Billy Graham’s Addiction to Political Power

“The framers of our Constitution meant we were to have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.”

That is from the infamous Billy Graham. The argument is that the founders weren’t serious when they talked about the separation of church and state. It’s amusing in its silliness. It would be like saying that the framers of our Constitution meant we were to have freedom of oppressive monarchy and aristocracy, not freedom from oppressive monarchy and aristocracy. He is playing a word game to push an agenda. But many of the founders, such as Thomas Jefferson, were quite clear in what they meant about separation of church and state. Religious freedom most definitely does not entail the constitutional right to enforce theocratic laws onto others.

Graham has a long history of political involvement and influence. This has been true across every presidential administration since the 1950s. He was particularly close with Richard Nixon. After Nixon’s scandalous resignation, Graham expressed more wariness toward politics. He went so far as to later on criticize Jerry Fallwell’s politicized “moral majority” (Parade Magazine, 1981), stating that:

It would be unfortunate if people got the impression all evangelists belong to that group. The majority do not. I don’t wish to be identified with them. I’m for morality. But morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice. We as clergy know so very little to speak out with such authority on the Panama Canal or superiority of armaments. Evangelists can’t be closely identified with any particular party or person.

Referring specifically to Falwell, he made himself even more clear:

I told him to preach the Gospel. That’s our calling. I want to preserve the purity of the Gospel and the freedom of religion in America. I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. Liberals organized in the ’60s and conservatives certainly have a right to organize in the ’80s, but it would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.

That didn’t stop Graham from continuing to play the political game. He stayed close to the Washington establishment in the decades since. In 2011, he once again expressed regret for his complicity in the politicization of religion. Yet the very next year he jumped into another political fight over gay marriage in North Carolina. The culture wars are simply too thick in his blood. The attraction to political power is an addiction. He can’t help himself. John Becker wrote that,

The fact that the 93-year-old Graham, who was born during the final days of World War I, supports marriage discrimination is not, in and of itself, surprising, when one considers both his age and his evangelicalism. What is rather surprising, however, is the fact that he’s made such a public anti-gay pronouncement at all. After all, the man has been essentially in retirement since 2007. Since that time, he’s left most of the right-wing craziness to his son, Franklin “President Obama may or may not be a ‘son of Islam’“ Graham, and his daughter, Anne “9/11 was God’s way of getting back into the government and our schools“ Graham Lotz. Waggoner notes that William Martin, an authorized biographer of Graham, cannot recall any effort by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association similar in size and scope to its current pro-discrimination push in the organization’s entire 62-year history. And according to Martin, professor emeritus of religion and public policy at Rice University, this can only mean one thing: that the source of this bigotry is not Franklin Graham, who heads the BGEA, but Billy Graham himself. Says Martin, “I am somewhat surprised that he would take that strong a stand. In the past, I have heard him say with respect to homosexuality, there are greater sins. Franklin has been more outspoken about it, but it sounds as if this is Mr. Graham expressing his own will.”

It appears the Graham family ministry has become ever more politicized as the patriarch ages. Billy Graham is no longer heeding his own advice, hard earned from his earlier life experience. This can’t be blamed on his family taking over the ministry. It’s obvious the elder Graham is still fighting the culture wars in very much politicized form.

It’s with this in mind that we should take note the political support of Donald Trump by family members and key figures close to Billy Graham. Even though Franklin Graham promised not to endorse a candidate, he posted a photograph of his father with Donald Trump right before the election. He described those photographed with his father as “a few special friends,” implying the relationship between Billy and Donald isn’t a casual association. Acknowledging the support he had been given, Trump stated that he was “a big fan of Billy Graham” and then thanked some of the family members.

It’s not clear what Billy Graham thinks of Trump. But one thing is clear. This new administration has been extremely divisive among evangelicals, even among those surrounding the Graham family. Consider the warning of “21st century idolatry” given by Ed Stetzer. He is the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and the Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center.

Trump’s narcissistic buffoonery and anti-Christian sociopathy will make many evangelicals rethink their position on the politicization of religion, specifically in its present partisan divide. It will weaken the ties between evangelicals and the Republican Party. It might also weaken the ties with the religious right as well, since younger evangelicals are increasingly liberal and progressive. It is the decades of politicized religion by religious right figures like Billy Graham that have turned so many away from the old culture wars. That might not have happened if Graham had taken his own earlier advice to heart.

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Depths of Darkness, Glimmers of Hope

If you keep track of the religious right, you’ve heard of Christian Reconstructionism. It’s a subset of Dominion theology and advocates a particular kind of theocracy, what is known as theonomy.

Dominion theology is far from uncommon, although most support a milder form of it, not going as far as theocracy. Instead, the most popular variety is Christian nationalism. Dominionism is based on the belief that the American founders were Christian and so intended Christianity to dominate or at least define all aspects of society, maybe even the government itself (presumedly until the End Times; and, once the good Christians ascend bodily into Heaven, the Pagans would likely be allowed to takeover what is left of the world). Some Dominionists see the Constitution as a Christian document with the Bill of Rights as akin to an extension of the Biblical Ten Commandments.

They take this seriously. And they don’t see the claim of the Constitution being a slave document as being a criticism, per se. Nor that this contradicts it also being a Christian document. They do see racialized slavery as unbiblical, but not slavery itself. In fact, some of them argue for Biblical slavery.

According to the Old Testament, slavery is allowed under certain conditions. The intended audience, of course, were ancient Israelis; but that is a minor detail to the Fundamentalist mind. Anything and everything from the Bible must be applied to modern Christianity, except the parts that are inconvenient and problematic. The religious right believes they inherited the Jewish tradition and so the Israeli label. Also, in this framework, Pagan translates as non-Christian.

It is stated that Israelis aren’t as a general rule allowed to enslave other Israelis, but there are exceptions. As such, according to Christian Reconstructionism, it logically follows that Christians can enslave other Christians under precise circumstances, as long as it is voluntary servitude, except for criminals or enemies captured in battle who can be forced into servitude.

This is vague about whether a Christian captured in battle can be treated this way. In the ancient world, an Israeli was simply one who lived in Israel, as a Jew originally was one who lived in Judea (although over time such terms came to have other meanings), which leaves uncertain the labeling and treatment of various populations (such as Jews who weren’t Israelis or Judeans along with Israelis and Judeans who weren’t Jews); as another example, ancient Samaritans also used the same Holy Bible but weren’t considered Jews as they lived in Samaria, what was once the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Not that the fundamentalist mind cares about such complications. Anyway, none of this applies to Pagans (i.e., non-Christians) who can be enslaved involuntarily and permanently by their Christian overlords.

