Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dominionism and Evangelicalism PART 2: The American Version of Dominionism - Christian Nationalism, Religious Supremacy, and Theonomy

PART 2: American Dominionism

This is part 2 of my series on how Dominionist ideas have become endemic in Evangelicalism.

In the previous installment, I discussed the Seven Mountains of Dominionism, and how the root of the philosophy is in the idea of power as the representation of the Kingdom of God.

In this installment, I want to look at some specifically American Dominionist beliefs. These stem from a widespread belief that the United States is the “New Israel,” God’s Chosen People™, and that we have as a nation inherited all of the promises and responsibilities that Israel had in the Old Testament.

If you ever have any doubt that this is a widespread belief in American Evangelicalism, just look for the billboards with II Chronicles 7:14 on them. Chances are, you have heard this in church too, if you attend an Evangelical church.

Because of this belief in a religious form of American Exceptionalism, there is a combination of Nationalist arrogance about who we are, and a fear that our failure to enforce religious rules will lead to God destroying us.

In the previous post, I linked to this article, which discusses three key elements of Dominionism and the difference between “hard” and “soft” Dominionism. The article is worth reading in full.

I am going to use slightly different terms for these three elements, because I think that a broader term encompasses the varieties better.

Let’s look at these three:

1. Belief in the Kingdom of God as a political power. (Christian Nationalism)

As a general belief, this is what distinguishes Dominionists. The idea is that the Kingdom of God is predominantly a political entity. And, like other political entities, it is given the power to rule over people, whether they believe in the same religion or not.

As a corollary to this, the belief is that God, just like He did in the Old Testament, makes covenants with nations. In fact, because the Kingdom of God is a political entity, God has His covenant with the political entity, not just the individuals.

Thus, the official Dominionist belief is that Christians are to take dominion over political entities (and culture, and others - the “seven mountains” in the one version.) However, outside of the more doctrinaire groups, it takes on a different flavor.

Christian Nationalism.

This is a belief that the United States is - and should be again - a “Christian” nation. This belief dates back a long time. One might even call it the Puritan Origin Myth. (All nations have an origin myth wherein a god or gods establishes that nation.) The Puritans came to America to establish a “City on a Hill,” that great political kingdom of god which would be a light to the world.

Of course, the Puritans were only one group of settlors. Others came for the prospect of profit (see: Jamestown), a few came for religious freedom, such as Roger Williams (founder of Rhode Island) who was hated by the Puritans for his “radical” idea of separation of church and state (Thomas Jefferson didn't invent the idea or the term!), and William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania) who was imprisoned by the English for his religious views.

The Puritans generally dominated New England during the colonial period, and their rule culminated in a couple of embarrassing incidents. The one was the Salem Witch Trials in the 1690s which once and for all broke the political power of the Puritans in the Colonies. The other occurred a few years before. Anne Hutchinson had the audacity to defy gender roles and hold a bible study in her home, despite the Puritans’ order not to. (Women can’t teach…) Oh, and she challenged the Calvinist hegemony. At her trial, it is acknowledged that she basically kicked the posteriors of the men. She might have gotten off, except she decided to tell the men off, which led to her banishment. 
As a result of these incidents - both of which involved criminal charges for religious “crimes” - a number of influential colonial politicians began to work toward establishing freedom of religion. Virginia officially disestablished religion and granted freedom even to Catholics and Jews around the time of the American Revolution.

This statute was a notable precursor to the Bill of Rights. There is no doubt that its enactment was driven in significant part by the desire to avoid the religious prosecutions of the Puritans and to keep politics and religion separate.

Perhaps, though, there is one person who, more than any other, influenced the founding documents of our nation. That would be Thomas Paine. His pamphlet, Common Sense, was written at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and was intended to give intellectual support to the Revolution and to advocate for the establishment of a secular government, with full freedom of religion to all.

