Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Christian Right XIX An Afterword 89

And how does the Christian Right do business? How to they treat each other in a business relationship involving something they as a group believe in? “I rest my case” with these links...

[from the Cincinnati Inquirer Kentucky section, November 30, 2010]

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and Answers in Genesis, builders of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, will unveil plans for a new Northern Kentucky attraction Wednesday in Frankfort.

The theme park, to be called Ark Encounter, will be in Grant County, KY, near the Veterans Cemetery.
The attraction is envisioned as a full-scale wooden ark that would include associated museums, theaters, amenities, event venues and outdoor parking.

Preliminary indications are that the attraction could draw as many as 1.6 million guests per year and would cost at least $24.5 million to complete.
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There is a long and murky history of this sort of enterprise – very murky!
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Pensacola dinosaur and creationist theme park halted as a tax fraud

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Pat Robertson wanted to build a Jesus theme park on the shore of Galilee in Israel, but the idea was shot down by outrage at some of Robertson's own crazy comments

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Mormons bilked by fraud schemes promising Mormon founder's money, perpetual income or a biblical theme park

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Remember Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and the “Heritage USA” theme park?

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“The Holy Land Experience” – shady but not up on criminal charges yet. Note the self-serving authoritarian family control of this entity:

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Christian Right XVIII Summary 88

 Quiddity is pure quality, the sacred moments of our life. It is observed at birth, death and deepest love. Quiddity must be preserved to prevent the triumph of chaos*.

Much of the modern political right in the United States consists of evangelical Christians, enough to taint the platform and the positions of an overwhelming majority of the members of the Republican Party. This presents an immediate and difficult problem with respect to Quiddity. Jesus himself was an example of Quiddity in his economy and effectiveness of speaking. As the poet Robert Graves observed, he “never wasted a word.” The Christian right isn't really centered on this eloquent speaker, though, it is associated with a personal relationship with Christ as filtered through modern Protestant theology. This is a very strange Jesus who has been conjured, one who rewards obsequious hysteria.

I am tempted to entertain a long discussion about what this means intellectually. The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) as well as the general epistle of James and the red letter words of Jesus do, yes, indeed, seem to present a Christ different than the one presented in the rest of the New Testament. This is important because the rest of the document emphasizes and is dominated by Paul's letters. The first group of books seem consistent with a high-Quiddity (and adamantly non-political!) Jesus, whereas the Christian Right as well as most modern evangelism, is heavily influenced or dominated by the second set of books.

I am also tempted to go on at length about the standards of this blog, which emphasizes, as noted in the first post, realism. The Christian Right is based on faith instead. There's nothing wrong with this until it enters the pokey world of secular government, as it did in the Scopes trial of the 1920s about the theory of evolution. The religious viewpoint technically prevailed in the trial, but this hollow victory created a national laughingstock that kept the evangelicals out of politics for 40 years. Thanks to Crick and Watson and the double-helix of DNA, as published in 1952, evolution is now a fact, not just a theory. We know how the information is transmitted to the next generation. “Creationism,” the response of the evangelicals and fundamentalists, is not respectable from the viewpoint of realism. In fact, it's a waste of time bordering on propagandistic misinformation. This inability to face scientific facts is, automatically, low Quiddity.

The arts demonstrated by the evangelicals and fundamentalists are a key indicator. The hymnal and religious songs are an unholy horror, whiny minor key ballads that would make a saint perform somersaults in the crypt, arias for trite soap operas. The gospel singing is laughable compared to real talent, say, Mahalia Jackson. The country-and-western motif, concentrating on personal unrequited love, is unbearably hideous because of its suffocating mawkishness; reasonable people don't whine like this once they grow up. The actual divorce and domestic violence rates in the “Bible Belt” are reputedly the highest in the country. Where is the peace? The joy? The born-again improvement in personal character? Lo and behold, a soul needs to be saved again and again before any change is lasting. Instead there seems to be a worship of authority as a thin veneer over a potential for violence. The pacific nature of the Sea of Quiddity demands the end and crusting over of such rage and destructive impulses.

The worst tendency of the Christian Right is an ugly lust for acquiring the reins of power in order to manipulate foreign policy through military adventures in order to fulfill supposed Bible “prophecy.” This cancerous error is rife in the build-up to the Iraq invasion of early 2003. It oozes into other policies as well, including the threats made to Iran that caused the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff to threaten to resign as a body early in 2006. The invention of non-existent allies, like Pakistan, is consistent with this theocratic militarism as well. As a result, young Americans are dying for an impossible theocratic military goal. So cunning and deeply planned is this error that it migrates from one administration to another; America has been on the ground in Iraq and bordering nations since February of 1991 with no end in sight. The nation is borrowing money (from the atheistic Chinese) to continue this endless theocratic gambit, but the Christian right offers no complaints.

To an extent, the Christian Right is winning the political fight in the United States. Criminal felonies about mistreatment of prisoners of war go unprosecuted. The American people appear sanguine about robotic weapons killing dozens of civilians with each strike in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Perpetual war against the other rapidly growing religion is viewed as proper. This is policy of a very low quality that proceeds without significant political opposition.


Religion and politics don't mix
Religious impulse is a disastrous motive for going to war
Bad art is a sign of low Quiddity
Authoritarianism reaps a whirlwind
The Christian Right, and its tool of implementation, the Republican Party,
     are of low Quiddity
and incapable of preserving and defending quality
Indefinite detention without trial is the definition of a police state

* FOOTNOTE on chaos: It is unclear what the ultimate proper use and design of chaos is in The Great and Secret Show. Chaos may well be a necessary force (as it is in Hindu religious structure and in classical Greek mythology). But the force of chaos (the Iad Uroboros) must be kept away from the Cosm. Chaos in the wrong sector of the universe is overwhelmingly destructive.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Christian Right XVII Others On the Right 87

Let's say a few words about the rest of the conservative movement. The Christian Right doesn't quite have the monopoly it seeks.

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis, and Similar Tag-Alongs

A plurality of the modern Republican Party are now born-again Christians, dupes for Lewis's Elmer Gantry. Most of the rest are a lot like George Babbitt, even almost ninety years later. Sinclair Lewis hit a home run when his book Babbitt was published in 1922. Again, copies of George Babbitt have simply got to be the second largest group of conservatives.

Babbitt makes a good living in real estate. He is always getting along, going along, trying to be popular even with his subordinates, climbing the social ladder his wife wants him to climb and having lunch every day at the club. He muddies his own life with his own manufactured crisis and then repents. He lives a life of foggy, confused, self-serving hypocrisy, rather like most of the residents of Palomo Grove in Clive Barker's The Great and Secret Show. The great secret of Babbitt, though, is that he'll sell anyone out at any time in order to advance his own material position. Babbitt's bible isn't the Good Book but Stendhal's masterpiece of the courtier, The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal.

The positive thinking, Norman Vincent Peale types and the followers of Dale Carnegie's cookbook, How to Win Friends and Influence People, belong in the Babbitt camp. The treachery and double-dealing of this group is stupendous. They even sold themselves out when then bargained away the Republican Party and gave the rules committee and credentials committee to the Christian right, thus suffocating themselves as the rump group of their own crusade.

The way to fight these sycophants is simply to understand couriers better than they understand themselves. This is easy. In addition to The Charterhouse of Parma, La Rochefoucauld's Maxims will do the trick – I recommend the elegant, clever translation of Leonard Tancock. We'll get back to the Maxims later in this blog.

The Intellectual Conservatives

Austriocons, Buchanocons, Neocons, Aquinacons, Radiocons, Sociocons, Theocons, Republicons, Catocons, and Platocons as mentioned by John Dean's book Conservatives Without Conscience. Dean got this information from a 1996 article from Insight in the News of December 23, 1996, by David Wagner, still on line at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1571/is_n48_v12/ai_18963097/?tag=content;col1 . Theocons seem to be a smaller, tighter, more ideological group than the discussion in this blog on the Christian Right. My guess is that some of the Babbitt clones are Neocons or Radiocons or Republicons, but most such courtiers eschew a philosophical orientation altogether.