A number of things are disturbing about this. First of all, it is shocking to see slavery being discussed in this manner. Even among those who advocate Biblical slavery, there is disagreement about details, about who is allowed to be enslaved and in what way. But it’s messed up that this is discussed at all, as if moral laws and social norms in a modern pluralistic democracy is to be determined through legalistic minutiae decreed by priests of an ancient religion.

Even worst, this isn’t being discussed just by right-wing loons. Or rather right-wing loons have made major inroads into the mainstream. Many politicians and political candidates have been aligned with this Dominionism and related worldviews, including several recent candidates such as Ted Cruz.

Even Donald Trump, despite lacking any evidence of being a Christian or caring about Christianity, has won majority support of white Evangelicals and their leadership (prone, as they are, to Dominionist rhetoric that resonates with Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again”). But to be fair he wasn’t their first choice. The Tea Party was taken over by this hardcore religious right, by way of the influence of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, and that is the movement that Trump rode to the Republican nomination. It was Beck, in particular, who brought the Tea Party into alignment with the old religious right, the paranoid reactionaries and Christian nationalists (e.g, the Mormon W. Cleon Skousen). It matters little that Beck now fears this monster he has helped to create.

It’s not just the fringe Evangelicals. I know some local Christians who read Stephen McDowell’s Monumental in their Bible study group (by the way, they used to regularly watch Glenn Beck). Living in the same respectable liberal college town as I do, they go to a mainline church with a liberal minister who recently began promoting gay acceptance. Their Bible study group is a mix of people, mostly moderate and mainstream as is found in a middle class Midwestern town — unlikely any Reconstructionist theocrats among them. Yet they were reading this text that comes out of the right-wing Dominionist movement, a text written by a guy who has advocated for Biblical slavery.

If someone like McDowell gets discussed in a Bible study group from fairly liberal church in a very liberal town, imagine where else in the country this gets a foothold. It’s not that these local Christians are going to seek to enslave me and my Pagan friends. But the Dominionist theology has many aspects that are as disturbing or simply problematic. The very premise of Dominionism is the opposite of a free democratic society. Still, you don’t need to go as far as Biblical slavery to see the dangers of reactionary politics, right-wing authoritarianism, and historical revisionism.

It makes one wonder how close we could easily come to the world portrayed by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale. This doesn’t require the majority of the population to be right-wing Evangelicals, much less ranting apocalyptic theocrats. Most authoritarian governments don’t come to power through majority support. The conditions just have to be right and the population has to be in a great enough state of fear, distress, and uncertainty. Some divide and conquer could help, along with perceived enemies to scapegoat, foreign and internal. Even the slow creep of authoritarianism is bad enough, as we’ve seen in recent decades. The stage has been set for a full authoritarian takeover.

It’s happened many times before in many countries. The United States isn’t immune to authoritarianism. And as it has been said, “When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” Or as religious right leader, Russell Moore, recently put it, “The religious right turns out to be the people the religious right warned us about.”

I didn’t want to end on that note, though. I don’t feel like countering fear with fear. My motivation was more simple curiosity. It can be surprising to see what ideas make their way into the mainstream. If you look closely, you can see many possible futures we are facing. Ideas are seeds. They may or may not grow. But once planted it is unsurprising to see them sprout, as has happened with the growing power of the religious right over the past half century.

Still, there are other seeds that have been planted. If tended, those other seeds could grow. There is nothing inevitable about the path we’ve been on. The world could shift in any number of directions. Trump may be doing us a favor by giving voice to one specter of authoritarianism, his fascist-and-fundamentalist-tinged proclamations of making America great again. But that leaves other varieties that might be even more threatening.

Sometimes it’s the fears we don’t see coming that get us. While we worry about the religious right’s support of Israel, as part of their Apocalyptic aspirations of bringing on the End Times, we can forget that the mainstream political left has its own designs for Israel that may lead us to an apocalyptic World War III (or simply an ever more destabilized, violent world). Pick your apocalypse. Or maybe it’s the same apocalypse, with different rhetoric.

We create the future we imagine. Peering into the American psyche at the moment, one can see dark visions. The few glimmers on the surface of the dark depths only offer the smallest of hope. Still, there may be real reason for hope, however tentative, so it seems when looking at demographic shifts.

Among white evangelicals, the young have never been fond of bigotry and intolerance. The same goes for young Catholics. There is a generational divide that cuts across all religions. Also, because of revelations, white women Evangelicals are abandoning Trump. All that the Trump has left are older white male Evangelicals, but old white male Christians in general have always been stalwart Republicans, no matter how far right crazy the party gets.

I doubt the religious right was ever the “moral majority” in this country, at least not in living memory. But United States has a long history of political and economic power being held by various minority groups. Even WASPs have never been a majority. Looking back to early America, it wasn’t just a minority of rich white male landowners that controlled government; also, the federal government was initially dominated by the Southern states, some of which were majority black. How did this plutocracy that was a minority even in their own communities manage to take over political power of a vast country? Never doubt the power a minority can wield.

For this reason, it’s good to see these fractures forming among the religious right. And it is good to see younger Christians turn toward a kinder vision. Still, we are far from being safe from the threat of authoritarianism. Entire societies can turn authoritarian quite quickly when fear comes to rule people’s minds. And there are many fears looming on the horizon.

In the end, my own motivation is more that of curiosity. I don’t have it in me to sit around worrying about theocracy or whatever. But I am always fascinated by society and what is to be found, when one goes looking. It’s simply strange to see these kinds of ideas floating around in the main currents of thought, like any other idea.

What most interests me is the fantasies that play out around these ideas. The human imagination is a powerful thing. And those seeking power realize this. But imagination has a way of taking on a life of its own. It’s not easily controlled or predicted. We can try to force imagination to serve our ideology or we can allow our ideology to be guided by imagination, the former is rhetoric and the latter makes possible the visionary.

The best antidote is to imagine other visions, to explore other possibilities. And to do so with humility. The future will become what it will, no matter what we may wish. But in coming to term with our own imaginings, we can find meaning. The one thing that can overcome fear is a sense of meaning. Christianity, at its best, also offers that vision.

* * *

What is Dominionism? Palin, The Christian Right And Theocracy
by Chip Berlet

DOMINIONISM RISING: A THEOCRATIC MOVEMENT HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT
by Frederick Clarkson

KIRK CAMERON’S MONUMENTAL REVEALS SUBTLE INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIAN RECONSTRUCTIONISM
by Julie Ingersoll

BECK’S “DREAM”—OUR NIGHTMARE
by Julie Ingersoll

Cruz Super PAC Head Promotes ‘Biblical’ Slavery for Non-Christians
by Bruce Wilson

Mike Pence on the “American Heartland” and the Holy Land
by Shalom Goldman

Cruz Super PAC Head Promotes ‘Biblical’ Slavery for Non-Christians
by Bruce Wilson

“Biblical Slavery” For Non-Christians? Yes, Suggests Website of Mike Huckabee’s Favorite Historian David Barton
by Bruce Wilson

David Barton’s Plan for Biblical Slavery for America
by Hrafnkell Haraldsson

* * *

Books about Culture by Christians

Avatar: Imagination & Culture

Psychology of Politics, Development of Society

A Disconnection Projected

There is an overlap between those who demand immigrants assimilate to mainstream American culture and those who resist having their children assimilate to mainstream American culture by either homeschooling them or sending them to private schools.

