A good book can change your questions, even if you’re not entirely convinced by the author’s answers.
Category: civil religion
The marriage of Christ and anti-Christ
When Ted Cruz launched his presidential campaign at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University reaction on the left was predictable. Some suggested that Liberty students were only in their seats because attendance at chapel is mandatory at Liberty. Liberals don’t like Ted and the feeling is mutual.
Libertarian response was mixed. Ted’s political career is funded by billionaire libertarians Charles and David Koch, he despises Obamacare, and he wants to abolish the IRS.
Libertarians haven’t forgotten that Cruz’s famous filibuster speech against Obamacare was studded with Ayn Rand quotations.
Who could ask for anything more?
But hard core, “objectivist” libertarians are baffled by Ted’s fervent embrace of the religious right, in general, and his staunch opposition to abortion, in particular. Why, for instance, did a lifelong admirer of Ayn Rand announce his candidacy at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University?
Ayn Rand hated philosophical compromise as much as she hated Jesus; and she hated Jesus very, very much. Consider this oft-quoted line from her novel, The Fountainhead:
The man who attempts to live for others is a dependent. He is a parasite in motive and makes parasites of those he serves . . . this is the essence of altruism.
Jesus and Ayn share one quality: consistency.
Rand asserted that nothing beyond the demands of the detached and independent ego really matters. Altruism, living in response to the needs of others, was thus the worst kind of heresy. When we live in service to others, she taught, we become slaves.
Randian objectivists wish Ted would lose his religion so they wouldn’t have to qualify for their support. But everyone, even libertarians, appreciate that Ted’s career arc would plummet to earth if he trampled on the cross. In America, we are free to disagree with Jesus on every important point, so long as we’re singing “Oh How I Love Jesus”.
A cynic would assert that Ted Cruz embraces both Christ and anti-Christ because he is a pragmatic politician. But you can’t understand the Junior Senator from Texas apart from the culture that shaped him. Religious superstars from Dwight L. Moody to Billy Graham embraced Wall Street for the same reason Ted Cruz courts the Koch brothers–publicity is expensive.
The best way to impress the wealthy is to tell them how wonderful they are, and Ayn Rand made a comfortable living singing paeans to the powerful. They were the only people that mattered to her; everybody else she called ‘looters’, ‘moochers,’ and (when she was feeling kind) ‘parasites’.
Not all wealthy people enjoy praise and adulation, of course, but most of them do. Charles and David Koch love Ayn Rand and Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter because they speak rapturously of the wealthy and contemptuously of everyone else. No surprises there.
Ted Cruz grew up in a religious subculture in which Christianity and laissez-faire capitalism dovetailed neatly. Mainstream evangelical Christianity soft-pedals Jesus’ teaching on money, greed and solidarity with the poor because, while no one was watching, we became a wholly-owned subsidiary of corporate America. If you think this is overly-harsh, check out the Sermon on the Mount and you will see the problem.
But this marriage of Christ and anti-Christ goes deeper than political pragmatism and the lure of mammon. Ted Cruz isn’t just a conservative Southern Baptist who occasionally shows up at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas; he is also an enthusiastic Dominionist.
This stealth enterprise goes by a variety of names: the Reconstructionist Movement, Dominionism or, more recently, the New Apostolic Reformation (I have written extensively on this subject).
Dominionism is rooted in the “presuppositional” theology of Cornelius Van Til and the political-religious musings of Rousas John Rushdoony. (If you are unfamiliar with Cornelius and Rousas, this primer will come in handy.)
Think of it as the Reformed doctrine of election on steroids. Rushdoony put it like this:
“The purpose of Christ’s coming was in terms of the creation mandate… The redeemed are called to the original purpose of man, to exercise dominion under God, to be covenant-keepers, and to fulfill “the righteousness of the law” (Rom. 8:4) . . . Man is summoned to create the society God requires.”
The theological category of “election” makes the marriage of Christ and anti-Christ possible.
Both Randian objectivists and Christian dominionists contrast the glories of “us” with the depravity of “them”.
It’s an anti-Christian species of Calvinism. The wealthy and the powerful have the right to dictate to the poor and the powerless because, well, they’re so super. Dominionists associate this authority with God (from whom all blessings flow). For Randian objectivists it’s the law of the jungle: If the makers don’t rule the takers, the takers will rule the makers, and we can’t have that. Both conservative Christians and anti-Christ objectivists dream of that great day when the elect will triumph and the unworthy will get a richly-deserved comeuppance.
I am not suggesting that everyone associated with the religious right thinks this way. They don’t. But culture war logic ensures that conservative critics of this marriage of Christ and anti-Christ will be consigned to the outer darkness.
