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Topic: Religious Right

The Cynical Use of Abortion by Politicians
5/6/2017 4:24:04 PM

Nicholas Kristof has written a good article about an abortion doctor. It gives a brief history of attitudes and religious teachings on abortion which many people don't know. It is only relatively recently that abortion has become such an important political topic. That was when the religious right, with its base in the South, realized it was a good political wedge issue to use against liberal politicians who supported civil rights for black people.

So the Republican Party started to oppose abortion, despite the fact that Baptists and others had no history of opposition. The Democratic Party continued to support free choice for women.

For many years Republican politicians said they were against abortion but when in office did little about it. They cynically used the religious right to get elected, like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Now, however, Trump is appointing people to lead health agencies who don't even believe in contraception or who believe that abortion causes breast cancer.

Trump, the sexual predator, is governing based on ignorance and irrationality. All so-called evangelicals who voted for him should be ashamed of themselves. They are allowing themselves to be used by a person who believes only in enriching himself to the detriment of the most vulnerable in this country, exactly those whom Jesus calls us to be most concerned about, such as women in desperate situations who can be helped by having an abortion.

Here is the link to the article: Kristof Article

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To Dominate Politics, Business Needs Religious Extremism
2/13/2017 4:05:33 PM

In a New York Times article today Jeremy W. Peters describes in detail the promises Donald Trump made to leaders of the religious right in order to get himself elected. These religious groups take extremist views on several important issues, including abortion, rights for gay and lesbian persons, hostility to Muslims. That is, strong majorities oppose these extremist views. But now with the victory of Trump in the election, he is implementing minority views which will dominate and oppress the majority of the American population.

Just go to the website of "Catholics for Choice" and you will see polls and studies of even Roman Catholic women who are opposed to the official position of the Catholic bishops. They don't want to banish abortion. The anti-abortion movement among the religious right is primarily a based in the South and associated with the movement to create white "Christian" schools to avoid the integration of schools mandated by the Supreme Court way back in 1954. This is also the source of the excessive hostility to "liberals" in general coming out of right wing radio, which also has its base in the South. It is those terrible "liberals" who supported civil rights for black people during the 1960s. The white backlash to all this has been still strong enough to elect Trump, who, of course, appealed to this hostility of white racists in his questioning of Obama's birth certificate. This is what got him wider media attention for a possible White House run.

So, there is no doubt that this religious right should be called "extremist" in its views, far from what most Americans want. But now Trump is doing what the extremist few want. How can that be in a democracy?

Because the business class, which controls the wealth of the country, needs the religious right to get its candidates elected, and this time it was Trump. It is the wealthy who have learned how to control the media, from the corporate media with a national audience, to the local media selling false ideas to folks in rural areas around the country. And Trump actually hired white nationalists to run his campaign and design the messages appealing to a racist audience. This is what is so dangerous. Both business and the religious right are moving in the direction of a highly irrational, violent, fascist type of strong-man government because they don't like the views of the great majority of Americans.

There may be some in the business world who catch on to this fast enough to do something. But Trump could work quickly to consolidate power to the degree that traditional institutions such as the courts, the press, educational associations, the mainline churches, are not able to put up much resistance. Currently he is keeping everyone busy talking about his attacks on immigrants, while he is actively doing everything in his power to further the interests of business over-against the working population, the folks he said he was going to help, and against the preservation of an environment that supports human life on earth. He has chosen the worst sort of folks for cabinet positions, people who may well literally wreck the infra-structure supporting health care and such rather important matters as our public lands.

This is happening with the support of an extremist religious right which every Sunday has preachers screaming that the end of the world has come upon us so that we need not be concerned with such matters of climate change. Clean air and water are not important when the world will end soon. So this means that business can get by with continuing to pollute the air and water of the country at will, making children and adults sick, and threatening future generations. It is irrational. But the few wealthy sure do like that they are able to manipulate the many religious conservatives to vote the way that is best for the wealthy rather than the majority of Americans. To dominate politics, business needs religious extremism.

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For the Right Wing: Only Christians Deserve Religious Freedom
2/6/2017 1:27:50 PM

Several large, well-funded legal organizations have risen up the past years to promote the "religious freedom" of Christians. Most specifically, both Catholic Bishops and right wing evangelicals have claimed that it is against their freedom of religion if they are not allowed to discriminate against gay and lesbian persons. They feel "persecuted" if they can't use the power of government against gay and lesbian persons. It is a complete distortion of the substance of the gospel and a misuse of the bible, which says nothing against the kind of loving gay relationships of today.

But now, with the Muslim ban in Trump's badly designed executive order, these right wing legal groups have been silent about freedom of religion for Muslims. The hypocrisy is so deep here that anyone with any sense of what Christian faith is should do everything possible to close down these groups. They are making money by appealing to the opposite of what real Christian faith means, love and compassion for the stranger, the one different from me.

Here is a quotation from Religion Dispatches by Sunnivie Brydum:
As attorneys, advocates, and family members scrambled to help travelers caught by the unconstitutional order,  there was a telling—and deafening—silence coming from legal groups that proclaim their mission to be defending religious freedom.

Right-wing legal powerhouses like the well-funded Alliance Defending Freedom have yet to comment about Trump’s immigration ban that explicitly targets Muslims. RD made several attempts to contact ADF and suss out the group’s position on the executive order, but calls, emails, and voicemails went unreturned. The organization that promises to advocate “for your right to freely live out your faith” has apparently not yet felt compelled to comment on the most direct attack on that right in our lifetimes. While ADF’s history makes clear its Christian orientation, the group’s newly installed leader, Michael P. Farris, spoke this weekend about what he sees as the true test of religious freedom advocates—but it’s one that, by his own definition, ADF has just failed. “I think the test of religious freedom is whether you’re willing to stand up for the religious freedom of those that you disagree with theologically.”

In fact, while Farris was giving that interview, lawyers and average citizens were rallying at airports around the country to welcome home detained travelers, as attorneys filed suits in five states, where judges saw fit to issue emergency injunctions blocking certain parts of the travel ban. It remains unclear what ADF’s “3100 allied attorneys” were doing last weekend, but it doesn’t appear to be standing up for “the religious freedom of those you disagree with theologically.”

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First Things Doesn't Like that Trump Surrounds Himself with Prosperity Gospelers, Snake Oil Salesmen
1/17/2017 2:19:00 PM

Paula White, a televangelist and advocate of the "prosperity gospel," preaches that wealth is a sign of God's favor So, of course, she has been chosen by Donald Trump to speak at his inauguration. He likes to hear that he is favored by God. It's a new form of the "divine right of kings" except it comes in the form of the "divine right of the businessman to make money and command power."

First Things magazine, which comments on faith and public life, doesn't seem to be too happy with Donald Trump, including his choice of Paula White. Carl R. Trueman has written an article, quoted below, blaming "the left" for creating "the psychological man" who needs therapy from such as the prosperity gospel preachers. The left gets blamed for whatever conservatives don't like. But the fact is that the idea of the so-called "free individual consumer" is a product of capitalism. It is actually liberals and socialists who believe in the dignity of work and workers so that they should be paid a living wage and enjoy safe working conditions. It is hyper-capitalists who put the greedy, needy self at the center of world in direct opposition to Christian faith. I say "hyper-capitalists" because there are many forms of capitalism; the form we are living with these days is utopian, magical-thinking capitalism, called "neoliberalism", which claims no government is needed to manage the market, the "market" magically orders society in a way that is best for everyone. Of course, this is what business owners want the rest of us to believe so they can take advantage of us.

Prosperity religion provides a way for the wealthy to justify themselves and relieve themselves of responsibility to others or the common good of the community. Paula White is a heretic, she is not preaching true, historic, orthodox Christianity. In fact, there are no historic Protestants who will be appearing at the inauguration. Those historic Protestants are today critical of irresponsible wealth, of both social and economic injustice, and of the abuse of the earth by the fossil fuel industry. They must now turn against Trump and provide the support system for resistance movements against his illegitimate administration.

Here is a portion of the First Things article for your interest:
Writing in the Washington Post, Michael Horton has offered a concise but compelling historical account and theological critique of the kind of religion White represents. He makes the legitimate point that Evangelicals should worry about having White’s teaching dressed up with the name of the gospel.

I agree with Horton’s analysis but would take the concern a step further. All Americans, not just Evangelicals, should be worried that Paula White is praying at the inauguration, though not for particularly religious reasons. By and large, the rites of American civic religion are harmless enough, bland baptisms of the status quo by the application of a bit of liturgy emptied of any real dogmatic significance or personal demands.