I’m not sure how many people fit into this overlap. I suspect it is a significant number. Whatever their numbers, they seem to be a disproportionately vocal demographic.

Their view appears hypocritical, but maybe there is a hidden consistency based on a false belief. These kind of people seem to think their minority culture, typically of right-wing fundamentalism, often of the rural South Bible Belt, is mainstream American culture.

They are so disconnected that they don’t realize they are disconnected. Instead, they project their disconnection onto others and seek to scapegoat them. In reality, most immigrants tend to be more demanding about their children assimilating than are native-born parents and also tend to take the American Dream more seriously.

If everyone home-schooled their children or sent them to private schools, then and only then would American-style assimilation fail. Public schools are the backbone of our shared culture and they have been for a very long time.

It is strange how people forget history. Right-wing fundamentalists were the biggest supporters who originally pushed for public schools, and a major reason they gave was to help the children of immigrants to assimilate. This same group now attacks public schools.

Southern Californian Birth of Salvific Corporatism

I’ve been utterly fascinated by the rise of the religious right and its bizarre relationship to neocons.

The social and political transformation happened because of a specific migration pattern. It was made most famous by the Okies, but was part of a larger migration. Beginning prior to the Civil War, many waves and streams of migration went to the West Coast from the Western South, including Texas along with what some call the Southern Plains or the Southern Midwest. This migration slowed down around the 1970s and shifted direction. Like others who left the South for the North, many of these Southern Californians and their descendants headed back to Texas and the Southern Plains/Midwest.

Combined with other migrations from the East, California was transformed. Most significantly, as the North/South divide began to take shape in the East, it also nearly split the California in two with Northerners in Northern California and Southerners in Southern California (see: The Golden State in the Civil War by Glenna Matthews, The Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War by Leonard L. Richards,  Los Angeles in Civil War Days, 1860-1865 by John W. Robinson, and The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream by H.W. Brands). This set the stage for the 20th century migrations of Evangelicals.

What is interesting and truly strange is how vast the transformation was.

Even before the migration, these people were very religious, but it was a religion that was mostly grounded in rural farm communities. These people weren’t right-wingers. They were New Deal Democrats, labor unionists, socialists and other varieties of liberal and left-wing radicals. The region they called home was particularly a hotbed of agrarian socialism. The righteousness of their radicalism was born out of their religiosity.

They were on a moral crusade to save their way of life against corrupt capitalists and monopolizing industrialists, especially railroad tycoons. This began, following the Civil War and Reconstruction, in the Populist Era in the last decades of the 19th century. These people were further radicalized by the Great Depression which was when socialism really took hold. Oddly, this was when a mass migration began to set their eyes on California, but their native ideological roots were left behind for the most part. They were uprooted and when they were replanted in California soil new fruits would come forth.

There are two reasons for this.

First, they were independent farmers back home, but in California they became laborers for massive farms the likes not seen often back on the Southern plains. Their populist rhetoric romanticized the farmer. This very agrarian ‘free soil’ rhetoric made it hard for them to see the Californian farming elite as bad guys, even as they were being taken advantage of.

Second, as time went on, more of them got factory jobs. They were living in an area that boomed because of the vast wealth pumped into it by the federal government’s military defense funding. These former migrants became middle class and respectable. Their entire way of life, including the vast wealth of their churches, was dependent on government funding and the Cold War that fueled it all. This formed a marriage between Evangelical Second Coming eschatology and Cold War patriotic propaganda, a marriage that gave birth to a deformed child of a corporatist military-industrial complex that saw its purpose as saving all of the world’s soul.

In American politics, this took shape as the Southern Strategy. Nixon, a native Southern Californian, began the Southern Strategy and used it to great success. Reagan inherited it and revved up this style of propaganda to levels maybe never before seen in American politics. He was a native Midwesterner with an easygoing personality of Midwestern sunny optimism which he brought to Hollywood. Allying with Southern Evangelicals, he was able to cross the boundaries between North and South in California and in America at large. He took the dark vision of Evangelical End Times and made it a capitalist salvific vision of unending progress and profit.

As the Cold War began to slow down and then ended, the migration pattern reversed. Many Southern Californians headed back to their cultural homeland. With them, they took their weird Californianized ideology and they Californicated Texas along with the Southern Plains. Former Democratic strongholds became Republican majorities. This was a new Solid South, but one with the most modern techniques developed in California.

Here is how Darren Dochuk describes it in From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (Kindle Locations 7783-7806):

Many Southern California evangelicals found the South’s new suburbs promising as well and played a direct role in populating (and politicizing) them. Indeed, as much as evangelicalism’s repositioning within Southern California dulled some of its power, a fourth force of change— more migration— blunted it altogether. This time, the migration was outward-bound. During the 1980s and 1990s, Southern California’s political economy underwent dramatic restructuring as a once spectacularly strong defense sector began to lose government contracts, its fight against inflation, and, generally, its luster. A declining tax base (exacerbated by Proposition 13) coupled with rising costs further tore up local neighborhoods. Orange County— once the epitome of California’s cold war boom— went bankrupt, marking a very real end to decades of unimpeded prosperity. Cold war defense suburbs that ringed Los Angeles County suffered similar burdens of adjustment, as did the evangelical communities that had banked their livelihoods on this economy. In reply, countless evangelical citizens and their institutions picked up and went east. Some , like James Dobson and his organization, Focus on the Family, were enticed by boosters and cheaper living to a newer defense community tucked away in the Mountain West: Colorado Springs. More often they simply returned to the place from whence they came: the western South. In a dramatic reversal, California began losing southern migrants in the 1980s, Oklahoma and Texas reclaiming them. Retirees, job seekers, and the homesick now steered their automobiles east on Interstate 10. Writing about this rising trend in 1983 that was remaking the Texas “oil patch,” social scientist William Stevens declared that the “great surge of post– World War II westing migration” had “bounced off the West Coast and ricocheted back to Texas.” He added that “both money and people” were making the trip. 13

This reverse migration was also primed to “Californiaize” Texas political culture and Republicanize Texas politics, pundits noted. To be sure, they overstated the case for the former, since Texas political culture was always protective of its character. And by the 1980s, Texas and the entire western South boasted a political and cultural authority that the rest of the nation now envied. This was the new epicenter of the new political economy , a home for NASA, Texaco, and Wal- Mart, emblems of the Sunbelt’s high-tech, resource-based, service economies and financial clout. In the late 1930s, Houston politician and philanthropist Jesse H. Jones had given an impassioned speech to students at John Brown University in tiny Siloam Springs , Arkansas , imploring them to take control of their region by applying a frontier mentality to its development. It was time, he said, for the western South to become strong and independent of northern industrialists’ grasp. Thanks to the work of educator-entrepreneurs like John Brown, George Benson, and R. G. LeTourneau, two generations of Christians had internalized this message and, with the aid of federal funds and venture capital, helped turn the western South into the colonizer rather than the colony.

