The following is a transcript from Rachel Maddow's Sept. 16 show of her interview with Christian Right expert Frank Schaeffer:
Rachel Maddow: Public Policy Polling released results from its new poll of residents of the great state of New Jersey. The poll found that 18 percent of New Jersey conservatives say they are sure that President Obama is the anti-Christ. No questions asked. Another 17 percent of New Jersey self-identified conservatives say they just aren‘t sure, but they‘re not willing to rule it out.
What do you think the White House strategy is going to be to rebut the fact that more than one in three conservatives think the president might be the anti-Christ? At least in New Jersey. That is a P.R. challenge.
Joining us now is Frank Schaeffer. He grew up in the religious far right. He is the author of “Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right and Lived to Take All or Almost All of It Back.”
Mr. Schaeffer, thank you so much for coming back on the show tonight. ... I do not know what possessed this polling firm to ask whether or not people think the president is the anti-Christ, but they did. Does the response rate among conservatives surprise you? More than one in three saying yes or they don‘t know.
SCHAEFFER: Well, I was a child when President Kennedy was assassinated, and my mother thought, because he died of a head wound, foretold in scripture of the anti-Christ he would be resurrected as the anti-Christ. She thought this might be a possibility.
So, those of us who come from the evangelical subculture have been weaned with our mother‘s milk on a changing cast list of villains. It might be Kennedy to one generation, Obama to the next.
But I think the larger point this brings up is that the mainstream—not just media, but culture—doesn‘t sufficiently take stock of the fact that within our culture, we have a subculture which is literally a fifth column of insanity, that is bred from birth through home school, Christian school, evangelical college, whatever, to reject facts as a matter of faith. And so, this substitute for authentic historic Christianity, and I may add as a little caveat here, I‘m a church-going Christian, really brings up the question: Can Christianity be rescued from Christians? And that‘s an open question.
And when you see a bunch of people going around thinking that our president is the anti-Christ, you have to draw one of two conclusions. Either these are racists looking for any excuse to level the next accusation or they‘re beyond crazy? And I think beyond crazy is a better explanation.
And that evangelical subculture has rotted the brain of the United States of America and we have a big slice of our population waiting for Jesus to come back. They look forward to Armageddon. Good news is bad news to them.
When we talk about the “Left Behind” series of books that I talk about in my book “Crazy for God.” what we‘re talking about is a group of people that are resentful because they‘ve been left behind by modernity, by science, by education, by art, by literature. The rest of us are getting on with our lives. These people are standing on the hilltop waiting for the end.
And this is a dangerous group of people to have as neighbors, and they‘re our national neighbors. And this is the source of all of these insanities that we see leveled at the president. One way or another they go back to this little evangelical subculture. It‘s a disaster.
MADDOW: It is one thing though to think about these as almost cultish
views, to think about these as views that are on the fringes of beyond the
edge of mainstream Christianity. It‘s another thing to look at the
numbers. I mean, in this same poll, the numbers are also really high on
the question of whether or not the president was born in the United States
61 percent of McCain voters in New Jersey expressing doubt that Obama is American, saying he definitely wasn‘t born in the U.S. or they‘re not sure.
The birther thing has been disproven. The anti-Christ thing is—it‘s all another kettle of fish. But how do you work to move people off that position? It doesn‘t seem like facts are relevant in trying to move people away from these beliefs.
SCHAEFFER: You don‘t work to move them off this position. You move past them. Look, a village cannot reorganize village life to suit the village idiot. It‘s as simple as that. And we have to understand, we have a village idiot in this country, it‘s called “Fundamentalist Christianity.”
And until we move past these people—and let me add as a former lifelong Republican—until the Republican leadership has the guts to stand up and say it would better—it would be better not to have a Republican Party than have a party that caters to the village idiot, there‘s going to be no end in sight. The next thing they‘ll do is accuse Obama of being the anti-Christ and then who knows what comes next on and on it goes.
There is no end to this stuff. Why? Because this subculture has as its fundamentalist faith that they distrust facts per se. They believe in a younger of 6,000 years old with dinosaurs cavorting with human beings. They think that whether it‘s economic news or news from the Middle East, it all has to do with the end of time and Christ returns. This is la-la land.
And the Republican Party is totally enthralled to this subculture to the extent that there is no Republican Party. There is a fundamentalist subculture which has become a cult. It‘s fed red meat by the pawns like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and other people who are just not terribly bright themselves and they are talking to even stupider people. That‘s where we‘re at. That‘s where all of this is coming from.
And it‘s becoming circular. It‘s becoming a joke. Unfortunately, a dangerous joke because once in a while, one of these “looney tunes,” as we see, brings guns to public meetings. Who knows what they do next. It‘s a serious thing we all have to face, but the Democrats and sane Americans just have to move past these people, say, “Wait on the hilltop until the end, the rest of us are going to get on with rebuilding our country.”
MADDOW: Mr. Schaeffer, briefly, is there anybody on the right who could be constructive here if they wanted to be? To the extent that people could be moved off of these conspiracy theories? And I understand your point that they not—it‘s not true that all of them could be. But is there anybody who could be influential to try to stop the impact of these conspiracies?
SCHAEFFER: Look, in the year 2000 I worked for John McCain, to try to get him elected in the primaries instead of George Bush. But John McCain sold out by nominating Sarah Palin who comes directly from the heart of this movement and carries with her all that baggage. So, he sold out. I don‘t see anybody on the Republican side of things these days who has the moral standing to provide real leadership, or who will risk their position to do so.
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Rachel Maddow is the host of her own show on Air America Radio. She has a doctorate in political science (she was a Rhodes Scholar) and a background in HIV/AIDS activism, prison reform, and other lefty rabblerousing.