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Author Topic: What the "Left Behind" series really means
Hephaestion
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posted 27 February 2006 07:57 PM      Profile for Hephaestion   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
by Joe Bageant

quote:
One September day when I was in the third grade I got off the school bus and walked up the red dust powdered lane to my house only to find no one there. The smudgy white front door of the old frame house stood open. My footsteps on the unpainted gray porch creaked in the fall stillness. With increasing panic, I went through every room, and then ran around the outside crying and sobbing in the grip of the most horrific loneliness and terror. I believed with all my heart that The Rapture had come and that all my family had been taken up to heaven leaving me alone on earth to face God's terrible wrath. As it turned out they were at the neighbor's house scarcely 300 yards down the road, and returned in a few minutes. But it took me hours to calm down. I dreamed about it for years afterward.

Since then I have spoken to others raised in fundamentalist families who had the same childhood experience of coming home and thinking everyone had been "raptured up." The Rapture -- the time when God takes up all saved Christians before he lets loose slaughter, pestilence and torture upon the earth -- is very real to people in whom its glorious and grisly promise was instilled and cultivated from birth. Even those who escape fundamentalism agree its marks are permanent. We may no longer believe in being raptured up, but the grim fundamentalist architecture of the soul stands in the background of our days. There is an apocalyptic starkness that remains somewhere inside us, one that tinges all of our feelings and thoughts of higher matters. Especially about death, oh beautiful and terrible death, for naked eternity is more real to us than to you secular humanists. I get mail from hundreds of folks like me, the different ones who fled and became lawyers and teachers and therapists and car mechanics, dope dealers and stockbrokers and waitresses. And every one of them has felt that thing we understand between us, that "skulls -piled -clear -to -heaven -redemption -through -absolute -self -worthlessness -and -you -ain't -shit -in -the -eyes -of -God -so -go -bleed -to -death -in -some -dark -corner" stab in the heart at those very moments when we should have been most proud of ourselves. Self-hate. That thing that makes us sabotage our own inner happiness when we are most free and operating as self-realizing individuals. This kind of Christianity is a black thing. It is a blood religion, that willingly gives up sons to America1s campaigns in the Holy Land, hoping they will bring on the much-anticipated war between good and evil in the Middle East that will hasten the End Times. Bring Jesus back to earth.

Whatever the case, tens of millions of American fundamentalists, despite their claims otherwise, read and absorb the all-time best selling Left Behind book series as prophesy and fact. How could they possibly not after being conditioned all their lives to accept the End Times as the ultimate reality? We are talking about a group of Americans twenty percent of whose children graduate from high school identifying H2O as a cable channel. Children who, like their parents and grandparents, come from that roughly half of all Americans who can approximately read, but are dysfunctionally literate to the extent they cannot grasp any textual abstraction or overall thematic content.

Most of my family and their church friends (mainly the women) have read at least some of the Left Behind series and if pressed they will claim they understand that it is fiction. But anyone who has heard fundies around the kitchen table discussing the books knows the claim is pure bullshit. 3Well, they do get an awful lot of stuff exactly right,2 they admit. Beyond that, most fundamentalists delight in seeing their beliefs as "persecuted Christians" become best sellers "under the guise of fiction," as the Pentecostal assistant who used to work with me put it. "They show the triumph of the righteous over those who persecute us for our faith in God." Fer cryin out loud! Christianity is scarcely a persecuted belief system in this country, or in need of a guise to protect itself. Year after year some sixty percent of Americans surveyed say they believe the Book of Revelations will come true and about forty percent believe it will come true in their lifetimes. This from the fifty percent of Americans who, according to statistics, seldom if ever buy a book.

Fetishizing of the End Times as a spectacular gore-fest visited upon the unbelievers is nothing new. But the sheer number of people gleefully enjoying the spectacle of their own blackest magical thinking made manifest by mass media is new. Or at least the media aspect is new. It reinforces the major appeal of these beliefs, the appeal being (to restate the obvious) that they get to pass judgment on everyone who disagrees with them, and then watch God kick the living snot out of them. It doesn't get any better than that.