Thus, the Great Amnesia took over American politics and the American populace. It was as if the Populist and Progressive Eras had never happened. Ignorant of the past, Americans became puppets whose strings were pulled by a plutocracy that had nearly all former restraints removed. They didn’t need democracy for they had Capitalism and God… or rather they had a Capitalism that was their God… along with some culture war issues to prettify his divine visage.

As Thomas Frank sums it up (What’s the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank, p. 5):

… the Great Backlash [is] a style of conservatism that first came snarling onto the national stage in response to the partying and protests of the late sixties. While earlier forms of conservatism emphasized fiscal sobriety, the backlash mobilizes voters with explosive social issues-summoning public outrage over everything from busing to un-Christian art-which it then marries to pro-business economic policies. Cultural anger is marshaled to achieve economic ends. And it is these economic achievements-not the forgettable skirmishes of the never-ending culture wars-that are the movement’s greatest monuments.

The backlash is what has made possible the international free-market consensus of recent years, with all the privatization, deregulation, and deunionization that are its components. Backlash ensures that Republicans will continue to be returned to office even when their free-market miracles fail and their libertarian schemes don’t deliver and their “New Economy” collapses. It makes possible the policy pushers’ fantasies of “globalization” and a free-trade empire that are foisted upon the rest of the world with such self-assurance. Because some artist decides to shock the hicks by dunking Jesus in urine, the entire planet must remake itself along the lines preferred by the Republican Party, U.S.A.

The Great Backlash has made the laissez-faire revival possible, but this does not mean that it speaks to us in the manner of the capitalists of old, invoking the divine right of money or demanding that the lowly learn their place in the great chain of being. On the contrary; the backlash imagines itself as a foe of the elite, as the voice of the unfairly persecuted, as a righteous protest of the people on history’s receiving end. That its champions today control all three branches of government matters not a whit. That its greatest beneficiaries are the wealthiest people on the planet does not give it pause.

In fact, backlash leaders systematically downplay the politics of economics. The movement’s basic premise is that culture outweighs economics as a matter of public concern-that Values Matter Most, as one backlash title has it. On those grounds it rallies citizens who would once have been reliable partisans of the New Deal to the standard of conservatism. Old-fashioned values may count when conservatives appear on the stump, but once conservatives are in office the only old-fashioned situation they care to revive is an economic regimen of low wages and lax regulations. Over the last three decades they have smashed the welfare state, reduced the tax burden on corporations and the wealthy, and generally facilitated the country’s return to a nineteenth-century pattern of wealth distribution. Thus the primary contradiction of the backlash: it is a working-class movement that has done incalculable, historic harm to working-class people.

The leaders of the backlash may talk Christ, but they walk corporate. Values may “matter most” to voters, but they always take a backseat to the needs of money once the elections are won. This is a basic earmark of the phenomenon, absolutely consistent across its decades-long history. Abortion is never halted. Affirmative action is never abolished. The culture industry is never forced to clean up its act. Even the greatest culture warrior of them all was a notorious cop-out once it came time to deliver. “Reagan made himself the champion of ‘traditional values,’ but there is no evidence he regarded their restoration as a high priority,” wrote Christopher Lasch, one of the most astute analysts of the backlash sensibility. “What he really cared about was the revival of the unregulated capitalism of the twenties: the repeal of the New Deal.

This is vexing for observers, and one might expect it to vex the movement’s true believers even more. Their grandstanding leaders never deliver, their fury mounts and mounts, and nevertheless they turn out every two years to return their right-wing heroes to office for a second, a third, a twentieth try. The trick never ages; the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meatpacking. Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining. _____

Backlash theorists,(as we shall see) imagine countless conspiracies in which the wealthy, powerful, and well connected-the liberal media, the atheistic scientists, the obnoxious eastern elite-pull the strings and make the puppets dance. And yet the backlash itself has been a political trap so devastating to the interests of Middle America that even the most diabolical of stringpullers would have had trouble dreaming it up. Here, after all, is a rebellion against “the establishment” that has wound up cutting the tax on inherited estates. Here is a movement whose response to the power structure is to make the rich even richer; whose answer to the inexorable degradation of working-class life is to lash out angrily at labor unions and liberal workplace-safety programs; whose solution to the rise of ignorance in America is to pull the rug out from under public education.

Like a French Revolution in reverse-one in which the sansculottes pour down the streets demanding more power for the aristocracy-the backlash pushes the spectrum of the acceptable to the right, to the right, farther to the right. It may never bring prayer back to the schools, but it has rescued all manner of rightwing economic nostrums from history’s dustbin. Having rolled back the landmark economic reforms of the sixties (the war on poverty) and those of the thirties (labor law, agricultural price supports, banking regulation), its leaders now turn their guns on the accomplishments of the earliest years of progressivism (Woodrow Wilson’s estate tax; Theodore Roosevelt’s antitrust measures). With a little more effort, the backlash may well repeal the entire twentieth century.

Just Punish; Don’t Try to Help or Understand

Here are two videos that show the problem with extreme rightwing thinking. When the world is seen through absolutist morality, everything becomes black and white and every person becomes either good or evil. Taken to the furthest extreme of fundamentalism, this attitude becomes a Manichaean vision of Cosmic War.

It’s what led someone like Bush to think he was on a mission from God and that fighting the terrorists was a crusade. It’s an attitude that doesn’t allow for compromise and makes bipartisanship impossible. If you think Obama is a Commie, a Nazi and/or the Anti-Christ, you don’t seek agreement with the person who you believe is destroying all that is good in America and in the world. This attitude goes back to the beginning of modern movement conservatism. Barry Goldwater, who believed in an unchanging Law of God, said:

“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”
(source: “Goldwater and Pseudo-Conservative Politics”, Richard Hofstadter)

What is interesting about this kind of statement is that it resonates with what Muslim terrorists preach.

I was impressed that the guy at the 5:00 mark made a very intelligent and insightful point while everyone else was just trying to turn it into yet another partisan story. I’m always shocked when someone who is actually fair and balanced gets on Fox News.

Is O’Reilly clueless? If addicts are successfully treated, drug demand decreases. If drug demand decreases, the drug black market decreases. If the drug black market decreases, drug trafficking across the border decreases. If drug trafficking decreases, violence against Americans decreases. Conservatives need to look at real data. Dealing with drug addicts directly is more successful & cheaper than dealing with the results afterwards. Like abstinence only education, the Drug war is a failure.

