Recently, I downloaded the ebook, "Revolt in 2100 (note the blurb: "the second American Revolution has begun") by Robert Heinlein. Mostly, it includes the "If This Goes On" novella, in which America is taken over by Nehemiah Scudder, the First Prophet, who establishes a tyrannical theocracy. But I was reading the last piece in the book, "Concerning Stories Never Written: Postscript."
"...the idea that we could lose our freedom by succumbing to a wave of religious hysteria, I am sorry to say that I consider it possible. I hope that it is not probable. But there is a latent deep strain of religious fanaticism in this our culture; it is rooted in our history and it has broken out many times in the past. It is with us now; there has been a sharp rise in strongly evangelical sects in this country in recent years, some of which hold beliefs theocratic in the extreme, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, and anti-libertarian.
"It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up,or driving underground all heretics. This is equally true whether the faith is communism or holy-Rollerism; indeed it is the bounden duty of the faithful to do so. The custodians of the True Faith cannot logically admit tolerance of heresy to be a virtue.
"Nevertheless this business of legislating religious beliefs into law has never been more than sporadically successful in this country -- Sunday closing laws here and there, birth control legislation in spots, the Prohibition experiment, temporary enclaves of theocracy such as Voliva's Zion, Smith's Nauvoo, a few others. ...
"Could it be otherwise here? Could any one sect obtain a working majority at the polls and take over the country? Perhaps not -- but a combination of a dynamic evangelist, television, enough money, and modern techniques of advertising and propaganda might make Billy Sunday's efforts look like a corner store compared to Sears Roebuck. Throw in a depression for good measure, promise a material heaven here on Earth, add a dash of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Negroism, and a good large dose of "anti-Furriners" in general and anti-intellectual here at home and the results might be something quite frightening... The capacity of the human mind for swallowing nonsense and spewing it forth in violent and repressive action has never yet been plumbed."He wrote this while living in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1953.
I'd read this before but somehow missed the reference to Voliva and Zion. He means Zion, IL, which was right next door to Waukegan, where I grew up. I knew, vaguely, that Zion had been a sort of religious colony, and one day there was a big fire in which the Tabernacle (where an annual Passion Play had been held) burned down. I knew they had a law, maybe still do, that forbad spitting on the street. But I'd never read up on it, and Voliva is quite the character. He believed in, and advocated for, the idea that the world was flat (in 1914!). He wrote:
"The idea of a sun millions of miles in diameter and 91,000,000 miles away is silly. The sun is only 32 miles across and not more than 3,000 miles from the earth. It stands to reason it must be so. God made the sun to light the earth, and therefore must have placed it close to the task it was designed to do. What would you think of a man who built a house in Zion and the put the lamp to light it in Kenosha, Wisconsin?"Heinlein was writing in the days before Focus on the Family, Donald Trump, climate change denial, and the "all lives matter" rhetoric. Heinlein said he was just writing to entertain, in order to buy groceries. But it's hard not to take it all as prescient parable. And warning.