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From Religion Dispatches, Post by JULIE INGERSOLL
(N.B.: Separation of Church/State, anyone? Contact Au NorthEast Ohio Chapter on Facebook or at email@example.com)
“In the current discussion about dominionism, and whether it is an invention of paranoid “leftists” or an actual theological system with political implications, worth understanding in its own right, there is a conflation of two groups that (while similar in some respects) are also quitedifferent from each other: Christian Reconstructionism and the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). RD readers will be familiar with both groups, because both Sarah and I have written extensively about Reconstructionists and Sarah has written about the New Apostolic Reformation here and here. Moreover Sarah and Anthea Butler have just posted a terrific overview of the NAR, Pentecostalism, and dominionism in which they critique both the denialists who say that dominionism doesn’t exist, and alarmists who fail to properly contextualize dominionists‘ activities.
Christian Reconstructionism is the older of the two movements (though the NAR has its roots in Pentecostalism that pre-dates both). There are two of the core aspects of Christian Reconstructionism that are relevant here. First is the view that the Kingdom of God was established at the resurrection, that its establishment is progressive through history and Jesus will return at its culmination when Christianity has transformed the whole world (a view known as post-millennialism). Second, all knowledge is based in one of two sets of assumptions: the God of the Bible is the sovereign source of all authority or human reason is autonomous from God. Reconstructionists drew this dichotomous view, known as pre-suppositionalism, from reformed theology, and pushed it beyond being a merely philosophical critique to develop a thorough strategy in response. That strategy, broadly speaking, was to cast secular humanism and pluralism as being in conflict with Christianity,conferring a duty on Christians to transform earthly institutions in order to combat non-Christian influence. In other words, establishing the kingdom on earth to prepare for Christ’s return required Christians to transform the world, or take dominion, a view that became an article of faith for the religious right, which popularized versions of post-millennialism as dominion or “kingdom now” theology. The pre-suppositionalist view became the basis for attacks on secular humanism and pluralism, which positioned the “biblical worldview” as being on a collision course with the others. Despite recent comments by journalists, the term “dominionism” has a history within these movements and is indeed, areal thing—not the imaginings of some “leftists.”
The New Apostolic Reformation is one of many strands of neo-Pentecostalism that draws on dominion theology and the critique of humanism/pluralism. There was a good bit of cross-fertilization between representatives of Reconstructionism and Pentecostalism in the 1980s. Though Pat Robertson has said he doesn’t know what “dominionism” is, Rushdoony was, more than once, his guest on The 700 Club. People like Jack Hayford (of the Pentecostal Church on the Way-Foursquare) were reading Reconstructionists (for example, David Chilton’s Postmillennial Paradise Restored). Gary North was in conversation with several charismatic leaders, perhaps thinking that the energy and vitality of those movements made them a more promising vehicle for spreading Christian Reconstrutionism than the “frozen-chosen” Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). North even dedicated his book Unholy Spirits(Dominion Press, 1986) to Bob Mumford of the Shepherding Movementand 75 Bible Questions (Dominion Press, 1984 and 1986) to Bob and Rose Weiner, founders of Maranatha Campus Ministries.
The Pentecostals never really embraced post-millennialism but blended dominion theology with their pre-millennialism. Less explored, though, is the way that the critique of pluralism functions. As I wrote last week, Reconstructionists “hold a view of knowledge that says that there are really only two possible worldviews (a biblical one and a humanist one that comes in several varieties) and that both worldviews are in a conflict for dominion,” a point that engendered some discussion among RD readers. This framing is derived from pre-suppositionalism. In Reconstruction, the original sin in the garden of Eden occurred when Adam and Eve chose to eat of the tree of knowledge, substituting their own reason for obedience to what God had commanded. From then on all systems of thought (philosophies, religions, worldview, ideologies, etc.) not based in God’s word as revealed in the Bible were really just variations on the decision to claim autonomy for human reason
(“humanism” is defined as making “man” the measure of all things). For Reconstructionists, those two worldviews are inherently mutually exclusive, thus real pluralism is impossible (see for example, Gary North’s “Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism“). And in fact, in their view, the two sides are engaged in a battle for dominion. Throw in the militant spiritual warfare, Christians-versus-Satanic-forces rhetoric, and you see how the battle for “dominion” is, for those who believe they are engaged in such a battle, a cosmic showdown between good and evil.
For some in these movements that have cross-pollinated with one another, their opponents (i.e. the rest of us) literarlly are the spawn of Satan.”
N.B.: This is why the First Clause of The First Amendment is more important than ever!
From RD, by Sarah Posner
“There’s a somewhat refreshing development taking place in political reporting. Not only reporters are noticing that Republican candidates coalesce with religious right leaders, but they are also discovering a crucial truth about the movement: that its followers aren’t just motivated by opposition to abortion and LGBT rights. They are motivated by something more fundamental, a reimagined “truth” about what America is (and isn’t) and how a “biblical worldview” should guide politics and policymaking.
This is a good thing, of course, because as Joanna argued this morning, candidates should be asked tough questions about how their beliefs would impact their governing. Michele Bachmann thinks that God is trying to send a message through earthquakes and hurricanes, and that message is not (in her mind) that Republicans should stop obsessing about energy efficient lightbulbs being “tyranny,” or talking about closing down the Environmental Protection Agency.
Twitter lit up this morning after Jonathan Martin’s piece in Politico (“Is Rick Perry Dumb?”) noted that he was reading Charles Stanley’s book, Turning the Tide. Stanley is pastor of megachurch First Baptist Church of Atlanta and one-time Southern Baptist Convention president whose broadcasts through his In Touch ministry are seen and heard on radio and television across the country. Stanley, although widely known, is not without controversy: after years of marital trouble, his wife divorced him in 2000. Despite longstanding SBC denunciation of divorce, Stanley remained as pastor of his church despite an unwritten SBC prohibition on divorced men serving as pastors (the SBC prohibits ordination of women, but this resolution is not binding on local churches, who can decide otherwise). At the time, a church spokesperson said, “God has positioned Dr. Stanley in a place where his personal pain has validated his ability to minister to all of us.”
