The Rise of the Religious Right: A Cultural History

Part I: Setting the Stage

religious-rightIt’s useful to begin this discussion by reviewing the dialectical process of transformation: First there is a change in the culture (the thesis), followed by a reaction to that change (antithesis) and the resolution that results (synthesis).

In recent history, perhaps we can trace the current religious right back to the cultural upheavals of the 1960s during the conjunction of Uranus and Pluto that occurred in Virgo. I can’t improve on the way Palden Jenkins describes the combination of Uranus Pluto on his fantastic Historical Ephemeris site:

Uranus and Pluto do not automatically signify forward change. They bend the bars and blow holes in the walls, leaving us to respond to the acute options presented. One sector of society might take one path, and another sector might take another. It’s not always ‘the people’ who lead and the saturnine authorities which resist – ‘revolution from above’ happens too, as Mao Tsedong attempted in the 1960s Chinese Cultural Revolution.Uranus and Pluto have their own characteristic styles of creating resistance and conservatism. They can push people up against their fears, exacerbating resistance to change by threatening insecurity or disaster. Uranus’ resistances include the diversion of social energies. Two examples are the starting of the Napoleonic wars and of WW1, both of which captured nascent popular energies which became dangerous to the established order. Yet when one plays with such forces, they can backfire. Uranus can hijack new initiatives by forms of trickery too, as in the revolutions of 1848, when European bourgeoisies filched the restless energies of factory workers to strengthen their own power.

Pluto’s resisting patterns include outright oppression and escalation of social control. Two relatively recent examples were the stamping out of protest and the illegalisation of LSD around 1968-70 [followed by CIA mind control experiments using that drug in the early 1960s] or, worse, the Nazi takeover in Germany in 1933 (during a Uranus-Pluto square). Here, suppression of minorities disguised the subtle control and coercion of majorities. Another Plutonine example is the use of abject fear and destruction – a recent example being the use of defoliants and napalm in Vietnam in the late 1960s.

Genghiz Khan, master of medieval blitzkrieg, set the Mongols on the rampage around the 1201 Uranus-Pluto conjunction (in Cancer). By the square of 1236-39 they threatened Eurasia, and by the opposition of 1283-86 they ruled much of it. The zenith of the neo-Mongol terror-merchant Timurlenk, reputed for his piles of skulls, occurred later during the major configuration of the 1390s (mentioned in an earlier article), with Uranus and Pluto in opposition. Terror indeed.

There’s a hidden twist and kick-back: these forces are, after all, uncontrollable. The energy of revolutions can often turn to chaos, leading to the re-creation in new form of what was destroyed: Louis XVI’s execution in 1793 turned into the emperorship of Napoleon by 1799, and Czar Nicholas’ death in 1917 lead to the rise of Stalin in 1924. The historical lesson here is that, if forces of change are blocked, they turn savage, leading to excess and consequent reaction, giving power to historical figures with the spunk to take advantage of a situation. Yet such power-holders usually embody something in the collective psyche which craves authoritarian control, even if demanding the opposite.

The influences of Uranus and Pluto are not simple and clear-cut. During the Uranus-Pluto square of 1933-34, a pressing need to reactivate sagging economies after the worldwide crash of 1929 led in Germany to Hitler’s rise (he was seen at first as a reformer and national saviour) and in USA to Roosevelt’s New Deal (an enlightened move which actually gave background military-business interests an insidious leg-up). Similarly, in the mid-1960s conjunction, there was a mixed outpouring in pop music of both light (“All you need is love”) and dark energies (“I am the god of hell-fire…”), bringing very confused archetypes into the public domain.

civil-rightsThe social and cultural change that occurred in the 1960s, while thrilling and exhilarating to those who embraced it, was shockingly frightening to those who resisted the force of change. Free love and sexual expression, the explosion of mind-altering drugs, the rise of Black Power and women’s rights. Nothing was the same and everything was different, and this cultural upheaval planted the seeds for the conservative reaction that came later. We can trace this reaction through the evolution of the Saturn/Jupiter cycle in which we find ourselves today.

