To hear the media tell it, this country's Culture War is over sexual morality and gender roles. They’ve placed this supposed conflict in a Judeo-Christian context, which conveniently explains it, ennobles it, and protects its adherents from a certain amount of questioning.
There are other aspects of Der Kulturkampf, though...a lot of which have to do with questioning the truth-values of science and logic. As far as I can tell, the consensus on the Left is that the people who are calling accepted truths of science and logic into question are neo-Medieval theocrats who want to replace rationality with irrational, myth-based thinking.
There may be some truth to this. But I find that the various, seemingly contradictory aims of Bush's inner circle are better explained by fascism than by religion per se.
Professor Roger Griffin makes the essential point that fascism is irrational and mythic by definition. This is in part a function of what he calls "palingenetic ultra-nationalism." Palingenesis is, among other things, a term for rebirth; it's most apposite, here, in its alchemical sense of rebirth from ashes. Fascists propose that the nation must be reborn from the ashes of cultural decadence, a process which they see in resolutely mystical – though not necessarily supernatural - terms. They’re utopians, and they have the utopian’s impatience with whatever "facts" stand in their way. If logic and science impede the fascist's progress towards Destiny, then they must be overthrown.
In that sense, 9/11 itself was a palingenesis: a new America rose from the ashes, and proclaimed that the former things had passed away. Part of that rebirth involved renaming the world and the things in it, purging it of all ambiguities and complexities. The writer Dubravka Ugrešić described how a similar process took place in war-ravaged Croatia:
The business of building begins with naming. This is a house; this is the homeland; this is black; this is white....[I]t appears to be intended to convince oneself and others of the actual existence of the new reality. It is only in firm coordinates, in a clear and named world, that we shall not be lost, not threatened by the chaos of madness, ambiguity, multiple truths.
Among other things, the fascistic urge towards a "clear and named world" involves championing an idealized form of peasant values. Peasants in the fascist imagination are simple, vigorous, anti-intellectual, and driven by instincts that come from their innate sense of "natural law." Peasants don't want democracy, because they have enough humility to know their place and to accept the guidance of their betters. A peasant who aspires to more than this has become corrupt and decadent; to complain about poverty or injustice is tantamount to wanting "to be fed on turtle soup and venison, with a gold spoon," as Dickens put it in Hard Times.
In one sense, then, the business of fascism is to prevent peasants and workers from "ruining" themselves through exposure to dangerous ideas. In contrast to its view of the unspoiled peasant who adheres to natural law, fascism tends to see the "masses" as feminized or childlike, and in desperate need of guidance from a leader who is an incarnation of the "male principle." In this context, I think it's fair to recall Andrew Card's statement that Bush views America as a "10-year-old child" in need of his parental protection.
In his book The Intellectuals and the Masses, John Carey notes that one of the most common refrains of pre-WWII intellectuals was that the masses should not be educated, lest knowledge engender dissatisfaction with the unreflecting, purely physical life for which nature intended them. Similarly, as Umberto Eco points out, fascism "depends on the cult of action for action's sake....Thinking is a form of emasculation." Behind all this is a profound insecurity about masculinity itself...a fear that masculinity is in danger of being irrevocably feminized by a sexually inverted enemy.
This fixation on an enemy that is simultaneously contemptible for its emasculate weakness and terrifying for its ability to destroy is typical of fascist thought, which tends to see the enemy in terms of contagion or decay. The enemy labors in secret like termites; its evil spreads like a sickness; it conquers not through its own strength, but by weakening the strong surreptitiously. War with such an enemy will be eternal, and yet always on the verge of victory. Defeat is imminent, and yet impossible. This leads to a form of emotional extremism that’s similar to religious hysteria, except that it tends to be both materialistic and amoral; it’s focused firmly on the here-and-now, and postulates that reality is created not by God, but by the will to power of "great men." Unlike religion, its long-term view may be utterly nihilistic; many fascist thinkers have welcomed the idea of mass extinction as "glorious." Thus, fascism often devolves into a death cult that offers no salvation or resurrection, particularly since the promised rebirth of culture never actually comes.
This is not to say that there can't be a religious component to the fascist's emotional extremism. However, fascism requires this kind of emotional extremism, while religion does not. Fascism is a sort of syncretic emotional vampirism that can subsume a wide variety of free-floating anxieties and hysterias, intensify them, and channel them towards its twin utopian goals of destroying "decadence" and hastening towards an ever-retreating new age. It guides religion towards a crusading messianism, and patriotism towards ultra-nationalism and racism. It channels sexual insecurity into state-sanctioned misogyny and anti-gay bigotry, and economic insecurity into divisive paranoia and resentment. Whatever it can work with, it will appropriate and bend to its own ends. It's highly adaptive and protean in a way that revealed religion tends not to be, probably because fascism is firmly oriented towards getting its reward in this world.
This conception of fascism is helpful, I think, because it unifies and explains disparate phenomena that leftists tend to see as unrelated or contradictory. Irrationality, in this context, is not some sort of inadvertant error or human failing; it's a choice based on a specific set of values, by people who have traditionally seen it as a strength. Messianism; militarism; misogyny; obsession with defining and enforcing "natural" behavior; valuing action over thought, physical fitness over reading, faith over planning, and impulse over reflection; disbelief in culture, science, and history; obsession with masculinity and father-figures; psychosexual paranoia about "effeminacy"; promoting socially exploitative materialism; hating modernity while worshipping technology; condemning decadence while wallowing in wealth; exalting individuality while promoting an unquestioning herd mentality; viewing life as a struggle in which the weak must perish; viewing compassion as weakness and charity as dangerous; praising freedom while limiting it...all of these are typical of fascism, and all of them together comprise the orientation of this administration. Accordingly, I think we need to stop thinking of Der Kulturkampf as nascent theocracy, and start thinking of it as present-day fascism.
Why does it matter? Well, suppose Bush and his cronies aren't theocrats; suppose they just play them on TV. In the current political situation, I think it's more damning to reveal them as false theocrats than as real ones. Their impersonation of people who have strong moral values is obviously beneficial to them, not just in spite of our attacks, but possibly even because of them. The GOP seems absolutely thrilled that there's a debate over the role of religion in government; I haven't noticed them being on the defensive, or stammering out reassurances that they believe in secular governance, or any of that. On the contrary, they seem as happy as pigs in shit, as the saying is.
My view is simple: any time the Republicans offer people a choice, it's a false choice. Thus, we can invade Iraq or do nothing; we can privatize social security, or lose it; we can support the Patriot Act, or prostrate ourselves at Osama's feet. All of these false dichotomies benefit BushCo, and I think the current false religious dichotomies are no different. Bush will use the fundies, certainly, and his brand of fascism will dovetail nicely with their misogyny, anti-intellectualism, and sense of mission. But ultimately, the fundies are mere tools to be picked up and thrown down at will.