The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, whose piece on Michele Bachmann brought dominionism to the forefront of the political conversation (even though reporters who cover the religious right have reported on it for years), started tweeting quotes from Stanley’s book, such as “Pray to help leaders ‘reaffirm our Christian heritage and reestablish Your biblical precepts as the basis of American society and law.’” He also observed, “Can’t remember another campaign bragging that candidate was reading a book that asked people to pray for conversion of all Jews and Muslims.”Perhaps Lizza can’t remember, and perhaps a campaign didn’t explicitly brag about reading a particular book, but considering that conversion of non-believers is a standard evangelical imperative, it shouldn’t be too terribly surprising that an evangelical candidate would brag about reading a book that contained such an exhortation. And as I’ve argued before, creating candidates like Perry (or Bachmann) has been years in the making. Doug Wead, in his 1985 memo to George H.W. Bush, named Stanley as one of the leading religious leaders in America whose support the candidate should cultivate. Stanley, then the president of the SBC, “is said to be ‘intrigued’ by the [Pat] Robertson candidacy but ‘leaning to George Bush.’” Oh, yeah, that guy, Pat Robertson! Remember when he ran for president?Wead continued: Dr. Stanley is the key to building relationships with the seven or eight pastors of the largest SBC churches. Like Stanley, these pastors will probably endorse someone for president. They will influence others through the use of their mailing lists, radio and television programs, and printed materials which get across their message without violating their government awarded 501 c3 status. They will even have voter registration booths in their church lobbies which will be open after a rather pointed sermon, “I don’t want to influence how you vote but . . . .” Let’s not forget how a mere four years ago Mike Huckabee (himself an SBC pastor considered a moderate by some in his denomination!) gave a Christmas sermon at John Hagee‘s church,said that the Constitution should be amended to conform with “God’s standards,” said that allowing “seculars” to govern America would lead to Nazism, rallied a church in New Hampshire to enlist in “God’s army” to be “soldiers for Christ,” appeared to be the anointed one of some religious right godfathers, and drew the wrath of the late Robert Novak, no less, because of his ties to Christian Reconstructionism. Or that John McCain wrapped his arms around Rod Parsley and Hagee, or that even Rudy Giuliani sought and gained Robertson’s blessing. And that was just ’08; it’s all been going on much longer than that. While GOP candidates’ cultivation of conservative evangelicals is not a surprise, it is a good thing that it’s being discussed more. Perhaps, if nothing else, it will put the lid on the inevitable “is the religious right dead?” piece.
By Robert Evans
GENEVA (Reuters) – Scientists chasing a particle they believe may have played a vital role in creation of the universe indicated Monday they were coming to accept it might not exist after all.
But they stressed that if the so-called Higgs boson turns out to have been a mirage, the way would be open for advances into territory dubbed “new physics” to try to answer one of the great mysteries of the cosmos.
The CERN research centre, whose giant Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has been the focus of the search, said it had reported to a conference in Mumbai that possible signs of the Higgs noted last month were now seen as less significant.
A number of scientists from the centre went on to make comments that raised the possibility that the mystery particle might not exist.
“Whatever the final verdict on Higgs, we are now living in very exciting times for all involved in the quest for new physics,” Guido Tonelli, from one of the two LHC detectors chasing the Higgs, said as the new observations were announced.
CERN’s statement said new results, which updated findings that caused excitement at another scientific gathering in Grenoble last month, “show that the elusive Higgs particle, if it exists, is running out of places to hide.”
The centre’s research director Sergio Bertolucci told the conference, at the Indian city’s Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, that if the Higgs did not exist “its absence will point the way to new physics.”
Under what is known as the Standard Model of physics, the boson, which was named after British physicist Peter Higgs, is posited as having been the agent that gave mass and energy to matter just after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.
As a result, flying debris from that primeval explosion could come together as stars, planets and galaxies.
In the subterranean LHC, which began operating at the end of March 2010, CERN engineers and physicists have created billions of miniature versions of the Big Bang by smashing particles together at just a fraction under the speed of light.
The results of those collisions are monitored by hundreds of physicists not just at CERN but in linked laboratories around the world which sift through the vast volumes of information generated by the LHC.
Scientists at the U.S. Fermilab near Chicago have been in a parallel search in their Tevatron collider for nearly 30 years. Last month they said they hoped to establish if the Higgs exists by the end of September, when the Tevatron closes down.
For some scientists, the Higgs remains the simplest explanation of how matter got mass. It remains unclear what could replace it as an explanation. “We know something is missing, we simply don’t quite know what this new something might be,” wrote CERN blogger Pauline Gagnon.
“There are many models out there; we simply need to be nudged in the right direction,” added Gagnon, an experimental physicist.
(Editing by Andrew Heavens)
“Q. Texas governor and GOP candidate Rick Perry, at a campaign event this week, told a boy that evolution is ”just a theory” with “gaps” and that in Texas they teach “both creationism and evolution.” Perry later added “God is how we got here.” According to a 2009 Gallup study , only 38 percent of Americans say they believe in evolution. If a majority of Americans are skeptical or unsure about evolution, should schools teach it as a mere “theory”? Why is evolution so threatening to religion?
A. There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today’s Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP’ nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand’) is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today’s Republican Party ‘in spite of’ is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.
Any other organization — a big corporation, say, or a university, or a learned society – -when seeking a new leader, will go to immense trouble over the choice. The CVs of candidates and their portfolios of relevant experience are meticulously scrutinized, their publications are read by a learned committee, references are taken up and scrupulously discussed, the candidates are subjected to rigorous interviews and vetting procedures. Mistakes are still made, but not through lack of serious effort.
The population of the United States is more than 300 million and it includes some of the best and brightest that the human species has to offer, probably more so than any other country in the world. There is surely something wrong with a system for choosing a leader when, given a pool of such talent and a process that occupies more than a year and consumes billions of dollars, what rises to the top of the heap is George W Bush. Or when the likes of Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin can be mentioned as even remote possibilities.
A politician’s attitude to evolution is perhaps not directly important in itself. It can have unfortunate consequences on education and science policy but, compared to Perry’s and the Tea Party’s pronouncements on other topics such as economics, taxation, history and sexual politics, their ignorance of evolutionary science might be overlooked. Except that a politician’s attitude to evolution, however peripheral it might seem, is a surprisingly apposite litmus test of more general inadequacy. This is because unlike, say, string theory where scientific opinion is genuinely divided, there is about the fact of evolution no doubt at all. Evolution is a fact, as securely established as any in science, and he who denies it betrays woeful ignorance and lack of education, which likely extends to other fields as well. Evolution is not some recondite backwater of science, ignorance of which would be pardonable. It is the stunningly simple but elegant explanation of our very existence and the existence of every living creature on the planet. Thanks to Darwin, we now understand why we are here and why we are the way we are. You cannot be ignorant of evolution and be a cultivated and adequate citizen of today.
Darwin’s idea is arguably the most powerful ever to occur to a human mind. The power of a scientific theory may be measured as a ratio: the number of facts that it explains divided by the number of assumptions it needs to postulate in order to do the explaining. A theory that assumes most of what it is trying to explain is a bad theory. That is why the creationist or ‘intelligent design’ theory is such a rotten theory.
What any theory of life needs to explain is functional complexity. Complexity can be measured as statistical improbability, and living things are statistically improbable in a very particular direction: the direction of functional efficiency. The body of a bird is not just a prodigiously complicated machine, with its trillions of cells – each one in itself a marvel of miniaturized complexity – all conspiring together to make muscle or bone, kidney or brain. Its interlocking parts also conspire to make it good for something – in the case of most birds, good for flying. An aero-engineer is struck dumb with admiration for the bird as flying machine: its feathered flight-surfaces and ailerons sensitively adjusted in real time by the on-board computer which is the brain; the breast muscles, which are the engines, the ligaments, tendons and lightweight bony struts all exactly suited to the task. And the whole machine is immensely improbable in the sense that, if you randomly shook up the parts over and over again, never in a million years would they fall into the right shape to fly like a swallow, soar like a vulture, or ride the oceanic up-draughts like a wandering albatross. Any theory of life has to explain how the laws of physics can give rise to a complex flying machine like a bird or a bat or a pterosaur, a complex swimming machine like a tarpon or a dolphin, a complex burrowing machine like a mole, a complex climbing machine like a monkey, or a complex thinking machine like a person.
