By the end of the 1960′s, the United States was on the verge of Communist revolution. The youth at the time was overwhelmingly leftist; radical groups such as the Weathermen, the Black Panthers, and the SLA were taking serious aim at the institutions of US capitalism and imperialism, with widespread public support.Had the winds blown just slightly differently, the revolution would have succeeded, and we likely would be living in a unified communist world today.
But by the 80′s that had all been largely wiped away, and the US was undergoing a massive wave of reactionism, exemplified by the Reagan presidency and the rise of far-right terrorism.
So what happened?
Well, plenty, but lets focus for now on the way religion specifically was used to undermine the left, and two particular theological ideologies which were key to this.
The Jesus Movement
The public image of the Jesus Movement when it was born on the west coast in the 60′s was that it emerged organically, a grassroots revival born as a result of hippies re-interpreting Christianity. These hippie Christians- who went by the moniker “Jesus People” or “Jesus Freaks”- were, according to the media, a result of radical youth injecting their counter-cultural attitudes into Christianity.
Of course, this image was manufactured. A quote from a Christian website on the history of the Jesus Movement declares:
“Realizing the need to open their churches to the hippie generation, many conservative pastors recruited hippie liaisons to their ministerial staff.”
In other words, the Jesus Movement wasn’t grassroots at all, but rather a carefully planned deception. While the hippie liaisons presented a young, counter-cultural, and even left-leaning face to the movement, the people who were pulling the strings behind the scenes were all old, conservative, and deeply right-wing.
The most famous of these “hippie preachers” was Lonnie Frisbee – who essentially is the reason the Jesus Movement happened at all. Lonnie, unlike other figureheads of the Jesus Movement, was a genuine hippie; a regular user of acid, a dabbler in the occult, and a regular in the Laguna Beach gay scene. When Chuck Smith, of Calvary Chapel, came to Lonnie Frisbee and offered him a position as a preacher, Lonnie probably believed he had been given a golden opportunity to change Christianity for the better; to make Christianity more loving, more accepting, more peaceful. But little did he know that Chuck Smith had a plan and an agenda of his own.
Chuck knew that the rhetoric and aesthetic that Lonnie had developed had a perfect mass appeal- that it had the potential to act as a lure to bring in young people who might have been interested in the counterculture, and instead bring them under the control of the church. And after Lonnie Frisbee had helped to turn Cavalry Chapel into one of the fastest-growing churches of the decade, Chuck Smith betrayed him, and excommunicated him for being gay, wrote him out of the official church history, and did everything possible to discredit him and ruin his life. This happened to essentially all of the figureheads of the Jesus Movement who had any genuine involvement with the counter culture – they were later betrayed by the pastors who had recruited them. Their counterculture credibility was used as a lure to gain young converts, then they were cast out and shunned.
The “Peace and Love Christianity” that had been the trademark of Lonnie Frisbee became the public image that was presented in the growing Christian Coffeehouse scene, as well as the growing Christian music scene (then called the “Jesus Music” scene). This represented one branch of theJesus Movement, the branch dedicated simply to converting non-christians to some hazy, vague, “Christianity” instead of recruiting them into a specific church or denomination (as had been the usual method of evangelizing until that point). You know the kind of evangelism I’m talking about – “God is love! Do you believe in Love? then you already believe in God! Halleluiah! Accept Jesus into your heart and be saved!” The kind of evangelism that’s dedicated to gaining converts above all else was adopted as an emergency counter-measure to the waning power that Christianity had on young people as a result of the counterculture.
So essentially a two-tiered system was created where converts were first converted to “Christianity” in the form of “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” before they were recruited into specific churches – this allowed the churches to have cultural pull and influence far beyond their actual membership, since even non-churchgoers defined their identities around the culture that the churches were creating. References to Apocalyptic imagery were also common in the rhetoric of the time, as exemplified by Larry Normans song “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”- this imagery of the ticking clock to Jesus’s Return used to add urgency to the mission of conversion. Similarly, the book The Late Great Planet Earth sucked the reader in by promising to tell them about war and environmental disasters in the world today (in other words the issues a left-leaning person in the 60′s would be most likely to be trying to read up on) but instead of offering political solutions, the book concludes that these are all signs that The End Is Nigh and that the reader Must Repent.
The major churches associated with the Jesus Movement, aside from the aforementioned Calvary Chapel, included the Bethel Tabernacle, The Jesus People Army, the Belmont Avenue Church of Christ, The Shiloh Youth Revival Centers, and the Children of God. Each and every one of these Churches was run by an elderly conservative man, using the trappings of the counter-culture as a trick to gain control over more people. Many of these Churches lived on communes (deliberately poised as competitors to left-wing hippie communes) and it was within these communal churches that the ugly, authoritarian secret face of the Jesus Movement came out. Perhaps the most well known of these is the Children of God, later known as the Family International, who later became infamous for the horrific sexual child abuse that occurred on their compounds.
