Has the Christian Right morphed into an American version of the Taliban? Are these folks trying to transform America into a fundamentalist theocracy? Don’t they talk about making the Bible the law of the land? Don’t they speak of “taking dominion” in Christ’s name? Doesn’t … Continue reading An American Taliban?
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.
David Barton’s great embarrassment (and why it matters)
By Alan Bean
Therapeutic historian David Barton is looking for another publisher after his publisher, Thomas Nelson, decided to cancel Jefferson Lies.
Barton’s history provides therapy for conservative Americans who have been traumatized by the ugly truth about slavery, native American genocide and the religious deism and unabashed racism of our founding fathers.
It is difficult to confront the bald truth about our nation without experiencing a deep sadness. To be sure, there is much to admire in the American experiment. Though we have frequently teetered on the verge of fascism, we have generally been able to pull back from the brink. Most Americans have been on the wrong side of the big moral issues most of the time, and yet we have learned from our mistakes.
By the standards of history, America is a bastion of freedom–the competition isn’t that strong.
Weighed in the balance with the kingdom of God, we don’t do so well. Nobody does. As a nation, we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (more…)
“Phony theology” idea didn’t originate with Rick Santorum
By Alan Bean
Rick Santorum didn’t originate the notion that Barack Obama’s environmental views are the product of an unbiblical “phony theology”. According to Rachel Tachnick, a leading authority on the Religious Right, this idea is a staple within the emerging world of Christian Right “Dominionist” theology. In this alternative universe (well-funded by big oil firms, the Koch brothers et al), “Biblical Capitalism” is considered holy and opposing views are denounced as demonic. Sound strange? Check out Ms. Tabachnick’s post.
I was interested to note that the continuing shift from a Hal Lindsey-style end-times theology to a “preparing the world for the return of Jesus” Dominionist view has created an excellent platform for collaboration between Protestant evangelicals and American Roman Catholics.
The big roadblock: conservative religious leaders who object to the political appropriation of biblical teaching.
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…)
Bachmann’s Parallel Universe
By Alan Bean
How refreshing to read a piece about the Christian Right written by someone who once inhabited this world and retains an ear for nuance. According the The Guardian website, “Karl Giberson is a science and religion scholar, speaker and writer. He is also a fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation.”
Giberson came of age in the world of egghead evangelicalism.
So did I. Well, sort of. As far as I can recall, I never heard sermons about creationism or any of the “alternative universe” constructions Giberson details below. That stuff wasn’t as prevalent in my native country of Canada as it was in the American heartland. Still, to the extent that Canadians take their intellectual cues from Great Britain or the United States, I couldn’t avoid the likes of Francis Schaeffer when I got to university.
I wasn’t impressed.
When I arrived at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1975, Schaeffer was regarded as a theological lightweight posing as an evangelical Renaissance Man. As Giberson realizes (mercifully), not all evangelicals live in a tightly woven “alternative universe”.
But millions do, and these are the folks Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann are currently courting. In this parallel world, “scientists” preach an innerant Bible and assure the faithful that the world was created by the God of the Bible very, very recently. Evolution is a myth, homosexuality is a disease and Christians are God’s chosen people.
So long as you never stray outside the carefully patrolled borders of this parallel universe, you are never forced to wrestle with opposing arguments or to consider alternative views. But ishould you ever venture outside the fold, you will find yourself intellectually defenseless and intimidated.
Which is why hardcore evangelicalism works so hard to construct a social world offering cradle-to-grave protection from the demons of the secular world.
The word “demons” in the previous sentence is not metaphorical–folks like C. Peter Wagner inhabit a demon (and angel) filled universe. If old-school fundamentalists like J. Gresham Machen and William Bell Riley were steeped in the rationalistic canons of the modernism they opposed, this new breed of Christian soldiers are distinctly pre-modern. In fact, they’re downright medieval, and proud of it.
Thinking evangelicals are an endangered species, but there are plenty of them still out there. In 1994, evangelical historian Mark Knoll wrote The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. It has all been downhill since then.
Growing up in Michele Bachmann’s world
Millions of evangelicals, including GOP candidates, are trapped in an alternative ‘parallel culture’ with its own standards of truth
Michele Bachmann and I grew up in the same evangelical world. We heard similar sermons, read similar books – most importantly the Bible – and we followed the same anointed leaders.