These intellectual conservatives seem to lack fire and any ability to organize effectively. Nor can they cooperate trustfully with independents and disaffected democrats (as the Tea Party can do rather easily). I think their ideological quibbles are a tar pit worth staying out of. Overall, my judgment is that only some of the Catocons are capable of making and defending a rational argument.

[Platocon Allan Bloom wrote an incisive book called The Closing of the American Mind which will come up later in this blog].

Goldwater Republicans

Often “Taft Republicans” and their offspring, these folks tend to be in their 70s or 80s by now. Some of their baby boomer children belong in this group. They believe in small, honest, limited government, a sound dollar, strong defense, a reluctance to go to war unless strategically necessary, the relentless prosecution of white collar crime, a sunsetting of nanny socialism and wealth transfers, an absence of influence peddling or lobbying, a free press and an absolute separation of church and state. During the Cold War, they favored relentless pursuit of victory in that conflict. The successor to Goldwater was a character actor with an impressive skill at communicating on television, Ronald Reagan. Reagan did not have the power in congress to implement the Goldwater vision, yet he brought down big game by winning the Cold War (with critical assistance from Margaret Thatcher). Reagan retired and died without a successor. The Christian Right has repeatedly tried and utterly failed to copy Reagan's communication skill. I think that failure has two causes – they should have copied the original, Goldwater; and they lack (to the point of distrusting) the common sense and wisdom of both Goldwater and Reagan.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Christian Right XVI Torture Is OK 86

The U.S.A. and the Christian Right: Torture Accepted
"He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself."

-- Thomas Paine

  1. Torture is a federal felony under USC 18 punishable by imprisonment and the death penalty

  1. The Christian Right is deaf to the law and to “fundamental” human decency

  1. What the Christian Right Thinks

  1. What Conniving at Torture Means to the Future of the United States of America

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Torture is a federal felony under USC 18 punishable by imprisonment and the death penalty

The Geneva Conventions ARE PART OF US FEDERAL LAW:


  1. Offense.— Whoever, whether inside or outside the United States, commits a war crime, in any of the circumstances described in subsection (b), shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death.

  1. Circumstances.— The circumstances referred to in subsection (a) are that the person committing such war crime or the victim of such war crime is a member of the Armed Forces of the United States or a national of the United States (as defined in section 101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act).

  1. Definition.— As used in this section the term “war crime” means any conduct—

  1. defined as a grave breach in any of the international conventions signed at Geneva 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party;
  2. prohibited by Article 23, 25, 27, or 28 of the Annex to the Hague Convention IV, Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, signed 18 October 1907;
  3. which constitutes a violation of common Article 3 of the international conventions signed at Geneva, 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party and which deals with non-international armed conflict; or
  4. of a person who, in relation to an armed conflict and contrary to the provisions of the Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices as amended at Geneva on 3 May 1996 (Protocol II as amended on 3 May 1996), when the United States is a party to such Protocol, willfully kills or causes serious injury to civilians.

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United States of America:
The United States has openly declared itself to be against torture, but it has been endlessly accused of carrying out violations against human rights in conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Accusations attack United States’ international prisons that include Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Abu Ghriab in Iraq. In the year 2001, 45 detainees died in US custody due to being suspected of criminal homicides. 8 people were torture to death, and 98 detainees died in US custody in Iran or Afghanistan. Evidence shows that torture has been employed in these prisons, but the USA continues to deny these claims

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outside confirmation of torture and deaths:

Report probes US custody deaths

BBC News February 21, 2006

Almost 100 prisoners have died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since August 2002, according to US group Human Rights First.

The details were first aired on BBC television's Newsnight programme.

]Of the 98 deaths, at least 34 were suspected or confirmed homicides, the programme said.

The Pentagon told Newsnight it had not seen the report but took allegations of maltreatment "very seriously" and would prosecute if necessary.
The report, which is to be published on Wednesday, draws on information from Pentagon and other official US sources.


Human Rights First representative Deborah Pearlstein told Newsnight she was "extremely comfortable" that the information was reliable.

The report defines the 34 cases classified as homicides as "caused by intentional or reckless behaviour".

It says another 11 cases have been deemed suspicious and that between eight and 12 prisoners were tortured to death.

But despite this, charges are rare and sentences are light, the report says.

Speaking on the programme, the US ambassador to Iraq said the "overwhelming number" of troops behaved according to the law.

But Zalmay Khalilzad said abuses did exist.

"They are human beings, they violate the law, they make mistakes and they have to be held accountable and the good thing about our system is that we do hold people accountable," he said.

Investigation call

UK MP Bob Marshall-Andrews told the Press Association that the report confirmed "in statistical terms the appalling evidence already available in footage".

"If it is indeed systemic, then the responsibility for it must go right to the top, and that would apply to both British and American governments," he said.

A spokesman for Amnesty International UK called for a probe into the deaths in custody.

"Deaths in custody during the war on terror are a real matter of concern to us and we want to see the US and its allies allowing a full independent and impartial investigation into these deaths, as well as mounting incidents of alleged torture and other mistreatment," he said.

He said Amnesty had raised the issue of "overly lenient sentences" for those found guilty of mistreating prisoners.

Last week, an Australian TV channel broadcast previously unpublished images showing apparent US abuse of prisoners in Iraq's Abu Ghraib jail in 2003.

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    The Christian Right is deaf to the law and to “fundamental” human decency

The essential position of the Christian right “snaps” back to the days before Magna Carta, when anyone can be killed or abused on the orders of the King.

The power of the crown was limited to prevent the King from murdering another bishop. The Norman barons, the gentry, the freeman and the serfs all supported this approach over blind loyalty to the king. Limitation of the king's powers was originated by the Church to protect itself. The kingdom that made this advance in civilization has not lost a war on its own territory since adopting this limitation on power. Further details are provided earlier in this blog.

I have never talked to an evangelical person or member of the Christian right who understood the genius of Magna Carta and its civilizing limitations on power. Not one. Defenders of American torture say dreadful and irrelevant things: that as long as abortion is legal in the United States, the torture is irrelevant (!). That it saves American lives (how can this be when torture is such a notoriously unreliable way to gain strategic information of importance? Further, torture guarantees future American deaths in wartime (see the subheading below on the future).

I have also mentioned to evangelical Christians the fact that NATO citizens of Germany and Canada have been mistakenly tortured, seriously weakening the grand alliance that was critical to winning the Cold War. They are indifferent to alliances or such ivory tower war college thinking. Bush is a born again Christian and he approved it, and that is all they need to know. Bush did indeed authorize it (thus admitting a federal felony!) in his autobiography released several days ago. He did it to save lives (an illogical argument, since tortured detainees will say anything to stop the torture, often shrewdly guessing what the torturer wants to hear).

The ineffectiveness of information received under duress has no impact on an apologist from the Christian right. It's us or them. We have to be ruthless. There are only two possibilities – the preservation of a Christian west or Muslim domination.

The good news is that the sales pitch of the Christian right is peculiarly ineffective for most young Americans. In the long run, its religious stagnation and bad politics. The Christian right is growing grey rapidly. Eventually, indefinite detention without trial and with torture will end; but even if it ended tomorrow, it would still be enough to taint the United States and its military and its politicians for centuries to many others in the world, especially those living in the Middle East.

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    What the Christian Right Thinks

The Christian right thinks that a Holy War is necessary against Moslems. The Christian right is especially delighted at the thought of military conflict between Christians and others in the world.

The Christian right misses Bush and Cheney. Here were these drunks who found Christ and then made it all the way to the top! These are the heroes who made being born again respectable! Bush said in an unrehearsed debate that “Jesus Christ,” was the most important philosopher that he followed, “because he saved my life.” This was music to their ears. And it wasn't mocked or laughed at by the press nor pundits. Evangelism is now respectable and a winning political approach. Hallelujah.