[ 28 February 2006: Message edited by: Hephaestion ]


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Mandos
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posted 27 February 2006 08:15 PM      Profile for Mandos   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Slacktivist's segment-by-segment detailed deconstruction of Left Behind. And he's an evangelical. A "liberal" evangelical, though.

http://slacktivist.typepad.com/slacktivist/left_behind/index.html


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Transplant
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posted 27 February 2006 09:01 PM      Profile for Transplant     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Hephaestion:
Since then I have spoken to others raised in fundamentalist families who had the same childhood experience of coming home and thinking everyone had been “raptured up.” The Rapture—the time when God takes up all saved Christians before he lets loose slaughter, pestilence and torture upon the earth—is very real to people in whom its glorious and grisly promise was instilled and cultivated from birth.

This is exactly what I mean when I refer to fundies as a Kool-aid cult.

And people think Jonestown, Waco and the Branch Dividians, and the Solar Temple nutters in Quebec were isolated aberrations.

There are "tens of millions" of these people, and they are stark f*ing raving mad.

Right up there with all those seeking 72 virgins and martyrdom.


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Andy (Andrew)
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posted 27 February 2006 09:07 PM      Profile for Andy (Andrew)   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Heph,

Didn't you follow Kirk Cameron from Growing Pains? He dedicated his life to spreading the word after he found Christ. Gave up a lucrative career for it all. He was part of the whole Left Behind series.

Rapture is a h-u-g-e part of fundamentalism. My parents' car had a bumper sticker on it that read "In case of rapture this car will be unmanned" - I had a whole other set of reasons for wanting to be dropped off blocks away.


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Michelle
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posted 27 February 2006 09:12 PM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
There is definite truth to this paragraph, although it does sound a bit smugly superior. But then again, the Straussian neo-cons aren't any less smug and superior - they just lie about it.

quote:
No matter if the Dems actually can be elected back into powerlessness, they will have needed at least some of these people’s votes to get there. Next election we will find out if it is possible to be elected without the fundamentalist Christians. So far the Democratic political elite, who only take their thumb out of their ass to change thumbs, has not been able to stop the religious right’s relentless push. And I think it is because, at least from where I sit right now, the democratic establishment has not offered, much less delivered, and is incapable of delivering what my people really need —decent educations so they will not be prey to three thousand year old superstitions. The left has yet to demand for all Americans a genuine absolutely free education, an opportunity to enjoy a life of the mind, or to even know such a thing exists. Hell, you got yours and I got mine, right? So screw ’em. We progressives have failed. We were always and still are our brother’s keeper and now the throw-away Americans, the ugly little dickhead at the car wash and the truck driver and the guy who delivers the bottled water to our offices are coming to get our asses, even though they aren’t quite sure why. My Random House editor told me not to get on a soapbox about this, but I cannot help it. (Sorry, Rachel)

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Hephaestion
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posted 27 February 2006 09:47 PM      Profile for Hephaestion   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
I had a whole other set of reasons for wanting to be dropped off blocks away

lol.... I would think that alone would be MORE than enough...


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Américain Égalitaire
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posted 27 February 2006 10:24 PM      Profile for Américain Égalitaire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Joe and I exchanged some e-mails a few years back when he wrote me that he was absolutely, positively going to Europe like next week. Apparently, he's still hedging his bets a little.

quote:
(In which case, assuming my book makes some real dough, I will be watching from abroad, thank you.) Essentially it comes down to the fact that a very large portion of Americans are crazier than shithouse rats and are being led by a gang of pathological misfits, most of whom are preachers and politicians. We are not talking about simple religious faith here. There is a world of difference between having religious faith and being a born-again zealot who believes in his heart that he is thumping Darwinian demons out of classrooms and that Ted Kennedy is the anti-Christ. Trading down to the Democratic party of the pussies really will not save us. It will just buy a little time. But we have whipped the hell out of this dead horse before, haven’t we? Forgive me.

All true a great reason to get the hell out while the getting is good.

And that stuff about his editor from Random House telling him to pull punches? Christ, whose going to publish the book I write? C'mon Joe, you do it so well, don't let them neuter your prose.

See, since I have no publisher I can write whatever the hell I want first and then submit it.

But hey, if you want to see the kind of people Joe's talking about up close and personal, work the religion section of any bookstore.