Even as this disgusting underbelly festered within the movement, the popularity of it continued to grow in the mainstream, as movies like Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, and the Last Temptation of Jesus Christ, and others cashed in on the fad. Explo’ 72 acted as a Jesus People equivalent to Woodstock, and helped to expand the growing Christian Music Industry. Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network was also heavily involved in the movement, and the relation between the Jesus Movement and the CBN was symbiotic- the CBN gave the Jesus Movement greater reach and publicity, while the Jesus Movement gave the CBN a way to seem modern and even vaguely hip at the time. Soon the CBN was the center of the mainstream religious media landscape.
The Church of Satan
Parallel to all of this- even in the same state of California- Anton Lavey was founding the Church of Satan. While opposite in imagery, the Church of Satan and the Jesus Movement had more in common than they had to differentiate them. Both were simultaneously products of, and reactions against, the hippie scene which was predominant at the time, and both presented themselves as apolitically counterculture- while hiding an ugly reactionary side underneath. Any claim that the Church of Satan was in any way genuinely “countercultural” was laughable in light of the fact the Michael A Aquino, one of it’s most significant members, was also a Colonel in the United States Army. Anton Lavey claimed that his church advocated no particular political ideology – while simultaneously plagiarizing his philosophy from a mix of objectivist and fascist far-right theorists.
Until Lavey, most examples of Devil-Worship had leaned politically leftward. However, from Lavey onward, most Satanic groups have been in some way influenced by Lavey’s “Satan=selfishness” pseudo-objectivism, thanks to Lavey’s ceaseless self-promotion and his constant efforts to bad-mouth any devil-worshiping group which was not inspired by him, and to try to portray Laveyan Satanism as the only “true” way to worship the devil (to quote wikipedia: “the Church of Satan promotes itself as the only authentic representation of Satanism, and it routinely publishes materials underscoring this contention”). Because of Lavey’s influence, devil worship today is almost as ideologically right-wing as Christianity.
Much like the Jesus Movement, the Church of Satan also had a tiered system of initiation – Anton Lavey encouraged anyone who agreed with the philosophy of the Satanic Bible to consider themselves a Satanist, but if they wanted to go a stage further they could become a Registered Member, and if they want they can go a stage further than that and become an Active Member, at which point they join the Church itself and are able to rise through the ranks until they eventually reach the Fifth Degree, Magus. Much like the Jesus Movement, this allowed there to be larger community of converts outside of the inner circle of the church- allowing both the Jesus Movement and the Church of Satan to have massive pull and influence, while the actual church membership remained relatively low, and the reactionary inner core remained hidden from the outside.
It’s worth noting that as soon as they had both emerged, the Church of Satan and the Jesus Movement immediately positioned themselves as opposite each other- as well as both positioning themselves in opposition to the growing radical left at the time. Nothing exemplifies this quite so much as this staged debate between representatives of the Jesus Movement, a black leftist, and a representative of the Church of Satan. (skip to 1:30 in the video)
The very fact that this debate was staged in the first place says a lot about how both the Jesus Movement and the Church of Satan were trying to frame themselves at the time – as well as the whole element of the theatrical that hung about the whole affair.
Moreover, note the public face they try to present here to the onlooking public, when they tell them that “Christ didn’t teach hatred”, while within the inner sanctum of the Jesus Movement, figureheads like David Berg were preaching racism, anti-semitism, and pro-fascist rhetoric . Similarly, within the Church of Satan, (or especially offshoot groups inspired by it like the Temple of Set, or the Order of Nine Angles) beneath the thin veneer of “countercultural nonconformity”, brutally reactionary authoritarian fascism was being espoused by church leadership.
Most people on the left at the time didn’t realize the threat that the Jesus Movement posed. Indeed, many people on the left perceived it as a possible boon, since the Jesus Movement was overall anti-war/pacifist, and many on the left believed that the Jesus Movement could be used as a way to convince mainstream Christians to support the anti-war movement, and drive the politics of America further left. Initially it all seemed to be working out: the Jesus Movement helped the anti-war movement, and Jimmy Carter was able to win election on a campaign that took major pointers from the public image of the Jesus Movement, by simultaneously portraying himself as “The Evangelical Candidate” and espousing a Social Liberal political platform.
But the Christian far-right was organizing, preparing, planning.
The Second Phase
When the Christian college Bob Jones University was being investigated for their racist segregationist policies, the worst, most bigoted people within the christian community came together to help defend them, forming the beginnings of the Religious Right as we know it today. These people were Robert Grant, Jerry Falwell, Ed McAtee, James Dobson, Paul Weyrich, and Pat Robertson (who as already mentioned had been a major player in the growth of the Jesus Movement). Many of these people had already been involved in using the Jesus Movement to guide potentially radical young people away from left wing politics, and under the command of the church – and it was now that they came together to form the blueprint for how to now mobilize these people as part of a hard-line reactionary political movement. It was in these early meetings that Paul Weyrich suggested an allegiance with the Republican Party, and specifically his friend Ronald Reagan.