By the time we were in college our generation of evangelicals had been educated into a profoundly different worldview than that of the secular, anti-Christian, Satan-following Ivy League elites we had been taught to fear. We understood the world to be a spiritual battleground with forces of good pitted against forces of evil. Real angels and real demons hovered about us as we prepared to wage these wars. We sang songs like Onward, Christian Soldiers in our churches. At summer camps and vacation Bible schools we stamped our feet, and waved our arms as we sang with good Christian gusto I’m in the Lord’s Army. We knew which side we were on.
Our religious literature was filled with the ideas of people like Francis Schaeffer, a fundamentalist Pennsylvania pastor who transformed himself into a guru by moving to the Swiss Alps, making himself look like Heidi‘s grandfather, and turning his home into a refuge for troubled pilgrims called “L’Abri“. Schaeffer, the intellectual architect of the religious right in America, helped a generation of young evangelicals understand that the corrosive forces of secular humanism were eating away at the foundations of the Christian west. We were heartened that such an impressive intellectual – a fundamentalist counter to Jacob Bronowski or Carl Sagan – was on our side.
Schaeffer’s 1976 bestseller, How Should We Then Live?, chronicled the decline of the Christian west, which had flourished with God’s blessing for centuries, but was now in decline. With broad brushstrokes, our alpine sage showed us how the west had sold its soul for a mess of secular pottage and sham materialism. Schaeffer’s million-selling manifesto was made into an impressive film series, narrated by Schaeffer. Clad in his iconic Swiss leggings, with a flowing mane of white hair and trademark goatee, Schaffer took viewers to all the great cultural spots in the west to help us understand what had gone wrong. The book and film series were widely used at evangelical colleges and universities across the country.
Michele Bachmann told the New Yorker recently that Schaeffer had a “profound influence” on her developing worldview as a young person. Millions of evangelicals would murmur “amen” to that. I read Schaeffer and watched his film series at Eastern Nazarene College in Massachusetts in 1979 as part of a capstone general education course required of all students.
Schaeffer was the most charismatic of the evangelical experts that shaped the world views of believers in the 1970s. There were many more with different specialities. We learned that evolution had no scientific support from young-Earth creationists like Henry Morris and Ken Ham. When Bachmann says that “evolution has never been proven” she is simply repeating what our generation has heard from evangelical leaders as we were growing. I enrolled at Eastern Nazarene College seeking credentials that would enable me to join the creationists in their fight against evolution.
We learned that homosexuality is a choice made by people to live in sin, under Satan’s influence. The reparative therapy – “pray away the gay” – used at the clinic run by Bachmann’s husband was something we all endorsed, under the influence of evangelical social scientists like James Dobson, who had a PhD in child development and thus knew what he was talking about. We grew up hearing about the “gay agenda” and how it was being used by Satan to destroy traditional morality and faith in the Bible.
Christian “historians” like Peter Marshall and David Barton helped us understand that America was a “Christian nation” and that recent travails, like the social upheaval of the 1960s that gave us drug abuse, promiscuity, and the homosexual agenda, were the result of abandoning America’s religious roots.
Many evangelicals, myself included, were fortunate enough to study under Christian scholars, like my professors at Eastern Nazarene College in the 1970s or my colleagues today at Gordon College, who see through the nonsensical claims of people like James Dobson, David Barton, Francis Schaeffer, and Ken Ham – who runs the preposterous Creation Museum in Kentucky. Even as a college student I recall Schaeffer being examined rather critically and young-Earth creationism dismissed out of hand.
There are, fortunately, many evangelical scholars – National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Francis Collins and historian Mark Noll come to mind – who are quietly raising alarms about all this dangerous anti-intellectualism, warning us about populist gurus who are marketing a “Christianised” version of knowledge that, on closer examination, turns out to be neither Christian nor knowledge.
Unfortunately, millions of evangelicals – and this would include much of the political base being courted by the GOP presidential candidates as well as the candidates themselves – are trapped in an alternative “parallel culture” with its own standards of truth. The intellectual authorities mentioned above – with the exception of Schaeffer who died in 1984 – all have media empires that spread their particular version of the gospel. Millions of dollars every year support the production of books, DVDs, radio shows, school curricula, and other educational materials. Very few evangelicals grow up without hearing some trusted authority – perhaps even with a PhD – tell them that the age of the Earth is an “open question”. Or that scientists are questioning evolution. Or that gays are getting spiritual help and becoming straight. Or that secular historians are taking religion out of US history.