We get tonnes of Left Behind books sold to us and they sell right back out just as fast. Its amazing. And he's right - the people who haunt the religion aisle rarely venture anywhere else in the store (except for military history and romance, draw your own conclusions).


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Hephaestion
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posted 28 February 2006 07:07 AM      Profile for Hephaestion   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Geez, AE... maybe you and Joe should collaborate on a book, or at the very least write "companion volumes". You could go on tour together, cover each other's back, that sorta thing...

Cripes. I can't even joke about this. It's too bloody scary. I'm beginning to think Canada will not be far enough away from these psychotic loonies...

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Reality. Bites.
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posted 28 February 2006 07:20 AM      Profile for Reality. Bites.        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Andy (Andrew):
Heph,

Didn't you follow Kirk Cameron from Growing Pains?


Well he did until Cameron got a restraining order.


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Boom Boom
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posted 28 February 2006 07:53 AM      Profile for Boom Boom     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Wasn't Kirk Cameron the horny little bugger in the film "Laurel and Hardy Go To White Castle"?
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Hephaestion
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posted 28 February 2006 08:17 AM      Profile for Hephaestion   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I dunno, BB, but apparently Hinterland got his hair...

(I *miss* Hinterland. HIIIINTERLAAAND!! Come hoooooome! ........ *sigh* )

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chilipepper
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posted 28 February 2006 09:29 AM      Profile for chilipepper     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Transplant:

This is exactly what I mean when I refer to fundies as a Kool-aid cult.

And people think Jonestown, Waco and the Branch Dividians, and the Solar Temple nutters in Quebec were isolated aberrations.

There are "tens of millions" of these people, and they are stark f*ing raving mad.

Right up there with all those seeking 72 virgins and martyrdom.


I don't exactly disagree with that statement, but isn't that on a par with the cartoon problem, not respecting other's beliefs and painting a whole group with a broad brush?

These books are strictly fiction, so I don't understand the issue here.


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Transplant
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posted 28 February 2006 10:04 AM      Profile for Transplant     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by chilipepper:
These books are strictly fiction, so I don't understand the issue here.

Fiction, yes, but the Left Behind books are based on prophecies that these nutters fervently believe are true and will come to pass, the sooner the better as far as they are concerned, to hell, literally, with the rest of us.

The danger comes from the fact that these particular nutters are gaining political power as they deliberately infiltrate the US federal and state governments and the armed forces*.

(*You have heard about the evangelical Christian scandal at the US Air Force Academy, which is located directly across the Monument Creek valley from the sprawling Focus on the Family campus, have you not?)

Imagine these people with weapons of mass destruction and then tell me that I should respect their beliefs.


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Hephaestion
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posted 28 February 2006 10:09 AM      Profile for Hephaestion   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by chilipepper:

These books are strictly fiction, so I don't understand the issue here.



Did you you even read the article?

quote:
Most of my family and their church friends (mainly the women) have read at least some of the Left Behind series and if pressed they will claim they understand that it is fiction. But anyone who has heard fundies around the kitchen table discussing the books knows the claim is pure bullshit. "Well, they do get an awful lot of stuff exactly right," they admit. Beyond that, most fundamentalists delight in seeing their beliefs as "persecuted Christians" become best sellers "under the guise of fiction," as the Pentecostal assistant who used to work with me put it. "They show the triumph of the righteous over those who persecute us for our faith in God."

[ 28 February 2006: Message edited by: Hephaestion ]


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anne cameron
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posted 28 February 2006 10:10 AM      Profile for anne cameron     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
When I was not quite thirteen my uncle and my mother converted to Jehovah Witness. Immediately "train up a child in the way in which he is to go and when he is old he will not depart from it" became an unwelcome part of my life. Years of it.

I can't speak for anyone else but for me, the SPLIT between "know" and "believe" has been life long, and I couldn't sit down over a cup of coffee and tell you what I "believe". It's a can of worms. Just when I think I know what I believe there is this paralyzing bolt of raw terror and "what if they're right?" dominates my mind and body. "What if I'm wrong?" comes at the strangest times. Bush wallows in the blood of Muslim children and..."is this a sign?".

I am very close to advocating that these people's children be apprehended at birth and raised in non-sectarian foster homes.

What they are doing to the minds of their kids is child abuse. They are no different than the Taliban, to me.


