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.

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