The study of religious zealots

Why is there a mass movement of religious zealots in the USA?

Why now?

The European Tribune tries to explain:

Growth has slowed.
For example, measures of wealth which have shown a sharp rise in the US and UK during the past several decades are based primarily upon the super wealthy having become even more wealthy [ see American Plutonomy ]

But their wealth is in areas where the inherent “value” is relative – stocks and real estate.

A house which now sells for $1 million is of no greater utility than it was ten years ago when it sold for $300,000. Similarly the rise in stock prices does not reflect a corresponding growth in the fundamentals of the firms.

So while the paper wealth of the super rich has gone up and raised the aggregate figures as well, the average family is living pretty much the same life style as their parents did.

There may be more material goods in their lives, but how they spend their time, and what their expectations are hasn’t changed much.

Then what has changed?

The stability of social structures has diminished.

People no longer expect to work in a stable job with a predictable career and a secure retirement.

They no longer feel assured that health care will be affordable or available. They no longer know what will happen to them when they get old and infirm – extended families don’t provide support now that many women are out of the home as well.

This has raised the level of insecurity and made people more amenable to adopting messages from ideologues who present simple explanations to the causes of such insecurity.

There has arisen increased competition from the newly emerging industrial powers.

The first wave of fear was with the rise of the Japanese economy starting in the 1960’s. The patterns that US businesses had pursued for a hundred years were thrown into doubt as big industries like steel started fail.

More recently the rise of China and India has started to worry the industrialized west as they start to consume raw materials and take jobs away from high cost economies.

The holy elephant of the Republican Party

Reporting on James Dobson, a fellow who is less well known than Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson and far more powerful than either of them, Slate reveals a few of the “my way or the highway” tactics in today’s zealous conservative wing.

At Common Dreams Bill Moyers has harsh words for the President and the Christian Right

What’s happening lately?
“This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy.” – U.S. Representative Christopher Shays R-CT

With full academic support and years of research behind him, Professor Bob Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba describes the key characteristics of followers (Right Wing Authoritarians) and their leaders (Social Dominants).

Professor Altemyer, who was the basis for research data in John Dean’s recent book “Conservatives without Conscience”, explains,

Briefly these people are unquestioning followers of strong leaders who believe in a hierarchical social structure.

How many ordinary people do you think an evil authority would have to order to kill you before he found someone who would, unjustly, out of sheer obedience, just because the authority said to?

What sort of person is most likely to follow such an order? What kind of official is most likely to give that order, if it suited his purposes?

‘The Authoritarians’ is a scientific look at what years of experiments tell us.

It’s about the disastrous decisions that government has made. It’s about the corruption that rotted the Congress. It’s about how traditional conservatism has nearly been destroyed by authoritarianism.

It’s about how the “Religious Right” teamed up with amoral authoritarian leaders to push its un-democratic agenda onto the country.

It’s about the United States standing at the crossroads as the next federal election approaches.

‘The Authoritarians’ is free. [pdf]