Prior to this, fundamentalist Christians had mostly abstained from politics, in the belief that the way to perfect the reactionary lifestyle they believed was the only correct one was to separate from the secular world. However, this was the beginning of a new strategy- rather than separating from the secular world, the new plan was for fundamentalist Christianity to conquer the secular world politically.
They were still biding their time, however. They were still at the first stage of the plan – the stage where they tried to draw young people away from the counterculture and toward Christianity, and they still had to gain more converts before they could politically mobilize them.
Pat Robertson, and his Christian Broadcast Network, would be key to the next phase. Having become the major media voice of the new wave of Christianity mostly due to his willingness to associate with the left-leaning and counter cultural Christians within the Jesus Movement, Pat Robertson prepared for 1980, when he would unveil his political colors. It’s cruelly ironic that he first declared his interest in politics in an interview with the left-leaning Christian magazine Sojourners, where he mused hypothetically about the possibility of running for president. Up until this point Pat Robertson had presented himself as politically neutral, and this was the first whisper that he had any political intentions of any kind. It was only when Pat Robertson formed the Freedom Council in 1980, which declared as its mandate: “to encourage, train, and equip Americans to exercise their civil responsibility and to actively participate in government” that his intentions became clear.
At this point Pat Robertson began heavily pushing anti-choice, anti-feminist, right-wing politics, while simultaneously scare-mongering about the threat that “New-Age Christianity” posed- in other words, the foremost media mogul of the Jesus Movement was now pushing for any of his followers who still had connections to counter culture to abandon those connections, and to fall in line with the new far-right political movement.
The same year that the New Christian Right unveiled it’s ugly reactionary face, a military document entitled “From PSYOP to Mindwar: The Psychology of Victory“ was published. This essay dealt with the use of psychological warfare as a way to convince your enemy through media to bring their own state policies in line with yours, and also the use of psychological warfare on the home countries population – specifically in order to prevent the sort of civil unrest which occurred during the Vietnam War – which the document argued had been the cause of the United State’s defeat in that conflict.
It’s not unreasonable, especially considering that many of the people who were in leadership positions in the New Christian Right were involved in the Military, to think that some of the people in the Religious Right had possibly read and been inspired by that document.
It’s also not unreasonable, considering his military connections, to think that Col. Michael A. Aquino, from the Church of Satan and the Temple of Set, might have read the document –
Especially since he wrote it.
Around this time the sexual abuses that had occurred in the Children of God cult, and other Jesus Movement associated cults, had become public. In order to prevent people from falling away from Christianity in light of these revelations, Pat Robertson placed the blame for the abuses on the counter cultural trappings of the Children of God, rather than on abuses of religious authority. According to Pat Robertson, the abuses by the COG proved not that authoritarian reactionary cults are dangerous but rather that the hippie subculture was decadent, and any Christians from the Jesus Movement must abandon all traces of their former hippie lifestyle and dedicate themselves more completely to traditionalist, right-wing Christianity. Furthermore, the Christian World Liberation Front (which had begun as a Christian campus group designed to lure in radical youth) at this point re-tooled themselves into the Spiritual Counterfeit Project- a supposedly “anti-cult” group that in actually merely attacked any religious group that strayed from the far-right Christian party line.
And while the abuses committed by the Children of God cult was used to justify the persecution of religious groups which strayed from Christian orthodoxy, the COG cult themselves evaded any consequences for their horrific actions- they merely changed their name to Family of Love, then later The Family, then The Family International, each time they were exposed. Even though they had been exposed repeatedly as a pedophilic abusive cult, they remained close to the upper echelons of the Christian far right- even singing at George Bush Sr’s white house Christmas party.
The End Times
The End-Times imagery employed in Christian media at the time shifted from focusing on the Rapture, to focusing on the Antichrist, the Final Battle, etc. Pat Robertson and his compatriots Jerry Falwell and James Dobson produced mountains of media about how the Soviet Union/Communism/Feminism/Leftism were the Antichrist, and that the only way to protect us was to vote for God’s Candidate, Ronald Reagan. This Apocalyptic scare tactic was incredibly effective, and Ronald Reagan was elected in a landslide, by many of the same people who had just recently voted for Jimmy Carter.
A perfect example of the rhetoric of the time is shown from 2:28-7:10 in this video:
Essentially, it was a mood of reactionary paranoia, wherein followers were instructed to view any group or person who promises to unite people or bring peace as a possible contender for the antichrist, to be viewed with suspicion and distrust. The irony is palpable in the fact that groups like this rose to prominence in the late 60′s precisely because they promised to unite people and bring peace.