The real reason for concern is the fact that White’s brand of Christianity is a manifestation of the psyche of modern America in a religious idiom, and thoroughly continuous with the last eight years. As Horton points out, White’s Christianity is all about meeting needs, felt needs. It is a form of therapy—and rather materialist therapy—in skimpy religious garb. Where America was once pragmatic—and gloriously so, in that the “can-do” mentality of Americans was part of what made the country great—that pragmatism has become tied to psychological needs. Old-style pragmatism had a social purpose, in that it sought to work towards the common good. Now that the common good has been replaced with the well-being of the psychological self, that which works is that which makes me happy in the here and now.

Much punditry since the election has located the triumph of Trump in a backlash among poor, white voters against liberal urban elites. These were once the natural supporters of the old Left. But the Left has long since abandoned the poor through its transformation of the concept of oppression from an economic category into one of psychology. The Left is now therapeutic to its core. But Psychological Man is not by necessity the client of any particular political ideology, and the fact that, as Horton points out, Trump has surrounded himself with prosperity gospelers—the Christian equivalent of snake oil salesmen—bodes ill for the country. What America needs is not therapy for a poor white version of Psychological Man but a renewed vision of the common good built on a renewed understanding of a common human nature.

Sadly, many, if not all, of the most influential organs of our culture are committed to the cultivation of Psychological Man as the norm and thus the categories of therapy as the answer. The colleges and universities might well be writing the death warrants of their own credibility through the increasingly childish and irrelevant ravings of their most notorious academics and students—but they were never where the real danger lay. From commercials predicated on creating desires rather than on meeting utilitarian needs, to the therapeutic rhetoric of politicians of Left and Right, the gravitational pull toward a psychological understanding of the self is powerful and omnipresent.

There are undoubted positives to Trump, but they are by and large to be cast in negative terms. For example, he is unlikely to appoint extreme liberals to the Supreme Court. His record indicates that he is sufficiently dishonest for us to hope that he will not honor his scariest campaign promises. He is indifferent to religious freedom (as opposed to being actively hostile to it, as was his erstwhile Democratic opponent), and we might therefore see a slowdown or even a halt to the last few years’ trajectory on that issue.

But it is a day of small things indeed when the positives are all negatives. More disturbing, though, is the banal presence of Paula White at the inauguration. It is sad, and not simply for those who dislike such religious displays at civic events. It is sad because, on the big issue of the day—the question of what it means to be human—a Republican president is publicly endorsing the world of Psychological Man.

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Trump Offers to Rescue Lower Income White People in a Secular Rapture
11/2/2016 3:45:12 PM

A sociolologist from Berkeley, California, Arlie Russell Hochschild, went to the southern state of Louisiana and wrote a book called Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. In an interview at Truthout she describes two interesting reasons lower income white people support Donald Trump. Both have to do with religious faith, loss and mourning as well as the idea of the end of the world.
I see two hidden sources of Trump's appeal. One is that people are in mourning for a life they feel they've lost. I think he stands before crowds and says, "Your America is going downhill," and then he's silent for a while and purses his lip as if to absorb the grief. I didn't see him that way at first, but I do believe he is -- or is pretending to -- absorb their grief. They then project onto Trump the idea, "Oh, he understands our losses and humiliation," and then he follows it with the promise to "make America great again."

There's a second hidden appeal to Trump, and that is through a kind of a quasi-religious promise of a secular Rapture. Some 41 percent of the Americans in a PEW survey done just a few years ago said that they expected the return of Jesus Christ before 2050. According to the Rapture, before we die, there will be a sudden moment in which God makes a judgment and the good will go to heaven and the bad will go to hell. Hell will be the Earth turned into a hell. So that's the Rapture, if you believe in it.

If you're not a believer in the Rapture, you can either take it as magical or -- as I do -- you can take the Rapture as metaphorical. For many of the people I've talked to, their world already has come to an end -- the world of union-protected, well-paid, steady industrial jobs. These jobs have been offshored and automated and foreign labor is coming in. So the idea that the world will crash has, for this vulnerable group, a metaphoric ring.

Also in the Rapture, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and because of that divide, you get saved or damned. This, too, has a metaphoric truth to it. So, paradoxically, Trump is the most irreligious man to run for office in recent memory -- three marriages, boasting of adulterous affairs ... he has publically announced that he has never asked God for forgiveness, and so on. He's not a religious man, but he's brilliantly intuitive I think.

But at the same time, Trump has discovered something like a set of underground cultural tunnels through which to influence voters. I actually think [his] political appeal works in this way: He follows the contours of emotionally powerful and loaded metaphors. It's not that a person goes down a list of values and "you have my value 1 and my value 2." I don't think a charismatic politician gains his appeal in this way.

Trump established himself the last 18 or so years through his television program "The Apprentice," where he took the role of a judge. He'll say to one applicant, "You're hired for $250,000 a year in the Trump Empire," and to other applicants, he'll say, "You're fired!" He does this at the beauty contests he sponsors too; "You're beautiful," "You're ugly;" or he does this with media outlets: "The New York Times can report on my rally; The Washington Post can't." He sets himself up as a God-like judge. If you look at Google-image pictures of heaven, you'll find many of them are golden. And if you look at Trump's own home, at the top of the Trump Tower, way high up, everything is gold -- the living room, the dining room, even the bathroom. So the idea of Trump as offering to rescue people in a secular Rapture is suggestive -- it's a way of thinking out cultural avenues of appeal that are not spoken of.

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Delusion: Ben Carson Thinks Saul Alinsky Worshipped the Devil
7/20/2016 3:28:04 PM

Watching the Republican National Convention led me to wonder if we are not witnessing what can only be called a sort of "collective madness". The lies about Hillary Clinton are simply ridiculous for anyone who does a little fact checking. Fox News has convinced these poor folks for years that Obama is a Muslim, hates Israel, and is actually on the side of terrorists trying to hurt this country.

But then I saw Ben Carson, an otherwise respected physician, stand up in front of everyone and say that Hillary is associated with a person who worships the devil, Saul Alinsky. She did a master's thesis on Alinsky and he praises Lucifer on a dedication page for creating his own kingdom in his book Rules for Radicals. I own the book, read it in 1973, and looked it up and there it is, just as Carson says.

But what does it mean? It means Alinsky is using a little humor to make a point, that Lucifer is using "organizing" to create an alternative power center in the community. That's what Alinsky did, he helped communities organize themselves to improve the conditions for life in those communities and was very successful. In fact, major Protestant and Catholic churches helped fund and promote these organizing efforts in cities across the country.

Alinsky himself was a Jewish atheist. But he developed a useful skill, community organizing, that the church has utilized. I am sure that Carson himself has used the skills of others with whom he may disagree in terms of faith commitment.

Hillary Clinton is a faithful member of the United Methodist Church. Ben Carson is deluded and used his intellect in a way far beneath what can be called morally appropriate behavior. Carson and others should remember there is a commandment against bearing false witness against a neighbor.

CNN has a little more on the background of this.

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A Corrupt Form of Christianity is Destroying the Republican Party
4/5/2016 2:45:34 PM

Ted Cruz is expected to win the Wisconsin presidential Republican primary today because he appeals to the religious right in that state led by its Southern Baptist governor, Scott Walker. Walker endorsed Cruz over Donald Trump, the current national leader in the primaries, who is not doing as well among the so-called "evangelicals" as Cruz.

It is my belief as expressed in many places on this website that the religious right is a corrupt form of Christianity. It has become a nationalistic religion with its notion of American exceptionalism. It has become entirely commercialized which means that it preaches what it finds to be most profitable, not what is actually in the bible or the doctrinal tradition of the church.

The religious right has come out of the Southern United States, called "evangelical" because of its association with Billy Graham, a Southern Baptist, and became a political force as a backlash movement against the gains of the civil rights movement. It began private "Christian" schools for white students to avoid integration of public schools mandated by the Supreme Court (one of the reasons the South hates the Court so much). Abortion is used by southern religion as a handy emotionally charged moral claim against the "secular humanism" of the North.

All of this is evidence for the near total corruption of this form of Christianity. it can no longer be called 'Christian'. People in the mainline denominations should begin actively speaking about the religious right in this way. It's unfortunate that too many "liberals" think they should not criticize the religion of others; some religious beliefs really are terrible and should be criticized, especially when they claim to be Christian and really are not.

And this false Chritianity is now killing the Republican Party. Ever since Ronald Reagan appealed to the religious right for votes it has become more and more important as a base constituency of that party.