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brebis noire
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posted 28 February 2006 10:54 AM      Profile for brebis noire     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Well, anne, yes and no.

There are so many different individual takes on fundamentalism, and different ways that it works out in families. I know many fundamentalist families where I totally disagree with the teaching the kids are receiving, yet they're definitely being loved and kept safe and secure, as all kids should be. Just like everybody else, they do eventually become adults and have to unwork the lies from the truth. What I particularly object to is when these kids move from home to Bible school and never get a chance to breathe different air and think different thoughts.

I suppose that what I've always tried to get my head around is their whole niceness vs. craziness/intolerance duality. Fundamentalists are human beings too, and while I disagree with them on so many points it makes my head throb every time I get together with one or a few, I'm against polarization, and I think they are reflectors of societal pressure rather than essential pressure-creators.

Even Bageant would agree:

quote:
There remains one nagging problem. Despite their masochistic voting patterns, fundamentalists are very ordinary and normal Americans. People who often as not go out of their way to help others and endorse most American values. So how do we reconcile the warmth and good nature of these hardworking citizens with the repressive politics, intolerance, nationalism and war-making they support? Why do such ordinary people do such awful things? The Germans have been wrestling with that one for sixty years, and sixty more years from now they still will have not solved the riddle in any meaningful way for the rest of the world. Barring ecological and cultural collapse, historians will say America suffered under the same sort of extraordinary delusion, a national hallucination of God and empire and exceptionalism. The thing about an hallucination—and take it from a person who has enjoyed many fine ones on various chemicals and herbs—is that it is a convincing reality in its time. Try talking to a fundamentalist about politics and God for an hour. You will see the spell that holds sway. Let us be thankful for pro sports or we would have nothing whatsoever to talk about on those rare occasions when a fundamentalist and a liberal ever bother to speak to one another.


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Hephaestion
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posted 28 February 2006 11:10 AM      Profile for Hephaestion   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
I know many fundamentalist families where I totally disagree with the teaching the kids are receiving, yet they're definitely being loved and kept safe and secure, as all kids should be.


Until the kid, for instance, tells his or her parents that he or she is gay/a lesbian. Then they might stick them into a fully legal child abuse centre... I have a good friend whose parents wanted to do that, but were prevented because there were people outside the family who gave a damn about him.

Lots of fundies should not be allowed anywhere NEAR kids, in my opinion.

[ 28 February 2006: Message edited by: Hephaestion ]


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Américain Égalitaire
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posted 28 February 2006 11:10 AM      Profile for Américain Égalitaire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Well Bageant and I think alike but write in different styles. What is particularly baffling in the paragraph brebis noire cites is what exactly is Joe trying to put down here? That if you take them away from their church or political activity, they could be decent people to hand around with if you confine your discussions to NASCAR?

See the problem with that and their kids is that they grow up and VOTE. And look at the mess down here for a prime example of what this system spawns. I don't mean to sound nasty and blunt here but if these folks ever get total power, I have little doubt that the US would resemble the world of A Handmaid's Tale.

There is no pluralism or respect for differences of opinion with these folks. There is NO 'agree to disagree.' They're right, you're wrong, you're going to hell and when we seize the government we'll force you to conform to our belief standards through the force of law.

We get little views down here of how that works. Picture a desperate woman in northwest Iowa who is the victim of date rape furiously searching local pharmacies for one that will honour her prescription for a morning after pill. And do you think that the good God fearing folks down here will have any sympathy for her?

Check out South Dakota and see where this type of thinking gets a society. Check out the halls of Congress and the White House where they'll amend our Constitution to forever prohibit SSM and therefore permanently codifying discrimination into that document and our government.

There is great, great damage being done to our body politic in the name of the fundamentalist God. And I can't forgive these people as individuals who smile and look me in the eye and tell me exactly what they're going to do to this country to make it "God fearing" again. I know because I have personally experienced this both on a professional and (very unfortunately) familial basis.

Edited to add: Good morning Heph - guess we were cross posting the same thought!

I wish Joe well with his book - hopefull it will take no prisoners and I'll certainly buy it. I gotta do my own thing though in my own way. I just hope I can find a publisher! I hope to meet him someday. His haunt is Winchester, Va. which is a ways from me. I believe he said he's bound for Italy and you know where I want to go!