Conservatives need to think of this the way they think about guns. Not all countries with high gun ownership rates have high gun violence rates. A large percentage of gun violence is from illegal guns and so illegalizing or more tightly controlling gun ownership doesn’t by itself solve the problem of gun violence. Similarly, in countries where drugs are legal and where there are easily available drug addiction programs, drug use and addiction are lower than in the US.

The Ending of Culture Wars

I’ve noticed the news about issue of gays in the military. 

Smoke the Bigots Out of the Closet
By Frank Rich

A funny thing happened after Adm. Mike Mullen called for gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military: A curious silence befell much of the right. If this were a Sherlock Holmes story, it would be the case of the attack dogs that did not bark.

I thought this is showing how the culture wars started by the moral conservatives are slowly coming to an end.  Abstinence only sex education has been a failure and lost its funding.  Most Americans are against banning abortion.  American fundamentalists preaching against gays in Africa has backfired and turned into an ugly mess.  In every direction we look, the religious right is losing battle after battle.  And now even conservatives politicians are feeling cautious about what they say.

My grandmother who is still alive was a little girl when the KKK was having it’s last great resurgence.  It was with the KKK that the culture wars began.  The Birth of a Nation was the propaganda film that popularized culture wars and this is why the religious right has ever since been associated with proponents of “white culture” superiority.  With WWI, patriotic nationalism arose like never before and moral conservatism rode that wave.  Moral conservatism, through the Southern Strategy, became directly aligned with the Republican party.  The GOP has been fighting the good fight ever since and they gained great power by doing so, but times they are a’changing.

The last great hope of the moral conservatives was George W. Bush who was a born again Christian.  But now even Christians are starting to question the merits of politcizing religion.  Recent polls show that most Americans think religion and politics should be kept separate.  Political Christianity isn’t dead yet, but it certainly is ailing.   In general, the alliance is weakening between Christianity and moral conservatism.  The beliefs of Americans show a mix-and-match philosophy that is eating away at the dogma of fundamentalism.  I saw statistics that show even most conservatives think “don’t ask, don’t tell” should be repealed.

The culture wars aren’t over yet and moral conservatives still have some fight left in them, but for certain conservative morality is losing its political currency as a wedge issue.  The American public is becoming more socially liberal.  The younger generation is most definitely socially liberal.  Even political independents, fiscally conservative though they are, have become socially liberal.

I think it would be a good thing if the Republican party was no longer forced to be dependent on the support of the religous right.  I think it’s no accident that as Republicans turn away from the culture wars that they start to remember the importance of fiscal conservatism.  The Tea Party seems to be the attempt of true conservatives (such as Ron Paul supporters) to remind Republican politicians that they want their party back.  It doesn’t mean Republicans will forget about religion, but it does mean that religion will become increasingly a personal issue rather than a political strategy.

Ralph Brauer: Revolutions & Liberal America

I just yesterday discovered the work of Ralph Brauer.  I came across his book The Strange Death of Liberal America in Google books while doing a websearch about the religious right.  I found the passage rather insightful.  His view on American history makes even more sense when put in the context of Strauss and Howe’s The Fourth Turning.

Below are some writings from Brauer.  The first is the beginning of an article.  The second is the aforementioned passage from his book.

A Call For a Third Revolution of Liberal America

By Ralph Brauer

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The third revolution
The history of Liberal America can be seen as encompassing two revolutions. The first centered on rights, as the notion of what Tom Paine termed “the rights of man” extended to include the propertyless, people of color and women. In the United States that revolution was in part derailed by the rollback of Reconstruction when the country essentially bought the South’s idea of segregation. A similar rollback has been under way since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s in what I have referred to as the Second Reconstruction.

The Second Revolution focused on economic justice, embodied in this nation and other democracies as governmental programs designed to keep the playing field level for all people. Unfortunately the Second Revolution stalled out for much the same reasons as the first: the country as a whole had little stomach for pushing this to its conclusion. Most people, for example have probably never heard of the Economic Bill of Rights proposed by Franklin Roosevelt shortly before his death.

Part of the genius of Martin Luther King lay in his recognition of the connection between the First and Second revolutions, but his pleas were thwarted in Chicago and Memphis. Like many African American leaders during the Second Reconstruction, King was murdered while those who sought to pick up the banner were marginalized and/or ineffective.

Curiously the last half of the twentieth century played out much like the last half of the nineteenth as the revolution of economic justice went through the same counterrevolution as did the First Reconstruction.

In the case of both revolutions there was a very narrow window during which the cause might have managed to maneuver enough to fully realize its ideals. In both cases America flinched when it might have pressed the advantage. But African American congressmen and state office holders were driven from office in the rollback of the First Revolution and Dr. King, Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer and others were murdered or sent packing in the rollback of the Second.

 

The Strange Death of Liberal America
By Ralph Brauer

pp 32-36

Three of the four partners of the Counterrevolutionary coalition had fallen into place.  The first were the corporate fundamentalists who detested any government regulation of business.  The second were the former Dixiecrats who fought for state’s rights.  The intersection between the Dixiecrats and the corporate fundamentalists sought to pull back the government’s role in leveling the social and economic playing field.   The intersection between the Religious Right and other Counterrevolutionary members involved a crusade that has come to be called the “Social Agenda.”  Although the fundamentalists’ position on such issues such as abortion has received much media and political attention, the linchpin has been education.

If Strom Thurmond personifies the first stage of the Counterrevolution, Ralph Reed, former Christian Coalition Executive Director, personifies the second, for like Thurmond he has that Forrest Gump quality of being at critical crossroads.  Looking like a frat boy whose too-well-groomed apearance and smirking smile suggest he has played more than his share of pranks, Reed’s early career is characterized by questionable actions.  Nina J. Easton, author of Gang of Five: Leaders at the Center of the Conservative Crusade notes he was fired from the University of Georgia student paper for plagiarism.  He then worked with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist to take over the national college Republicans.  Later he built Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition into a major force in the Republican Party.  In the 2000 election he served as an advisor to George W. Bush.  He even managed to get himself hired by Enron.  After somehow landing on his feet after that fiasco, Reed became head of the Georgia GOP, running for the lieutenant governorship in 2006.  Reed illustrates the abilities — even necessity — of key Republican operatives to move seamlessly between three worlds of politics, religion, and business.  In fact these operatives probably do not see the three arenas as distinct, but part of one divine mission.