Darwin explained all of this with one brilliantly simple idea - natural selection, driving gradual evolution over immensities of geological time. His is a good theory because of the huge ratio of what it explains (all the complexity of life) divided by what it needs to assume (simply the nonrandom survival of hereditary information through many generations). The rival theory to explain the functional complexity of life - creationism - is about as bad a theory as has ever been proposed. What it postulates (an intelligent designer) is even more complex, even more statistically improbable than what it explains. In fact it is such a bad theory it doesn’t deserve to be called a theory at all, and it certainly doesn’t deserve to be taught alongside evolution in science classes.
The simplicity of Darwin’s idea, then, is a virtue for three reasons. First, and most important, it is the signature of its immense power as a theory, when compared with the mass of disparate facts that it explains – everything about life including our own existence. Second, it makes it easy for children to understand (in addition to the obvious virtue of being true!), which means that it could be taught in the early years of school. And finally, it makes it extremely beautiful, one of the most beautiful ideas anyone ever had as well as arguably the most powerful. To die in ignorance of its elegance, and power to explain our own existence, is a tragic loss, comparable to dying without ever having experienced great music, great literature, or a beautiful sunset.
There are many reasons to vote against Rick Perry. His fatuous stance on the teaching of evolution in schools is perhaps not the first reason that springs to mind. But maybe it is the most telling litmus test of the other reasons, and it seems to apply not just to him but, lamentably, to all the likely contenders for the Republican nomination. The ‘evolution question’ deserves a prominent place in the list of questions put to candidates in interviews and public debates during the course of the coming election.
More On Faith and evolution:
Panel debate: On evolution, can religion evolve?
Under God: Perry says evolution a ‘theory’ with ‘gaps’
RICHARD DAWKINS | AUG 23, 2011 7:25 AM”
Fox Viewers Overwhelmingly Think We Should Prepare for Alien Invasion Before Fighting Climate Change
By Alex Seitz-Wald | Sourced from ThinkProgress
“A new (supposedly) NASA-funded study postulating that aliens may attack humans over climate change had all the ingredients for a perfect Fox faux controversy — it bolstered their anti-science narrative, painted their opponents as clownish radicals, and highlighted wasteful government spending on a supposedly liberal casue. Fox reported the “news from NASA” several times several times today, presenting it as official “taxpayer funded research.” A chyron on Fox and Friends read: “NASA: Global warming may provoke an [alien] attack.”
But as Business Insider pointed out, they’re “wrong” — “That report was not funded by NASA. It was written by an independent group of scientists and bloggers. One of those happens to work at NASA.” NASA distanced itself from the report as well, calling reports linking the agency to it “not true.” Host Megyn Kelly finally corrected the record this afternoon, saying, “I was making that up.”
But before she did, she was so bemused by the study that she directed her viewers to complete a poll on her website which asked how we should respond to the study: “Immediately increase efforts to curb greenhouse gases,” “Develop weapons to kill the Aliens FIRST,” or “Gently suggest scientists research how to create job.”
Not surprisingly, most suggested they research something else. But more than six times as many respondents (19 percent to 3 percent) said we should focus on building weapons to kill aliens before curbing greenhouse gases. Watch a compilation:”
(N.B.: click link below to see video)
“The poll is of course not scientific, but you can hardly blame the viewers who did respond, considering Fox’s constant misinformation about climate change. For instance, as she presented the poll, Kelly said of curbing climate change, “just in case, right?” — as in, “just in case” the science is right. She did not make a similar qualifier for alien invasion. Numerous studies consistently show that Fox viewers are among the most misinformed of news viewers, while at least one study has shown that — perversely — watching Fox actually makes people lessinformed than they were to begin with.
“Trust me folks, this story is hard to understand,” Fox and Friends host Gretchen Carlson said of the “NASA study.” Indeed.
Atheists, Muslims More Popular Than Tea Party (Also, Tea Party’s Just a New Name for Racist Christian Right)
From Alternet, by Sarah Seltzer
“The results of a comprehensive New York Times polling project (document link here) offer some good news to that end. The results show that public opinion is trending away from Tea. They also dispel some big myths about the Tea Party being economic in nature rather than what it actually is: a re-branded, repurposed version of the same old Christian Right. This may seem familiar to AlterNet readers–but still, it’s good to have the numbers and the mainstream attention to highlight such a crucial truth.
Here’s the juiciest nugget from professors David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam in the Times, one which encapsulates the Tea Party’s growing unpopularity with a vivid comparison or two (emphases mine):
Of course, politicians of all stripes are not faring well among the public these days. But in data we have recently collected, the Tea Party ranks lower than any of the 23 other groups we asked about — lower than both Republicans and Democrats. It is even less popular than much maligned groups like “atheists” and “Muslims.” Interestingly, one group that approaches it in unpopularity is the Christian Right.
Alex Seitz-Wald at Think Progress, highlighting the above results, also notes that these unpopularity numbers for the Tea Party have skyrocketed over the past year or so.
The professors, who have conducted a wide-ranging survey of interviews over time, go on to shatter the big canard of the Tea Party’s “creation myth” and image in the mainstream media, pointing to data collected before and after the birth of the “Tea Party” to back up their claims. The results, below:
So what do Tea Partiers have in common? They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.More important, they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006 — opposing abortion, for example — and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics.
Andrew Sullivan writes about how pivotal this numerical information is: “Now we have some large data sets to review the reality. And the reality is that the Tea Party is the Christianist right-wing of the GOP.” First-person evidence leads to the same place. Abe Sauer at The Awl draws the exact the same conclusion as Sullivan and the Times data after two years hanging out in a more social sense with the Tea Party, to which he initially felt sympathetic: ”Two years of Tea Party functions later, and I finally know what the Tea Party wants: A Christian nation.”
Again, ”The Tea Party is about small government” is a myth that progressives have emphatically been pointing to as untrue, and the long line of conservative social legislation that’s been passed by states controlled by Tea Party blocs suggests the same.
Adele Stan here at AlterNet and our colleagues like Sarah Posner and others have been hammering home this fact for a long time, but really it’s good to see that the MSM is catching up, and that apparently, so is the majority of the country. This is a message that needs to be repeated until it sinks in. The Tea Party is nothing new. Same problem, new name.
Now, if only this information meant that politicians could ignore this bloc, that the Tea Party didn’t retain its ability to hold our government hostage. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.”
From Alternet, by Adam Lee
“This demographic transformation has been in progress ever since World War II, but in recent years it’s begun to seriously pick up steam.
