GA legislatures exploit religious paranoia, likely mental illness

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, April 21, 2010 20:16 EDT
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Sometimes even I can be surprised by the depths that pandering Republican politicians will sink. I almost fell off the treadmill while watching this segment on “Rachel Maddow” about the Georgia legislature passing a bill that makes it illegal to microchip someone against their will. The bill doesn’t really make mention of why they think this is a threat, nor do they address this on the program, except to suggest this is more paranoia-mongering about the federal government, which is absolutely is. But for anyone who has lived in or near the Bible Belt, what’s going on here should be really obvious.

This is theocracy pandering, in a nutshell. It’s illegal, of course, to make fundamentalist Christianity the state religion, but passing laws like this is how the legislature can signal to the Christian right that they really wish they could. The microchip thing is a reference to the fundie belief that we’re nearing the End Times. The belief is that—after the Rapture, I think—everyone will be lured into accepting the Mark of the Beast. The Antichrist will do this by making the Mark either requisite for doing business or making the currency itself. (When you hear conservatives freak out about a one world currency, this is where it’s coming from.) But you have to refuse it, of course. It’s implied in this belief that taking on the Mark will damn you to hell for eternity. Subsequently, fundies tend to get obsessed with monitoring what the possible Mark could be, because god forbid you take on the Mark without knowing and then go to hell even though you tried really hard to be a good Christian. They’re also obsessed with warning non-believers to look out for it, presumably on the grounds that if we’ve been informed and we see it coming, we’ll realize the Christians were right all along and join up with the forces fighting the Antichrist.

Theories proliferate about what this Mark will be. I was growing up during a transitional era, when the assumption was changing from believing it will be a tattoo on your hand of some symbol to believing that the Mark will be the currency itself. Growing up, I heard various ideas of what the mark would be (not from family or anything—just around):

*The number 666, of course, or some symbolic variation
*The peace symbol
*The pentagram
*The anarchy symbol
*Bar codes
*And of course, implanted microchips

Many people believed all were possibilities. With the peace symbol especially, there was this bemused assumption that the fools who wore it voluntarily were dupes of Satan. I imagine as more people get the sci-fi understanding of microchips, the microchip has really taken the lead in theories about what the Mark of the Beast will look like. It’s easy to imagine, isn’t it? We have credit cards and PayPal—the next step is currency planted in your skin, no real money at all!

I can imagine for Georgia politicians, this seems like a no-brainer. Score some political points with the fundies by banning something fictional that scares them. What’s the harm? Well, as you’ll see in the video, they got an earful of exactly what is the harm when one of the women called in to testify spun a tale about her persecution by the federal government that made it clear that she’s quite likely schizophrenic. Now, I really don’t know much about the treatment or care for schizophrenics, but I have trouble imagining that it’s really good for them to have their paranoid delusions reinforced by powerful people. Which is unfortunately just what they did by treating her as a credible witness for the committee.

But it also points to a larger problem with this kind of pandering to the religious right. Their beliefs aren’t harmless. The more paranoid elements of the teabagger movement that are running around talking about how they’re proud to be terrorists is just the tip of the iceberg here. The fundie beliefs about the Antichrist tailor neatly to the anti-government gun nut beliefs about the federal government. Put the two together, and you generate this paranoid belief that the government is out to get you and your guns because the government is in the thrall of Satan. I cannot emphasize enough how widespread fears about the Antichrist are. This isn’t a small thing, and the problems extend beyond just this immoral exploitation of a woman who sends every signal that she’s suffering from a serious mental illness.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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