And, of course, fundamentalism has been carrying on a war with science for the entire 20th century. That's why the Republican Party now stands opposed to public schools (so private charter schools can teach creationism and other nonsense). It opposes the use of birth control methods emerging from science. It opposes the science leading to understanding that gay and lesbian life styles are not basically unhealthful. It opposes the science leading to realizations that climate change is threatening the future of human life on this planet.

But the Republican Party is beholden to this false form of Christian faith. It is now killing the party. It is so irrational that a candidate like Cruz simply cannot be elected.

Extreme expressions sometime point to the realities at the center of a phenomenon. Samantha Bee on her "Full Frontal" television show has mocked the extremes of the religious right in the video clip below. For example, she points to Colorado pastor Kevin Swanson, who claims scripture suggests "homosexuals" are “worthy of death” in the worst possible ways. This pastor is a crazy man, but Cruz gladly receives his endorsement in this clip.

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Evangelicals are Not Voting Trump, Jacksonians Are
3/31/2016 2:56:40 PM

Darren Patrick Guerra over at Christianity Today does some analysis of the Trump vote in several of the primaries and claims "evangelicals" are not voting for him in droves. Those who are voting Trump may not be so strongly evangelical as what he calls "Jacksonian". It's an interesting notion, worth thinking about. Here is the end part of his article:
Despite the fact that a majority of evangelicals do not support Trump, it’s still fair to ask why even a steady minority of evangelicals are voting for him given the disjuncture between Trump’s personal and public morality versus the common evangelical focus on the importance of personal morality and integrity. One strong possibility here is that this may be a classic case of correlation rather than causation. That is to say, evangelical Trump voters may “happen” to be evangelical but they are not necessarily voting for Trump “because” they are evangelical. Rather, a third factor might be driving the phenomenon instead. More specifically, there is evidence to suggest that Trumpism is not an evangelical phenomenon at all, but rather a Jacksonian one. Walter Russell Meade first offered this explanation along with Steve Inskeep and others.

Jacksonians are largely highly nationalistic blue collar voters who despise Wall Street bankers and Washington elites. There is a long historical precedent for Jacksonian voters periodically rising up in anger and disrupting the political equilibrium, as was seen with Andrew Jackson himself, William Jennings Bryan, and to a lesser extent, Ross Perot. Most of the exit poll data suggests that evangelicals, per se, are not driving Trump’s success; Jacksonians are.

What confuses the media is that Jacksonians also happen to live in blue collar southern and midwestern communities where nominal evangelicals are more likely to also reside. It is highly likely that many evangelical Trump voters are Jacksonians first and foremost and only adopt the evangelical label as an afterthought. Their evangelical label is likely then a vague cultural affiliation rather than an indicator of deeply held religious beliefs and behaviors.

Evangelicalism as a religious and cultural phenomenon is difficult to define and measure accurately, so the media should show a bit more caution before lumping all evangelicals together in a massive pro-Trump herd, especially when a super-majority of that supposed herd do not actively support Donald J. Trump.

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R.R. Reno at First Things is Disappointed by Pope Francis
9/25/2015 4:08:31 PM

The editor of First Things magazine, which likes to think of itself as "America's most influential journal of religion and public life," R.R. Reno, has written the day after the address of Pope Francis to congress that he is very disappointed in the speech. Now, First Things is a Catholic journal, but it is fixated on the two issues that animate the Southern-oriented religious right, abortion and same-sex marriage. The leaders and writers of this journal share the same small-minded and narrow views of the most extreme voices of the religious right and the Republican Party. Republican candidates have been using abortion to organize their political campaigns for many years now and that focus is continuing in the current campaign. Today the Values Voters Conference is meeting in Washington D.C. and abortion and same-sex issues are at the center of their debate.

But Reno doesn't like that yesterday the pope said nothing about these issues: "At the end of the speech, Francis appealed to a spirit of solicitude for the well being of the family. But, again, he steered clear of specifics, making no mention of no-fault divorce or same-sex marriage."

On the other hand: "In three areas he was more specific: He called for the abolition of the death penalty. This has been a priority for the Church going back to John Paul II. He denounced the international arms trade, another standard Vatican trope. He prefaced this with a vague endorsement of negotiation for peace, which could be read as an endorsement of Obama's approach to Iran. No surprise there. In general, the Vatican is pro-negotiation and anti-conflict. He called for appropriate measures to combat global warming. Again, no surprise there, given his recent encyclical."

And Reno was irritated by the fact that Francis called for “dialogue” because that calls for a willingness to listen to others who may disagree with you.

First Things was started up by Richard Neuhaus, a Lutheran pastor who left his church to join the Roman Catholic Church, who was able to get right wing foundations to give him large grants to promote his attacks on the National Council of Churches and other mainline Protestant churches. Neuhaus thought abortion was a good political issue, an issue with an emotional edge that could raise money for political campaigns. And that is what Republicans have been doing ever since. Abortion is not a moral issue, it is a political issue, and has been used by Southern politicians to attack the north, to attack science, to attack "liberals" who supported the federal effort to force the South to stop its practices of segregation.

Maybe it is time to let First Things fade away. Pope Francis is speaking from the center of Christian tradition about the grace and mercy of God. He is trying to get the church to move beyond hatred of others over abortion and same-sex marriage. It is wonderful to see a religious figure receive such a positive reception in the public sphere today.

Pope Francis represents the future, R.R. Reno represents the negative and hateful politics of the past. Today John Boehner, who as a Catholic invited the pope to speak in the first place, has announced he is leaving the House and ending his tenure as Speaker. He is the last real Republican "centrist" in leadership in the House. With him gone the crazies, the Southern religious and Tea Party extremists, will be in charge, and I think they will end up acting so badly as to move the Republican Party toward its own destruction.

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Republicans Elect Mark Walker: A Racist, Blasphemous, Baptist Pastor
7/23/2014 1:25:25 AM

Roll Call reported last week that "Baptist Pastor Mark Walker defeated Rockingham District Attorney Phil Berger Jr. Tuesday to win the Republican nomination in North Carolina’s open 6th District."

I wondered what it was that this Baptist minister was saying that got him elected to public office. So I went to the website of Mark Walker, his "About" page, and listened to a debate between him and his opponent, Phil Berger Jr. who most observers thought would win because he was endorsed by the congressman leaving the office.

Berger came across to me as not a very sharp and able politician so voters may have picked whom they thought was a more competent person. But what interests me is the actual substantive content of the platform of a Baptist preacher for political office. What is Mark Walker's program? What does he stand for? How does he articulate his message to voters?

Under the heading "Why I'm Running" Walker first says this:
I remember a time when the entire world could feel the powerful heartbeat of this country. Today, our pulse is fading while the same heartbeat has grown faint. Our nation seems to have forgotten that our freedom isn’t a derivative of the federal government, but rather it comes from our Creator, God Almighty.
Now, the reference here is first to the United States as a "big, powerful country" and Walker assumes that "our creator" made it that way. This Creator is "God Almighty", a big powerful God. His reference to the "heartbeat" of this country clearly associates God with the life of this country.

What we should realize is that this is utter and complete blasphemy. Mark Walker, a Baptist minister, equates God with a country, the United States. There is nothing in scripture about this, of course. This belief is a very recent invention. But to associate the God revealed in the Old and New Testament with a particular social group today is an act of blasphemy clear and simple. Walker is worshipping false God of his own making. God is not a nation. God's will and purpose cannot be associated with any particular nation. God is beyond all nations. To teach otherwise is be a heretic, to teach a false form of Christianity. That is what Mark Walker is doing. He is trying to get elected by spreading false ideas about Christianity.

But notice that there is something that Walker doesn't like about the nation, it is the "federal government." Walker is from the South, and there is one thing Southerners, old time Southerners, those who are still fighting the Civil War, those who opposed the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, those old time Southerners hate, simply hate, the federal government. He is even setting up the "federal government" over against God, to believe that the federal government is good for something is not to believe in God. This is the thought process of this Baptist minister. This is how he uses the important language of faith. He is willing to use the language of God for his narrow partisan political purpose. It is to me completely disgraceful.

It is also racist. Racism is not a condition of internal subjectivity of a person; it doesn't have to do with the internal feelings or attitudes of Mark Walker. Racism has to do with the objective way words and language are used, with conceptual orientations which claim to represent what is going on within the world. And Southerners, old Southerners have a way of thinking and speaking about recent history since the 1960s when the federal government went into the South and forced it to change its ways of segregation in schools, public facilities, and politics. Old Southerners hate the federal government for doing that. This is what "conservatism" means today, to try to roll back the gains of black people in the civil rights movement. The South used to be the place where Democrats were elected. But since the 1960s it has been Republicans who get elected there because to be a conservative Republican is to be against the rights of black people and against the use of the federal government to support those rights.