Meanwhile, pre-eminent members in the Church of Satan, such as Boyd Rice, Michael A. Aquino, and Zeena Lavey, made frequent public appearances on television – frequently being invited to debate with televangelist Bob Larson, making a clear and deliberate effort to portray Conservative Christianity and Laveyan Satanism as the two opposing ideologies of the time. This also played out in the heavy metal scene, as bands that used Satanic imagery like Motley Crue publicly feuded with Christian metal bands like Stryper. The element of public theater in the public debate between Christianity and Laveyan Satanism remained as strong as always.
At this time, the Church of Satan was less shy about it’s far-right associations, and Boyd Rice and Michael Aquino associated quite openly with Tom Metzger, founder of the White Aryan Resistance,one of the largest neo-nazi gangs in America. This video clearly demonstrates how utterly brazen the Church of Satan was about their nazi connections in the late 80′s:
Meanwhile, the Christian far-right, of course, had more than a few connections to neo-nazism as well. Paul Weyrich, who was instrumental in aligning the New Christian Right with the Republican Party, associated heavily with Laszlo Pasztor, a former leader of the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross organization in Hungary, while Pat Robertson was known to have associated with David Duke.
What we can see here is that the psychic landscape presented to the youth in the 80′s was a prison from which there was no escape. It seemed like young people were presented with the choice of either affiliating with The Christian Right (which was secretly controlled by reactionary cryptofascists) or Laveyan Satanism (which was also secretly controlled by reactionary cryptofascists). And tragically, many young people did end up pushed down one of these two roads toward far-right extremism. And any act of violence or abuse committed by one of these two groups could be used as a rhetorical tool by the other. They both strengthened and supported each other even as they publicly acted as enemies; to quote Anton Lavey’s 9th Satanic Statement: “Satan has been the best friend the Church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years.”
If the control of Evangelical Christianity and Laveyan Satanism was so total, then why are they both so relatively politically irrelevant today?
There are a lot of factors, but a big piece of it goes back to some extremely foolish statements that were made by George Bush Senior after the end of the USSR and the fall of the Berlin Wall- namely, the infamous “New World Order” speech.
The Christian far-right at this point had been basing TONS of it’s rhetoric around the idea that the Soviet Union was the Antichrist- but if the Soviet Union was dead, and Jesus hadn’t returned, then who was the antichrist? Who was the world-unifying devil in disguise that was going to fight God in Holy War at the End Times?
The “New World Order” speech convinced many on the far right that the answer was: American Internationalist Capitalism.
Pat Robertson, the very beating core of the pop-culture wing of the Christian far-right, said at this point that:
“Indeed it may well be that men of goodwill like Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, and George Bush, who sincerely want a larger community of nations living at peace in our world, are in reality unknowingly and unwittingly carrying out the mission and mouthing the phrases of a tightly knit cabal whose goal is nothing less than a new order for the human race under the domination of Lucifer and his followers”
Of course, soon after this he would be helping George Bush campaign in 1992, since politics is a funny thing and sometimes you find yourself endorsing the political campaign of someone you recently accused of being in league with the Antichrist.
But some things can’t be un-said, and consequently, many in the Christian far-right abstained from voting in the 1992 election, which was a major factor in the election of Bill Clinton. Of course, even though Bill Clinton was pretty right-wing, he wasn’t in any way seriously connected to the Christian far-right, and consequently, conflicts soon sprang up between the federal government and the Christian far-right, including but not limited to the Waco incident and the Timothy McVeigh bombing.
The Christian Far-Right would never quite recover from this, and has not since then reached the level of nearly total ideological control that it did in the 80’s. An attempt was made to create a second Jesus Movement, called the Fifth Great Awakening (http://www.conservapedia.com/Essay:The_Coming_Fifth_Great_Awakening_in_America) but this mostly failed. Other attempts were made at secretly Reactionary religious movements that publicly presented themselves as Progressive in order to lure people in, including the Nu-Atheists and Catholic Tank Club, but both of these failed to achieve their goals due to their failure to keep their Reactionary underbelly hidden.
What’s the lesson in all of this? Just that reactionaries will pretend they’re not reactionaries when they find it strategically convenient to do so. Not everyone is what they seem, and you need to be careful who you trust – and ESPECIALLY who you take guidance from when it comes to spiritual/religious matters.
The Jesus Movement and Laveyan Satanism, born as twins in the state of California, formed in reaction against the growing leftist movements of the time, and acted in tandem as a form of psychological warfare against the widespread popularity of the radical left among the youth. And it worked, with horrifying effectiveness- the left in America was horrifically weakened, almost nonexistent, in the 80′s.
And it could happen again.
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