Limited power? Torture as a felony? The Constitution? “It's just a goddamned piece of paper,” George W. Bush almost certainly said to a closed caucus meeting of Republican Senators. No one in the Christian right was offended by the Lord's name being taken in vain by another born again, one who successfully rose to power.

Support for Bush and Cheney is support for being born again which is support for guiding one's life by personal hysteria. The reason for the hysteria is despair. The REAL conversion, my dear blog readers, is from pouting with despair to proudly seething with resentment. Chris Hedges, a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School and former Pulitzer Prize winner, discussed this in an article “Despair Drives Christian Right” on page C1 of the January 14, 2007 Philadelphia Inquirer. This became the source material for chapter 2 of Hedges' 2008 book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. Hedges begins his book with a quote from Blaise Pascal:

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

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  1. What Conniving at Torture Means to the Future of the United States of America

It will mean that it will be difficult and expensive to fill the all-volunteer Army (although the current recession and high college tuition costs are helping recruiters fill quotas at the moment – see http://azstarnet.com/news/national/article_a8fbca8a-02df-5685-884a-20a57b1e9db3.html ).

It is meaning that we are moving toward armed forces that are far more religious than the general public – with unknown long term consequences that could be dangerous.

It will certainly mean that in the next large-scale war, Americans themselves will be mercilessly tortured, since the world knows that torture is how America conducts itself militarily.

The Christian right wants America to pick fights and stay in military engagements. The ascendency of this group over one of America's political parties has made indefinite limited warfare a standard fact of American life (Iraq indefinitely since 1991 and Afghanistan since 2001). The other political party, feeling the pressure to look tough and win battles, elected a president in 2008 partly by a hawkish stance on Afghanistan, a strategic irrelevancy that is not going well militarily for the USA. This same party campaigned against torture but almost immediately backtracked once in power, and can now be counted on to continue the policy of indefinite detention, though the tactic is itself the definition of a police state.

We can count on long-lasting American military alliances to be less effective in the future. NATO was seriously weakened by the participation of European allies in Afghanistan. Future adventures will have to be accomplished with fewer allies.

The religious fervor of America's limited wars, especially concentrating as they do on Islamic nations, has heated the desire of those nations for nuclear weapons to a fever pitch. Nuclear proliferation has never been as dangerous as it has become, worldwide, after the 2001 Afghanistan incursion and 2003 Iraq invasion. Many governments of the second and third world want their own nuclear devices; some will get them.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

The Christian Right XV Church, State and National Decline 85

Comment on American Theocracy Chapter 7 (conclusion): Church State and National Decline

The Theologization of American Politics: Symptoms and Prescriptions

Major impacts upon constituency politics:

Issues involving birth, life, death, sex, health, medicine, marriage and the role of the family
Efforts to reduce the separation between church and state
Energy, environment, climate and petroleum issues

Phillips notes that “National opinion surveys and the priorities expressed since the late 1970s by church, religious-right, and Republican grassroots organizations give precedence to the life-and-death, sex-and-family issues over any others. Endless confrontations have arisen over abortion, women's rights, assisted death and the right to die, the promotion of sexual abstinence, contraception, and the question of gay marriage.”

Most extreme is the Christian Reconstructionist movement, which “proclaims ambitions that range from replacing public schools with religious education to imposing biblical law and limiting the franchise to male Christians.” However, Phillips notes that “most Americans have never heard of Christian Reconstructionism.” Phillips finds the support of this movement within the Southern Baptist Convention to be “hard to measure.” The Assemblies of God have been more openly supportive. Attorney General John Ashcroft was “perhaps the best example of a high Bush administration official whose policies had some reconstructionist coloration.”

While the religious right slows down and confuses the scientific decisions and bodies in Washington, the bigger scientific issue is the trouble science is having maintaining worldwide leadership. Less money is being spent on science in America. “Intel chairman Andrew Grove says critical scientific infrastructure spending is being neglected, and the premier research universities are losing their edge,” Phillips write. Susan Hockfield, the president of MIT, says, 'We're falling behind. We're not keeping up with other countries. The science and math scores for our high school graduates are disastrous. We're underfunding research in the physical sciences and lagging seriously on publications in these sciences.' Stanford professor Irving Heissman, a stem-cell researcher, told The Boston Globe, 'You are going to start picking up Nature and Science and all the great journals, and you are going to read about how South Koreans and Chinese and Singaporeans are making advances the rest of us can't even study'”

“In 2005 the Business-Higher Education Forum released new data showing that fifteen-year-old Americans are worse at problem solving than their peers in twenty-five countries. Something else young Americans don't seem to understand –perhaps not surprisingly – is evolution. In 1993 an international social survey ranked Americans last – behind Bulgaria and Slovenia – in knowledge of the basic facts of evolution.”

In the Crusaders' Footsteps: The Anglo-American Achilles' Hubris?

Islam and Christianity began fighting in the seventh century. There were nine crusades. The British conducted something like a crusade after World War I. And in the nine months before George W. Bush sent troops into Iraq, “his inspirational reading each morning was a book of sermons by a Scottish preacher accompanying troops about to march on Jerusalem in 1917.”

“One of the more chilling themes of world history is the relationship between great wars and religious ambition. Holy war inflames religion into arrogance; and as all four of the nations we have examined were passing their apogees, there was talk about the antichrist and Armageddon, one of Christendom's familiar mass excitements.” Fifth-century Romans damned the Vandals and Huns, popes and Spanish kings became the antichrist to Protestants, Louis XIV became the antichrist to troops from the Netherlands. At the onset of World War I in 1914, “military recruiting posters showed St. George, St. Michael, angels, and even Christ in the background. Bishop of London, A.F. Winningston-Ingram called the war“a great crusade – we cannot deny it – to kill Germans” and told the Guardian, “You ask for my advice in a sentence as to what the church is to do. I answer MOBILIZE THE NATION FOR A HOLY WAR.”

“The fuller U.S. Parallel developed out of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the nascent religious right became a vocal participant, with prominent evangelical ministers arguing that Christianity could not convert the world for Christ with Soviet atheism in the way. From Ronald Reagan's White House down to grassroots congregations the Soviet Union – the “evil empire” – became a biblical as well as ideological foe... in those years, end-times preachers named the USSR as the evil confederation supp9osedly referred to in the Bible.”

The Soviet Union collapsed from 1989 to 1991, and the Christian right rapidly sought a replacement. Iraq and it leader, Saddam Hussein, were seen as the re-embodiment of the evil Babylon and as the leading new contender for the role of antichrist. “In 2003, Richard Cizik, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, told the New York Times that “evangelicals have substituted Islam for the Soviet Union. The Muslims have become the modern-day equivalent of the Evil Empire.”

Phillips reminds us that “the 65 to 70 percent of the 2004 Bush electorate that are born-again or that believe in Armageddon represent the party's essential constituency.”

Bush and his advisers kept in touch with and never disavowed, radical end-times preachers such as Tim LaHaye, Jerry Falwell, John Hague and Jack van Impe. These preachers were follow-ons and imitators of defrocked Anglican priest John Nelson Darby, “who visited the United States eight times in the 1860s and 1870s,” ultimately gaining more American adherents than he had in the British Isles. “In a nutshell, what Darby proclaimed – and what spread like wildfire through the hugely successful books of Cyrus Scofield (the 1909 Scofield Reference Bible), Hal Lindsey (The Late Great Planet Earth)... and Tim LaHaye (the Left Behind series)... is a world of turmoil now in the last of seven periods (dispensations) that will end with the rapture of true believers suddenly pulled into the sky to be with Christ. Next follows the seven-year tribulation, when the Satanic antichrist will arise in Europe and s4eize world power. T its end Christ and his armies will triumph in a great battle in Har-Megiddo, near Haifa in what is now Israel. From Jerusalem Christ will proclaim the start of a one-thousand -year reign of peace.”