Something strange is happening to American teenagers. If you believe popular wisdom, young people are apathetic, cynical and jaded; or, they’re supposed to be conformists whose overriding desire is to fit in and be popular. But if you’ve been paying close attention over the past decade, you might have seen any of a growing number of cases that conspicuously defy these stereotypes: stories of teenagers who have strong principles they’re unashamed to display and which they’re committed to defending, even at great personal cost, against the bullying of a hostile establishment.
For example, in 2002, an Eagle Scout named Darrell Lambert was threatened with expulsion from the Boy Scouts, despite his having earned dozens of merit badges and having held literally every leadership position in his troop. His crime? He’s an outspoken atheist. When the news of his beliefs reached scouting officials, they demanded that he change his mind. He was given a week to think it over. All he had to do was lie, but if he did that, he said, “I wouldn’t be a good Scout then, would I?” For his honesty, he was kicked out of the organization he’d devoted his life to.
In New Jersey in 2006, a public high school teacher named David Paskiewicz was openly preaching Christianity in the classroom, advocating creationism and telling a Muslim student she would burn in hell if she didn’t convert. A junior named Matt LaClair reported this illegal government preaching to the school administration. In a meeting with the principal, Paskiewicz denied everything — whereupon LaClair produced audio recordings of him saying the things he specifically denied having said.
In Indiana in 2009, the senior class at a public school was asked to vote on whether to have a prayer as part of their graduation ceremony. A senior named Eric Workman, knowing full well that school-sponsored prayer is illegal even if a majority votes for it, filed a lawsuit and won an injunction against the prayer. The school administration responded by announcing it wouldn’t review graduation speeches in advance, clearly hoping that some student would use the opportunity to say the same prayer — except that the class valedictorian was Eric Workman, and he used his graduation speech to explain why the school’s actions were unconstitutional and to explain the importance of the First Amendment.
Stories like these are multiplying all over the nation. In South Carolina just this year, a graduating senior named Harrison Hopkins put a stop to school prayer with help from the Freedom from Religion Foundation. In Louisiana, a senior named Damon Fowler fought against similar school-sponsored prayers at his graduation. In Rhode Island, an amazing sophomore named Jessica Ahlquist is leading the fight to get an illegal “School Prayer” banner removed from her school’s auditorium.
Granted, stories like these aren’t entirely a new phenomenon. There have always been brave young free thinkers who dared to stand up for their rights, and there has always been a hostile, prejudiced religious majority that’s tried to silence them with bullying, persecution and harassment.
For instance, when church-state hero Ellery Schempp prevailed in a landmark First Amendment case against school-sponsored Bible reading, his principal wrote to the colleges he had applied to and asked them not to admit him. (It didn’t work: Ellery was accepted to Tufts University, graduated with honors and became a successful scientist.) Likewise, when Jim McCollum and his mother Vashti challenged their school over a released-time program, raving bigots assaulted him, got her fired from her job, pelted their home with rotten fruit and killed their cat. (The McCollums didn’t relent, and won a precedent-setting Supreme Court decision striking down religious instruction on public school time.)
Regrettably, this hasn’t changed as much as I’d like. Most of the student activists I named earlier have faced harassment, some from peers, some from the teachers and authority figures who are supposed to be the responsible ones. Damon Fowler was demeaned by a teacher and disowned by his own parents for opposing prayer at his graduation. But what’s different now is that young people who speak out aren’t left to face the mob alone. Now more than ever before, there’s a thriving, growing secular community that’s becoming increasingly confident, assertive, and capable of looking out for its own.
When Fowler was kicked out of his house, a fundraiser on Friendly Atheist netted over $30,000 in donations to pay for his living expenses and college tuition. The Secular Student Alliance, a national organization that supports student atheist and freethought clubs, is growing by leaps and bounds in colleges and high schools. (This is especially important in the light of psychological experiments which find that it’s much easier to resist peer pressure if you have even one other person standing with you.) Student activists like the ones I’ve mentioned are no longer just scattered voices in the crowd; they’re the leading edge of a wave.
All these individual facts add up to a larger picture, which is confirmed by statistical evidence: Americans are becoming less religious, with rates of atheism and secularism increasing in each new generation. This demographic transformation has been in progress ever since World War II, but in recent years it’s begun to seriously pick up steam. In the generation born since 1982, variously referred to as Generation Y, the Millennials, or Generation Next, one in five people identify as nonreligious, atheist, or agnostic. In the youngest cohort, the trend is even more dramatic: as many as 30% of those born since 1990 are nonbelievers. Another study, this one by a Christian polling firm, found that people are leaving Christianity at four times the rate that new members are joining.
What could be causing this generational shift towards godlessness? There are multiple theories, but only one of them that I’m aware of both makes good sense and is corroborated by the facts.
Over the last few decades, society in general, and young people in particular, have become increasingly tolerant of gays and other minorities. For the most part, this is a predictable result of familiarity: people who’ve grown up in an increasingly multicultural society see less problem with interracial relationships (89% of Generation Nexters approve of interracial marriage, compared to 70% of older age groups) and same-sex marriage (47% in favor among Nexters, compared to 30% in older groups). When it comes to issues like whether gays and lesbians should be protected from job discrimination or allowed to adopt, the age gap in support is even more dramatic (71% vs. 59% and 61% vs. 44%, respectively).
But while American society is moving forward on all these fronts, many churches not only refuse to go along, they’re actively moving backward. Most large Christian sects, both Catholic and Protestant, have made fighting against gay rights and women’s rights their all-consuming crusade. And young people have gotten this message loud and clear: polls find that the most common impressions of Christianity are that it’s hostile, judgmental and hypocritical. In particular, an incredible 91% of young non-Christians say that Christianity is “anti-homosexual“, and significant majorities say that Christianity treats being gay as a bigger sin than anything else. (When right-wing politicians thunder that same-sex marriage is worse than terrorism, it’s not hard to see where people have gotten this impression.)
On other social issues as well, the gap between Gen Nexters and the church looms increasingly wide. Younger folks favor full access to the morning-after pill by a larger margin than older generations (59% vs. 46%). They reject the notion that women should return to “traditional roles” — already a minority position, but they disagree with it even more strongly than others. And they’re by far the least likely of all age groups to say that they have “old-fashioned” values about family and marriage (67% say this, as compared to 85% of other age groups).
In a society that’s increasingly tolerant and enlightened, the big churches remain stubbornly entrenched in the past, clinging to medieval dogmas about gay people and women, presuming to lecture their members about how they should vote, whom they should love, how they should live. It’s no surprise that people who’ve grown up in this tolerant age find it absurd when they’re told that their family and friends don’t deserve civil rights, and it’s even less of a surprise that, when they’re told they must believe this to be good Christians, they simply walk away. This trend is reflected in the steadily rising percentages of Americans who say that religion is “old-fashioned and out of date” and can’t speak to today’s social problems.
