Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Palin and Witchcraft

Alan Borass, an anthropology professor from Kenai Peninsula College, has an op-ed in the Anchorage Daily News about Palin and the language of witchcraft used by those in her church, especially Kenyan Pastor Thomas Muthee. He notes that such language has serious meaning in Muthee’s homeland:

In pre-colonial central Africa witches were a metaphor of instability, so to be accused of witchcraft meant the individual was somehow threatening to the social order. African witchcraft took on a similar meaning after missionaries arrived. In rural areas today social progressives are sometimes labeled witches and their accusers are often fundamentalists who hold to traditional tribal practices and reject progressive gender roles and acceptance of modernity. Witchcraft is taken quite seriously; in May of this year 11 people were burned as witches in rural Kenya. One of those killed was a teacher who represented the influence of modernity to villages.

Then he places the same issue into the context of American history, which in colonial days was similar to the situation in Kenya today:

Extreme Christian Nationalists not only believe that the United States was founded as a Christian nation but that its institutions should be run entirely by fundamentalist or evangelical Christians. They believe they have a mandate to purge our institutions of “humanists” who believe that humans are in control of their own destiny, progressive Christians and non-Christians. They believe there are seven areas of society that must be controlled, the so-called Seven Mountains Strategy: church, family, education, government and law, media, arts and entertainment and business.

Muthee echoed this Christian Nationalist strategy in his Palin blessing sermon, where he stated, “When we talk about transformation of a society, a community, it’s where we see God’s Kingdom infiltrate … seven areas in our society.” Muthee went on to describe his version of the Seven Mountains Strategy and when he got to politics he was praying for Gov. Palin.

About 40 percent of the U.S. population describe themselves as fundamentalist or evangelical but not all subscribe to Christian Nationalism. Michelle Goldberg estimates about 10 percent to 15 percent of the U.S. adult population are Christian Nationalists. They are overwhelmingly white and Republican and make up a significant part of the “base” of the party. A number of notable spokesmen of the conservative religious right are associated with Christian Nationalist beliefs, among them Franklin Graham (but not his father Billy), Pat Robertson and Douglas Coe.

Christian Nationalism is a form of American exceptionalism — the idea that Americans are unique because of our heritage. Christian exceptionalism dates back to Puritan leader John Winthrop. Normally exceptionalism is recognized as the unique founding of the United States built on immigrant pluralism and based on Enlightenment ideals. But Winthrop promoted a different type of exceptionalism. In his “shining city on the hill” sermon Winthrop rejected the equality of religious pluralism and affirmed instead that the United States is a Christian nation built on Christian, not Enlightenment, principles and was to be ruled by Christians.

Winthrop’s Puritans also used witchcraft as a means of social control. Many of the Salem “witches” were women breaking from the established gender roles, starting farms of their own and otherwise acting independently. Those 17th century agents of modernity were burned at the stake for their actions, similar to what is happening in Kenya today.

It is not by accident that advocates of Christian Nationalism, most obviously David Barton and his ilk, like to point to laws from the Massachusetts Bay Colony as evidence of America’s “Christian Heritage.” What they do not admit, of course, is that such colonies were in fact theocratic in nature and often quite brutal about enforcing that theocracy. The founding of the United States under the Constitution could hardly have been a more explicit rejection of theocracy.