Something like this started to happen in the closing days of the first World War. British churches were on fire with patriotism and sermons about Armageddon. The British Army did defeat the Turks, did march successfully on Jerusalem and did control all territory from Cape Town, South Africa, to Burma. Britain itself went into a post-war recession. The Middle East was under tenuous control by the British Empire as a backwater.

For the churches that had rooted for war, the peace was disastrous. “Churchgoing lost its quasi-obligatory status for middle- and upper-class Britons, reducing attendance to only 15 to 20 percent of the population in the 1940s.”

Phillips speculates that a religious decline of similar proportions awaits America in its post-Iraq future. His case that George W. Bush made policy and military decisions about Iraq from an essentially religious mindset is ironclad.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Christian Right XIV Church, State and National Decline 84

Comment on American Theocracy Chapter 7: Church State and National Decline

Regarding the suicidal hijacked plane crashes of September 11, 2001, Phillips reports that “Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson agreed that the United States had been attacked because of God's displeasure with secular immorality. Their comments, although quickly retracted, paint a picture of the stern Old Testament God hurling thunderbolts and wrath at his wayward chosen people.”

Phillips points out that secular Americans thought differently – that the attack was the result of economics, society and errors in foreign policy. Some worried about the excesses of religion and the influence of the Christian right, a number that doubled between 2001 and 2005 because of the Terry Shiavo episode of a brain dead woman remaining in limbo on artificial equipment and nourishment.

Mainline religions began a counterattack with publications like The Rapture Exposed, written by Barbara Rossing, who contends that rapture theology is essentially a racket. Phillips writes:

“The historical dilemma is that while religion has generally served humankind well, certainly in framing successful societies around the world there have been conspicuous exceptions – bloody religious wars, malevolent crusades, and false prophecies. Indeed, the precedents of past leading world economic powers show that blind faith and religious excesses – the rapture seems to be both – have often contributed to national decline, sometimes even being in its forefront.”

Phillips offers a yardstick based on Rome, Hapsburg Spain, the Dutch Republic, Britain and the United States that reveals five critical symptoms of decline in these once-leading economic powers:

1. Widespread public concern over cultural and economic decay
2. Growing religious fervor, church-state relationship or crusading insistence
3. A rising commitment to faith as opposed to reason and a downplaying of science
4. A popular anticipation of a millennial event, epochal battle, emergent anti-Christ,
    imminent second coming or Armageddon
5. Strategic and military overreach, pursuing abstract international missions that the
    nation can no longer afford, economically or politically

Phillips states he did not include “high debt levels in this set of symptoms, partly because it seems a familiar facet of great-power economic ageing,” and essentially because one-third of American Theocracy is devoted to that topic explicitly.

Exceptionalism: The Delusion that the United States is Different

“Fervent religion feeding into national hubris late in an imperial trajectory is a particularly worrisome historical sign that should summon caution for the present-day United States,” Phillips warns in explaining symptom #1.

Symptom #2 can be dealt with by referring to The Closing of the Western Mind by Charles Freeman (2002). Freeman explains how Rome's fourth- and fifth century Christian regimes closed famous libraries such as Alexandria, threw out the works of Aristotle and Ptolemy, and followed the Apostle Paul's advice to dismiss Greek logicians. “It is hard,” Freeman wrote, “to see how mathematics, science or associated disciplines that depended on empirical observations could have made any progress in this atmosphere.” After the last recorded astronomical observation in 475, “it would be over 1,000 years – with the publication of Copernicus's De Revolutionibus in 1543 – before these studies began to move ahead again.”

Symptom #3 is seen in Rome's nefarious decline, the subject of many Hollywood movies but, nonetheless, an actual historical occurrence. Spain's notorious gulf between the rich and poor was noted by reformer Gonzalez de Cellorigo early in the 17th century. James Boswell noted the decline of Dutch cities and rampant human idleness in the 18th century. Winston Churchill said in 1908 that “the seed of imperial ruin and national decay – the unnatural gap between the rich and the poor...the exploitation of boy labor, the physical degeneration which seems to follow so swiftly on civilized poverty... the swift increase of vulgar, jobless luxury – are the enemies of Britain.” The plutocratic splendor of the era was well described by George Dangerfield in The Strange Death of Liberal England 1910-14.

Symptom #4, a pre-millennial time frame -- a disturbing example is Britain from 1900 to 1914. This was the Britain of Kipling's “White Man's Burden,” and martial hymns like “Onward, Christian Soldiers” (written by Sir Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert & Sullivan), a swagger that was beaten down by trench warfare in the “Great War” from 1914 to 1918. A bad peace treaty made another war inevitable, at the end of which, in 1945, Britain's empire was broke and unsustainable.

Symptom #5 is unwise and strategically unsound military adventures, a classic flaw of empires in their last stage. The Spanish were broken by the Thirty Years' War. The Anglo-Dutch wars with France spelled an end to the greatness of the Dutch trading empire. Two world wars in the first half of the twentieth century sapped the British Empire and made the United States the world's leading power and executive for the prosecution of the Cold War. Winning the Cold War was a great victory for America, but Phillips notes that “one unfortunate result was hubris and triumphalism.” He wonders about overreach by America in the 21st century.

A Twenty-First Century American Disenlightenment?

“The frequent by-products of religious fervor in the later stages of the previous powers –zealotry, exaltation of faith over reason, to much church-state collaboration, or a contagion of crusader mentality – shed light on another contemporary U.S. predicament. Controversies that run the gamut from interference with science to biblically inhibited climatology and petroleum geology and demands for the partial reunion of church and state have accompanied the political rise of Christian conservatism. Such trends are rarely auspicious,” Phillips writes.

The Republican party became the party of religiosity in the 1980s and 90s. Party organizations, especially in southern and western states, endorsed “Christian nation” platforms. These radical documents advocate measures such as using the Bible as the basis for domestic law to emphasizing religious schools to pressing women's subordination to men. The 2004 platform of the Texas Republican party is used as an example by Phillips, as “It reaffirms the status off the United States as a 'Christian nation,' regrets 'the myth of separation of church and state,' calls for abstinence instead of sex education, and broadly mirrors the reconstructionist demand for the abolition of a large group of federal agencies and departments...”

Nor is all of this a paper storm. George W. Bush appointed as his first attorney general Missouri Senator John Ashcroft, who enjoyed a 100 percent approval rating from both he Christian Coalition and the National Right to Life Committee. Phillips notes, “The way in which Bush White House policies were application of hard-line, preformed doctrine rather than the results of evidence seeking was explained by two departing and disillusioned officials. Former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill recalled his dismay that ideology dwarfed real-world analysis: “Ideology is a lot easier, because you don't have to know anything or search for anything. You already know the answer to everything. It's not penetrable by facts.” John DiIulio, the first head of the White House office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, ruefully described “the complete lack of a policy apparatus” or “meaningful, substantive policy discussions” because everything was political, with much of the policy coming from right-wing think tanks and the Christian right.”

“He really isn't interested in faith in general... His is not an embrace of spirituality or ethics broadly speaking or of faith as an important voice among many in the national debate. It is, instead an embrace of right-wing Christian fundamentalism,” wrote Esther Kaplan of George W. Bush in her book, With God on Their Side.

Phillips finds that “many of Bush's views exuded a theological correctness that was almost a mirror image of the political correctness displayed by secular liberals in discussing minority groups, women's rights, and environmental sanctity.”

Public skepticism grew, “even one-third of self-identified Republicans found themselves critical when poll takers queried whether the religious right had too much or too little influence in Washington. But they were too late. Theology had moved from church pulpits into the decision-making circles of the nation's capital.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Christian Right XIII Tom DeLay convicted 83

Current News and Commentary on American Theocracy Chapter 6 – Tom DeLay

From yesterday's synopsis:

Phillips writes, “As for the leanings of key GoP leaders much of the attention focused on George W. Bush and Tom DeLay, the Republican House majority leader, who openly aid, God is using me all the time everywhere, to stand up for a biblical world view in everything that I do and everywhere I am. He is training me.” However, the larger tale lies in data showing that in 2004 all even of the top Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate, starting with Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and working down to Senator George Allen of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, boasted 100 percent ratings from the Christian Coalition, founded by Pat Robertson in the wake of his 1988 presidential bid....Congressman Christopher Shays of Connecticut in late March 2005 sadly declared that “the Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy.”

