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Are you serving two masters? - R.H. Joseph

Cries of outrage have accompanied the Republican Party's concerted efforts to turn conservative churches into political organizing institutions.

Under the Bush administration the line separating church and state grows increasingly permeable. Theocracies may be deplorable in Muslim countries but not in America; the issue is not the form of government but the religion favored by the theocracy.

The insidious genius of those pandering to fundamentalists and evangelicals resides not so much in this politicizing of the churches, however, but in how the Republican Party's figurehead, George W. Bush, is marketed to these fervent believers.

Consider the characteristics of the object of faith. Fundamentalists and evangelicals are awed by and worship symbols of infallible authority.

While thinking Americans are indignant regarding the Bush administration's refusal to admit any of a litany of mistakes, they must appreciate such a refusal is more than simple hubris.

To maintain their hold on this pivotal voting bloc the Republican Party must insure its leader never lose his aura of infallibility.

In so doing, the Republican Party is debauching the churches of the ardently religious by encouraging the gullible to project their commitment to an infinitely good and righteous human being onto our depressingly ordinary head of state.

Pity the religious. Undone by their glorification of the act of faith, they have permitted their passionate desire to worship to be co-opted by crafty politicians.

Republican strategists employ Bush as an icon encouraging veneration by the same fundamentalist Protestants who reject idol worship. One cannot but think of Dathan in "The Ten Commandments" emboldening the faithful to focus their ardor on the incarnation of wish fulfillment, the golden calf, rather than the god of Moses.

It is remarkable that the more astute Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals do not find despicable such encouragement by the Republican Party. Could proselytizers from another religion undermine the Christian's commitment of faith more effectively?

It is a sad state when a politician ventures down this blasphemous path, but such is the nature of the conservative body politic.

So consumed with religious fervor is this stratum in this time of crisis that they are driven to project their self-serving illusions of national sanctimony upon he who resides atop our political hierarchy. Republican leadership acknowledges this compulsion and exploits it.

Those who once spoke of a divine king now look to the American president to embody their fantasies. How ironic that fundamentalist leaders who so often speak of incurring the wrath of God are so easily persuaded to envision our president within the sphere of the divine and as such equally worthy of unquestioning obedience.

And what has this golden calf to offer the faithful? Not the right to worship as they chose. They already enjoy this privilege.

Not the right to view their chosen path as the singular source of salvation. They already enjoy this privilege.

And not the right to eschew diverse forms of sexual expression and to deny themselves the various family planning options available. These rights they also enjoy.

No, what the golden calf offers those who formerly sought to remain humble in the eyes of their god is world domination. The golden calf is a metaphor for wish fulfillment and America's fundamentalists and evangelicals see in this seductive idol the promise of a world remade in their image.

If their support of Bush (and his foreign policy) remains unquestioning there shall be no gods to compete for supremacy with their god. There shall be no books deemed holy but theirs. There shall be no code of conduct other than their own.

Students of history, the educated, appreciate such desires for what they are: delusional. The Republican Party wisely exploits such delusions, employing their golden calf to offer the promise of what can never be delivered.

But in tempting them so, has Bush acted in the best interest of Christian conservatives or his own?

In encouraging the faithful to identify his presidency with the object to which they pledge their hearts has the president and Republican Party acted unconscionably?

There will be no furious Moses to rage at the ease with which the weakness of those compelled to follow is exploited. Fundamentalists and evangelicals must acknowledge which is the greater threat to their way of life, the status quo in which they may practice what they preach or the worship of a false messiah.

R.H. Joseph is a longtime employee of the News Daily. His column appears on Wednesdays. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 252, or by e-mail at rjoseph@news-daily.com.