Historian Randall Stephens and I have been interested in this alternative knowledge world for years. We grew up in it and emerged from it unscathed – as near as we can tell – but many of our evangelical students over the years have arrived at college with “truths” from this alternative knowledge world written on their hearts. Harvard University Press has just published our sympathetic insiders’ analysis of the parallel culture of American evangelicalism. Titled The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age, we look at how evangelical knowledge structures are exploited by media savvy authorities like those mentioned above.
And, as we watch the GOP candidates enthusiastically promote discredited ideas from this alternative knowledge world, we worry.
Dreaming a Christian aristocracy: The evolution and meaning of Dominionism
By Alan Bean
Our twenty-four hour news cycle doesn’t lend itself to careful analysis of complex social movements. Rick Perry, the pugnacious presidential hopeful, raised eyebrows when he used a loose network of organizations associated with the New Apostolic Reformation to organize a big religious-political rally in Houston. Interest quickened when the mainstream media learned that some of Perry’s friends were “Dominionists,” folks who want to bring secular politics (and everything else) under the dominion of God.
The questions couldn’t be avoided. If elected, will Rick Perry pack his cabinet with Christian preachers? Since that didn’t sound likely, the pundits too-easily assumed that politicians like Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann are just standard-issue conservatives with close ties to the religious right. (more…)
An informed conversation about the religious right, politics and dominionism
By Alan Bean
Sarah Posner and Anthea Butler understand the religious right because they attend actual religious gatherings and talk to people. When they sit down for a conversation about dominionism, the New Apostolic Reformation and politicians like Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann you get the straight goods.
Dominionists aren’t poised to take over America. The religious right is an exceedingly complex social phenomenon. Most of the folks in Houston’s Reliant Stadium for Rick Perry’s The Response had never heard of dominionism. All of this is true, but that doesn’t mean something big isn’t afoot in the world of conservative evangelicalism. Something big is afoot and it is already impacting the political process and the way social issues are debated in the public arena.
When I was attending university in the mid-1970s, my parents, Gordon and Muriel Bean, were suddenly wrapped up in the charismatic movement. They continued to attend McLaurin Baptist Church (then a very non-demonstrative congregation), but they were much more excited about groups like the Full Gospel Business Men International and Women Aglow (of which my mother eventually became Alberta president). Like the dutiful son I am, I attended these meetings but was never tempted to get involved. I saw the usual “signs and wonders”: folks speak in tongues as if it was the most natural thing in the world, worshipers healed of chronic ailments (usually having one leg longer than the other), worshippers “slain in the spirit” (that is, lying in ecstasy on the floor as their bodies twitched with Holy Spirit electricity).
Like I say, it wasn’t my cup of tea. But I learned that this kind of religion can be extraordinarily powerful for those on the inside. As Posner and Butler point out below, it is the ordinary people who attend religious conferences and buy books and DVDs that drive the movement. The names of the preachers change from generation to generation; the spiritual hunger driving the movement abides forever.
The GOP has learned to tap into that hunger; Democrats lose elections, especially in the South, because they haven’t.
This is a long piece, but I offer this little clip as an indication of the fresh insight you will discover throughout a fascinating conversation. This is Anthea Butler:
For the last 30 years, journalists have had an easy time reporting on the religious right, because all they did was pay attention to to white male leaders of big organizations like Focus on the Family, National Association of Evangelicals, or Family Research Council. The days when a nice soundbite from Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, or Ted Haggard would suffice are over. If journalists and others want to understand the last 10 years of the religious right movement, they will need to pay attention to the theological, religious, and ethnic diversity among evangelicals, Pentecostals, and non-denominational churches. They will at least need to recognize the old and new leaders of the religious right, and the complex network of leaders, conferences, and teachings if they want a reductionist argument they can spin out in 800 words. As someone who has studied and written about Pentecostalism for over 15 years, their lack of basic knowledge is staggering, and although I don’t expect people to get it like I do, I do expect reporters and journalists to do their homework! (more…)
Evangelicals have a Perry/Bachmann Problem
A spate of recent columns in the mainstream media have dismissed concerns about Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann’s religion as rhetorical overkill. Do Rick and Michelle really want to transform these United States into a theocracy controlled by sectarian religionists? Don’t be silly.
But those who have done actual research on this subject wonder why leading presidential candidates are nurturing intimate relationships with sectarian theocrats if they personally reject the logic of dominionism. Many evangelical Christians are troubled by what they are hearing from the likes of Bachmann and Perry, largely because they don’t want “dominionists” speaking for evangelical Christians.