As Scarlett O'Hara said, “Tomorrow is another day.”
= = = = = = = = = =

“AUSTIN, Texas (November 24, 2010) – The heavy-handed style that made Tom DeLay one of the nation's most powerful and feared members of Congress also proved to be his downfall Wednesday when a jury determined he went too far in trying to influence elections, convicting the former House majority leader on two felonies that could send him to prison for decades.”

  • Associated Press article about the felony conviction of Tom DeLay, written by Juan A. Lozano.

Let's cut to the guts of the felonies successfully prosecuted and the whiny defenses used:

“Prosecutors said DeLay conspired with two associates, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis, to use his Texas-based PAC to send $190,000 in corporate money to an arm of the Washington-based Republican National Committee, or RNC. The RNC then sent the same amount to seven Texas House candidates. Under Texas law, corporate money can't go directly to political campaigns.

“Prosecutors claim the money helped Republicans take control of the Texas House. That enabled the GOP majority to push through a DeLay-engineered congressional redistricting plan that sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004 — and strengthened DeLay's political power.

“DeLay's attorneys argued the money swap resulted in the seven candidates getting donations from individuals, which they could legally use in Texas.

“They also said DeLay only lent his name to the PAC and had little involvement in how it was run. Prosecutors, who presented mostly circumstantial evidence, didn't prove he committed a crime, they said.

“DeLay contended the charges against him were a political vendetta by Ronnie Earle, the former Democratic Travis County district attorney who originally brought the case and is now retired.”

DeLay's chief defense consul was Dick DeGuerin (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_DeGuerin ). I am going to write some things in the balance of this post that may seem cock-sure or arrogant or unbelievable. Please withhold your disbelief and criticism until you have read Blood and Money, a true murder story by the late Tommy Thompson. This book remains widely available. I recommend that you get a hardback copy and read it about once every five years for the remainder of your life. This is a book that rereads well. For our purposes, it is important because it infallibly estabishes that the Houston-to-Galveston area of Texas is a very particular subculture with distinct social and criminal mores of behavior.

Incidentally, the blog author is a native Galvestonian.

How can it be that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay could make these fantastic claims about being close to Jesus at the very time in his life that he was committing Texas state felonies?

“That's very simple.”

Tom DeLay is a double high authoritarian, according to the matrix used by John Dean. He spends his life manipulating and frightening rubes who are stupider than he and know less than he. Church is a temple of social power for Tom DeLay. As a born again Christian, by definition, once you are saved you are immune to hell or punishment as long as you maintain your personal relationship with Jesus.

Immunity on earth through the ceremony of baptism. It doesn't matter if the Bible itself tells you that you aren't worthy:

(Rev. 5:2) And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?

(Rev. 5:3) And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.

The Old Testament offers us some advice for dealing with royalty, surely applicable to the King of Kings, Jesus himself:

(Proverbs 25:3) The heaven for height, and the earth for depth, and the heart of kings [is] unsearchable.

(Proverbs 25:3 –a modern restatement in the New Living Translation 2007): No one can comprehend the height of heaven, the depth of the earth, or all that goes on in the king's mind!

I have taken these two quotes directly to evangelicals trying to convert me from my stuffy Episcopalian half-faith. I can quote these scriptures verbatim from memory (which impresses them) but they are horrified. “That's a quote out of context!” they shriek.

They get upset, because Jesus has became their buddy. Once saved, always forgiven for any failings that occur after the hysteria of being saved. DeLay defaced college property as a student and was a constant drinker and playboy, which did not keep him from being elected to the Texas state house nor to Congress in 1984. The next year he was born again. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_DeLay )Is it too much to summarize that DeLay exchanged the fun of drink and girls for the social power he thought Jesus was offering him to exercise, to his own advantage, in politics?

How much faith can we place in the American theocracy DeLay would have liked to build? Let me rephrase this question to induce a faster and more lucid response: “Does DeLay preserve quiddity?”

Who are these people and to what lengths will they go to serve their theocratic utopia? That will be discussed in the next blog entry.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Christian Right XII 82

Synopsis from American Theocracy Chapter 6 (conclusion): The United States in a Dixie Cup: The New Religious and Political Battlegrounds

Born-Again Republicans: 2004 and the New Religio-political Map

Forty-three to forty-six percent of Americans describe themselves as born-again, though perhaps half that number would not pass a strict set of follow-up criteria. Separately, forty percent of Americans say they frequently attend religious services (though some academics argue that 30 percent would be a more accurate figure). Combining these overlapping groups, religious voters cast about half of America's votes, and among whites, 70 to 75 percent supported George W. Bush, representing “by far the largest portion of his electoral coalition,” Phillips writes. USA Today said, “Forget the gender gap. The 'religion gap' is bigger, more powerful and growing.”

Phillips goes into detail discussing the differences between red states and blue states. He also says these are not all differences in values. “Values are what society holds; what churches hold is theology and belief.”

In winning re-election without expanding his base, Bush did the near-impossible: he got reelected in 2004 on a narrow base without broad support. Bush lost support among Muslim Americans and among mainline Protestants, but gained in other religious groups. Phillips says that the new border between red and blue runs from southern Pennsylvania across Ohio through southern Indiana and Illinois to Iowa. The western battle occurs in Oregon and Washington, where the most irreligious area of the country meets a western movement of Mormons, Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God and Nazarenes. “A second set of western battlegrounds lies in the Southwest: Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado.” Emigration and influence from California, northern retirees, Hispanic Catholics and resort communities bumps into Mormon, conservative Baptist, evangelical and Pentecostal contingents (some of them Latino) as well as the “Little Texas” areas of New Mexico and Colorado.

Comparing Bush's re-election in 2004 with Reagan's re-election landslide in 1984, the worst Bush declines from Reagan occurred in new Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, California, Florida, Illinois, Arizona, Michigan, Colorado and Washington. The smallest decreases occurred in Alabama (actual increase), West Virginia (actual increase), Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, Wyoming, Indiana, Minnesota and Texas. The top four for Bush – Alabama, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee – “are fundamentalist and evangelical strongholds...” Phillips reminds us.

9/11: Seizing the Fundamentalist Moment

Phillips' research revealed that “Fundamentalisms arise in times of crisis,” and he quotes Fundamentalisms Observed. “A crisis of identity”' is perceived “by those who fear extinction as a people.” Bruce Lawrence, a professor of history at Duke University, notes that there is a predilection among fundamentalists to impose God's will – the one true faith – on other peoples as well as an intolerance of dissent and a central reliance on inerrant scripture for ideology and authority.

Charles Kimball identified five central fundamentalist tendencies:

              1.  Claiming absolute truth
              2.  Seizing upon an “ideal time” as in claims for imminent
                   cataclysms or end times
              3.  Fostering blind obedience
              4.  Using ends to justify means (such as deaths or acceptance of
                   collateral damage)
              5.  Pursuing “holy war” as in the Crusades (or, to an extent, the 1991 Gulf war)

A “double-coding analysis” reveals by Bruce Lincoln of the University Of Chicago shows that Bush's October 2001 speech to the nation about the military response to 9/11 included phrases from the Revelation of St. John (6:15-17 about the wrath of the lamb) and Isaiah (about evildoers hiding in caves and the lonely paths of the godless.) Similar religious phrases and images were used by Bush's acceptance speech in 2004.

Phillips collects the conclusions of religious experts to contend that Bush's approach to foreign policy and anti-terrorism was itself fundamentalist in tone and attitude, that the U.S. Government is doing God's work. “Bush's fusion of a religious outlook with administration policy is a striking shift in rhetoric. Other presidents petitioned for blessings and guidance. Bush positions himself as a prophet, speaking for God,” David Domke wrote in Bush's Fundamentalism.