Liberals, for their part, don’t know enough about Ayn Rand or Christian Reconstructionism to discern the elephant in the room. Besides, it’s too easy to lampoon politicians like Ted Cruz if you’re working with a liberal audience. You can make jokes about Liberty University students compulsory attendance at the Cruz announcement speech in twenty quick seconds flat. Liberty students wearing Rand Paul T-shifts is a great five-second sight gag. So why do the hard work of answering hard questions that no one is asking?
Mainstream analysis, desperate to sustain the illusion of objectivity, eschews in-depth analysis of anything. Cruz kicked off his campaign at Liberty University in an attempt to court religious conservatives. End of story. The marriage of Christ and anti-Christ rarely gets a mention on CNN or CBS. It sounds mean-spirited and it smacks of liberal bias. We don’t want to lose more conservative viewers to FOX.
But our silence comes with a price. Ted Cruz holds this marriage of convenience together by pretending that neither Jesus nor Ayn Rand were serious.
They were; and they are.
Mitt, Moochers, and Mormonism
Mary Barker is a professor of political science at Syracuse University’s campus in Madrid, Spain as well as at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas. She is also a product of Utah’s Mormon culture, a socio-religious world she understands intimately.
In this piece written for Religion Dispatches she explains how Mitt Romney’s Mormonism shaped his “severe conservatism” but why his faith also provides a foundation for a merciful vision of American community. The two sides of Mormon spirituality help explain why Utah backed the New Deal and voted Democrat up until the 1950s when the civil rights movement and fear of international communism sparked a retreat into the world of John Birch paranoia that is still evident in the rantings of Glenn Beck.
Mitt, Moochers, and Mormonism’s “Other” Legacy
Growing up with Mormon narratives—a two-part memoir and reflection on the good, the very bad, and a dreamed-for future.
By Mary Barker
There are many stories on which a Mormon is raised: narratives of the elect, America and the Constitution, the latter days, and free agency—all of which play a role in Mitt Romney’s “severe” conservatism. The bombshell release of video in which he trumpets his disdain for moochers, and reveals a remarkably casual approach to Middle East politics, all resonate with the Calvinist heritage of Mormon theology, as well as with principal Mormon narratives. But Mormonism also holds the seeds of a decidedly progressive politics—a possible Mormon liberation theology.
Does Romney’s religion matter? It’s a question that has been asked many times this election season. My answer, below, is in two parts, as I journey from End Times theology (the “latter days”) through Mormonism’s radical social and political past.
I grew up at the end of the world. As a Latter-day Saint, I made my debut just before the final curtain. During my youth, rumors circulated about neighbors and boyfriends whose special “patriarchal blessings” prophesied that they would never taste of death. That fairly clearly set the limit on time. The rebellious Sixties just confirmed what the Cold War had already shown us—that we were in a final showdown with evil that would only get worse until the second coming of Jesus which is now. (more…)
Why Paul Ryan doesn’t have an Ayn Rand problem
By Alan Bean
Now that Paul Ryan is Mitt Romney’s choice for VP, you will be hearing a lot about Ayn Rand, probably not enough to impact the election, but a lot. Many will ask how a devout Catholic and family man can lionize a woman who despised God, rejected the “altruistic” teaching of Jesus, and called the family an artificial and unnecessary creation.
The easy answer is that Paul Ryan doesn’t really like Ayn Rand at all. In fact, he is now saying that he rejects her atheistic philosophy without reservation.
For the tiny handful of Christian conservatives who may have been concerned about a potential VP embracing the religion of Antichrist, that should suffice. There simply aren’t enough voters in our brave new America who know enough about Ayn Rand’s glorification of reason and selfishness, Roman Catholic ethics, or the teaching of Jesus to see a problem.
Ryan’s recent protestations of love for Rand’s economic philosophy were the stuff of romance. In 2005, Ryan told the Atlas Society:
There is no better place to find the moral case for capitalism and individualism than through Ayn Rand’s writings and works . . . I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are. It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff . . . The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.
It’s hard to disavow an endorsement like that. Either he was lying in 2005, or he is lying now. Fortunately for Ryan, it doesn’t matter.
Fruit or Foliage?
By Alan Bean
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46)
A fitting question for Holy Week, don’t you think?
When Jesus entered the holy city riding the foal of an ass, the crowds burst into spontaneous song: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” Luke reports that “some of the Pharisees in the crowd” protested this unseemly display of piety. “Teacher,” they said, “order your disciples to stop.”
“I tell you,” Jesus replied, “if these were silent, the very stones would shout out.”
Sometimes, hymns of adoration are more that appropriate; they are unavoidable.
But praise, especially in a religious context, is also dangerous.
Matthew puts his “Lord, Lord” teaching like this: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
Words of praise, segregated from concrete acts of service to the least and the lost, constitute blasphemy. The failure to produce “good fruit” is the sign of a “bad tree”, Jesus says, no matter how much foliage you see.