What helped consummate the marriage Land spoke of was one major cornerstone of Liberal America: education.  The Religious Right has been dissatisfied with public schools for some time because by law America’s classrooms have been nondenomenational.  The fundamentalists became especially incensed as courts and legislatures ruled against school prayer and the IRS moved to revoke tax exemptionfor religious schools that served as covers for segregation the way bed sheets covered Klansmen.  As public schools invested in programs such as diversity, fundamentalist Christians bailed out of the system, forming private religious academies or seeking to remove programs that did not agree with their theology.  Finally, Darwin again entered the picture as fundamentalists agitated against the teaching of evolution while advocating what they called “intelligent design.”

In Political Agendas for Education: From the Christian Coalition to the Green Party, author Joel Spring zeroes in on a statement in which Ralph Reed acknowledges, “More than any other single episode, the IRS move against Christian schools sparked the explosion of the movement that would become known as the religious right.”  Paul Weyrich, one of the architects of the new GOP coalition, agrees with Reed’s analysis, noting that the Religious Right was born in response to two decisions by the Carter administration: the IRS ruling and the belief that the FCC planned to regulate Christian radio stations (although imaginary, it was widely believed).

Thus began the second phase of the Counterrevolution, built around a series of Devil’s bargains that made their coalition the equivalent of the New Deal coalition of Franklin Roosevelt.  The Counterrevolution’s road to power was paved by two crucial decisions that played a major role in creatign the Era of Bad Feelings.  The first came from the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo, a 1976 case revolving around reforms initiated after Watergate designed to lessen the impact money on the electoral process.  Those reforms resulted in making the election of 1976 one of the few in which both candidates spent identical amounts.  The Buckley decision upheld the Watergate reforms with one notable exception: the Court ruled that individuals and groups not affiliated with the official campaign had no spending limits.

The GOP pounced on this loophole.  In the 1984 campaign when Ronald Reagan faced Walter Mondale, Republican Political Action Committees (PACs) spent almost four times the amount of their Democratic coutnerparts: $15.8 million to $4.2 million.  In 1988, independent expenditures amounted to $13.7 for the Republicans and $2.8 for the Democrats.  A Brown University study summed up the effect of the changes: “Since the GOP historically had a stronger base among big businesses and wealthy individuals, independent expenditures advantaged Republicans more than Democrats.”

This came as Sunday morning religious programs became serious business, turning preachers into instant conglomerates with tentacles reaching into every part of the media and, along with this, money for political organizing.  Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, to give them their due, were doing nothing that had not been done before by the liked of John D. Rockefeller and Jay Gould.  Only this time the money lay in churches with an ideology to advance, particularly the remodeling of the American public education system.  Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, no slouch himself when it comes to raising PAC money, detailed the considerable clout of the Religious Right in a 1998 article, toting up the coffers of various religious organizations and then favorably comparing them with such heavyweights as the Chamber of Commerce.  He admirably pointed out, “The Christian Coalition has one million donors, 1.5 million activists, and 2000 local chapters that distributed 66 million voter guides in the 1996 election cycle.  Since 1990 the Christian Coalition has trained 52,300 community activists, 18,000 in 1996 alone.  The 1997 budget was $17 million dollars.”  Much of this considerable war chest came from the efforts of Ralph Reed.

A second decision that became equally important for the Counterrevolution was the 1987 repeal of the Fairness Doctrine.  First enacted in 1949, the FCC ruling looked into the future and decided that because they operated in the public interest, the mass media should present all sides of controversial questions.  The Supreme Court upheld the Fairness Doctrine in the 1969 Red Lion case, still generally considered as one of the Court’s landmark decisions.

Red Lion  not only involves the Religous Right but also foretells exactly what would happen with repeal of the Fairness Doctrine.  The case began when the Reverend Billy James Hargis, the Jerry Falwell of his day, accused the author of a book on Barry Goldwater of being a communist.  The author sued under the Fairness Doctrine and the Court found in his favor.  In its decision the Court said the Fairness Doctrine serves to “enhance rather than abridge the freedoms of speechand press protected by the First Amendment.”  It also noted that “when a personal attack has been made on a figure involved in a public issue” the doctrine requires that “the individual attacked himself be offered an opportunity to respond.”

In 1987, an FCC packed with commissioners appointed by Ronald Reagan voted to repeal the Fairness Doctrine.  When Congress tried to overrule the decision by passing a law extending the doctrine, Reagan vetoed it.  Just as the Buckley decision opened the door to single-issue PACS, the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine opened the door wide for ideologues like Robertson.

On stage stepped a key actor in the next phase of the Republican Counterrevolution, Newt Gingrich.  Gingrich helped engineer the GOP take over of the House of Representatives in 1994 by making great use of Ralph Reed and his allies.  At the center of the takeover lay the Contract with America, a Gingrich inspiration laying out his party’s agenda.  The preamble makes no bones about what the takeover would bring, stating, this “historic change would be the end of government that is too big, too intrusive, and too easy with public’s money.  It can be the beginning of a Congress that respects the values and shares the faith of the American family.”  The second sentence spells out the next phase of the Counterrevolution: linking distaste for big government with the agenda of Jerry Falwell and the fundamentalists.

Manifestoes have always served as the core of radical movements composed of true believers convinced they have the answer to every problem.  Nothing signifies this better than a sentence from the opening of the Contract with America, which puts a religious cast on everything after: “Like Lincoln, our first Republican president, we intend to act ‘with fairness in the right, as God gives us to see right.'”  In other words, the zealots of the Counterrevolution evoked the secular saint Abraham Lincoln, linked him to God and themselves.  History is full of people who believe they are acting in God’s name and their record is hardly one that would inspire confidence in the Contract with America.

Ayn Rand & William F. Buckley, Jr.

I’ve been slowly figuring out the relationship of William F. Buckley, Jr. and Ayn Rand in their influence on the conservative movement.  

The truly odd part is that Ayn Rand’s objectivism has been conflated with libertarianism and the ‘social liberal’/anarchist libertarians have been forgotten about (surviving only by the force of Chomsky’s intellect).  Then the confused mixing of ideologies was somehow used as rhetoric for the rising religious right which, in response to Cold War Imperialism, ended up as evangelical neoconservatism.  Sadly, Rand’s idealism of rational self-interest and individualism became the justification of the neocons and their imperialistic military-industrial complex. 

Bush jr’s administration saw the full flowering of this trend.  And, more recently, the paranoid religious fringe, by way of Glenn Beck, has attempted to coopt Ayn Rand into their patriotic moral conservatism… somehow attempting to fit rational self-interest into the frame of submission to ideological fundamentalism with it’s concept of the fallen self.  Buckley supposedly was responsible for kicking out of the libertarian movment the racists and conspiracy theorists, but I’m getting the sense they might be sneaking back in now that he isn’t on watch.

I don’t know what Ayn Rand would think of it all, but she would not be happy.  Despite her criticisms of liberals, it was the conservatives that she thought would destroy America and she might turn out to be correct.  She had such opposition to the idea of a ‘moral majority’ that she considered starting a party called the ‘immoral minority’.

