An election year is just around the corner, and right on schedule we’re witnessing the return of the liberal obsession with conservative politicians’ religious beliefs.

Every time a Republican candidate for high office surfaces who is also a dedicated Christian, the left warns in apocalyptic tones that if you vote for him, America will sink into a “theocracy.” Long ago these fear-mongers warned us about Ronald Reagan. Then it was George W. Bush, and after that, Sarah Palin. Now it’s Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. Elect Perry or Bachmann, this year’s warnings go, and make way for “Jesusland” — a country in which adulterers will be stoned, creationism taught in the schools and gay people sent to reorientation therapy.

In a recent New Yorker profile of Bachmann, Ryan Lizza characterized the Minnesota congresswoman as “a politician with a history of pushing sectarian religious beliefs in government.” Around the same time, Salon’s Alex Pareene accused Perry of “purposefully evoking some of the most radical far-right movements and ideas of the last 200 years.” A few days later, Michelle Goldberg, who in 2006 wrote a theocrats-under-the-bed book titled “Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism,” warned in the Daily Beast that both Bachmann, a Lutheran, and Perry, a lifelong Methodist who currently worships at an evangelical mega-church, “are deeply associated with a theocratic strain of Christian fundamentalism known as Dominionism.”

You may wonder what on Earth “dominionism” is. That’s because the word wasn’t coined by dominionists (partly because it’s unclear whether there actually are any) but by writers who worry about dominionism. The word derives from a passage in the Book of Genesis in which God gives Adam and Eve “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the Earth.” It’s a stretch from there to the idea that the Christian right has a secret plan to take over America, but plenty among the paranoid intelligentsia have been willing to make that stretch.

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