My wife, Nancy, has given up growing squash. Things look good early. Luxuriant vines take over the garden, followed by lovely blossoms. And then everything dies. We don’t know enough about gardening to understand why. Lack of nitrogen? Insects? Too much Texas sun? But the abundance of foliage never makes up for the absence of fruit.
Praise is inevitable; so is the production problem Jesus warns against. Human weakness coupled with the heroic demands of Christian discipleship, create a gap between piety and production. It could hardly be any other way. We are a fallen race and we act the part.
At the same time, we are incurably religious. (more…)
A review of Charles Murray’s ‘Coming Apart’: do the poor suffer because they are bad or because they are dumb?
By Alan Bean
Charles Murray took so much flak for controversial The Bell Curve that he decided to write a book about white people rooted in much the same argument.
Coming Apart, a book about the diverging fortunes of upper and lower class white Americans, begins where The Bell Curve ended. The big factor driving the growing gap between the educated and the uneducated, Murray suggests, is “cognitive homogamy”, the fact that individuals with similar cognitive ability are having children.
In the old world, Murray says, most people lived and died in rural communities and small towns. The smartest males might have left home for a few years of college, but they generally returned to marry the prettiest (not necessarily the smartest) girl in town. The result, kids of normal cognitive ability. Wealth was distributed largely on the basis of inheritance, not ability and the kids at Harvard weren’t much smarter than the kids at a good state school.
Since the early 1960s, however, smart people have been marrying other smart people and having smart kids. The sons and daughters of these blessed unions have increasingly clustered in segregated neighborhoods in which “everybody has a bachelor’s or graduate degree and works in high-prestige professions or management or is married to such a person.” Among this new elite, wealth is distributed on the basis of merit, the elite colleges compete for the brightest and the best and lesser institutions make do with students who will never be ready for prime time. (more…)
Santorum meant exactly what he said
By Alan Bean
Rick Santorum has raised eyebrows with a comment about President Obama’s “phony theology”. According to the surging presidential candidate, Obama’s worldview is driven by “some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology, but no less a theology.”
Aked to explain this remark on Face the Nation, Santorum said he was referring to the president’s environmental views. According to an AP article:
The former Pennsylvania senator said Obama’s environmental policies promote ideas of “radical environmentalists,” who, Santorum argues, oppose greater use of the country’s natural resources because they believe “man is here to serve the Earth.” He said that was the reference he was making Saturday in his Ohio campaign appearance when he denounced a “phony theology.”
But when reporters asked for an explanation of the “phony theology” remark immediately after it was uttered, the candidate made no reference to environmentalism, explaining instead that the president practiced one of the various “stripes” of Christianity.
So where does Mr. Santorum stand? Does he think Barack Obama is a genuine Christian or doesn’t he? (more…)
The Californication of America: A review of Darren Dochuk’s “From Bible Belt to Sunbelt”
By Alan Bean
I received a copy of Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sun Belt as a birthday present from my daughter, Dr. Lydia Bean. She said I’d love it, and she was right.
Like me, Dochuk hails from Edmonton, Alberta, and, like me, his doctoral dissertation focused on Southern religion. But while I was primarily interested in progressive Christians struggling for social survival in the Deep South, Dochuk turned his attention to evangelicals from states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas who migrated in droves to southern California between the dust bowl thirties to the post-war period when the counties surrounding Los Angeles were booming as a result of massive government spending on military and aeronautical projects.
As a child, Darren Dochuk was driven to the vacation spots of Southern California every summer. I dreamed of visiting Disneyland, but I never got there. Still, the brand of Christian Right spirituality described in his book impacted my life in significant, sometimes painful ways. The California-inspired Jesus People movement was in full flower when I attended the Baptist Leadership Training School in 1972. It was around that time that my traditionally Baptist parents were attracted to the charismatic movement. My father repeatedly invited me to luncheon meetings of the Full Gospel Business Men’s International, a loose affiliation of tongue-speaking, prophesying, faith healing neo-Pentecostals founded in Southern California by a layman named Demos Shakarian.
For me, these were bewildering experiences I had largely forgotten until I read From Bible Belt to Sun Belt. Though I never understood the appeal of this style of religion, my parents informed me that my life would be transformed if I submitted to “the baptism” and received the “gift of tongues.” I tried my best, but it didn’t take. (more…)
Dominionism sparks a nasty food fight
A war of words has erupted on the web featuring self-described “secular liberal” Mark Pinsky and progressive evangelical Jim Wallis, on one side, and the consortium of scholars and columnists who write for Talk to Action on the other.
Pinsky believes that critics of Dominionism and the New Apostolic Reformation have created the false impression that most evangelicals are dangerous theocrats.