[ 28 February 2006: Message edited by: Américain Égalitaire ]


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brebis noire
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posted 28 February 2006 11:18 AM      Profile for brebis noire     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Américain Égalitaire:
There is no pluralism or respect for differences of opinion with these folks. There is NO 'agree to disagree.' They're right, you're wrong, you're going to hell and when we seize the government we'll force you to conform to our belief standards through the force of law.


I disagree . Fundamentalism is part of the Protestant tradition after all, and I think that people's religious attitudes are also a function of the outside society. I know a lot of fundamentalists in Quebec who would disagree on many, many levels with USian fundamentalists, and part of that is due to their own experience with Catholic hegemony. Yes, a lot of their moral and theological opinions wouldn't budge, but the way they work themselves out in practice is a particularly USian (and relatively recent) phenomenon.

Some fundamentalists I know have been completely shaken after encounters with various aspects of US political evangelicalism.


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Américain Égalitaire
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posted 28 February 2006 11:38 AM      Profile for Américain Égalitaire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by brebis noire:


I disagree . Fundamentalism is part of the Protestant tradition after all, and I think that people's religious attitudes are also a function of the outside society. I know a lot of fundamentalists in Quebec who would disagree on many, many levels with USian fundamentalists, and part of that is due to their own experience with Catholic hegemony. Yes, a lot of their moral and theological opinions wouldn't budge, but the way they work themselves out in practice is a particularly USian (and relatively recent) phenomenon.

Some fundamentalists I know have been completely shaken after encounters with various aspects of US political evangelicalism.



Yea verily, again a difference between your culture and ours although again, there are elements of our pernicious fundamentalism down here who want to radicalise your fundamentalists up there.

People are free to believe what they wish as long as they don't force society to bend to their religious will at the point of a gun. That's what were rapidly getting to down here. I sense perhaps that Quebec's fundamentalist Christians are more in the Jimmy Carter mold?


From: Chardon, Ohio USA | Registered: Jan 2005  |  IP: Logged
Aristotleded24
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posted 28 February 2006 11:50 AM      Profile for Aristotleded24   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Let's see what Jesus Himself said about the "End Times:"

quote:
Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

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brebis noire
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posted 28 February 2006 11:53 AM      Profile for brebis noire     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Américain Égalitaire:

People are free to believe what they wish as long as they don't force society to bend to their religious will at the point of a gun. That's what were rapidly getting to down here. I sense perhaps that Quebec's fundamentalist Christians are more in the Jimmy Carter mold?

Yes, that's what I like to think, but still there's a lot of individual variations, and a lot who applaud what's happening in the States without really understanding the geopolitical implications. There's a lot of naivete about this.

Overall, though, it doesn't really matter, since it's a huge demographical and power issue, so Quebec and even Canadian fundies are small fish in a small pond.


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Boarsbreath
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posted 28 February 2006 09:44 PM      Profile for Boarsbreath   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Aren't we kind of assuming there's something throughly creepy about the Taliban? OK, no Nascar, but....check the current NYT Mag for an example, but I should think it clear on principle that No -- of course there's no basic difference between fundamentalists in a Muslim tradition and fundamentalists in a Christian tradition!!

Why would one think there was? Same behaviors, same hates, same loves (I love that bookstore survey, AE; wish I could get the Patriot Act data on who gets what at libraries...), same personalities (studies have shown, as we've run threads on before). Prod, Catholic, Sunni, Shiite, Hindu, Jewish, whatever -- fricken Buddhist, for crying out loud.

Incidentally, Calvin ran Geneva almost precisely the way the Talibs ran Kabul, even down to (especially down to) the madrassahs.


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Screaming Lord Byron
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posted 01 March 2006 11:33 PM      Profile for Screaming Lord Byron     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Boom Boom:
Wasn't Kirk Cameron the horny little bugger in the film "Laurel and Hardy Go To White Castle"?

That was Doogie Howser, IIRC.


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Boom Boom
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posted 01 March 2006 11:35 PM      Profile for Boom Boom     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Screaming Lord Byron:

That was Doogie Howser, IIRC.


Arrrggghh.... my bad. I stand corrected.


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