The Emerging Republican Theocracy?

Theocracy means some degree of rule by religion. In 2004, there was unprecedented mobilization of churches in support of Bush's re-election campaign. In a post-election analysis by the Washington Post, it was reported, “national religious leaders, and their lawyers, also made a concerted effort to persuade pastors to disregard the warnings of secular groups about what churches can and cannot do in the political arena.”

Much of this strength is geographic and regional. “It is in their own strongholds –placers like the west Texas Bible Belt, Greater Utah, and the northern plains – that U.S. Churches,” specifically the SBC, Mormon and Lutheran churches, “have their highest ratios of adherence,” Religious Congregations and Membership 2000 states.

However, as political operators like Georgia's Ralph Reed acknowledged years back regarding the tactics of the Christian Coalition, stealth is a major premise, furtiveness a byword. The Christian right usually does not like to acknowledge what it is doing or where, a point made in an article, “Stealth, Secrecy Are Reed's Calling Cards” in the October 23, 2005 Atlanta Constitution. There is also a series of articles by Frederick Clarkson in the march to June 1994 issue of The Public Eye.

Phillips writes, “As for the leanings of key GoP leaders much of the attention focused on George W. Bush and Tom DeLay, the Republican House majority leader, who openly aid, “God is using me all the time everywhere, to stand up for a biblical world view in everything that I do and everywhere I am. He is training me.” However, the larger tale lies in data showing that in 2004 all even of the top Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate, starting with Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and working down to Senator George Allen of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, boasted 100 percent ratings from the Christian Coalition, founded by Pat Robertson in the wake of his 1988 presidential bid....Congressman Christopher Shays of Connecticut in late March 2005 sadly declared that “the Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy.”

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Christian Right XI 81

Synopsis of part of American Theocracy Chapter 6: The United States in a Dixie Cup: The New Religious and Political Battlegrounds

“George Bush is an evangelical Christian, there is no doubt about that. The president's evangelicalism means he believes in the truth of the Bible, with a capital T: the virgin birth, the death of Christ on the Cross for our sins, the physical resurrection, and most important, a personal relationship with Jesus.”

  • Richard Land, chief Washington representative of the Southern Baptist Convention, 2003

“The religion gap is the leading edge of the “culture war” that has polarized American politics, reshaped the coalitions that make up the Democratic and Republican parties and influenced the appeals their presidential candidates are making...Voter who say they go to church every week usually vote for Republicans. Those who go to church less often or not at all tend to vote Democratic.”

--Susan Page, USA Today, 2004

“For the first time since religious conservatives became a modern political movement, the President of the United States has become the movement's de factor leader.”

--Dana Milbank, The Washington Post, 2001

“The Bush administration's worldview is one grounded in religious fundamentalism – that is, it emphasizes absolute authority, and tradition, and a divine hand in history and upon the United States. Such a worldview is disastrous for a democratic system.”

– David Domke, God Willing, 2004

Phillips uses these quotes and then writes, “PLEASE REREAD THE FOUR EPIGRAPHS ABOVE. FOR THE FIRST TIME, THE United States has a political party that represents – some say over-represents – true-believing frequent churchgoers. And theocracy, a subject once confined to the history books, has crept into current-affairs journals.

Phillips notes that Bush carried all 11 seceding Southern states in both 2000 and 2004. In no western nation has political loyalty so radically changed from one political party to another. Southerners were nearly unanimously opposed to Republican candidates until Dwight Eisenhower ran for president in 1952. Eisenhower carried three southern states in 1952 and five in 1956. Nixon carried three in 1960. By opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Goldwater carried five southern states but lost the outer South (where the Republican party was actually emerging) and nearly the rest of the country. In 1968, Nixon ran again and carried five southern states. In 1972, running against a particularly liberal Democrat, George McGovern, Nixon obtained 79% of white southern voters, a record that stands to this day.

Phillips states that a coalition of Southern democrats with Nixon, including some party-switching, would have given Nixon's second term a working majority and a generational political shift in national government – but this didn't and couldn't happen because of Watergate. With Nixon destroyed, this cross-party alliance fell apart and the door was opened for a Southern democrat, Carter, to win in 1976.

Phillips, an expert in demographics, contends that the democratic presidents since World War II – Truman, Johnson, Carter and Clinton, offended their fellow southerners with civil rights legislation and also with unsuccessful military campaigns (the South being the most hawkish region of the country). “The Democrats' crowning problem,” Phillips tells us, “lay in a deepening mismatch with the cultural and religious viewpoints of their erstwhile bastion, the white South. When Democratic administrations were in office, Washington authorities were as much at odds with the southern white majority as the carpetbaggers of old, which helps to explain the resentments unleashed....by the 1990s neo-Confederates were nicknaming them scalawags.

Political analyst William Schneider has noted that since 1980, religious Americans of all faiths have been moving to the Republican Party, and secular Americans have more and more found a home in the Democratic Party. “This is something new in American politics. We have never had a religious party in this country,” he notes.

Before 1972, those who went to church every week and those who seldom attended services voted the same way. A 10 point difference opened up that year. It has grown since. In the Democratic Party, the McGovern delegates were a distinctly secular bunch, following which traditionalists lost further ground as the party took positions that were increasingly secular. This trend proceeded even through the Carter presidency; his “Conference on the Family” was derided by the SBC, which did not like the administration's support of abortion or the Equal Rights Amendment. Besides this, Carter could be glum and quirky. Though he carried 10 of the 11 seceding Southern states against Ford in 1976, Reagan carried 10 of these 11 against Carter in 1980.

The charm and speeches of Reagan seemed to keep the evangelicals behind him, though the Reagan administration didn't actually deliver much to the fundamentalist agenda. When Vice President George H. W. Bush ran for the job in 1988, he sold his position as a born-again Christian in close contact with evangelical leaders in his book, Man of Integrity. He also made his son a key liaison to the religious right for the duration of the campaign. As his senior political aide, the elder Bush chose Lee Atwater, a rough and tumble South Carolina political consultant. For the vice presidency, Indiana Senator J. Danforth Quayle, a conservative ally of the Christian right, was chosen.

In 1992, the Democrats picked Southern Baptist William Clinton, who picked another SBC member, Al Gore of Tennessee, for the vice presidency. This was enough to defeat the incumbent president, the elder Bush. Clinton carried three-fourths of the secular vote, and Bush two-thirds of the traditionalists, according to Party of Unbelievers by Bolce and De Maio. Phillips notes that “Most of us, myself included, paid too little attention to this sea changer, now startlingly clear in hindsight.”

The SBC was not happy with the actual agenda of the Clinton administration. The laity broke for Republicans in 1994, and for the first time, the Republicans took over Congress due to victories for Southern republicans. The clumsiness of the republicans in power, especially House Speaker Newt Gingrich, accompanied by a sharp move to the political center by William Clinton, gave the president a second term. But the problem of the less religious tending to vote democratic and the more religious tending to vote Republican was about to surge to record-setting heights in 2000 and 2004. Religion watcher John Green explained, “once social issues came to the forefront – abortion, gay rights, women's rights – it generated differences based on religious attendance.” Phillips tells us this means “Theology was beginning to exert real electoral influence.”

In 2002, the midterm elections faced the issues of the memory of September 2001 as well as saber rattling over Iraq; yet the “religion gap” widened to 20 points.