The dance between Saturn and Jupiter acts out the idea of action/reaction. Jupiter takes action: it’s expansive, dynamic, hopeful. Jupiter is willing to step out and make changes; however, Jupiter can be somewhat reckless and overconfident which is where Saturn steps in. Saturn acts as the reaction agent, setting boundaries and limitations to confine the impulses of Jupiter. Saturn therefore represents the conservative impulse. Saturn and Jupiter were conjunct in Capricorn in 1961, coinciding with the inauguration of President Kennedy. One could say Kennedy was the first truly liberal president in the US since FDR, and his election was the catalyst for a new wave in politics, fashion, and the culture in general. That was the year of the birth of the civil rights movement, when the Freedom Riders rode through Mississippi protesting the treatment of black Americans.

Jupiter made its opening (waxing) square to Saturn in July of 1965 and the first combat troops were sent to Vietnam, marking the beginning of the end of the expansive idealism (Jupiter) of the early 1960s. The waxing square presents a challenge, and as the repressive forces of Saturn moved in Jupiter erupted in a violent effort to continue the expansion of the previous years. Uranus and Pluto were in tight conjunction that year and police attacked civil rights demonstrators in Selma, after which President Johnson signed into law the civil rights bill which was later expanded to include rights for women. A tornado outbreak in April (when Mars was conjunct Uranus) brought fifty-seven tornadoes to the midwest, a vivid symbolism for the upheaval of Uranus and Pluto, and the Watts riots erupted during the Long Hot Summer.

A conjunction of Jupiter to Uranus and the entry of Saturn into Taurus in 1969 brought a tremendous surge of creative energy in the form of several powerful cultural events that marked the culmination and implosion of the social change of the 1960s: Woodstock festival and the Moon landing, followed shortly by the Manson murders and the violent Altamont festival. Saturn is the most conservative of planets, since it strives to maintain order and preserve form. In Taurus, the sign of stability and resistance to change, Saturn stubbornly holds to the status quo. That resistance creates more tension when opposed by the desire of Jupiter for expansion, and the oppression becomes more severe. 1970 continued the slaughter of the 1960s ideals as the counterculture imploded following the Kent State murders and the death of Janis Joplin.

In the background, the backlash was beginning.

PART II: CULTURAL REVOLUTION

woodstockOne underlying thread of influence throughout this period is the continuing opposition of Chiron (exposing the wounds in the culture) with Uranus (individuation and radical new ideas). This is too complex to cover in this context but I’ll drop these tantalizing tidbits: Chiron and Uranus were in opposition fairly consistently during the period between 1952 and 1989 with over 40 exact oppositions. The pressure on the culture worldwide to permit individual rights (Uranus) and the painful results of not doing so (Chiron) is one of the overall most important factors in the rise of the empowerment of the Self that we have seen over the past 60 years.

After the cultural upheavals of the 1960s, the final event in the opposition of Jupiter to Saturn took place in November of 1970 coinciding with the passage of Neptune (spirituality) from Scorpio (sexuality, the occult and death), where it had been since the 1950s. During Neptune’s passage through Scorpio, psychedelic drugs became associated with spiritual experiences, and the occult became popular. In 1966, during Neptune’s passage through Scorpio, Time Magazine asked the question on everyone’s mind, “Is God Dead?” about a spiritual movement that arose during the 1960s which argued that the sacred had disappeared from modern culture. The Supreme Court decision banning prayer from public schools was often cited as a cause of this problem, as well as easy access to contraceptives that led to a more lenient attitude about sexuality (Scorpio) and premarital sex became more common.

The ingress in 1970 of Neptune into Sagittarius, the sign of religion and shared ideals, brought a new concept of spirituality (Neptune) into religion (Sagittarius). This was the cusp of the New Age movement in which one experienced God, rather than just believe in God. The dissolution (Neptune) of the role of traditional religion (Sagittarius) must have been very frightened to the more conservative Christians who felt their way of life slipping away, particularly after the increasing demands of power from women and black Americans.

Pluto’s entry into Libra in 1971 marked the explosion of the feminist movement and a decade of that was later termed by Tom Wolfe as the “Me Decade” for its focus on individual rights (Pluto in Libra created a breakdown (Pluto) in established relationship patterns (Libra)). Gender roles for women (Venus/Libra) were transformed, with more women entering the workforce than ever before. The entire system of marriage irrevocably changed during the Pluto/Libra period as families dealt with issues such as day care that had not previously been an issue when women stayed home.