So the meaning of Mark Walker's words in the conceptual orientation he is utilizing is clearly "racist" in its appeal to white people and against black people. A Baptist pastor is seeking to be elected by a racist political message.

In his debate Walker referred to the "beast of entitlements" and said politicians are afraid to "rattle the cage" or "hurt the feelings" of people but that he would speak of this clearly, entitlements have to be dealt with. But then he failed to say at all what entitlements he has in mind, and, of course, the two main entitlements are Social Security and Medicare. So in speaking to older Americans is Walker ready to say he wants to scale back on these critically important programs for the elderly? No, he won't say that. So to speak generally about "entitlements" is a form of lying engaged in by the so-called "Tea Party" politicians who claim not to be inside the beltway. If you are an older American and you think that the Tea Party represents your interests, you are sadly mistaken. Mark Walker is a politician willing to lie to older members of our society.

Walker said, in relation to the Hobby Lobby case, that the federal government should not be able at all to tell private companies what to do in any way. It is an infringement on religious liberty. This is so completely wrong. The Hobby Lobby case is not about religious freedom, it is about giving corporations control over access to birth control methods for American women.

Some may not want to come right out and say that the political rhetoric of persons like Mark Walker is racist and blasphemous. I believe we need to be clear about these matters. Politicians, whether pastors or not, should not be allowed to be elected based on such a complete distortion of the historic meanings of Christian faith.

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There is No Religious Left
7/22/2014 5:51:18 PM

Years ago at a public forum I referred to the "religious right" and someone raised his hand and asked if there was a religious left. I stammered and stuttered and didn't answer the question very well. But it got me thinking. Many folks may say that the so-called mainline Protestants constitute a religious left since they are clearly not associated with those who call themselves evangelical or revivalist. And this characterization would be true in the sense that the mainlines have affirmed the importance of the civil rights movement and international institutions such as the United Nations. The mainlines have also provided leadership on environmental concerns, economic justice, and tend to support the Palestinian cause over knee-jerk support for Israel. These are clearly "left" tendencies in politics today. And the World and National Council of Churches, which constitute the ecumenical movement during the 20th century are clearly "left" oriented in their statements and pronouncements.

However, in an earlier day these were just considered the "Christian" perspective on things. It is the religious right, made up mostly of Southern Baptists and Pentecostals like Assemblies of God, that has become so far to the political right that it can be called "right-wing religion". There is no religious left, there is just the ecumenical Protestant Church which has been attacked in recent decades by a religious right, which in my own opinion, has become so commercialized, so Americanized, so politicized, that it can no longer even be understood as standing in the historic Reformation Protestant tradition. It has become a false expression of Christian faith.

I am thinking about this because Michael Peppard over at Commonweal has asked: Is there a religious left? He answers not really. He quotes Peter Steinfels who has said:
87% of religious progressives view religion as a 'private matter' that should be kept out of public debate on political and social issues. That view may provide a negative counter to aggressive religious intervention on behalf of traditional sexual and personal norms, but it does not provide much ground for religious engagement on the kinds of issues [identified as heralding the rise of the Religious Left] – helping the poor, maintaining the safety net, and opposing inequality.
Although Steinfels is correct in his reading of the consciousness of many Protestants, that is, they don't want to enter politics because of their religious faith or to articulate their reasons for political engagement with religious language, but that does not mean there are no Protestants at all so engaged. Indeed, there are very strong and viable associations of Protestants at all levels who are politically involved. And every effort should be made to encourage more involvement of such folks.

In various ways we at this website are trying to provide resources for this involvement. This means using the best thinking and wisdom of others in the world, whether they are Christian or not, since we don't believe Christians are the only ones with concern for order and justice for all in the world.

So, many Protestants do not want to be seen or understood as in any way associated with the religious right. We should understand that and not push them to act explicitly in terms of their religious faith. We are able to help them get involved with many partners already organized for action, such as environmental and justice groups.

I do think it important to try to show the many ways in which the religious right does NOT represent historic Christianity, does NOT correctly interpret the scriptures, and does NOT reach out to the truly poor and oppressed in the world today.
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Hysterical Anti-Communism: Billy Graham Urged the Killing of a Million Vietnamese
11/21/2013 2:35:37 PM

It is impossible to over-emphasize the role played in American history in recent decades of what I call "hysterical anti-Communism." It is one thing to be opposed to an economic system, it is another thing to use it as a central organizing principle for everything, and to use it as the sole mental window by which to try to see what is happening in the world. Hysterical anti-Communism is what drove the United States into the war in Vietnam. It was what was being preached Sunday after Sunday in congregations of the religious right, especially in Southern California in the 1950s (see From Bible Belt to Sunbelt by Darren Dochuk), preached to workers in the defense industries there, following the model of Billy Graham who got his start as an "evangelist" in that same territory. To be a Christian for these preachers was to be anti-Communist and thus the historic Christian faith was changed into a national civil religion.

And the Republican Party in its hysterical anti-Communism has gone so far over to the right that anything government does is called socialism, as if it is evil if any human beings get together and decide to do anything together as a collective body. These people seem to forget that a corporation is a collective body too, not an individual person, though the Supreme Court maintains such a legal fiction.

And as Counterpunch reminds us, Billy Graham in 1969 urged President Nixon to kill a million or more human beings in North Vietnam by bombing the dikes there. My wife and I were in Hanoi in 2008 and saw these dikes. It is truly inconceivable to me how a so-called Christian leader could have advocated such an action. For North Vietnam, Communism was a vehicle for civil war; for North Vietnam the foes were China and then France, a colonial power. The United States stepped in to take the role of a colonial military power when France was defeated. Today the United States freely trades with Vietnam, apparently the "Communist" enemy wasn't so bad after all. But Billy Graham wanted to bomb the dikes.

Back in April, 1989, a Graham memo to Nixon was made public. It took the form of a secret letter from Graham, dated April 15, 1969, drafted after Graham met in Bangkok with missionaries from Vietnam. These men of God said that if the peace talks in Paris were to fail, Nixon should step up the war and bomb the dikes. Such an act, Graham wrote excitedly, “could overnight destroy the economy of North Vietnam”.

Graham lent his imprimatur to this recommendation. Thus the preacher was advocating a policy to the US Commander in Chief that on Nixon’s own estimate would have killed a million people. The German high commissioner in occupied Holland, Seyss-Inquart, was sentenced to death at Nuremberg for breaching dikes in Holland in World War Two.
Hysterical anti-Communism has continued to be present in religious right preaching; it is a crucial factor in their interpretation of history. Even today the father of Ted Cruz is claiming that President Obama is like Fidel Castro in his support for the Affordable Care Act, called socialized medicine by father Cruz, who fled Castro's Cuba as a young man.

Nixen didn't do the bombing of the dikes, thankfully. But the Counterpunch article says not many people were concerned about the Vietnam comments of Graham. But he was present in the oval office when discussion turned to Jews. Here is how Graham and Nixon talked about Jews in 1972.
This disclosure of Graham as an aspirant war criminal did not excite any commotion when it became public in 1989, twenty years after it was written. No one thought to chide Graham or even question him on the matter. Very different has been the reception of a new tape revealing Graham, Nixon and Haldeman palavering about Jewish domination of the media and Graham invoking the “stranglehold” Jews have on the media.

On the account of James Warren in the Chicago Tribune, who has filed excellent stories down the years on Nixon’s tapes, in this 1972 Oval Office session between Nixon, Haldeman and Graham, the President raises a topic about which “we can’t talk about it publicly,” namely Jewish influence in Hollywood and the media.

Nixon cites Paul Keyes, a political conservative who was executive producer of the NBC hit, “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,” as telling him that “11 of the 12 writers are Jewish.”

“That right?” says Graham, prompting Nixon to claim that Life magazine, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and others, are “totally dominated by the Jews.”

Nixon says network TV anchors Howard K. Smith, David Brinkley and Walter Cronkite “front men who may not be of that persuasion,” but that their writers are “95 percent Jewish.”

“This stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain,” the nation’s best-known preacher declares.

“You believe that?” Nixon says.

“Yes, sir,” Graham says.

“Oh, boy,” replies Nixon.

“So do I. I can’t ever say that but I believe it.”

“No, but if you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something,” Graham replies.