[more on these new alignments in the next blog post]

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Christian Right X 80

Synopsis of a section of Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy: Chapter 5, Defeat and Resurrection

Back during the English Civil War, when Cromwell was ruling the government in London, the American colonies were polarized about the conflict. New England and its Puritans and Pilgrims supported Cromwell, but the plantation colonies of Maryland and Virginia supported the crown and the king. In 1961, historian William R. Taylor, in Cavalier and Yankee, dismissed this out-of-date distinction as “fictional sociology.” But in the last half-century, the South's self-image has re-surged. After all, these sectional distinctions were major trouble for the American Revolution, including squabbles in congress from 1775-77, and divisions over the Articles of Confederation. Negotiations over the successor document, the Constitution, nearly failed because of bipolar rivalry. Phillips quotes James Madison in 1787: “The great danger to our general government is the great southern and northern interests on the continent, being opposed to each other...principally from the effects of their having or not having slaves.” Hamilton noted that northerners were more commercial and “navigating,” whereas southerners were more agrarian and equestrian.

John Shelton Reed has noted that anti-South sentiment in the United States is greatest among New Englanders, which is fitting. Persisting animosities between the two regions have sparked secession movements on both sides. The first secession movement was from New England. Subsequently, another northern secession movement arose during the War of 1812. Afterward, compromises to keep the electoral college and U.S. Senate in balance ruled the peace between north and south, particularly the compromises of 1820 and 1850. Southern leaders such as Mississippi senators Salbert Gallatin Brown and Jefferson Davis saw the predominance of Yankee railroad tracks opening the west and thought of annexing Cuba and the Mexican states of Yucatan, San Luis Potosi and Tamaulpas.

As these compromises unraveled, civil conflict became more likely. Then the civil war answered the question of slavery. After the war, the South circled its wagons and furiously protected its own culture, especially because of military occupation by the North. As Robert Penn Warren expressed it, “The Confederacy became immortal.”

“It is this continuing historical consciousness,” David Goldfield writes in Still Fighting the Civil War, “particularly how southerners have interpreted the Civil War and Reconstruction and then implemented that vision, that has set the South apart from the rest of the nation, though not apart from the world.” And a historian of southern religion, Paul Harvey, states, “White southerners after the war created their own civil religion, featuring its own theology myths, rituals and saints...according to the tenets of Lost Cause theology, God's chosen people (white southerners) had been baptized in the blood of suffering and thus had been chastened and purified.”

Phillips notes, “To sharpen regional sentiment, southerners for generations used every opportunity and locale – from cemeteries, pulpits, and war memorials to parades and Confederate veterans' events – to promote their interpretation-cum-theology. Confederate memorials and statues spread even across border states that had sent more men to the northern armies than to the southern. Memory itself became a battlefield.

Phillips mentions a 1998 thirtieth anniversary panel on the subject of 1968 for which he moderated. Conservative commentators Robert Novak and Patrick Buchanan were joined by Jules Witcover, author of The Year the Dream Died: Revisiting 1968 in America. All three agreed that the 1960s had elements of a civil war. Phillips also refers to books like Kirkpatrick Sale's Power Shift and Carl Oglesby's The Yankee and Cowboy War as descriptions of “a desperate struggle between the Yankees of the northeastern Establishment and the Sun Belt cowboys of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, John Connally, and Ronald Reagan.”

During the Civil War itself, a minority of southern Presbyterian clergymen had insisted that the conflict was utratheological – a fight between southern true Christianity and Yankee heresy – and this interpretation, still alive on the margins o Dixie culture, has been raised again, say Edward Sebestra and Euan Hague, authors of an article on Confederate Christian Nationalism and the League of the South. Phillips points out that the South is “still immersed in its own exceptionalism, often at loggerheads with the North and driven by a unique history toward self-justification and expansion. And a very important part of that compulsion is religious.” Phillips mentions that after Reconstruction ended in 1877, the Southern Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians refused to reunite with their erstwhile northern co-religionists; “they instead embraced and kept alive what can only be called southern nationalism.”

After the Civil War, “recruitment by northern denominations among whites was successful only in bitterly divided eastern Tennessee and another dozen counties elsewhere in southern Appalachia.” [These bitter counties are also an important topic in the book that made Kevin Phillips famous, The Emerging Republican Majority, written in 1966: he said these counties re-fight the Civil War every four years during a presidential election]. Phillips continues, “Overall, the centrality of the religious factor suggests a second and informal ballot conducted in church pews: on whether southern “theopolitik” would sustain its antebellum hold. By and large, the southern clergy prevailed, effectively employing their pulpits, church media, and educational institutions. In the eyes of southern truer believers, a defeated country recast itself as righteous republic.”

“When Reconstruction followed” the Civil War, Phillips reminds us, “The Southern Baptist Convention re-mobilized, despite wrecked churches, impoverished congregations, and lack of funds. These years put a strong psychological imprint on its future as well as the region's – akin to the intense Boer experience with the Great Trek and Ulster Protestant immersion in the do-or-die confrontations of the late seventeenth century. No other religious subculture in the United States bears any similar stamp.” Additionally, as religious historian Harvey notes, “churches expressing sympathy for the Union or for Republicans found themselves booted out of Baptist associations and other religions organizations.”

This is the dominant Protestant church of the South at the beginning of the 21st century. The Southern Baptists have established themselves outside the South particularly in Missouri and Kentucky (two states which didn't actually secede), as well as Maryland and West Virginia and Kansas. Sympathy for the South, and numbers of Southern war deserters and gold rush miners, have increased the SBC membership to a top-tier church in New Mexico and the states that border it (Californium, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico). Kansas and Wyoming also have significant SBC membership. The industrialization of the Ohio River valley in the early 20th century has made lower Illinois, Indiana and Ohio states with significant SBC membership. The SBC is weakest in Pennsylvania and Delaware, as well as all the states north and east of those two; Minnesota and all the states that border it; Nebraska, Montana, Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest. Other denominations in addition to the SBC spread across the West and Northwest, particularly the Mormons in Utah and bordering states but also including the Churches of Christ, Christian Churches, and Churches of God, as well as holiness, Pentecostal and charismatic sects, but none as successfully as the SBC.

Southern Baptists were in the forefront of drafting “The Fundamentals,” compilations put together from 1910 to 1915. These were the documents that gave fundamentalism its name. In opposing the teaching of evolution and in supporting Prohibition, the Southern Baptists were ultimately embarrassed and defeated. Many history books say that the fundamentalists and Pentecostals then retreated to the Appalachian hollows or coastal pines as a result. But they did not retreat in numbers. The Southern Baptists, specifically, doubled in size from 1940 to 1960.

Southern Baptists were not yet politically conservative in the modern sense. The SBC Christian Life Commission endorsed the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision, though many laity surely disagreed. Some further liberal positions were espoused in books in the 1960s, accomplishments which led to a conservative, intensely fundamentalist counter-movement and takeover of the leadership in 1979.

In 1996, Southern Baptists represented the president, vice president, Senate president pro tem and Speaker of the House, “an absolutely unprecedented foursome that would have stunned the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century southern-born presidents, who were Episcopalians or Presbyterians,” Phillips tells us.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Christian Right IX 79

Synopsis of a section of Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy: Chapter 4, Radicalized Religion

“Few questions will be more important to the twenty-first century United States than whether renascent religion and its accompanying political hubris will be carried on the nation's books as an asset or as a liability. While sermons and rhetoric propounding American exceptionalism proclaim religiosity as an asset, a somber array of historical precedents – the pitfalls of imperial Christian overreach from Rome to Britain – tip the scales toward liability.” Thus writes Kevin Philips as an introduction to this topic. Phillips notes that the radical side of U.S. Religion embraces cultural anti-modernism, war hawkishness, Armageddon prophecy, and for conservative fundamentalists, a demand for government by literal biblical interpretation. Numerically, fundamentalists are taking over American Protestantism.