The first sign of the conservative backlash may have been the fight by Phyllis Schafly against women’s rights. While her fight began in the late 1960s, it wasn’t until 1972 when she campaigned against the proposed Equal Rights Amendment that her battle against feminism went public, galvanizing conservatives across the country.

The Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973 that granted women the right to an abortion was perhaps the single most important event in the rise of the Christian conservative movement. The case of Roe v. Wade was first argued in late December of 1971, but reargued in October of 1972 in time for Jupiter to square Pluto, overturning (Pluto) the laws against abortion in Texas and liberating (Jupiter) women to make their own decisions about their body.

After Roe v. Wade, and the decision to ban prayer in the public schools, the conservative Christian movement began to organize. Jesse Helms began a group called the Conservative Caucus as a political action and lobbying group to advance conservative causes, and various conservative Christian groups began to form. After Nixon was forced to resign in 1974 during a square of Pluto to Saturn which created upheaval (Pluto) in the government during the Watergate crisis, the Vietnam War finally ended in April of 1975. Jupiter was conjunct Chiron and squared Saturn, combination which continued into 1976 along with a square of Saturn to Uranus. At times the four planets interacted in a powerful Grand Cross, exposing (Chiron) the Watergate scandal (Jupiter/Saturn), breaking up (Uranus) established patterns (Saturn). This era saw the downfall of Richard Nixon, two assassination attempts on Gerald Ford, the first public right-to-die debate over the fate of Karen Ann Quinlan.

In other parts of the world, Palestinian terrorism increased following Israel’s victory in the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur war of 1973, and Islamic fundamentalism begins to grow in Arab states (particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, later run by Al Zahawiri who went on to lead Al Qaeda).

PART III: THE REAGAN YEARS

raptureIn 1976 Jimmy Carter campaigned for president on a campaign promise to heal the “malaise” the country was experiencing as the result of a poor economy and the Iran hostage crisis. Malaise is a great description for the Jupiter/Saturn experience as the expansion of Jupiter battles with the restrictions of Saturn. Saturn saps the energy of Jupiter and can cause tremendous fatigue. The square of Saturn to Uranus strives to bring form (Saturn) to new ideas (Uranus) (this configuration also witnessed the beginnings of Apple Computer and Microsoft) but also brings repression (Saturn) against new ways of thought (Uranus), leading to the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1978-1979.

During Carter’s administration the Christian right was mobilizing in response to what they saw as a threat to their way of life. The group American Christian Cause was formed in 1974 shortly after the Roe v. Wade decision as a means to gain more political influence. This group later evolved into the Christian Voice and the Moral Majority in 1978, which campaigned actively for a voice in the Republican party. Having lost much of their power during the explosive social revolutions in the 1960s when their participation in groups such as the KKK gave them a public image as bigots and backwards, they seized the opportunity to use the backlash against the cultural revolution to gain political power. These new political groups used issues that were of concern to cultural conservatives, but used a religious bias. An excellent article cataloguing the rise of the religious right is this one by Bryan F. LeBeau.

Neptune in Sagittarius was trine Pluto in Libra during a long period from 1974 through 1982 that coincides with the rise of the political Christian right. Neptune in Sagittarius in its highest expression integrates spirituality and experience of the divine (Neptune) with religion and theology (Sagittarius), and when in trine to Pluto we saw an increase in power (Pluto) particularly through alliances (Libra) of like-minded individuals. This time period also saw the rise of alternative medicine, the healing arts and spiritual philosophies that were not necessarily doctrinary approaches to religion. However, the connection between religion and spirituality did increase during this period, and fundamentalist Christian groups expanded in number and power along with a number of more nontraditional religions.

The square of Saturn to Neptune between 1978 and 1980 brought repression (Saturn) and confusion (Neptune), personified most vividly perhaps in the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the worldwide energy crisis that resulted, as well as the taking of American hostages. The Saturn/Neptune cycle is often associated with oil and gas (Neptune) shortages (Saturn), and because Neptune rules that which is hidden from view and mysterious, such as the hostage crisis. (The hostage crisis became even more mysterious when Reagan negotiated the announcement of the release of the hostages to occur after he took office so Carter would receive none of the credit.)