The Roman Catholic church in particular has been hit hard by this. According to a 2009 Pew study, “Faith in Flux,” one in ten American adults is a former Catholic, and a majority of ex-Catholics cite unhappiness with the church’s archaic stance on abortion, homosexuality, birth control or the treatment of women as a major factor in their departure. But evangelical and other Protestant denominations are feeling the same sting. According to a survey by the sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, moderates and progressives are heading for the exits as the churches increasingly become the domain of conservatives:
From the early 1970s to the late 1980s the fraction of Americans age 18 to 29 who identified with evangelical Protestantism rose to 25% from 20%, but since 1990, that fraction has fallen back to about 17%….Today, 17% of Americans say they have no religion, and these new “nones” are very heavily concentrated among Americans who have come of age since 1990. Between 25% and 30% of twentysomethings today say they have no religious affiliation — roughly four times higher than in any previous generation.
Even the mainstream, relatively liberal Protestant churches are dwindling and dying at an astonishing rate: collateral damage, perhaps, in a political war that’s led young people to view them as guilty by association. As the journal First Things observes in an article titled “The Death of Protestant America,” the mainline churches have fallen from more than 50% of the American population in 1965 to less than 8% today.
What all this means is that the rise of atheism as a political force is an effect, rather than a cause, of the churches’ hard right turn towards fundamentalism. I admit that this conclusion is a little damaging to my ego. I’d love to say that we atheists did it all ourselves; I’d love to be able to say that our dazzling wit and slashing rhetorical attacks are persuading people to abandon organized religion in droves. But the truth is that the churches’ wounds are largely self-inflicted. By obstinately clinging to prejudices that the rest of society is moving beyond, they’re in the process of making themselves irrelevant. In fact, there are indications that it’s a vicious circle: as churches become less tolerant and more conservative, their younger and more progressive members depart, which makes their average membership still more conservative, which accelerates the progressive exodus still further, and so on. (A similar dynamic is at work in the Republican party, which explains their increasing levels of insanity over the past two or three decades.)
That doesn’t mean, however, that that there’s nothing we freethinkers can contribute. On the contrary, there’s a virtuous circle that we can take advantage of: the more we speak out and the more visible we are, the more familiar atheism will become, and the more it will be seen as a viable alternative, which will encourage still more people to join us and speak out. This is exactly the same strategy that’s been used successfully by trailblazers in the gay-rights movement and other social reform efforts.
At the same time, the churches aren’t entirely oblivious to what’s happening. The rising secular tide of Generation Next hasn’t gone unfelt or unnoticed, but is increasingly being reflected in dwindling donations, graying congregations, and empty churches across the land. As John Avant, a vice president for evangelization of the Southern Baptist Conference, lamented:
A study by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health showed that only 11 percent of SBC churches are healthy and growing… And we are doing worse with young people, with 39 percent of Southern Baptist churches in 2005 reporting baptizing no teens. (source)
The Catholic church is experiencing a similar slow fade, with declining Mass attendance and a crippling shortage of priests worldwide. Land once owned by religious orders is being sold off for conservation or public use, turned into schools or nature preserves. The Pope’s response, meanwhile, is to accelerate the decline by ordering bishops not even to discuss the possibility of ordaining women or married men, even as he welcomes Holocaust deniers and ex-Angelican misogynists.
And religious giving has declined as well, leaving shrinking churches grappling with layoffs and angry creditors. The recession has worsened this trend, but didn’t create it; like all the other patterns, it’s generational, with each increasingly secular age group giving less than the last. As one conservative rabbi says, the dip in giving stems from a “growing disinterest in organized religion.”
Of course, Christianity is still by far the largest religious affiliation in America, and likely will be for some time. But the numbers don’t lie, and the trends of the last several decades show more and more evidence of the same secularizing wave that’s overtaking most countries in Europe. The major churches, clinging to the inferior morality of long-gone ages, are increasingly out of step with a world that’s more enlightened, rational and tolerant than it once was. And the more they dig in their heels, the more we can expect this process to accelerate. I, for one, can’t wait to see the young atheist activists who will emerge in the next few decades.”
N.B.:More than ever, we need, really need, the First Amendment…
N.B.: It was interesting to watch Fox News scramble on Breivik’s religious and political views.
From Alternet, by Max Blumenthal.
“Few political terrorists in recent history took as much care to articulate their ideological influences and political views as Anders Hans Breivik did. The right-wing Norwegian Islamophobe who murdered 76 children and adults in Oslo and at a government-run youth camp spent months, if not years, preparing his 1,500 page manifesto. Besides its length, one of the most remarkable aspects of the manifesto is the extent to which its European author quoted from the writings of figures from the American conservative movement. Though he referred heavily to his fellow Norwegian, the blogger Fjordman, it was Robert Spencer, the American Islamophobic pseudo-academic, who received the most references from Breivik — 55 in all. Then there was Daniel Pipes, the Muslim-bashing American neoconservative who earned 18 citations from the terrorist. Other American anti-Muslim characters appear prominently in the manifesto, including the extremist blogger Pam Geller, who operates an Islamophobic organization in partnership with Spencer. Breivik may have developed his destructive sensibility in the stark political environment of a European continent riveted by mass immigration from the Muslim world, but his conceptualization of the changes he was witnessing reflect the influence of a cadre of far-right bloggers and activists from across the Atlantic Ocean. He not only mimicked their terminology and emulated their language, he substantially adopted their political worldview. The profound impact of the American right’s Islamophobic subculture on Breivik’s thinking raises a question that has not been adequately explored: Where is the American version of Breivik and why has he not struck yet? Or has he? Many of the American writers who influenced Breivik spent years churning out calls for the mass murder of Muslims, Palestinians and their left-wing Western supporters. But the sort of terrorism these US-based rightists incited for was not the style the Norwegian killer would eventually adopt. Instead of Breivik’s renegade free-booting, they preferred the “shock and awe” brand of state terror perfected by Western armies against the brown hordes threatening to impose Sharia law on the people in Peoria. This kind of violence provides a righteous satisfaction so powerful it can be experienced from thousands of miles away. And so most American Islamophobes simply sit back from the comfort of their homes and cheer as American and Israeli troops — and their remote-controlled aerial drones — leave a trail of charred bodies from Waziristan to Gaza City. Only a select group of able-bodied Islamophobes are willing to suit up in a uniform and rush to the front lines of the clash of civilizations. There, they have discovered that they can mow down Muslim non-combatants without much fear of legal consequences, and that when they return, they will be celebrated as the elite Crusader-warriors of the new Islamophobic right — a few particularly violent figures have been rewarded with seats in Congress. Given the variety of culturally acceptable, officially approved outlets for venting violent anti-Muslim resentment, there is little reason for any American to follow in Breivik’s path of infamy. Before exploring the online subculture that both shaped and mirrored Breivik’s depravity, it is necessary to define state terror, especially the kind refined by its most prolific practitioners. At the dawn of the “war on terror,” the United States and Israel began cultivating a military doctrine called “asymmetrical warfare.