I’m even more confused about Buckley.  He apparently was the major intellectual and political force in making the religious right respectable within the GOP, but he later on had reservations about this alliance.  He criticized the harsh rhetoric of the religious right, especially in relation to overt gay-bashing.  Supposedly, Buckley believed in separation of Church and State, but at the same time he thought Christian values should be incorporated into the government’s policies and forced on to the American public.  He didn’t like the harsh rhetoric because it undermined his plan to sneak religious beliefs into politics in a more covert manner. 

Compared to today’s ideologues, Buckley was fairly tame.  The only person comparable to Buckley is Robert George who is the new leader of intellectually respectable moral conservatism.

We need a new Ayn Rand if only to knock some commonsense back into the conservative mindset.  Until then, we’ll have to make do with the words of Rand which are rather prescient considering what has become of the conservative movement.

William F. Buckley, Jr.: The Witch-Doctor is Dead
By Harry Binswanger

William F. Buckley, Jr. is finally dead. Buckley was the man who initiated and sustained the movement to bring religion into the conservative movement. His first book was “God and Man at Yale,” which I haven’t read or looked at, but which is said to have criticized Yale education for being both leftist and anti-religious. He then founded the magazine National Review, which Ayn Rand in her Playboy interview of 1964 called “the worst and most dangerous magazine in America,” because of its crusade to tie capitalism to religion. Here is what she said of National Review in a letter to Barry Goldwater in 1960:

This leads me to the subject of the National Review. I am profoundly opposed to it–not because it is a religious magazine, but because it pretends that it is not. There are religious magazines which one can respect, even while disagreeing with their views. But the fact that the National Review poses as a secular political magazine, while following a strictly religious “party line,” can have but one purpose: to slip religious goals by stealth on those who would not accept them openly, to “bore from within,” to tie Conservatism to religion, and thus to take over the American Conservatives. This attempt comes from a pressure group wider than the National Review, but the National Review is one of its manifestations. . . .

The attempt to use religion as a moral justification of Conservatism began after World War II. Observe the growing apathy, lifelessness, ineffectuality and general feebleness of the so-called Conservative side, ever since. You are, at present, a rising exception in the Republican ranks. I do not believe that that pressure group could succeed in making you its tool. But a philosophical pressure group is very hard to detect, particularly at first. That is why I want to warn you against them now, and help you to identify the nature of their influence.

I am not certain that you understood my relationship to the National Review, when I spoke to you here. I thought that you knew the facts, but perhaps you do not. In brief, they printed a review of Atlas Shrugged by Whittaker Chambers, which I have not read, on principle; those who have read it, told me that this former Communist spy claimed that my book advocates dictatorship. Thereafter, the National Review printed two articles about me (which I did read), one of them allegedly friendly, both of them misrepresenting my position in a manner I have not seen outside The Daily Worker or The Nation. What was significant was their second article: it denounced me for advocating capitalism. [Letters of Ayn Rand, pp. 571-2]

Buckley’s Big Mistake
By Gregory Paul

William F. Buckley Jr. was, like most American conservatives, a traditionalist Christian who was appalled at the secularization of western culture. And like most who share his right wing world-view, he made a mistake that is astonishing in its naivety — a mistake that is helping wreck western religion while it promotes the very secularization of the population Buckley et al. decry. It is the Grand Alliance between the religious right and corporate capital.

The Bible was written by Bronze and Iron Age peoples who had little concept about modern free enterprise. Nor did Jesus talk about stock options or hedge funds. Many early Christians lived in communistic communities where property was considered sinful. The fundamentalist Protestant William Jennings Bryan used to rail against the secular forces of capital. The Roman Church Buckley belonged to has always looked askance at capitalism. Yet, especially since World War II, the bulk of the conservative Christian cause — mainly evangelical with a number of Catholics going along for the ride — have embraced free wheeling, deregulated, laissez-faire, corporate capitalism as though it is God’s way for his human creations to manage their large scale economics. [. . .]

One reason only a quarter of the public attends church on a given Sunday is because lots of busy shoppers prefer to hit the stores on Sunday — which became possible only after the retailers helped repeal the Puritanical Blue Laws. Bill O’Reilly targets secularists for waging war on Xmas in order to divert attention away from how the mercantile powers have remade the event into a shop-til-you drop secular holiday. The right once owned the culture via the oppressive Comstock Laws, and the Hayes Code that ruled Hollywood. Nowadays not a single conservative Christian themed program graces the corporate owned entertainment networks, whose programming is steeped in the salacious and irreligious. Such as FOX’s hypergraphic medical drama House which stars a proudly atheist MD. Rupert Murdoch’s entertainment empire is notorious for offering an array of irreligious TV and film product that feeds cultural secularization, while his FOX News presents conservative pundits such as O-Reilly are careful to charge the faithless liberals, not the capitalists, with coarsening the culture. Despite winning the occasional battle, the right has lost the culture war as the corporate world takes its putative religious allies for a ride. [. . .]

William Buckley was instrumental in shifting the American Christian right from William Bryan’s old fashioned anti-capitalism to its modern enthusiasm for mass consumerism. To be blunt about it, for all his erudite intellectualism Buckley was not socially astute; the populist Bryan had much better horse sense concerning the dangers that the capitalist world-view posed for popular piety. One has to wonder exactly how right-wingers think that they will get a traditionalist culture out of the rat-race that is the pursuit of wealth and pleasure. Instead, Buckley’s Grand Alliance has predictably backfired. The corporate-consumer culture has been a disaster for mass faith in every western democracy — that’s one reason the Vatican remains so skeptical about it. But to be fair, it is not like the religious right has much in the way of viable options. They are in a classic socio-political bind. If they break off their Republican collaboration with capital they will lose what political power they have, which is already sliding as the growing secularism favors the Democrats. Nor can the churches compete for cultural influence with commercial forces that enjoy a cash flow amounting to many trillions each year. It looks like there is little that the followers of Buckley can do to stem much less reverse the rise of popular secularism.

US: Politics, Religion & Civil Rights

U.S. prison population headed for first decline in decades

The United States soon may see its prison population drop for the first time in almost four decades, a milestone in a nation that locks up more people than any other.

The inmate population has risen steadily since the early 1970s as states adopted get-tough policies that sent more people to prison and kept them there longer. But tight budgets now have states rethinking these policies and the costs that come with them.

That is truly good news.  We imprison more of our population than any country in the world at high costs and we spend more money on the military than the rest of the world combined.  During these decades of wasteful federal spending supported by conservatives, healthcare reform has been floundering during this same period of time.  Helping people is socialism, but killing and imprisoning people is good traditional American values.

