In a speech delivered behind closed doors to an anti-LGBT hate group, the attorney general of the United States held forth with his philosophy of religious freedom. It wasn’t “the government’s job to immanentize the eschaton,” he said.
The reason we know that is an actual thing that Jeff Sessions said—or at least planned to say—in his July 11 speech to the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is that Buzzfeed’s Dominic Holden prepared a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the speech, which apparently prompted the Department of Justice to release the text, as prepared for delivery, to a right-wing website, The Federalist. The ADF earned is classification as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its work as “a legal advocacy and training group that specializes in supporting the recriminalization of homosexuality abroad, ending same-sex marriage, and generally making life as difficult as possible for LGBTQ communities in the U.S. and internationally,” according to the SPLC website.
I should perhaps note here that it is not really normal for the nation’s chief law enforcement officer to address a hate group, or address any group in secret.
In fairness to Sessions, it should be noted that on the matter of the eschaton he was quoting William F. Buckley, a man mistaken by right-wingers for having been a brilliant mind because he knew a lot of words. To those unfamiliar with eschatology, the eschaton is a fancy Greek term for the End of Days or Kingdom Come, or whatever name you wish to call the apocalypse. Some use it as a catch-all for a combination of the Heaven-on-Earth period that some Christian sects claim will precede the big Lights Out/Party Over itself. Others take the Greeks at their word, seeing it as the End. In his coinage of the phrase “immanentize the eschaton,” Buckley, who never said in two syllables what he could say in twelve, was speaking of that combo-concept, meaning that it wasn’t government’s job to make things nice for people by granting them their civil rights and feeding the starving poor. To do that would create Heaven on Earth, which would necessarily bring about cosmic extinction. And who would want that?
The topic of the attorney general’s speech to the ADF, which is defending Christian-owned businesses for the right to discriminate against queer folk, was “religious freedom.” Sessions promised that, any day now, he would issue a guidance to government agencies on how to apply the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in ways that conform to his novel interpretation of the First Amendment. The ways in which an anti-LGBTQ bias could be applied to the work of government agencies boggles the mind, given that the government is charged with providing health care to millions, fair housing protections, asylum requests, and ensuring the rights of all. For many, the eschaton may indeed be immanentized.
I FIRST LEARNED the term “immanentize the eschaton” not from Buckley, but from the Illuminatus Trilogy, a trippy, satirical, phantasmagorical 1975 novel by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea rooted in the jokey-but-not-a-joke Discordian philosophy birthed in the 1960s. Discordianism takes a spin on Taoism, but uses avatars of Western civilization—two minor Greek goddesses whom the Discordians seem to have invented themselves—to illustrate its concepts. Along the way, there’s lots of fun made of all kinds of religions and philosophies, and most of all, any presumption of order in the world.
I’ve never been one to latch on to a single philosophy or to live strictly within the bounds of a particular ideology, so in the Age of Trump, I find myself drawn to the rueful humor and syncretized heresies of those ancient Discordians. The events of Tuesday alone give me cause.
As I write this, we’ve just learned that, try as he may, the Senate majority leader has failed to revoke the health care of millions by legislative means. In light of that failure, the president plans to use administrative action (or inaction) to allow the Affordable Care Act to stop working on its own in places where market forces are not holding it together.
Another of Tuesday’s revelations is the previously unreported ad hoc hour-long meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a banquet at the G20 summit, to which only an interpreter on Putin’s payroll was privy. (Among the Illuminatus Trilogy’s more memorable lines is an admonition to “never whistle while you’re pissing,” which may have particular salience in the Russia investigation, given the compromising information Putin is alleged to have on Trump.)
It was a treasure trove of absurdist horrors, Tuesday was, with the added development of an eighth member named of the famous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting convened by Donald Trump Jr.—the one from which he hoped to glean dirt on Hillary Clinton that was described as having been obtained by Russian intelligence services. The newly revealed kompromat trafficker is an employee of a real-estate company owned by the oligarch who partnered with the president in the production of the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.
In the meantime, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer returned to the podium for no-camera briefing to the press corps, where he was unable to answer basic questions about what the president discussed with Putin, such as the diplomatic tussle over two U.S. vacation houses owned by the Russian government and used by its diplomats and/or spies, depending on whom one talks to. (A sometimes brilliantly annotated transcript of that press conference was posted by The Washington Post’s Callom Borchers.)
Spicer spent a good chunk of the presser highlighting the administration’s naming of this as “Made in America” week, with a forklift from Mississippi and a firetruck from Wisconsin gracing the White House lawn, examined and applauded by a president wearing a tie likely made in China with his own name on the label. (“The president really liked the firetruck,” Borchers wrote in his notes on the transcript.)
And while Spicer attributed the slow pace of filling administration positions to Democratic obstruction, Garry Kasparov, the chess champion and Putin critic who is a Russian ex-pat, took to Twitter to note that the vacancies Trump has been slow to fill likely serve the president’s purposes well by keeping control of agencies to a tight circle of insiders.
In the meantime, the State Department announced it would shutter its war crimes office.
“It was the year when they finally immanentized the eschaton,” Wilson and Shea wrote in the opening line of the Illuminatus Trilogy. Though set in the 23rd century, the authors may have been too optimistic in their timeline. If not yet immanentized, the eschaton is standing at the ready. It will take a mighty resistance to stave it off. Time to get to work.