“ Pioneered by an Israeli philosophy and “practical ethics” professor named Asa Kasher and the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Lt. Gen. Amos Yadlin, and successfully marketed to the Pentagon, the asymmetrical warfare doctrine did away with traditional counterinsurgency tactics which depended on winning the “hearts and minds” of indigenous populations. Under the new rules, the application of disproportionate force against non-combatants who were supposedly intermingled with the “terrorists” was not only justified but considered necessary. According to Kasher and Yadlin, eliminating the principle of distinction between enemy combatants and civilians was the most efficient means of deterring attacks from non-state actors like Hamas and Hezbollah while guarding the lives of Israeli soldiers. Asymmetrical warfare has been witnessed in theaters of war across the Muslim world, leaving tens of thousands of civilians dead in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gaza Strip. The strategy was formalized in the Dahiya district of southern Beirut in 2006, when the Israeli military flattened hundreds of civilian structures and homes to supposedly punish Hezbollah for its capturing of two Israeli soldiers. From the ashes of the Israeli carpet bombing campaign emerged the “Dahiya Doctrine,” a term coined by an Israeli general responsible for directing the war on Lebanon in 2006. “IDF Northern Command Chief Gadi Eisenkot uttered clear words that essentially mean the following,” wrote Israeli journalist Yaron London, who had just interviewed the general. “In the next clash with Hezbollah we won’t bother to hunt for tens of thousands of rocket launchers and we won’t spill our soldiers’ blood in attempts to overtake fortified Hizbullah positions. Rather, we shall destroy Lebanon and won’t be deterred by the protests of the ‘world.’” In a single paragraph, London neatly encapsulated the logic of state terror. While Israel has sought to insulate itself from the legal ramifications of its attacks on civilian life by deploying elaborate propaganda and intellectual sophistry (witness the country’s frantic campaign to discredit the Goldstone Report), and the United States has casually dismissed allegations of war crimes as any swaggering superpower would (after a US airstrike killed scores of Afghan civilians, former US CENTCOM Director David Petraeus baselessly claimed that Afghan parents had deliberately burned their children alive to increase the death toll), the online Islamophobes who inspired Breivik tacitly accept the reality of Israeli and American state terror. And they like it. Indeed, American Islamophobes derive frightening levels of ecstasy from the violence inflicted by the armed forces against Muslim civilians. The Facebook page of Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer’s hate group, Stop the Islamicization of America (SOIA), is Exhibit A of the phenomenon. During a visit to SOIA’s Facebook page, which is personally administered by Geller and Spencer, it is possible to read rambling calls for killing “the diaper heads” and for Israel to “rule the whole Middle East.” A cursory glance at the website will also reveal visual propaganda reveling in the prospect of a genocide against Muslims. One image posted on the site depicts American and British troops dropping a nuclear bomb in the midst of thousands of Muslim pilgrims in Mecca. “Who ya gonna call? Shitbusters,” it reads. A second image portraying a nuclear mushroom cloud declares: “DEALING WITH MUSLIMS — RULES OF ENGAGEMENT; Rule #1: Kill the Enemy. Rule #2: There is no rule #2.” Another posted on SOIA’s Facebook page shows the bullet-riddled, bloodsoaked bodies of Muslim civilians splayed out by a roadside. “ARMY MATH,” the caption reads. “4 Tangos + (3 round burst x 4 M 4′s) = 288 virgins.” However pathological these images might seem to outsiders, in the subculture of Geller and Spencer’s online fascisphere, they are understood as legitimate expressions of nationalistic, “pro-Western” pride. Indeed, none seem to celebrate violence against Muslims by anyone except uniformed representatives of Western armies. The anti-Muslim fervor of Geller, Spencer and their allies reached a fever pitch during the controversy they manufactured in 2010 over the construction of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” in downtown New York City. Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, in North Carolina, a right-wing Republican ex-Marine named Ilario Pantano made opposing the mosque the centerpiece of his campaign for Congress, proclaiming that New York was “forsaking Israel” by allowing the mosque’s construction. During the height of the his campaign, a report relying on documented evidence and confirmed testimonies revealed that while serving in Iraq in 2004, Pantano had executed two unarmed civilians near Fallujah, firing 60 bullets into their bodies with his M16A4 automatic rifle — he even stopped to reload — then decorated their corpses a placard inscribed with the Marine motto: “No better friend, No worse enemy.” The incident did not hinder Pantano’s campaign, however. His Democratic opponent never mentioned it, Pam Geller hailed Pantano as “a war hero,” and he cruised to a resounding victory. Pantano was sworn into Congress alongside another US military veteran closely allied with the Islamophobic right: Republican Representative Allen West. While serving in Iraq, West was discharged from the military and fined $5000 after he brutally beat an Iraqi policeman, then fired his pistol behind the immobilized man’s head. As in Pantano’s case, reports of the disturbing incident only helped propel West to victory. In fact, West boasted about the beating in his campaign speeches, citing it as evidence of how hard he would fight for his constituents if elected. Though Breivik’s hatred for Muslims clearly spurred him to violence, he wound up murdering scores of the non-Muslims. He believed they were enabling an Islamic takeover of Europe, or what he called the creation of “Eurabia,” and that the “traitors” deserved the ultimate punishment. In homing in on liberal elements in Norway, Breivik borrowed from the language of right-wing figures from the United States, labeling his targets as “Cultural Marxists.” Initially introduced by the anti-Semitic right-wing organizer William Lind of the Washington-based Free Congress Foundation, Breivik understood the term as a characterization of liberal advocates of open immigration and sympathizers with the Palestinian cause. “Let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists, against all cultural Marxists/multiculturalists,” Breivik wrote in his manifesto. The killer also sought to differentiate between good Jews (supporters of Israel) and bad Jews (advocates for Palestinian rights), claiming that “Jews that support multi-culturalism today are as much of a threat to Israel and Zionism as they are to us.” Breivik’s characterizations of the left and of left-wing Jews echoed those familiar to right-wing bloggers and conservative activists in the US, particularly on the issue of Israel-Palestine. The only difference seems to have been that Breivik was willing to personally kill sympathizers with Palestinian rights, while American Islamophobes have prefered to sit back and cheer for the Israeli military to do the job instead. The tendency of the American right was on shocking display this June when the Free Gaza Flotilla attempted to break the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip (during the previous flotilla in 2010, nine activists were killed by what a United Nations report described as execution style shootings by Israeli commandoes). As the debate about the flotilla escalated on Twitter, Joshua Trevino, a US army veteran and who worked as a speechwriter in the administration of George W. Bush, chimed in. “Dear IDF,” Trevino tweeted. ”If you end up shooting any Americans on the new Gaza flotilla — well, most Americans are cool with that. Including me.” While Trevino hectored flotilla participants, Kurt Schlicter, a former American army officer and right-wing blogger for Andrew Breitbart’s Big Peace site, joined the calls for bloodshed. ”Sink the flotilla,” Schlicter wrote on Twitter. “Enough screwing around with these psychos.” Neither Schlicter or Trevino saw any reason to apologize for inciting the murder of fellow Americans, nor did Trevino appear to face any consequences at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, where he serves as Vice President. Instead, Trevino earned a rousing defense from prominent conservative personalities like Erick Erickson, a paid CNN contributor who lauded ”the correctness of Josh’s opinion” that Israel should kill American leftists. Indeed, no one from inside the American right’s online media hothouse condemned Trevino, Schlicter or Erickson, or even brooked a slight disagreement. Meanwhile, the incitement against Palestine solidarity activists has continued, with pro-Israel operatives Roz Rothstein and Roberta Seid writing this July in the Jerusalem Post that “Flotilla Folk are not like other people.” When the smoke cleared from Breivik’s terrorist rampage across Norway, American Islamophobes went into intellectual contortions, condemning his acts while carefully avoiding any criticism of his views. While making sure to call Breivik “evil,” the ultra-nationalist commentator and former Republican presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan insisted that “Breivik may be right” about the supposed clash of civilizations between the Muslim East and the Christian West. Pipes, for his part, accused Breivik of a “purposeful” campaign to discredit him by citing him so frequently in his manifesto, while a panicked Geller claimed that Breivik “is a murderer, a mass murderer. Period. He’s not anything else.” The comically revealing reactions by American Islamophobes to Brevik’s killing spree demonstrate the politically catastrophic situation they have gotten themselves into. All of a sudden, their movement was under intense scrutiny from a previously derelict mainstream media. And they were likely to be monitored to an unprecedented degree by federal law enforcement. These same figures who influenced Breivik had been printing open calls for terrorist violence against Muslims and leftists for years — while a few, like Pantano, went a step further. Before Breivik killed 76 innocent people, they had generally gotten away with it. Why were America’s Islamophobes able to avoid accountability for so long? The answer is not that their yearnings for righteous political violence had not been fulfilled until Breivik emerged. The truth is far more uncomfortable than that. America’s Islamophobic right was only able to make so much political headway because a broad sector of the American public had tolerated and even supported the kind of terror that they openly celebrated.”
