"As for ... 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. ... [T]here 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. The country is split up into such a variety of faiths and sects that a degree of uneasy tolerance now exists from expedient compromise; the minorities constitute a majority of opposition against each other.
"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 large dose of anti-"furriners" in general and anti-intellectuals here at home and the result might be something quite frightening--particularly when one recalls that our voting system is such that a minority distributed as pluralities in enough states can constitute a working majority in Washington.
"Impossible? Remember the Klan in the 'Twenties--and how far it got without even a dynamic leader. Remember Karl Marx and note how close that unscientific piece of nonsense called Das Kapital has come to smothering out all freedom of thought on half of our planet, without--mind you--the emotional advantage of calling it a religion. The capacity of the human mind for swallowing nonsense and spewing it forth in violent and repressive action has never yet been plumbed."
-- Robert A. Heinlein, "Concerning Stories Never Written: Postscript" (a nonfiction essay from Revolt in 2100), October 1952.
Now I know a lot of people simply write off Heinlein as an overly wordy hack at best and an anti-religious and several-other-things lunatic at worst. However, he makes some good points here; and, given that this was actually written during the height of McCarthyism, the degree to which this essay could be said to describe the current regime in the U.S. is worth pondering, I think.
Feudalism: Serf & Turf