The Truth, Mainly - 02/04/2002

Paranoid worries about theocracy, plutocracy
by Leon Satterfield

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

—Robert Frost

Yes, I am paranoid. Some people out there want to get me for it too.

I've spent several years fearing that our democracy is becoming a theocracy. I have this recurring nightmare about being rousted out of bed at 2 a.m. by militant theocrats cleverly disguised as federal marshals.

"How long," they always demand of me, "since you've been to church?"

Trembling, I tell them that only two years ago I attended a baccalaureate service at First Methodist, that I occasionally turn up at the Unitarian Church in a futile quest for social justice, and that I've been known to wander into Catholic cathedrals in other countries to admire the interior architecture.

"Doesn't count," they always tell me. "We mean going to church for real purposes—to seek salvation for your filthy soul."

That's when I always break down and begin to blubber.

"I haven't been to a church to seek salvation for my filthy soul," I sob, "since I was 13 years old."

Then in my recurrent nightmare I'm always marched off at bayonet point to attend the red-eye rededication and total immersion service at the Lost Lambs o' God Diamond Cathedral and Baptismal Font in the back shop of the Bide-a-Wee Tearoom.

"You have no right!" I always shriek. "Separation of Church and State Forever! This is a secular nation!"

"This is a Christian nation," the officer in charge always says, "and we're going to Christianize the secular right out of your little behind."

Usually I wake up then, have a cup of warm milk, and read Tom Paine's "The Age of Reason" until I stop quivering.

But then my wife thrusts a Journal-Star article in my face, and there's the headline: "District judge to rule against Ten Commandments display." The story says that U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf intends to rule in favor of the ACLU in a suit charging that the Ten Commandments monument in the Plattsmouth city park violates the First Amendment.

"Holy Moses!" I shout. "God bless U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf! Perchance we're not a theocracy after all! Maybe we'll no longer be marched off at bayonet point at 2 a.m. to be forcibly and totally immersed in the Lost Lambs o' God Diamond Cathedral Baptismal Font in the back shop of the Bide-a-Wee Tearoom. Hallelujah!

"You," my wife says, "are a very strange little man. Total immersion in very cold water might do you a world of good."

She doesn't worry much about theocracy. She worries about plutocracy.

"Why worry," I say, "about government by a Walt Disney dog? Relax."

It's a little joke I make to amuse her. I know of course that plutocracy is the kind of government the little green people have on the planet Pluto.

"Plutocracy," she says, thrusting an open dictionary in my face. "Government by the very rich."

"Very rich is very good," I say. "What's wrong with government by the very rich?"

"Life's a game to them," she says. "They keep score with money. And the score is more important than playing by the rules the rest of us have to play by."

"Hah?" I say.

"The more money they have," she says, "the more influence they have in government. And the influence is always used to make them more money so they can buy more influence."

"Come on," I say. "This is a government of laws."

"Laws that are usually passed," she says, "by legislators who get elected because of donations from plutocrats. Laws that are usually enforced by an administration that also gets elected because of donations from plutocrats."

"Doesn't sound legal," I say.

"Wouldn't be legal," she says, "if our lousy campaign finance laws didn't allow plutocrats to own congressmen and cabinet members and vice-presidents and presidents. The president's biggest financial supporter is a plutocrat whose energy company pays no taxes in four of the last five years. And the plutocrat and his people have secret energy policy meetings with the vice-president, and the vice-president won't tell us what they talk about."

"You're making all that up," I say. "Where do you get that stuff?"

She closes her eyes, puts her fingertips to her temples, and goes into a trance. When she speaks, her voice seems to come from the bottom of a well.

"Enron," she says, slow and soft and spooky. "Say it loud and there's music playing. Say it soft and it's almost like praying. Enron. Enron. Enron."

Great. Now I'm going to have two recurring nightmares. If the theocrats don't get us, the plutocrats will.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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