Ronald Reagan was the first presidential candidate to welcome the influence of the new conservative Christian political groups, the most powerful of which was Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. Pat Boone was a close confidant, and Jerry Falwell met with Reagan more than any other religious leader. Jerry Falwell claimed that the Moral Majority was responsible for the election of Reagan, but regardless of the truth of this statement and the fact that Reagan was fascinated by astrology and UFOs conservative Christians loved him because of his stand on abortion and the fact that he believed that Armageddon was close at hand. The Jim Bakker sex scandal eroded support for the Moral Majority after Jerry Falwell took over Bakker’s PTL ministry, and the Moral Majority closed it’s doors in 1979.

Reagan made promises to the conservative Christian lobby that he would advance their agenda, but in reality he did not do much for Christian fundamentalist causes, focusing instead on economic recovery and dealing with the Soviet Union. Reagan’s failure to keep his promises (coinciding with the end of the Neptune/Pluto trine that brought a new wave of power (Pluto) to spiritual groups (Neptune)) led these groups to realize that they needed to build power themselves rather than rely on a friend in the presidency.

In 1983 Pluto entered its own sign of Scorpio and began to break down the established power structures (quite literally in the case of the Berlin wall). Neptune entered Capricorn in 1984 and gave rise to the fantasy (Neptune) of quick gains in the stock market (Scorpio) and the desire for acquisition and success (Capricorn) as noted in the popular television shows “Dallas” and “Dynasty” and the film “Wall Street.” Although the power of the Religious Right had wained during the mid-1980s, the threat of AIDS (Death by sex = Pluto in Scorpio) was portrayed as punishment for the free sexuality of the previous decades and inspired a new generation of conservative Christians. When Saturn conjuncted Uranus in 1988-89 and then Neptune, the repressive forces of Saturn again came into play resulting in a new wave of extremism both from conservative Christians in the US and from Islamists, including the birth of Al Qaeda in 1989. The three major battlegrounds for the religious right are what they perceive as the loss of morality, the rise of feminism and what they perceive as the destruction of the family, and the rise of gay and lesbian rights movements. All three battlegrounds are symbolized by Pluto and Scorpio, and the period from 1983 through 1995 when Pluto traveled through Scorpio created tremendous anxiety for conservative Christians and inspired a huge growth in the intensity (Pluto/Scorpio) of the movement.

This time it was Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition that became the public face of the Christian right on the heels of Jimmy Swaggart’s own sex scandal in 1988. George HW Bush used Reagan-esque tactics of pandering to the Right in order to be elected, but then failed to satisfy their demands and consequently lost to Bill Clinton in 1992, beginning what I like to think of as the Golden Age. The Golden Age also saw the conjunction of Uranus to Neptune in Capricorn that released a sudden wave of radical new ideas (Uranus) and brought fringe spiritual groups (Neptune) into the mainstream (Capricorn). The wave of Christian fundamentalism that was radicalized during the Saturn/Uranus conjunction lost influence after Clinton was reelected in 1996.

Pluto’s entry into Sagittarius marked the beginning of religious and ideological (Sagittarius) wars (Pluto) on many different fronts. The fundamentalist Taliban gained power in 1995 and seized control of Kabul in 1996. In 1997, the Republican-led House of Representatives voted to support the use of the National Guard to prevent removal of the Ten Commandments from a courtroom and members of the Heaven’s Gate cult committed mass suicide. Osama bin Laden openly declared war on the US in 1998. In 1999 various states passed resolutions requiring schools to display the Ten Commandments or to say the Christian Lord’s Prayer.

In March of 2001, with Mars (warfare) conjunct Pluto in Sagittarius, the Taliban blew up (Pluto) the famous 2000 year old Buddhas (Sagittarius). Then on the September 11th came destruction (Pluto) by planes (Sagittarius). Shortly thereafter Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell blamed this action on the ACLU, abortion, and gay people. September 11th and the debacle of the Iraq war combined with the rise of Islamic fundamentalist warfare is seen by many as heralding the end of the world, the Armageddon. We are concluding the pass of Pluto through Sagittarius in 2008 and Pluto is wrapping up the issues of the culture wars, but the battle between fundamentalism and reason has really just begun and will, I believe, be the battle we face as we approach the square of Uranus (radicalism) in Aries (warriors) to Pluto (destruction and change) in Capricorn (social structures, governments, corporations).

 

By | 2018-08-04T08:41:06+00:00 July 18th, 2006|Favorite posts, Longreads, Politics|Comments Off on The Rise of the Religious Right: A Cultural History
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