Magnanimously Nixon concedes that this does not mean “that all the Jews are bad,” but that most are left-wing radicals who want “peace at any price except where support for Israel is concerned. The best Jews are actually the Israeli Jews.”

“That’s right,” agrees Graham, who later concurs with a Nixon assertion that a “powerful bloc” of Jews confronts Nixon in the media.

“And they’re the ones putting out the pornographic stuff,” Graham adds.

Later Graham says that “a lot of the Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me. Because they know I am friendly to Israel and so forth. They don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country.”

After Graham’s departure Nixon says to Haldeman, “You know it was good we got this point about the Jews across.”

“It’s a shocking point,” Haldeman replies.

“Well,” says Nixon, “It’s also, the Jews are irreligious, atheistic, immoral bunch of bastards.”

Within days of these exchanges becoming public the decrepit Graham was hauled from his semi-dotage, and impelled to express public contrition. “Experts” on Graham were duly cited as expressing their “shock” at Graham’s White House table talk.

Why the shock?

Don’t they know that this sort of stuff is consonant with the standard conversational bill of fare at 75 per cent of the country clubs in America, not to mention many a Baptist soiree?

Nixon thought that American Jews were lefty peaceniks who dominated the Democratic Party and were behind the attacks on him.

Graham reckoned it was Hollywood Jews who had sunk the nation in porn.

Haldeman agreed with both of them.

At whatever level of fantasy they were all acknowledging power. But they didn’t say they wanted to kill a million Jews.

That’s what Billy Graham said about the Vietnamese and no one raised a bleat.
We should remember this history and use it to help interpret the times in which we live. It is an altogether too easy attitude to have among the powerful toward those who are different: "kill the bastards."

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False Equivalence, the IRS, and the Right's Persecution Complex
5/15/2013 2:15:16 PM

The Internal Revenue Service audited my tax returns three years in a row because the FBI thought I lied to one of its agents in 1968. I will tell that story in a minute. But I am thinking about it because the media right now is going crazy over a story about the IRS giving extra scrutiny to applications for 501c4 tax-exemption status for Tea Party and Patriot groups. My initial reaction to this was that the IRS should, indeed, have been looking at these groups to see whether they were truly organized for "social welfare" and not for political purposes. The fact is that there was a flurry of such applications from right wing political groups after the Supreme Court clouded the definitions of political donations with the Citizens United case. Of course the IRS should be checking on such applications, it seemed to me.

As the story has unfolded, however, nearly everyone in the media, and even Barack Obama himself, seems to be assuming that a terrible deed has been done. Chris Matthews over at MSNBC's Hardball is having a fit over the matter. It's as if in the second term of a president it is expected that big scandals will take place and everyone is looking for them. And, most important, it seems that the right wing framing of this issue is assumed by nearly everyone, the government is out to punish right wing groups. The IRS is being unfair to these so-called innocent Tea Party groups, who, remember, hate just about everything government does, especially collecting taxes.

These groups have not been engaged in social welfare, they don't even believe in social welfare. The Tea Party groups are political groups but they want the taxpayers to help fund their organizations. That's the real sin going on here. For them to holler and scream about being treated unfairly in this case is just another example of a serious mental disorder within these groups, their persecution complex. But the fact is that these groups know they are trying to get by with something, they know they are political groups trying to pretend they are otherwise, they know they hate Barack Obama and other Democrats and are trying to do everything they can to get them out of office, they know they are not just issue organizations doing educational work, they are political groups who should not be allowed by the IRS to enjoy tax-exempt status. But it looks like they are going to get away with it again. The failure of the media to be able to address this issue rationally is going to be another real blow to democracy and the need for some basic level of rationality in how people speak about these matters.

There is no equivalence at all between this current flap and what happened during the Nixon administration which, indeed, on orders of the president, used the IRS to punish those it opposed politically. I myself was audited three years in a row for no good reason other than I was put on Nixon's "enemies list" for my involvement in civil rights activities in the 1960s.

I was a pastor at a church in a black community in Washington D.C. nine blocks from the capitol building. That church had a large Sunday School auditorium with small classrooms around it which was not being used. I had come to know some members of a black teenage group called the "Modern Strivers" which was looking for a place to establish a Freedom School for high school students in D.C. So this Freedom School was set up in my church and did great work among the students.

During this time I received a visit from an FBI agent who showed me a picture of a black person and asked if I knew him. I looked at the photo and did not recognize the person. After telling the agent I did not have an inclination to help the FBI anyway because of how the FBI treated Martin Luther King, the interview was over.

Then the next day at the Freedom School I saw the fellow in the picture who was an assistant director of the school and someone I knew well. I realized that the FBI agent would well think I was intentionally lying to him, whereas it was a matter of not making out the face in a dark photo.

For this and other possible activities I was placed on the list of the IRS to have my taxes audited. Now, this was real political use of the IRS by a presidential administration. The government through the FBI engaged in terrible harassment of Martin Luther King and other black leaders and groups as well as peace groups opposed to the Vietnam War. This was no persecution complex, the government in fact was used to destroy legitimate political activity.

So when these Tea Party groups express outrage at this little extra scrutiny of their tax-exempt status applications there is no comparison at all to how Republicans have used the IRS and other governmental agencies against legitimate democratic activity. What actually should happen is that obviously political groups like those associated with the Tea Party should not be allowed tax-exempt status at all. The only reason they want this is so that they can keep secret the people who are donating money to them. And this only hampers transparency in the political process.

We ought to call this what it is: Tea Party hypocrisy.

Noam Scheiber

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The Continuing Attack by Religious Right against Mainline Christianity
2/22/2012 12:44:34 PM

One of the facts that most folks do not realize, even mainline Protestant pastors and members, is that the mailine denominations have been declining partly because they have been under a sustained attack from the religious right. In the 1980s I read a book by Jeremy Rifkin called The Emerging Order which pointed to the importance of the development of television preachers. I sat down in those days to watch some of these televion preachers systematically and was surprised to hear them again and again engage in attacks on the primary Protestant churches in the country. I also saw the degree to which the American flag was central on the stages of these preachers, not the cross of Christ. I have attended services of religious right congregations and found there attacks on mainline Protestants.

Billy Graham was not opposed to mainline churches. He often rankled fundamentalists and pentecostal pastors during the organization of his preaching campaigns because he insisted on inviting all churches to participate. The elder Graham was referred to by Barack Obama in his religion breakfast speech recently, recounting his visit with Grahsm.

But Graham's son, Franklin, is something else again. He appeared on Morning Joe at MSNBC and was asked if President Obama was a Christian. He said he didn't know, that Obama has said he is a Christian and that "you would have to ask him" whether he is or not. When he was pressed, Franklin Graham said that it depends on how a Christian is defined, and then he started to use the language of the religious right exclusively about accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior. He said you "have to be converted" to be a Christian and by that he means that you must be "born anew" by making an adult "decision for Christ." This is what Baptists believe, it is not what most mainline Protestants believe; the latter believe that one becomes Christian through the act of baptism, including infants and adults.

So here is Franklin Graham on national television (the media always picks people like this to interview, only very, very rarely do they choose a mainline Protestant) and what he does is imply Obama may not be a Christian, despite the fact that Obama has made clear that he became a Christian through the ministry of a mainline Christian church, the United Church of Christ, in Chicago.

Graham had no trouble saying that Rick Santorum is a Christian because of "his values on moral issues" which means that Obama is lacking there, that Obama is morally inferior to Santorum. Santorum was the first one mentioned by Graham indicating he was favored.

Graham gave a long reply to a question of whether Obama is Muslim, again saying he didn't really know, and that Muslims would consider him a Muslim since his forbears were Muslim, but he backtracked when questioned on this. He did say that Obama had given Islam a "free pass" in his foreign policy, an incredible statement to claim, as if Obama favors Islam over the interests of this country.

The habits of thought of religious right representatives like Franklin Graham are that the mainline churches are not fully Christian because they don't believe in "believer's baptism," because they baptize children and don't make a "personal decision for Christ."

The problem with this latter belief is that it leads to immense self-righteousness. "I have made a personal decision for Christ and I am going to heaven and therefore I know what God intends for everybody else in the world and I am absolutely certain of it." That kind of thinking I believe is destroying the witness of the church to the grace and mercy of a loving God. And it has become dangerous for a democratic society that depends on somewhat rational discourse over policies for the governance of the country.

Franklin Graham is not a worthy spokesperson for the gospel in today's world.