Because the Bible Tells Me So: Why Bachmann and Tea Party Christians Oppose Raising the Debt Ceiling
Serparation of Church more important than ever.
From Alternet, by Adele M. Stan
“ It’s a deal not even its parents could love, but if Congress manages to pass the plan to lift the debt ceiling arrived at last night by President Barack Obama and congressional leaders, the United States of America will manage to have avoided default on its debt — for the price of deep cuts to public programs.
In a scheme designed to cut $2.4 trillion in spending, the plan devised by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, with buy-in from House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, relies on a special bipartisan, bicameral committee of Congress to meet certain spending-cut targets, with the threat of automatic across-the-board cuts to everything from social programs (including Social Security and Medicare) to defense spending if Congress does not act. (You can see the PowerPoint presentation Boehner sent out to his caucus here[PDF]; note that the Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein says the speaker’s wrongwhen he asserts the plan does not allow for the raising of revenue.) If Congress passes the plan, it should push the next action needed on the debt ceiling to after the 2012 presidential election.
Dubbed a “compromise” by the White House, the deal looks like more of a grand capitulation than a grand bargain, effectively handing the Republicans a reward for dangling the economy off a cliff with their refusal to raise the limit on the amount of debt the nation could assume. It’s not “the deal that I would have preferred,” the president said while making a brief statement in the White House press room. The brinksmanship was driven by the most far-right members of the GOP majority in the House of Representatives, who embarrassed Boehner earlier in the week with their refusal to support a deal that would have given them nearly everything they demanded. That required Boehner to come back with a bill that seemed designed to waste time and bring the U.S. that much closer to default: it contained a requirement for passage of a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which led to its predictable rejection by the Senate.
‘A Sugar-Coated Satan Sandwich’
As last night’s agreement was shaping up, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus described it “shady” — a “sugar-coated Satan sandwich.” He did not rule out, however, the possibility of the CBC supporting it — apparently because the price for keeping the economy from crashing on all Americans just may be the devil’s ransom.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the far-right members of the Republican caucus will go for a deal that could, theoretically, cut defense spending. And then there are those even further to the right, such as Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, the Republican presidential contender and chair of the House Tea Party Caucus, for whom the devil isn’t simply in the details — it’s in the point of focus of the bill itself, its organizing principal, the thing that was used to create the hostage-taking crisis in the first place: the lifting of the debt ceiling.
Even some of the more right-wing members of the notoriously right-wing GOP House caucus began to get nervous last week, as the tick-tock of the doomsday default clock grew ever louder. The stock market had fallen every day, posting its worst week in more than a year, with the Dow dropping 4.2 percent for the week. Christine Lagarde, the newly appointed chief of the International Monetary Fund, warned, “A crisis in the US faith and credit has global implications.” By Thursday, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., House Budget Committee chairman and author of the draconian budget named for him, fell in line behind Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, ready to back his plan to lift the debt. So did House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Va., who had give the speaker a serious case of agita during the latter’s negotiations with the White House, and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, Calif.
But not Bachmann. Never, she said, would she vote for raising the debt ceiling. America should borrow no more.
If Bachmann’s oppostion — and that of some of her fellow Tea Partiers — to raising the debt ceiling seems fraught with a fervor best described as religious, perhaps that’s because it is. For Bachmann and some of her right-wing evangelical compatriots, financial, fiscal and economic issues are not matters to be considered with the knowledge imparted by economists and policy experts, but rather through the economic policy of ancient Israel as described in the Holy Bible.
The Hooey Offensive
For inside-the-Beltway political consumption, Bachmann keeps her ruminations on the debt ceiling strictly secular. All that talk of default on the national debt, and how that could destroy the economy, here and abroad? A whole lot of hooey, Bachmann asserts.
“The president has been scaring senior citizens and military veterans into thinking that we might be defaulting,” Bachmann said to supporters gathered in Iowa via telephone from Washington, D.C., according to the Des Moines Register.
Even if the debt ceiling isn’t lifted, she told a group of supporters on Saturday, the United States does not have to default on its debt. The nation can simply slash its way out of the mess, she contends. Last month, in fact, she co-authored a proposal with Iowa Congressman Steve King that would set priorities for just what the government would and wouldn’t pay if the debt ceiling, currently set at $14.3 trillion, was not lifted. The Register described it this way:
The U.S. could pay creditors as well as the military and fund Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid without increasing the debt limit, King and Bachmann said. Their list, however, did not contain such items as homeland and border security, federal prisons, veterans’ benefits or unemployment insurance.
“Shame on President Obama for casting the American people aside as collateral damage, as he continues his political gamesmanship with the national debt crisis,” Bachmann wrote in a statement issued last Tuesday, after the president’s speech about the current crisis in the nation’s borrowing authority.
For Bachmann, this position is likely borne from something other than secular economic conservatism: it seems more an article of faith, a product of what has come to be known as biblical economics. Its acceptance by Tea Partiers may indicate that the apparently upstart movement isn’t nearly as secular as its proponents would have you believe. A Pew poll released earlier this year found that while only a sizable minority of Tea Partiers said they agreed with the religious right (42 percent), a mere 11 percent expressed opposition to the religious right. And many of those regarded as Tea Party movement leaders — from Tim Phillips of Americans for Prosperity, to Rep. Mke Pence, R-Ind. to Bachmann herself, were part of the religious right before the Tea Party was a twinkle in David Koch’s eye.
