23 Books for Counterculture Conservatives, Tea Party Occultists, and Capitalist Wizards
12. Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion by David Gelernter
Publication Date: June 19, 2007
What does it mean to “believe” in America? Why do we always speak of our country as having a mission or purpose that is higher than other nations?
Modern liberals have invested a great deal in the notion that America was founded as a secular state, with religion relegated to the private sphere. David Gelernter argues that America is not secular at all, but a powerful religious idea—indeed, a religion in its own right.
Gelernter argues that what we have come to call “Americanism” is in fact a secular version of Zionism. Not the Zionism of the ancient Hebrews, but that of the Puritan founders who saw themselves as the new children of Israel, creating a new Jerusalem in a new world. Their faith-based ideals of liberty, equality, and democratic governance had a greater influence on the nation’s founders than the Enlightenment.
Gelernter traces the development of the American religion from its roots in the Puritan Zionism of seventeenth-century New England to the idealistic fighting faith it has become, a militant creed dedicated to spreading freedom around the world. The central figures in this process were Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson, who presided over the secularization of the American Zionist idea into the form we now know as Americanism.
If America is a religion, it is a religion without a god, and it is a global religion. People who believe in America live all over the world. Its adherents have included oppressed and freedom-loving peoples everywhere—from the patriots of the Greek and Hungarian revolutions to the martyred Chinese dissidents of Tiananmen Square.
Gelernter also shows that anti-Americanism, particularly the virulent kind that is found today in Europe, is a reaction against this religious conception of America on the part of those who adhere to a rival religion of pacifism and appeasement.
A startlingly original argument about the religious meaning of America and why it is loved—and hated—with so much passion at home and abroad.
Why Counterculture Conservatives Should Read It:
The people who first came to the American continent from Europe were Christian radicals escaping persecution, wanting to live in a land where they could worship God as they saw fit in their own temples. They were just imitating the words written in their Bibles, the stories of ancient Hebrews fleeing Pharaoh in Exodus. We are a nation of dozens of countercultures all stitched together on this basic premise of freedom from tyranny. In this vigorous, engaging collection of historical, polemical essays Gelertner shows how successive generations of American presidents performed a magickal act: they secularized Zionism to create Americanism.
Why Tea Party Occultists Should Read It:
Harry Truman's understanding of America in these terms had profound effects in the real world:
Future editions of this list will include more books on Israel and Zionism... A fact of note: rocket scientist occultist Jack Parsons planned to relocate to the recently-created state of Israel before a mysterious explosion killed him in 1952...
13. Occult America: White House Seances, Ouija Circles, Masons, and the Secret Mystic History of Our Nation by Mitch Horowitz
Publication Date: October 5, 2010
It touched lives as disparate as those of Frederick Douglass, Franklin Roosevelt, and Mary Todd Lincoln--who once convinced her husband, Abe, to host a séance in the White House. Americans all, they were among the famous figures whose paths intertwined with the mystical and esoteric movement broadly known as the occult. Brought over from the Old World and spread throughout the New by some of the most obscure but gifted men and women of early U.S. history, this “hidden wisdom” transformed the spiritual life of the still-young nation and, through it, much of the Western world.
Yet the story of the American occult has remained largely untold. Now a leading writer on the subject of alternative spirituality brings it out of the shadows. Here is a rich, fascinating, and colorful history of a religious revolution and an epic of offbeat history.
From the meaning of the symbols on the one-dollar bill to the origins of the Ouija board, Occult America briskly sweeps from the nation’s earliest days to the birth of the New Age era and traces many people and episodes, including:
• The spirit medium who became America’s first female religious leader in 1776
• The supernatural passions that marked the career of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith
• The rural Sunday-school teacher whose clairvoyant visions instigated the dawn of the New Age
• The prominence of mind-power mysticism in the black-nationalist politics of Marcus Garvey
• The Idaho druggist whose mail-order mystical religion ranked as the eighth-largest faith in the world during the Great Depression
Here, too, are America’s homegrown religious movements, from transcendentalism to spiritualism to Christian Science to the positive-thinking philosophy that continues to exert such a powerful pull on the public today. A feast for believers in alternative spirituality, an eye-opener for anyone curious about the unknown byroads of American history, Occult America is an engaging, long-overdue portrait of one nation, under many gods, whose revolutionary influence is still being felt in every corner of the globe.
Why Tea Party Occultists and Capitalist Wizards Should Read It:
This book contains all kinds of historical nuggets but the one worth understanding for the purpose of this list is the real secret behind occultism -- what all the spells and magic wands and tarot cards and general silliness is really all about.
I'm not sure when I made the connection on my own -- perhaps around the time when The Secret came out in 2006 -- that "occultism" was really just self-help strategies with religious props. In Occult America Mitch Horowitz shows how this developed in the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries. Mystical and occult ideas sold heavily as mail order programs with promises of techniques that could transform the individual's life and manifest wealth from nothing. And some of them worked. So to expand their appeal authors reinvented them in a secular context. And behold the modern self-help genre.
Today when John Hawkins submits his self-help articles to me for PJ Lifestyle, pieces with titles like 5 Simple Mind Hacks That Changed My Life and 4 Crucial Techniques for Reprogramming Yourself into A Better Person, he'll lay out his own variations of common personal improvement strategies that worked for him and I'll recognize their parallels in my own mystical practices. Likewise, when Dr. Helen recommends career and self-help books like Robert Greene's Mastery one has to work hard to ignore that the methods for mastering a skill and career are the same ones that Aleister Crowley and other occultists explain for becoming a Master of the Temple.
As hokey and even crackpot as some self-help literature can be, the central premise remains sound: the root of changing the world is changing yourself, and the root of changing yourself is gaining control of your mind and thoughts. (Future editions of the list will include more on this subject...)
The next book shows why this has becomes such a necessary cornerstone of American Exceptionalism, a vital counterbalance to one of the surprising side effects of immigrant nations...