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A Day of Blasphemy: Governor Rick Perry's Prayer Festival
8/5/2011 4:14:56 PM

Blasphemy is "the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God" according to Webster. That's what is going to happen tomorrow in Houston when the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, holds a prayer festival in preparation for his expected announcement that he is running for president. The so-called religious right preachers who participate in this event are themselves blasphemers, they are insulting the God they claim to worship, they are showing contempt for God by associating God with a particular presidential candidate. They are willing to debase the language of Christian faith by allowing it to be manipulated by a man who merely wants to use Christianity for his own political purposes. They are prostrating themselves before a false god, bowing before an idol of national self-righteousness. Never before have I seen in this country in one single event such a desecration of Christian faith, using a so-called prayer rally as part of a presidential campaign.

On one page of the website explaining why this event, it is written, "In Joel chapter two, an ancient Hebrew prophet speaks to a nation in crisis and gives her God’s solution: gather together, repent of their sins, and pray to God to intervene on their behalf." So the call is for an intervention from God in the affairs of the nation. Now, what will be the form of that intervention? Of course, it is Rick Perry himself, as a presidential candidate. Rick Perry is God's solution to the crisis of the nation. To associate a presidential campaign with God's will is blasphemy pure and simple.

The preachers and pastors participating in this event can no longer be understood as Christian. They have given up Christian faith in favor of a politics of the moment. Go to the event website to read the names of those helping sponsor this event. They include Richard Land of the Southern Baptists, a denomination that has sold its soul for political gain. They also include Don Wildmon, President of host entity, American Family Association; Dr. James Dobson, Host of Family Talk Radio; Penny Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America; Tony Perkins, President of Family Research Council; among others.

One person, Tom Billings, Executive Director of the Union Baptist Association for Greater Houston, in a little video says that he had questions when he first heard about the event, but that he was assured this was not a political rally. This is, of course, willful delusion. Or, Tom Billings must know very well this is an event to use prayer for very narrow partisan interests and if so, it is more than delusion, it is willingness to literally lie to his followers about this event.

What these so-called Christian leaders are actually doing is very dangerous, they are allowing political motives and interests to determine what they believe to be the content of Christian faith. This is exactly what Hitler's followers were trying to do in Nazi Germany, to change the content of Christianity to fit the national purposes of a man determined to militarize society and create a dominating empire. That was blasphemy, as is the Rick Perry prayer rally.


New York Times article reporting on the rally. The stadium holds 71,500, only 30,000 attended.

More background on Perry and the New Apostolic Reformation

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Tea Party Leader Says Methodist Church is the Religious Arm of Socialism
12/20/2010 1:53:17 PM

In the 1980s as the television preachers began to make a big splash in the public consciousness I sat down to watch them on a regular basis to see what they were saying to gain such big audiences. I found it was not Christian faith, it was not the gospel message of the bible, what they preached was God and country, a kind of hysterical nationalism. The flag was much more prominent than the cross.

They also regularly attacked so-called mainline denominations, the Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, those churches with deep roots in this country as well as the Reformation period. I realized that these Southern Baptists and Pentecostals were creating a new form of religion in this country, not historic Christianity, but an Americanized religion worshipping not the God revealed in the scriptures but a god of commerce. These preachers were most interested in making a whole lot of money.

The attack on the mainlines has only increased over the past years as the Republican Party has adopted the religious right as it own religious expression. That means a political party is now not only rejecting the idea of separation of church and state but actually promoting a particular concept of god; it is claiming that it knows God's will over against other political perspectives. This is, of course, idolatry and heresy.

Now a leader of the Tea Party Nation, Judson Phillips, has written on his blog that the Methodist Church is little more than an arm of socialism.
When I was in Washington this past Friday, I walked by the United Methodist Building, next to the Russell Office Building. The sign in front of the United Methodist Building said, “Pass the DREAM Act.” I have a DREAM. That is, no more United Methodist Church. I grew up in the Methodist church. I left as a teenager because the Methodist Church is little more than the first Church of Karl Marx. After all, what can you say about a church that considers Hillary Clinton to be a member in good standing? Today, the Methodist Church is little more than the “religious” arm of socialism.
Let me mention two things about this: First, it used to be that the term "social welfare" was used to refer to programs such as government health care and large numbers of persons affirmed the role of government in providing social and health services within the community. Now, the right wing uses the word "socialism" for all these programs, for anything and nearly everything government does. This completely changes the earlier meaning of the term, which refers to government ownership of the means of production. Now, even Social Security is considered "socialistic" by the Tea Party and its mouthpieces in talk radio and Fox News.

Secondly, to use the word "socialist" is to seriously escalate the political discourse to the level of war, since during the Cold War the United States was militantly opposed to the socialist and Communist countries of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. To use the word socialist means that people like the Methodists should be violently wiped out of existence. One does not "compromise" with followers of Karl Marx, you destroy them with every tool of power at your disposal.

We are coming upon a time with the new congress when the Republican Party will be more and more influenced by these "Tea Party" advocates who are not interested in political compromise but in winning a total victory over those terrible socialists and followers of Karl Marx. This is what Barack Obama does not seem to realize. As a person who believes it important to sit down and reason together he does not seem to realize that all reason has left the Tea Party movement. To have a concern for the poor is Marxist according to these folks.

As for me, more power to those Marxist Methodists who stand in the historic tradition and orthodoxy of Reformation Protestantism. It is the religious right that has created false gods and adopted an attitude contrary to clear reading of the scriptures. In 2004 I wrote a piece on Opposing the Religious Right. Day before yesterday I received an email from a person in Kentucky who had just read the piece. She said that it was the religious right who elected the Tea Party candidate Rand Paul for the Senate. Their rehetoric was all over the radio stations and television leading up to the election. She was so happy to read something that criticized the religious right.

We in the mainline churches have to ourselves stand up and criticize the religious right and its false preachers who are leading astray millions of Americans. There are lots of people out there, I believe, who have given up on the church because all they hear about Christianity is the hateful and hurtful talk coming from right wing extremists. How extreme they are is demonstrated by this ridiculous talk by Judson Phillips.
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Glenn Beck and Apostolic Authority
8/31/2010 2:03:58 PM

It turns out that Glenn Beck decided to make his event in Washington D.C. this past Saturday into a religious more than political gathering. Glenn Beck, a television and radio talk show host, has decided that he is able to speak for God, not only that, but that he wants God to speak through him, that he is listening for God's voice, and thus when he speaks he can be heard as speaking God's voice in the world today. Beck is making an apostolic claim, that he knows what God wills and intends for the world today.

This would be laughable except that so many people believe him, and the main media gave Beck's event full coverage. Everybody now is talking about Glenn Beck, he is at the center of the public consciousness among those who follow politics in this country. The media don't know what to do about a person who claims to speak for God, don't know how to critiqe such a claim, don't know to understand religious authority. So Beck can get by with making outrageous claims. Following the event Beck gave an interview on Fox News where he said that Barack Obama believes in the "collective salvation" of liberation theology rather than the "personal salvation" of traditional Christianity. This too was carried in one of the major reports I watched about this event. Beck feels qualified to decide what is true and false about Christianity as well as what the president really believes. We live in a time of immense religious confusion.

I have just placed on this website an article by Rosemary Radford Reuther, perhaps the foremost feminist theologian today. It can be helpful in providing a brief history of the issue of apostolic authority in the church. Notice in the earliest centuries of the experience of the church the main question had to do with the truth of the gospel especially in relation to the gnostic tendencies of the period. Reuther speaks of the diversity of the church's religious expression in a positive way, that the development of apostolic authority reduced this diversity. But I think it would be more helpful to view early Christian doctrinal formation as an effort to preserve the central meanings of the gospel, to determine the limits of diversity in terms of religious meanings, to determine the outer limits of what can be understood as Christian. This is not just an intellectual exercise, though that became important for the church as well, but also a practical matter in terms of who speaks for the church, that is, apostolicity within institutional structures of authority. The church needs a way to determine not just what is the authoritative gospel but also who speaks this gospel. Without clarity on this matter the field is left open to anyone who stands up to claim that he or she speaks for God.

The Protestant Reformation greatly complicated this matter of authority in the church. It opposed an authority structure which had come to dominate the minds and hearts and lives of the people in the medieval times. But Protestants did not develop an institutional means to determine authority, it focused on the bible as authoritive, and that all could read the bible themselves and choose that which they deemed to be authoritive for the gospel. In the United States the bible has been read in wildly divergent ways which has served to split the church in many different squabbling sects/denominations. And a Pentecostal tradition developed where each individual preacher is able to claim that he or she can know God's will in specific matters. And for both the Baptists and the Pentecostals the standard for what is the truth of the gospel has become not the doctrinal-intellectual content of the preaching, nor even the qualifications of the person doing the preaching, but the number of persons who attend services or assemblies, the "religious marketplace." So this means that a criterion of authority has been adopted in American religion from the field of economics, not either the bible or doctrine. An alien form of authority has been allowed to determine what is meant by the term "God" and what this "God" wants for the world today.