Greg Metzger has examined both sides of the debate from a conservative perspective and believes there’s real fire behind all the dominionist smoke. AGB
Evangelicalism’s Perry/Bachmann Problem
By Greg Metzger
I have been dealing this week with a major frustration: Extremely poor reporting and commentary in major secular media on Governor Perry and Michelle Bachmann has led to a flurry of superficial rejoinders by Christian thinkers who I respect and whose opinions matter. Key examples of the former are Ryan Lizza’s lengthy piece in The New Yorker on Bachmann,Sarah Posner’s post at Slate, and Bill Keller’s article in the New York Times Magazine; key examples of the latter are Lisa Miller and Michael Gerson inThe Washington Post, Charlotte Allen in The Los Angeles Times andDouglas Groothius and Scot McKnight at Patheos. Even Ross Douthat, while going further in his acknowledgement of the seriousness of the questions, still misses the core issues. (more…)
Rachel Tabachnick talks dominionism on Fresh Air (and why you should be paying attention)
By Alan Bean
Are Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann part of a movement determined to forcibly Christianize every aspect of American culture?
If so, why does a blog dedicated to ending mass incarceration care one way or the other?
If Rachel Tabachnick is anything to go by, the answer to the first question is ‘yes’. Tabachnick knows more about the dominionist strain within contemporary evangelicalism than just about anybody and you simply must check out her recent interview with Terry Gross of Fresh Air.)
I am still thinking through my answer to the “so what” question (and will have more to say on the subject as my thinking clarifies); but the rough outline of an answer came to me yesterday when a reporter asked me why Louisiana (unlike Texas and Mississippi) has done nothing to reform its criminal justice system.
The avuncular visage of Burl Cain sprang to mind. Cain is slowly transforming the Angola prison plantation into a spiritual rehabilitation center. Inmates (90% of them in for life) are repeatedly invited to get right with Jesus. Life becomes a whole lot easier if they take the offer.
Then I thought of Ann Richards, the progressive Texas Governor who, during her ill-fated re-election campaign against George W. Bush, told the voters that she wanted to build more prisons so folks with addiction issues could get rehabilitated.
Burl Cain and his Louisiana fan club want to lock up more people every year so earnest evangelists can have a captive audience.
Friends of Justice works in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, three states that are gradually backing away from the punitive consensus that has controlled the American judicial system for more than three decades. Texas was embarrassed into rethinking mass incarceration through a series of scandals: Tulia (the bizarre drug bust that gave birth to Friends of Justice), Hearne (the American Violet story), the Dallas Sheetrock scandal, the Houston crime lab, the Texas Youth Commission fiasco, an incredible string of DNA exonerations in Dallas County and Governor Perry’s botched attempt to silence the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Thanks to a series of modest reforms, the Texas prison population has now plateaued in the 160,000 range (it was 40,000 in 1980) and will likely stay there for the foreseeable future.
Mississippi experienced a 3.5% drop in its prison population in a single year by deciding that inmates must only serve 25% of sentences before being eligible for parole (it had been 85%).
The old “lock ’em up” mentality is beginning to soften even in the state that boasts the highest incarceration rate in the free world. Folks in Louisiana want to lock up as many people as possible out of a misdirected sense of compassion. After all, isn’t it better to find Jesus in jail than to live an unregenerate life in the free world? We don’t hate criminals in Louisiana; we just want what’s best for them.
This is precisely the kind of theocratic logic that politicians like Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann have embraced. They want to Christianize the nation (by force if necessary) the way Burl Cain has Christianized the Angola plantation. And if the liberals presently controlling Hollywood, the recording industry, the public school system, the evening news and the political life of the nation don’t want to be Christianized, that’s just too bad. Michelle, Sarah, Rick et al are God’s anointed apostles. At Angola, to oppose Burl Cain is to oppose God; the New Apostolic Reformation wants to extend this kind of thinking to every aspect of our national life.
Do the politicians currently feeding at the trough of radical religion really believe that the eclectic vitality of a diverse nation can be homogenized by the blood of the Lamb? Maybe not. But they want to push the political envelope as far in that direction as the public will allow. In these strange times, it’s smart politics.
If you think I’m overstating the case, please read Ms. Tabachnick’s conversation with Terry Gross.
The Evangelicals Engaged In Spiritual Warfare
August 24, 2011 – TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. (more…)