I read this in its entirety a decade or so ago, and it was a thoroughly enlightening experience. This should not be surprising, because Paine’s pamphlet is full of Enlightenment ideas. He challenges the idea that kings - and governments - are established by god. Instead, he argues (from the Bible in addition to other sources) that mankind was originally equal, not hierarchical, and that government was established by humans to protect ourselves against each other. Thus, the source of government is - or at least should be - a social contract between equal humans for the mutual benefit and protection of all. This was, at the time, a radical idea, and one directly opposed to the Divine Right of Kings so beloved by Charles I.

I should mention too that Paine’s other great work was The Age of Reason, one of the key Enlightenment texts. In it, he took some bold steps. The first was to challenge the established Church, which Paine believed had been corrupted by its thirst for political power. He also took issue with the Church’s quest for power and profit - a charge that seems rather relevant today. In his view - which I share to an extent - the true religious duties should be “doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.” (See, for example, Micah 6:8 and James 1:27.) The word "happy" in this era would refer to "well being," not a state of mind. So in other words, making them "happy" would mean to make their lives better. This is echoed in the Declaration of Independence as the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” That is, the right to pursue a decent life for one’s self.

But perhaps the most controversial idea was this: he rejected the idea of laws based on “special revelation,” arguing that instead reason and “natural law” should be the basis of civil government. As Paine (quite correctly) pointed out, revelation to one person is second hand to another. Likewise, in his observation (and mine too), the so called “revelations” seem to have changed over time to accommodate different political circumstances. (See: slavery.)

In addition to the more general ideas, Common Sense contains a proposal for an ideal constitution. Paine clearly intended it to serve as an example for the newly independent United States of America. In fact, many of his proposals were in fact adopted in the Constitution of the United States.

Jefferson himself quoted Paine extensively in his writings, and his idea of a “wall of separation” hearkens back to Paine - and to Roger Williams and William Penn. And, like Paine, he believed that the basis for civil government needed to be reason and natural law, not rules drawn from a sacred text or the teachings of a religious leader.

This is the actual history.

In contrast, there is the Christian Nationalist view, which claims that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were based primarily on the Ten Commandments and other parts of the Bible, and that the United States was founded as a Christian theocracy.

Again, this goes back to the Puritan Origin Myth. But it played out in parallel with the growth of the United States.

Manifest Destiny was the belief that the US was destined to bridge the continent, and establish a new heaven on earth. Never mind that we had to slaughter the Native Americans…

The South certainly cherished the myth that they - and not the North - was carrying the banner of God in the war against evil (meaning abolitionists).

While the idea never truly went away, it had a fresh beginning in the 1970s with a book by a man named Peter Marshall. Best known as the son of Catherine Marshall, who wrote the novel Christy, he was co-author of The Light and the Glory, the seminal work of “Providential History.”

I remember my mother reading this, although I never did. (Christy is a good book, though. The scene where a preacher grooms and rapes a teenage girl made it into my post on Doug Phillips.

For homeschoolers of my age, however, Marshall may not be a household name. Another person took up the banner of historical revisionism and became the most familiar. That would be David Barton. In my previous post on Ted Cruz, I detailed just a few of his lies and fabrications. He is the foremost purveyor of the baloney that the United States is or was a “Christian” nation, established by God to be his kingdom on earth. And, as I noted in the previous post, he even helped write the Republican platform for 2012. Yikes.

Here is the basic idea of what Marshall and Barton teach: The United States has a special covenant with God. We are basically the “new Israel,” and were guided since our inception by divine providence. Later, however, we forsook our god (just like Israel) and all our problems are due to that. If we would just return to God, everything would be great again.

Does this sound familiar?

Pretty much any Evangelical should find this familiar, because it is the central myth of Christian Nationalism.

As I noted above, one HUGE problem with this is that it requires a staggering degree of historical denialism.

But there is another huge problem:

It requires the whitewashing of history.

I use that term in multiple senses.

The first is this: in order to believe that God directed and led the United States from its founding, one must believe that God apparently ordered some serious atrocities.