The question is whether Bachmann and those who join her in opposing a raising of the debt ceiling actually believe the U.S. can avoid default through spending cuts alone, or rather, as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner asserted last week on “Fox News Sunday,” they are actually “praying for default” — a scenario that would bear out a religious philosophy known as Christian Reconstructionism.
The Invisible Hand of Christian Reconstructionism
As I wrote earlier this month, Bachmann’s notions regarding gay rights appear to be shaped by the Christian Reconstructionist views that gave birth, as Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches reported, to the law school at Oral Roberts University where she earned her degree. (The ORU law school has since been absorbed by the Rev. Pat Robertson’s Regent University.) Likewise, Bachmann’s position on the national debt, and her opposition to raising the debt ceiling or ending the Bush-era tax breaks for top income-earners, also finds commonalities with the interpretations of the Christian Reconstructionism founder, the late Rousas John Rushdoony, as well as several evangelical Christian writers who prescribe a “godly” approach to economic and even monetary policy.
Bachmann herself cites, as one inspiration, the religious-right philosopher, Francis Schaeffer, father of writer Frank Schaeffer, who authored the recently released book, God, Mom and Sex. (See Frank discuss Bachmann’s ideology with Thom Hartmann, here.) While the elder Schaeffer was not a Reconstructionist per se, the urgency with which he held Christians must act in the secular sphere to oppose laws they deem to be unjust overlaps in some ways with Reconstructionism, which author Frederick Clarkson says influenced the elder Schaeffer.
In the Christian Reconstructionist’s idea of a perfect state, the law of ancient Israel, with its death penalty for “homosexual” men and adulterers, would constitute the law of the land. Christian Reconstructionists assert there is no law but “God’s law,” by which they mean the law as laid out in the Bible. Any secular law that contradicts God’s law is viewed as invalid by a hard-core Reconstructionist. That may account for why there are so few hard-core Reconstructionists; to live literally by its precepts would likely mean doing serious jail time for all that defiance of ungodly laws.
But Reconstructionist thought has had a profound influence on Christian evangelicals from a wide range of sects — from austere Baptists to tongues-speaking charismatics. Bachmann, who says she was called to public office by God, would seem to be no exception. Indeed, many small-government Christians credit their poltiical views to the Old Testament story of Samuel, who advised the ancient Hebrews against installing a king, because, as Chad Hovind, author of the Godonomics blog on BeliefNet explains it, a king requires a government which, by its very nature, is essentially designed to steal from you.
Purveyors of biblical economics contend that most of the practices of modern government – especially government assistance to the poor — run contrary to biblical principles, and should therefore be halted. Alex McFarland, an evangelical author who appears regularly on “Fox & Friends,” sent out a press release this week stating that the answer to “stop[ing] the bleeding” of government spending is to “Stop the addiction and return to biblical principles when handling the country’s finances.” The government, the release says, is addicted to spending.
Hovind, on the other hand, doesn’t bother with newfangled theories of addiction, and instead goes straight to the Old Testment story of King Solomon’s son, Rehobaom:
There is no place in the Bible more “ripped from today’s headlines” than King Rehoboam’s cabinet meeting in 1 Kings chapter 12. His father, Solomon was a extremely successful leader who led the nation into incredible historic success. His dad expanded government, over-committed the kingdom’s spending, and taxed the “little people” for many years. His father was known for his building projects, national attention, and global influence; however dad had slowly eroded the liberty and love of the people through high taxation and high control. The people were ready for a new administration. There was buzz in the community about the high hopes for changes and renewal under the new king. All of Israel came out to cheer on their new leader.
Hovind goes on to explain how Rehoboam blew his chance to win the adoration of the people by liberating them, and instead vowed to visit scourges upon them where his father had oppressed them only with a heavy yoke. In the worldview of the Reconstructionist-influenced evangelical, Rehoboam makes a handy stand-in for Barack Obama, the man Michele Bachmann claims has “cast the American people aside as collateral damage.” (The collateral damage reference comes from Obama’s own assertion that in the wrangling over the debt, the American people were poised to become collateral damage of partisan political warfare.)
Hovind’s invocation of the Rehoboam story in order to make a case for spending cuts — as opposed to a raise in the debt ceiling — comes straight from the pages of the Institutes of Biblical law, the Christian Reconstructionist text penned by Rushdoony. Reconstructionist theologian Gary North, Rushdoony’s son-in-law, describes the story here.
Thou Shalt Not Tax
One can easily find, within the pages of Rushdoony’s tome, the roots of opposition to ending the Bush-era tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans. In a section called “Robbing God” in a chapter on the Eighth Commandment (“Thall Shalt Not Steal”), Rushdoony writes in The Institutes of Biblical Law that the rich should not be required to pay more than those who are not rich. (Never mind that a tax plan such as Bachmann’s would essentially remove 23,000 millionaires from the tax rolls altogether, according to ThinkProgress.) Rushdoony writes of the ancient Israelites: “The same tax was assessed on all men: ‘The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less.’ (Ex. 30:15)”
“A tyrannical state,” Rushdoony writes in another section of the same chapter, “always limits a man’s use of his property, taxes it, or confiscates that property as an effective means of enslaving a man without necessarily touching his person.” Remember that quote the next time you hear those ostensibly secular Tea Partiers go on about tyranny, enslavement and taxes.
Rusdoony also decries paper money not backed by precious resources, as well as inflation, as forms of theft, and declares reserve banking illegitimate. (Still think Ron and Rand Paul are secularists?)
Julie Ingersoll, a professor of religious studies at University of North Florida, agrees that Bachmann’s position against raising the debt ceiling is rooted in a “theocratic reading of the Bible, arising out of the nexus between (Ron) Paul … Howard Phillips and his Constitution Party, and Gary North and the Christian Reconstructionists.” But she also puts forth a more sobering theory — that Reconstructionists, and perhaps neo-Reconstructionists such as Bachmann, actually want the U.S. to default on its debt. They want this, Ingersoll wrote last year at Religion Dispatches, not in spite of the destruction in would wreak on both the U.S. and global economies, but because of it:
North’s overarching schema is that there is an impending social collapse which will provide the opportunity for biblically based Christians to exercise dominion by replacing existing humanistic institutions with biblical ones. In Honest Money, he wrote:
First, the bankers and the politicians will continue to try to make the present system work. This will make the present system worse. Second, there will be a collapse in stages: inflation, then mass inflation, then price controls, then tyranny, and finally a worldwide deflationary depression. At that point, there will be new demand from the voters for answers. Third—and this is my hope and my prayer—people will at last decide that they have had enough moral and legal compromise. They will at last decide to adopt a simple system of honest money, along with competitive free market principles throughout the economy.
The current system, North maintains, violates the Ten Commandments, in particular the prohibition against theft.
Many believe Michele Bachmann to be a fool, finding themselves confounded by her success so far in her presidential bid, as she leads the GOP in the all-important state of Iowa. When she first ran for Congress, Michele Bachmann described herself to a church audience as “a fool for Christ,” whose will she believes she was doing by running for office. She may be a fool, but she’s not just anybody’s fool.”