It is into this situation now that a person, Glenn Beck, has been allowed to make his very big claims, that he is able to gather thousands at a D.C. event so that means he is authoritative, even if his Morman understanding of religious faith is alien to the historic Christian tradition. Neither the Roman Church nor Protestant denominations are able to gain media attention even if they had the courage to critique the content of the Glenn Beck preaching.

Beck represents not the history of the church's teaching, nor even the content of the traditions of this country, but he is corporate spokesperson. The modern corporation has found its apostle.

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Memesis and the Culture of Personal Crisis
2/15/2010 3:04:05 PM

I have just placed on this website a paper by Charles K. Bellinger which compares the thinking of Soren Kierkegaard and Rene Girard. The concept of memesis is basic to Girard and Bellinger relates it to how Kierkegaard discusses "envy" and the way human individuals compare themselves to others to determine their worth, rather than to do so in terms of their relationship with God. (It also brings to mind a central notion of the economist Thorstein Veblen, "invididious comparison".)

Memesis refers to the fact that human beings sense in themselves an existential lack, some way in which they are unfulfilled or lack what is needed to accept themselves as worthy. This leads them to look around to see how others are being fulfilled by a satisfaction of their desire, and they then desire what it is that is the object of that desire. I experienced a good example of this one day when I was taking care of my two young grandsons who were playing by themselves in their room. All of a sudden there was a big scream of anger coming from the room. I ran into the room and the younger child was yelling and crying because the older one had just hit him, because the younger one had stolen the toy he had been playing with. Now, this room was literally full of toys, hundreds of them in fact. But the younger boy was not satisfied with any other toy, he wanted to play with the toy which was already bringing pleasure to the older boy. Memesis is the effort to satisfy our desire for that which is satisfying the desire of the other. We want what the other already has.

I have just finished reading a book by Max Blumenthal called Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party. Blumenthal says that the religious right which has dominated the Republican Party is based on a "culture of personal crisis." He discusses the various leaders of this movement and shows how their lives have been characterized by suffering and crisis, that they experience fundamentalist religion as a means of redemption but do so by giving themselves over to authoritarian political groups which promise security, stability and order.

Over the years it has been interesting to me that the successful leaders of the religious right, when they want to demonstrate their success, do exactly that which has already been done by the mainline denominations, that is, begin a new college, build a new hospital, in Jerry Falwell's case he even created a complete new middle class suburban community. To the degree that the religious right represents lower income groups and people in various forms of economic and personal crisis, who look to the middle and upper classes for forms of satisfaction of desire, these folks thus are striving for what has already been achieved by these "higher" classes. The churches of these higher classes (the mainline churches) are criticized by the religious right, but in fact the latter desires that which is the same as the former (legitimacy, respectability, stability, order). The irony is, of course, that these mainline churches themselves no longer represent in many ways these values, these churches are themselves declining and failing to offer a compelling understanding of life and faith.

In the midst of all this it is fascinating to consider what sort of "Protestant Public Theology" could be developed that realistically takes into account the truth of memesis as a way to interpret the times of our lives....

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Seven Pentecostal Mountains and Sarah Palin
7/16/2009 4:49:00 PM

The Pentecostal movement has been so successful over the past decades because it has been offering an explicit form of "public theology" as a concrete interpretation of global and national history. That movement now extends not only in the United States but around the world, in Africa, in Latin America, and among persons and communities which have not enjoyed the promise and benefits of liberal rationalism as delivered through Enlightenment institutions. Those institutions have left out so many people and created such a debased corporate-dominated culture that the ones left out have formed their own religious interpretation of modern life and created their own forms of social and political engagement which is called the Pentecostal movement.

That movement has now identified a political leader in the United States and her name is Sarah Palin. To see the degree to which this is true see this post at the Daily Kos. A plan for cultural domination by this movement has been formulated by the leader of Youth with a Mission called the "seven mountains".

This is something Protestant pastors and laypersons need to understand so we will be watching this at this website.
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When Life Begins is Not at all Clear
5/19/2009 2:31:55 PM

Normally the identity of a commencement speaker is important only to the graduating students. But when the president of Notre Dame asked President Obama to speak at that Catholic university this past Sunday it became an issue of national significance. Joseph Bottum, editor at First Things, tells the story from the perspective of one who opposed the honoring of a president who does not agree with the Catholic Bishops about when life begins.

John D’Arcy, the local bishop of the Indiana region where the university is located, refused to attend the ceremonies and sent a letter in March stating his reasons: “President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred,” D’Arcy wrote. “I wish no disrespect to our president, I pray for him and wish him well. I have always revered the office of the presidency. But a bishop must teach the Catholic faith ‘in season and out of season,’ and he teaches not only by his words but by his actions. My decision is not an attack on anyone, but is in defense of the truth about human life.”

Joseph Bottum praises this bishop's action and says that the university president, Father John I. Jenkins, has opened a big fight between Catholic universities and the bishops and with the culture of the Catholic church. Bottum claims that the whole identity of the church is now centered in its opposition to abortion. Catholics are no longer known culturally by their previous discipline of not eating meat on Fridays or not getting a divorce. Now it is the question of abortion that defines the culture of Catholics.

I find this amazing and perplexing. It has been and continues to be difficult for me to actually believe that a church I otherwise respect and with which I declare myself to be in solidarity concerning its history and witness to the faith in Jesus Christ, has chosen to identify itself with what is really a rather trivial judgment about a biological process. Everything is said to rest on the question of when exactly in the reproductive process "human life" begins, or when almighty God acts specifically to create a human life. To make such a claim, to claim to know exactly with scientific certainty, that when the sperm meets the egg a human life begins, and that is when God creates, is to make a spiritual and theological absolute out of something that cannot carry such weight. Science cannot be used to create theological absolutes. Reproduction is a long series of specific events, to pick out just one event and claim that is when life begins is a false logic. There is no justification for it. It is not at all so clear exactly when life begins.

To then claim that anyone who disagrees about this does not have "reverence for life" is especially is to set up a false issue for the test of faith. Catholic bishops and others who follow their lead in using such language are, I believe, engaging in acts of hostility to others. Bishop D'Arcy says he respects President Obama but he is willing to say that Obama's position on abortion means that he does not hold human life to be sacred.

This language is an outrage in my opinion. I, for example, believe that God is the source of all of life. For a Catholic bishop to tell me that unless I agree with him that life begins at conception I do not have reverence for life is an outrage. Many more people should be standing up and saying this to these bishops and others who claim such self-righteousness. They are not standing up for principle, they are making fools out of themselves. And that is why, as Bottum admits, those in secular society are no longer listening seriously to anything these bishops say. This deprives the community from the wisdom the church should otherwise be offering on a whole range of ethical issues.

I was happy to see that the great majority of students at Notre Dame applauded President Obama. It is these students that represent the best of the culture of Catholicism. In general, it is the primary Protestant denominations which promote a more moderate position on abortion and Catholics would do well to join them so that the common witness of the church would not be taken to be so belligerent. It is way past time to get past this issue.
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The Last Book by Neuhaus: America is Babylon
4/10/2009 2:37:06 PM

Charles R. Morris writes a rather simplistic review in the New York Times Book Review about the last book by the late Richard John Neuhaus, American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile. He fails to note, for example, that the very title of this book represents a shift for Neuhaus whose earlier book, Time Toward Home was in praise of American exceptionalism. Neuhaus was a primary leader of the whole neoconservative movement that lifted high the idea of unreflective nationalism. Now it appears Neuhaus had decided that America is Babylon after all. Maybe that's because he lived just long enough to see the crash of the whole neoconservative way of thought.

Neuhaus was the favorite priest of President George W. Bush who called him "Father Richard". One of the reasons religious leaders ought to hesitate to identify themselves too closely with particular political leaders is that when the political leader goes down he takes the religious leader with him. Neuhaus deserves to be remembered in religious circles the same way Bush will be remembered among world leaders, as perhaps the worst president the country has ever had. Charles Morris mentions none of this. He apparently wants Neuhaus remembered as a great moral spokesperson who tried to bring morality to politics.

