but also for the moderates among religious believers. And it’s a call for us to renew our battle against disinformation in general, not just the religious kind. The same impulses that drive the fundamentalist "cosmic war", as Aslan terms it — a war that insists on partitioning the world into us and them, black and white — are driving the voices of those spreading misinformation from both sides of the political spectrum.
We need to listen to them, not to laugh, but to attempt understanding and even redress. Because as Aslan says, the only way to win a cosmic war is to refuse to fight in it.
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