Gun Owners, Unfiltered

The National Rifle Association has long fulminated in the gun control debate in Washington like the Great Oz in the Emerald City. Now along comes Frank Luntz, a conservative Republican pollster who, Toto-like, has snatched back Oz’s curtain to reveal that gun owners favor much more reasonable gun controls than the gun lobby would ever allow the public to imagine.

I’m not a gun owner, but I am a supporter of the right to own a gun.  I guess I’m a moderate as described in this article, but what is interesting is that most gun owners are moderate about gun controls.  I suspect this would prove true in other areas as well.  For exaple, like many people, I’m moderate about the issue of abortion, but the moderate voices never get heard.  Instead, issues like this get portrayed in black and white terms.  But gun controls and abortion are complex issues with many factors.

Most Americans aren’t for absolute control or absolute lack of gun control.  Most Americans aren’t for absolute freedom of abortion or absolute denial of abortion.  When Glenn Beck’s can portray his extremist views as populist by saying “we surround them”, then you know the media has failed.  People have come to think of the extremes as the norm, and moderates are either ignored (as the NRA apparently has with its own members) or portrayed as liberals (pronunced “libruls”), socialists, or some other ugly word.

Let me try to explain how extremism had come to hold such power over the American psyche.

Some consider the NRA to be the most powerful special interest group in the US.  For various reasons, the NRA has become associated with the far religious right.  Earlier in last century, the GOP was the party of civil rights and it’s true that gun ownership is a civil rights issue, but the civil rights I’m talking about is that of the civil rights movement.  I’ve heard that Martin Luthr King jr was a Republican and African-Americans in the past seem to have had been strong supporters of the GOP, but this changed in the middle of last century when desegregation became a major issue.  Southerners began worrying about their way of life and around this constellated several issues.  There was the increasing popularity of the NRA and at the same time the KKK was losing power, but the far religious right in general was opposed to desegregation.  Evangelicals, before this time, were intentionally non-political.  However, many white Southerners had formed private schools to escape the desegregated public schools and in response the federal government had taken away the tax exemption for private schools that continued to be racially segregated.

This far right movement led to several results.  The evangelical conservatives have had disproportionate influence on Washington politics with presidential candidates courting them and a number of presidents with openly avowed allegiance to the religious right.  Nixon had associations with evangelical leaders, Reagan used evangelism and race issues to win the presidency, and of course Bush jr was a born again.  It was through the religious right that the GOP has dominated Washington for so many decades.  And, in that time, what policies were instated?  What were the results?

American politicians have supported Israel because according to evangelical theology the Jews have to rebuild the temple before Jesus can return.  The culture wars, based on issues of race and poverty, has become a wedge issue and a major campaigning strategy.  Politicians were forced to accept to support ‘tough on crime’ policies which led to the ever-increasing prison population.  The War on Drugs was started with an emphasis on drugs used by poor minorities.  Communism became identified with Godlessness and so the religious right became identified with the ‘American way’.  The religious fueled Cold War led to more wars started than during any other time in US history.  The US became a highly militarized society and began it’s mission of spreading democracy (i.e., nation-building).  And all of this led to Republican administrations having budget deficits.

The NRA, by itself, seems like a harmless organization.  But the problem is that it’s a special interest group that is part of a larger movement that has succeeded in manipulating public policies.  And as the polls show this special interest group doesn’t even accurately represent its own members.

Heaven and Nature

On a slightly different but related note, this article is about the popularity of pantheism in American culture.  The author doesn’t mention it, but imagine this has its roots in the Founding Fathers preference of deism over theism (which relates to the Enlightenment ideals of democracy).

As usual, Alexis de Tocqueville saw it coming. The American belief in the essential unity of all mankind, Tocqueville wrote in the 1830s, leads us to collapse distinctions at every level of creation. “Not content with the discovery that there is nothing in the world but a creation and a Creator,” he suggested, democratic man “seeks to expand and simplify his conception by including God and the universe in one great whole.”

I think this also relates to the issue of evangelism.  Many people don’t realize that a large percentage of evangelicals are liberals and evangelism was part of a great mix of religious fervor in the 1800s (having it’s roots in the Protestant Reformation and the Anabaptist movement).  Everything from Mormonism to New Thought Christianity came out of this period, and religious communes such as the Shakers became popular in the era of Civil War unease.  People, both liberal and conservative, were looking for a truly American sense of religion… and the Europeans too were having their own version of collective soul-searching (because the Industrial Age in general was disruptive of traditional ways of life).

I suspect that pantheism has a direct link to the evangelical faith in a God who is very close to humanity and also the idea of being filled by the Holy Spirit.  Evangelism and New Age spirituality are twin siblings.  However, the religious right had seemed to have one the battle in this sibling rivalry for liberal religiosity had seemed to have been purged from the Democratic party in response to the extreme religiosity of the GOP.  Ever since, the religious right has defined the terms for all religious and moral debate which has allowed them to set the terms for most of the political debate as well.

However, certain things shifted the balance.  Joseph Campbell and George Lucas helped to popularize liberal and secular sense of the spiritual (pantheism), but it also invited liberals to be more openly spiritual and even religious (eventually leading to the likes of Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle).  But this had started back in the 1800s with the newly translated ancient texts.  And this was kicked into high gear with the discovery and popularization of the Gnostic texts which really hit the mainstream around the time of Campbell’s popularity.  These Gnostic texts led to a revival of liberals reclaiming Christianity which has been slow but steady, and which prepared the way for someone like Obama to use religious language to win the presidency (something only Republicans were able to do).

One interesting thing about liberal religion/spirituality is the emphasis on pacifism.  That also goes back to the 1800s.  It was the time of the Civil War and the assassination of Lincoln (by a racist white Southerner).  It was the beginning of the racial issues and culture wars that have bred so much violence.  Many people were tired of all of the violence in the late 1800s and so joined pacifist communes such as the Shakers, pacifist communities such as the Amish, and pacifist groups such as the Quakers.  The list of pacifist Christian groups in America is very long which is odd when you consider how Christian messages of violence too often dominate our media.

This pacifist tradition has always been strong.  America didn’t start off as a militarized society.  The Founding Fathers formed America in order to defend themselves against oppressive violence.  When they had established the government, they were specifically clear about not wanting a standing army.

So, America has seen some massive shifts in its public policies and in its public opinions.  The dominance of the GOP began in reaction to the civil rights movement in the 1950s.  The civil rights movement began with the anti-slavery movement of the 1800s.  The anti-slavery movement began because none of the Founding Fathers were able or willing to make slavery illegal at the inception of our country.  A slow shift that has finally resulted in a black president.  Still, racial conflict and the culture wars are just as strong, just as divisive.  Mexicans (known by the codeword ‘illegal aliens’) are the new hated minority, but at the same time both blacks and hispanics will outnumber the whites in the near future.  Also, as the prison population decreases, this will mean more minorities out in the general public and more minorities with power to influence politics.

It makes me wonder where it’s all leading.