And Morris approves that the form of morality Neuhaus advocated, natural law theory, is that which is most appropriate to be applied in the politics of the nation, from which Neuhaus believed it could be demonstrated that abortion is an abomination, and continuing abortion in this country is one reason the book may be titled American Babylon. Morris spends most of his review trying to show that the postmodern ethics of Richard Rorty are just "made up" with no basis in anything "out there" in nature which thus leads to abortion and cloning and the killing of defective children as, he says, is recommended by the ethicist Peter Singer and which was a way the Nazi regime began.

For Morris, to disagree with Neuhaus is to be associated with Nazi practices. And this review is in the New York Times, apparently not so liberal a newspaper after all. Morris sneaks into the New York Times the main message of the now-discredited religious right and neoconservatism and the still-current rantings of Fox News host Glenn Beck. Neuhaus himself tried to create an association between Catholics and evangelical conservatives to gain political power in this country, the type of effort even the Pope has given up on in Italy because the people of that country refuse to use the power of the state to adopt a particular religious teaching against abortion.

Morris mentions Aristotle and how his view of natural law was "imported into Christian Europe in the 12th century and is still the mainstay of Catholic moral teaching." He fails to note that neither Aristotle nor Thomas Acquinas, whose works constitute that "mainstay," do not promote the current Catholic notion of when human life begins. Exactly what makes for natural law is an open question except for the Catholic tradition which says that the papacy is the final authority to interpret what it means. So here we have a tradition beginning within secular Greek thought which has become the dominating authority of a Roman Catholic Church associated with Europe, but which has redefined natural law in terms of abortion in ways actually outside the main originators of that tradition. It is all quite strange actually. I do wonder why it is that so many think they know absolutely the truth about morality and abortion and are willing to stake their whole lives on this so-called truth as Richard John Neuhaus has done.

The fact is that Christian ethics emerges from a relationship, a relationship between the God and the people of Israel in the Hebrew scriptures, and continuing in the relationship between God and the Church of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Neither Neuhaus with his natural law nor Rorty with his postmodern ethics gets this right. Roman Catholics cannot really get away with the claim that they can speak to everyone about natural law when they hold that only the Pope has the final word about what natural law means and when their own tradition is not consistent on when life begins. Because Christian ethics arises out of the special relationship between God and God's people, if Christians are to speak into the public world what they say has to make some sense within the language and understandings in that public world which will include persons who do not affirm that special relationship. Richard John Neuhaus spent his life speaking non-sense because of his false readings of natural law and placing all his eggs in the abortion basket. He ended up supporting the very kind of authoritarian politics that Morris claims is the result of a lack of morality in politics.

Morris does criticize Neuhaus for not realizing that the abortion question is being settled in this country. I would hope that this position of Morris would come to characterize the position of all the bishops. To claim every abortion is killing is simply irrational and a refusal to examine all the factors involved in the application of medicine to human flourishing. It is that kind of irrationality that is truly dangerous in a democractic society and a world becoming over-populated with people.

I think it is much better to realize that at this stage of history in the United States we need a more modest form of claims to morality than advocated by Neuhaus. He had a false hope for the country, he believed this country through state power should implement his narrow definition of what makes for moral absolutes. But the world is now known to be a lot more large and complex and pluralistic in its moral world views and understandings. It is enough for us in this country to affirm our unique story as a nation, be able to be proud of that story and who we are, without adding on the universal demands of a religious faith which can be used to justify the domination of others.

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The Poor Reputation of Evangelicals around the World
3/13/2009 2:48:15 PM

According to Timothy Shaw evangelicals around the world do not deserve their poor reputation as theocrats or quietists. Shaw will give a talk on March 18 sponsored by the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life in Boston. I would have more confidence in Shaw's claims around the world if he adequately understands the degree to which evangelicals in this country deserve their poor reputation, not only because of theocratic tendencies but because of their false theology, the nearly entirely commercialized nature of the evangeical enterprise, its bellicose religious nationalism, its identification of itself with one political party in this country, and its very warped and often irrational view on so many moral questions as a result of its social identity as a religious expression of Southern cultural attitudes, especially its role providing the energy of backlash politics against racial progress since the civil rights victories of the 1960s. The evangelical religious right in this country is opposed to democracy, its own internal structures are not democratic but dogmatic and authoritarian.

Shaw is said to make the claim that evangelicals "have often proven to be pioneers of democratic culture and politics. This is no accident. Evangelicals believe in a close and essential connection between social freedom and spiritual redemption, making evangelical Protestantism arguably the faith most at home with liberal democratic modernity."

This is a huge claim, and completely opposed to the way evangelicalism operates in this country. It is true that by its emphasis on individual decision as the criterion for whether one is saved or not evangelicals can be called "hyper-liberals," that is, an individual decision, so important in liberal philosophy, rather than the grace and mercy of God, is the source of salvation. But this is not historic Christianity nor in the fullest tradition of Reformation theology. Modern American evangelicalism has little resemblance to Reformation theology or "social freedom" in this country to the degree that I do not believe they can any longer claim the name Protestant.

I hope that members of the audience ask some very hard questions about this effort to redeem the reputation of evangelicals.
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They have Stolen Our Language
3/11/2009 8:46:09 PM

One of the reasons you will not find as much "normal" Christian words and expressions at this site as you might expect for a site about theology is because that language has been "stolen" by the religious right in this country and abused and redefined to the degree that it has little to do with actual historic and orthodox Christian faith. I think we are in a period of time when it is necessary to be very, very careful how the words are used.

If I say "God" in a sentance, what is the meaning? I have no idea how a person reading the sentance may conceive of God, what their concept of God is. The same is true of Jesus or Spirit or religion itself. All of the words are tainted by the false public ways the words are used by television and other evangelists and otherwise reported in the secular media. That media rarely ever reports anything from the Primary Protestants, but it regularly reports the heretical views of the religious right.

When I say the "religious right" I mean the Southern Baptists (American Baptists are very different) and Pentecostal groups such as the Assemblies of God. These groups have given themselves over to a particular political party and have become commercialized and "Americanized" to the degree that they are out of step with the historic traditions of Protestantism, especially when it comes to biblical interpretation and what the basic words of Christianity actually mean. The Southern Baptists think the bible is a book of science and law and have forgotten it is book about the good news of a loving God. The Pentecostalists regularly can be heard referring to "the Lord" over and over, such as "the Lord spoke to me" and then these folks feel free to say what the Lord has told them to get you to do something.

The normal "liberal" response to this tends to be that everyone has a right to their own religion and expressions and so there is no basis to make any judgments about this. Well, that view itself places itself outside any concern for the historic Protestant faith and how it is articulated in current culture. If one is concerned with that historic faith the way the religious right has abused it is an outrage. At least, that is my own orientation.

The political stance of the current religious right is particularly ironic since it is the Southern Baptists who have a history of bitter anti-Catholicism, against centralized authority structures and doctrines in the church. The religious right denominations and congregations, and so-called big box churches, are run as authoritarian institutions, or like large companies where pastors are the chief exectutive officers. All these churches follow a rather rigid moral code and adhere to a standard formula, or doctrine, for what makes for acceptable Christianity. And they work as a centralized authority structure in their attitude toward government. They want to become a force in society like the Roman Catholic Church was a dominating force in the Middle Ages. The contradictions in all this are astounding, and so very ironic.

Martin Luther was first of all concerned with the "terrified conscience" of the people caused by an oppressive religious system then in the 16th century known as Roman Catholicism. It preached hell and damnation for anyone who failed to do what the church leaders thought they should do, terrifying the conscience of believers with fear of hell, selling salvation to fill the coffers of the church to build big cathedrals. It was exactly this against which Luther wielded his attack.

Well, in today's world the religious right has become an oppressive religious system in the same way, placing central in its preaching fear of hell and the end of the world and then attaching to this a rather ridiculous and unfounded moral legalism based on a false reading of the bible. The bible becomes a hammer to pound on the heads of people rather than a book revealing how God has entered into human suffering to bring peace and grace.

So we here want to be much more careful in how we use the words of faith. And we would like to find ways to express the historic faith in ways that contemporary people can understand and appreciate, including those who have no faith or are explicitly against religion in any way. These latter folks have many good reasons for their views given the rather wretched history of the very human church. There is a great need to present an alternative public voice for Protestantism, one that is not defensive and alienated, one which is anchored in the great wisdom of the historic faith, one which can make strong claims to truth without becoming a false universal or oppressive force.

(I have written more about this in this article: Most Southern Baptists are Not Real Protestants.)
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