Next, Jim Wallis poured gasoline on the fire by claiming in a HuffPost piece, that “some liberal writers seem hell-bent on portraying religious people as intellectually-flawed right-wing crazies with dangerous plans for the country.”
Are Pinsky and Wallis making legitimate claims, or is something more sinister afoot?
Anyone familiar with the good folks at Talk to Action knows how carefully they distinguish Dominionism and mainstream evangelicalism. Rachel Tabachnick, the most high-profile critic of the New Apostolic Reformation, grew up Southern Baptist and is well acquainted with the wild diversity within evangelicalism. She is all about nuance. She is saying that Dominionism has a long history (see my piece on the evolution and meaning of the movement), that it is a minority movement within evangelicalism that is growing rapidly and, most importantly, gaining the support of prominent politicians like Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Rick Perry.
Pinsky and Wallis refuse to engage this argument, preferring to publicly cudgel a silly straw man into submission.
How do we explain this unseemly assault on the Talk to Action people? (more…)
Anything that smells of race and civil rights . . .
Jerry Mitchell, a columnist with the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, writes that The Help has been a financial boon for the Delta town of Greenwood (where most of the movie was filmed) and for the entire state of Mississippi. But a comment from Fred Zollo, the producer of Mississippi Burning and Ghosts of Mississippi, grabbed my attention. “[The Help] is hardly a civil rights film,” Zollo said. “If you do anything that smells of race and civil rights, very few people will want to see it.”
Zollo is right. American audiences can deal with Jim Crow racism and the civil rights movement as subplots, but we aren’t ready to face these realities head on.
This isn’t just about popular entertainment. The mere mention of racial injustice hooks an immediate “Oh please!” (with exaggerated eye-rolling) from most white Americans.
Thus it has ever been. In his excellent Tri-Faith America: How Catholics and Jews Held Postwar America to Its Protestant Promise, Kevin M. Schultz show how three faith communities transformed America from a Protestant hegemon into a Judeo-Christian nation. In the 1930s, in response to the renewed KKK bigotry of the post WW1 era and the rise of Hitler’s Nazis in Germany, thousands of “trialogues” featuring a Protestant pastor, a Roman Catholic priest and a Jewish Rabbi were held all across America. During the Second World War, the three faiths teamed up with the USO to tell millions of soldiers that the Judeo-Christian tradition made American democracy possible.
One soldier was so moved by this demonstration of unity that he approached the speakers after the meeting.
The soldier was of Greek origin ad was born Greek Orthodox but had not attended church “for a long time” and had grown cynical, thinking “there was too much that was farce” in religion. He had been persecuted for his faith too and he had, in turn, “persecuted the colored race and looked down upon other groups.” But at one of the Camp Meetigs, “a miracle happened to me there . . . As Rabbi Goldstein was speaking I was standing beside a colored soldier. All at once a new feeling came over me. I looked up to the heavens and thought that in spite of the inequalities of life and all the troubles of the world there was something great and good worth fighting for and dying for, if need be. Chaplain, the young man said, “my religion is going to mean something to me from now on.”
If Protestants, Catholics and Jews could dramatize their unity, bridging the color line was the natural next step. But the National Conference of Christians and Jews made a conscious decision to avoid the race issue. Hollywood followed suit. Although eager to address the issue of “intolerance” in a generic way, race was off the table.
Frank Sinatra and the executives at RKO studios made a similar decision in 1944. Throughout the war, Sinatra had added an epilogue to nearly every one of his weekly performances on CBS’s Old Gold show. He gave a brief lecture on a “very, very important subject known as tolerance.” Sinatra would describe a situation where some form of “intolerance” was on display in America, usually through a fictional scenario involving a child being persecuted because of his or her race or religion. Sinatra concluded his lectures explaining why this kind of intolerance was wrong.
Wishing to capitalize on the success of Sinatra’s “tolerance” segments, RKO pictures decided to film a fictional radio program.
There was, however, one adaptation made by RKO executives when it brought Sinatra’s tolerance story to the silver screen: race was excised . . . The film featured no black kids and, most remarkably, it even discussed the generosity of the tormented Jewish boy’s father, who gave blood to the Red Cross without regard to whether a Catholic or Protestant or Jew received it. This was an odd statement considering there was never any consideration of dividing blood by religion, while the Red Cross famously segregated blood from black donors.
In The Help, white socialites endorse the construction of separate toilets for black maids. Nothing in the film gets closer to the spirit of Jim Crow racism. When we realize that African American males comprise less than 7% of the America population but over 40% of the prison population and 60% of those exonerated by DNA evidence, our lack of progress is evident. The problem persists because, in majority white settings, it is difficult to even raise the racial justice issue let alone deal with it.