In colonial days, Britain was unlike continental powers in its willingness to populate its colony with religious dissenters – English and Welch Puritans, Baptists, Quakers, Scottish and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. But Jews from many parts of Europe came to America as well as Huguenots from France and various German-speaking people fleeing wars: Moravian, Palatines, Amish, Mennonites, Anabaptists, Dunkers and Salzburgers. After independence, these multiple creeds all but mandated tolerance and ruled out any official church, although Congregational churches remained official for Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Protestants tended to move to an individualist and anti-hierarchical faith that emphasized a personal relationship with God, as observed during the Great Awakening of 1740 and the second awakening of the early 1800s. There were periodic revivals and new sect founders' claims to special revelations such as the Mormons. These faiths also diversified among themselves. In 2002, Mark Nolls' The Old Religion in a New World counted 19 separate Presbyterian denominations, 32 Lutheran, 36 Methodist, 37 Episcopal or Anglican, 60 Baptist and 241 Pentecostal as of 1996. Each Sunday, the Los Angeles Times publishes a directory of services that includes more than six hundred denominations.

Noll predicts that the most important Christian schisms will increasingly follow theological-ideological lines rather than denominational lines. Noll also notices the existence of what he calls “populist innovations,” which are forms of worship developed by lay people. Phillips guesses that seven to ten percent of church-goers are Pentecostals and another quarter are full-fledged end-times believers/

Gallup polls in the mid-1980s showed some 33 percent of respondents said they had been born again; this figure climbed to 44-46 percent by the early 2000s. Phillips notes that “George W. Bush's own tale of coming to God struck a chord in the churchgoing Untied States that would have been impossible in less-observant Europe. As sects mature, they “compromise their 'errand into the wilderness' and then... lose their organizational vigor, eventually to be replaced by less worldly groups, whereupon the process is repeated.” This trend has accelerated in the twentieth century. Noll states that “previously marginal groups have become larger and more important, while previously central denominations have moved toward the margins...The Protestant bodies whose rates of growth in recent decades have exceeded general population increases – sometimes far exceeded—are nearly all characterized by such labels as Bible-believing, born again, conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist, holiness, Pentecostal, or restorationist.”

Whereas in Europe, the countries that bred anarchic sects – England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands – lost congregations of magnitude adhering to that theology, in America they increased and are still increasing early in the twenty-first century. And America has added its own sects from the Disciples of Christ to the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses. Methodism itself created breakaway movements like the Church of God, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Church of the Nazarene and Church of God in Christ. The decline of the mainline churches was obvious after the first World War and accelerated during the 1930s. Stark and Finke compare revivalist tendencies of the public with a more or less steady rise in the percentage of Americans who stated some religious adherence – from 17 percent in 1776 to 34 percent in 1850 to 45 percent in 1890, 56 percent in 1926, 62 percent in 1980 and 63 percent in 2000. Phillips, himself perhaps the best demographics expert in America, figures that about one in four Americans, 25 percent, are not affiliated with a church from this network of conservative Protestant churches.. About 15 percent are members of mainline churches.

Phillips states that the rival-prone sectarian and radical side of American religion “...is breeding a politics of cultural narrowness, moral and biblical bickering, revivalism in the White House [under Bush] and international warfare to spread the gospel, fulfill the Book of Revelation, or both. Yet far from being a sudden national departure, religion's powerful role in U.S. Politics and warfare goes back to the seventeenth century.” Phillips states that the U.S. voting patterns since the 1950s impels him to assert that religion is the first question a surveyor ought to ask the potential voters.

Mark Noll and contributor Lyman Kellstadt wrote in the 1990 publication Religion and American Politics, “Social scientists studying twentieth-century politics have assumed, until quite recently, that religion in America is a private affair of little public influence. From this assumption, the conclusion followed that it was not worth studying religion with the same emphasis that sociologists and political scientists devoted to race, income, education and other important social variables. Scholarship on nineteenth-century America should have shaken these assumptions, but it took the surge of the Religious Right to alert academics to the continuing salience of religion in political life.”

Phillips points out that this isn't really news. In the Revolutionary War, the Congregationalist and Presbyterian churches furnished the highest ratios of patriots in 1776, just a their antecedent groups had been leaders o the parliamentary side in the England of the 1640s. But colonists who had been Anglicans [now Episcopalians] tended to support the Crown if they were High Church and the Revolution if they were Low Church. Phillips also asserts that when parties were formed in the 1790s, “religious divisions again bulked large. The depleted ranks of Anglicans joined New England Congregationalists on the conservative (Federalist) side, whereas the anti-ecclesiastical Baptists of the southern backcountry were ardent Jeffersonians. Phillips quotes Religion and the American Civil War to demonstrate the vital religious cleavages behind the Civil War and its aftermath.
These religious lines began to shift in the 1940s and 1950s, with new alignments appearing from the 1960s to the present day. The 2004 election saw a clear religious divide. Bush “proclaimed America's commitment to upholding liberty and freedom,” being”...twin threads of justification for was [which] hark back to the Reformation...but they always applied to internal freedoms and jeopardies. That U.S. Protestant theology has now refocused itself on the biblical holy lands as a battleground is just another of the extraordinary transformations taking place on account of the influence of religion on American politics and war.”

American Self-Perception of Being a Chosen People and Nation

Americans often believe themselves special, “a people and a nation chosen by God to play a unique and even redemptive role in the world,” Phillips notes. He also points out that other “nations whose leaders and people believed much the same thing wound up deeply disillusioned, as when Spanish armadas were destroyed while flying holy banners at their mastheads and when World War I German belt buckles proclaiming 'Gott Mit Uns' became objects of derision in the Kaiser's defeated army.”

“Millennial prophecies have fared no better,” Phillips continues. “They conspicuously failed in the fourth century, at the millennium in 1000, amid the tumult of the medieval Crusades, during the savage seventeenth-century European religious wars, in pre-revolutionary New England, in the U.S. Civil War period, during World War I, and in 2000. In consequence, believers have time and time again had to work out elaborate explanations for why Jesus did not appear, why premillennial claims had not been borne out. Books and videos detailing and amplifying these relentless embarrassments and disappointments – as far as I know, few such exist-- might offer a useful counterpoint to the end-times and second-coming materials marketed in such profusion by current fundamentalist drummers.”

Phillip notes that “the importance of supposed biblical covenants with God in shaping self-perceived national identities as a New Israel must be raised here. The relevance is that such peoples tend to be zealous, driven by history – risky leadership for a great power.” Phillips adds that the American South is most caught up in manifest destiny and covenanted relationships with God.

Anthony Smith, professor of ethnicity and nationalism at the London School of Economics, in Chosen Peoples: Sacred Sources of National Identity limits “...this post-Reformation syndrome in Europe to the British Isles and the Netherlands.... Outside Europe, he includes the United States, Afrikaner (Dutch) South Africa, and the latter-day Zionist reprise of ancient Israel.

What the Boers and Ultermen share, Phillips tells us, “...is the biblical attitudes their people invariably share: religious intensity insecure history, and willingness to sign up with an Old Testament god of war for protection... these are proud, driven peoples, not ones who would find it easy to get risk insurance.” Phillips notes that Donald H. Akenson states in God's Peoples, “...other parallels in their shared Old Testament moralities of tribal purity and sacred territoriality.” Phillips notes that in this sense, “...Israelis and, to an extent, Scripture-reading Americans are on their ways to being the last peoples of the covenant.”

In God's New Israel: Religious Interpretations of American Destiny, Conrad Cherry found the American Revolution and the Civil War to be the principal revelatory building blocks, since “The first was a moment when God delivered their colonies from Pharaoh Britain and the 'evils' of the Old World, revealed the purposes of the nation, and adopted the Young Republic as an example and instrument of freedom and republican government for the rest of the world. The Civil War was the nation's first real 'time of testing' when God tried the permanence of the Union or, in some interpretations, brought judgment upon his wayward people.” Cherry wrote, “Beheld from the angle of governing mythology, the history of the American civil religion is a history of the conviction that the American people are God's New Israel, his newly chosen people.” Phillips suggests that “theology” might be a better word. “The outlook that Israel, Ulster and South Africa supposedly had in common – the sense of a biblical nationhood bathed in blood and tribulation – closely resembles the scriptural fidelity and religious nationalism forged by the South but too little understood beyond its bounds. This mentality now has an unprecedented influence in the United States as a whole.”