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Public Theology: Newt Gingrich: The Explicit Use of Religious Language for Political Purposes
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Newt Gingrich: The Explicit Use of Religious Language for Political Purposes
In his new book, the former House Speaker suggests he is the messiah who will 'save America' from socialist secularism. This is a real form of fascist talk and should be rejected by people of faith.

By Ed Knudson

The use of religion in politics is not new, of course. Ronald Reagan was the first of recent presidential candidates to explicitly seek the vote of the religious right wing in this country. This religious right is made up of television preachers coming mostly from the Southern United States, the Southern Baptists and Pentecostals such as the Assemblies of God which have practiced a "God and country" religion for a long time especially during the Cold War against "atheistic Communism." Karl Rove used congregations and associations of the religious right to elect George Bush as Governor of Texas and then as President.

But neither of those presidents used religious language as explicitly as Newt Gingrich has decided to do in his new book that came out this week. He titles it To Save America, the word "save" is, of course, a key word in Christian faith. For true Christians salvation is from Jesus Christ and no other, but here we have a prospective presidential candidate suggesting that he himself is the vehicle of salvation, and that God's will is that this nation as a nation is what needs saving. Such language for Protestants in the tradition of the Reformation is clearly not only heresy but a false gospel.

Then the subtitle of the book is: "Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine." The use of the word "secular" is in line with what the religious right has been claiming for some decades now. It is now a declaration that Gingrich is proposing to use in a political platform. He wants to be viewed as God's candidate for president. And he wants to associate "socialism" with "secularism" as if the two absolutely go together. This is not only a confused association of terms but a complete misrepresentation of history. Christian socialism has a long history in this country and Europe. The two most important theologians in the 20th century, Paul Tillich and Carl Barth, were both socialists.

The fact is that it was the Nazis in Germany who also tried to use the language of Christian faith to promote its programs of racial and military superiority and the use of private corporations to serve the state. One of the first things Hitler did when he was elected was to outlaw the socialist and Communist political parties. If there is one thing we must learn from that period of history it is that the language of faith and the structures of the church should never be allowed to be used by politicians for purposes of national glory.

It was the "Confessing Church" in Germany which stood up against Hitler and his henchman who tried to use the church for political purposes. (Look up the "Barmen Declaration".)Real Protestants in this country need to do the same today, not for political purposes, but because of fundamental faith commitment to the true gospel that God is known in Jesus Christ.

The following article at the Center for American Progress discusses how even some commentators at Fox News are concerned about the language Gingrich is using.


Save America From Newt Gingrich

This week, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich released his latest book, To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine, in which he argues that "the Left" threatens to cause "the United States as we know it" to "cease to exist." "The secular-socialist machine" -- previously defined by Gingrich as "the Obama-Pelosi-Reid team" -- "represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did," he writes. To promote the book, Gingrich has spent the past week touring the conservative media and defending his over-the-top assertions to the more traditional press. Much of Gingrich's rhetoric in the book echoes Fox News host Glenn Beck's narrative of progressives and the Obama administration and rehashes some of the policy proposals Gingrich has promoted through his billionaire-funded front group American Solutions. In an interview on the conspiratorial host's radio show, Gingrich praised Beck for having "a real impact on educating people," adding, "I wrote To Save America to be an educational part of that experience, to say to people this is a secular socialist machine. They are dedicated to fundamentally changing your country and they don't care what you think about it." As he does every few years, Gingrich is also using the book to fuel speculation that he might run for president. "There's more of a possibility now" of running for president than in 2008, Gingrich told Politico's Mike Allen, adding that he is "prepared to try to lead the movement" that would save America.

GINGRICH'S NAZI RHETORIC: On Fox News this week, Sean Hannity asked Gingrich if "the rest of the Republican Party sees" that progressives are "a threat to America as great as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union." "No. And here's my simple defense for that: If the secular socialist machine wins, we are going to be in a country which no longer resembles America," said Gingrich, standing by his ridiculous comparison. But Gingrich's outrageous rhetoric hasn't been embraced by many outside of the conservative echo chamber. After reading the quote from the book, Fox's Chris Wallace asked, "[I]sn't that wildly over the top?" "No, not if by America you mean the historic contract we've had which says your rights come from your creator, they're unalienable, you're allowed to pursue happiness," replied Gingrich. "But you compare that to the Nazis and the Communists?" followed up Wallace. "I compare that as a threat, not in terms of the moral -- look, there is no comparison to Nazi Germany as a moral -- or, by the way, to Mao's China or the Soviet Union, all three of which were evil," said Gingrich. But in his book, Gingrich invokes Nazism far more than just making a comparison in terms of a threat. Gingrich quotes right-wing writer David Horowitz arguing that the great atrocities of the modern era, whether from Nazis or Communists, were committed by people who believe in a "future that would save mankind." Gingrich uses Horowitz's quote to draw a comparison to "the current leaders of the Democratic Party." Later in the book, Gingrich says that "Marxism, Nazism, and Fascism" each "required the use of a powerful, centralized state authority," where "those who resisted were eliminated," "religion was enemy number one," and "religious texts" were replaced with "nationalist propaganda in schools." Gingrich then writes that "there are many parallels between the anti-religious governments of the twentieth century and the anti-religious elite of the United States in the twenty-first."

GINGRICH CALLED OUT: Wallace wasn't the only figure to push back against Gingrich's Nazi comparisons. In an interview on Joy Behar's Headline News show, former Republican congresswoman Susan Molinari -- who served while Gingrich was Speaker of the House -- called his comments "absolutely outrageous." "To compare anything that is going on in this country to the atrocities of Nazi Germany in any way, shape or form is just crazy," said Molinari. On MSNBC today, another former GOP congressman from Gingrich's era, Joe Scarborough, lashed out at his comments, calling them "sick" and "shameful." "I hope you apologize for that shameful remark," said Scarborough. In a statement released last night, the American Jewish Committee condemned Gingrich's Nazi comparison. "By invoking the current Administration in the same breath as two murderous totalitarian states, Newt Gingrich has drawn a foolish and dangerous analogy," said AJC Executive Director David Harris. "Gingrich's linkage not only diminishes the horror of the Holocaust, it also licenses the use of extremist language in contemporary America."

GINGRICH'S BAD HISTORY: The backlash against Gingrich's outlandish charges against the Obama administration began before he released his book. At the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in April, Gingrich test drove his "secular, socialist machine" talking points, describing President Obama as "the most radical president in American history." This prompted Gingrich's American Enterprise Institute colleague Norman Ornstein, a moderate, to pen a Washington Post op-ed assessing Obama's record. Ornstein concluded that Obama "is a mainstream, pragmatic moderate, operating in the center of American politics; center-left, perhaps, but not left of center." "The most radical president in American history? Does Newt Gingrich, a PhD in history, really believe that [expletive]?" asked Ornstein. Apparently Gingrich does believe it as he wrote an op-ed in response defending his claims. "Ornstein has it exactly backward," wrote Gingrich, citing the passage of the stimulus bill and health care reform as examples of Obama's "machine" politics. To defend his "socialist" claim, Gingrich invoked the exaggerated claims about czars in the Obama administration and the Waxman-Markey clean energy legislation. Ornstein responded by debunking Gingrich's assertions. "My conclusion is quite different than that of my AEI colleague," he said. The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder was much less measured, arguing that "Gingrich further enables the Right's flight from reality." Ambinder found that Gingrich's argument was full of hypocrisy, out-of-context quotes, and misstatements of facts.

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Date Added: 5/20/2010 Date Revised: 5/20/2010

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