One would be the Native American genocide. In terms of absolute numbers of deaths, a highly conservative estimate places it at 20 million. (Many scholars who have studied it place the actual number closer to 100 million.) Even with the conservative number, if adjusted for world population at the time, this would be the 7th largest death toll in a conflict in history. That’s higher than either world war. (That’s total casualties, not combat casualties, by the way.)

What would number 8 on the list be? Oh, that would be the Atlantic Slave Trade, the other atrocity on the American conscience. Ten million dead. And that’s not counting the slaves that died here.

So, how would you have it? The United States was founded on these two atrocities. Our land was stolen (or conquered, if you prefer) from the Native Americans, and the vast majority of them were slaughtered by war, disease, and starvation. Our wealth was built on the backs of the enslaved Africans. At the time of the Civil War, the value of the slaves exceeded all other assets of the nation -  goods, machinery, ships, and so on - combined.

So, was this God’s plan? Build his special chosen nation by slaughtering millions of people and enslaving millions more? Hmm.

So Marshall naturally must somehow elide these.

And this leads me to the second type of whitewashing. For Marshall, the story is about white people. These are the “real” Americans. White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants. This is their story of conquest and dominance in the name of their god.

And the stories of those trampled under foot are ignored. Their stories don’t actually matter, right? They were just speed bumps on the road to Divine Conquest.

This has consequences for modern times too: if we were truly “more godly” when we had slavery and genocide, then things like the Civil Rights Act can be dismissed as irrelevant. This despite the fact that our nation at the present time is unquestionably better for non-whites than it was 60 or 100 years ago. (The fact that people like Doug Wilson still claim African Americans were better off enslaved is ridiculous in the extreme.)

As in the case with the past, this marginalizes the experiences of non-Whites, making their pain and suffering somehow part of the “good” and the steps now being taken to address racism part of the “decline” of the nation.

This is the real message of Christian Nationalism. All those horrid things from the past were actually good somehow, because that was when we were a true “Christian” nation.

As I said earlier, doctrinaire Dominionists don’t necessarily take things this direction. However, alongside Rushdoony and Gary North, modern day Dominionists such as Doug Wilson and yes, David Barton, cite Christian Nationalists (and White Nationalists) such as R. L. Dabney in their faux history wherein all this was to fulfill the will and purpose of god.

So, want proof that this idea of America as the new Israel, the “chosen nation” of god is pretty mainstream in Evangelicalism?

Here is an interesting (and scary) poll. Among Americans in general, 53% say that god has a “special relationship” with the United States. For Evangelicals, the number is quite a bit higher, topping out at 71% for Evangelicals over age 45. (Personal observation would indicate that the number is even higher for Evangelicals over 55…)

I already mentioned this: how many times have you heard II Chronicles 7:14 quoted? I mean, it’s even on billboards all over. But what does it mean?

Think about it. This is a promise to Israel. So who are the “people called by my name”? And whose “land” are we talking about? Americans, and America, right? See, to many, we have a covenant relationship to God, and we have violated it. We just need to become “christian” again, and God will fix our problems.

This belief has serious real life consequences:

First, you can see this in the paranoia about LGBT people. I wrote about this after the death of Fred Phelps, but I’ll summarize here. Evangelicals are terrified that God is going to smite the United States because we haven’t sufficiently purged the gays from our midst. (I detailed how this is based on a gross misinterpretation of the story of Sodom.) That’s the driving fear behind the push to exempt Christians from non-discrimination laws. The fear is that if we don’t deny gays housing, employment, government services, and, well, cakes and things, God is going to smite us too!

But there are other consequences. As a corollary to the LGBT issue, a significant component of the Religious Right’s political platform is based on punishing people for having sex. You can also see it in the fact that it is Evangelicals who most strongly support wholesale slaughter of Muslims - and torture. I mean, say what? But that is the truth. Look at the polls. It is the Evangelicals who are the strong supporters of torture. And for that matter, the belief that the military needs to “take the gloves off,” that Muslims in general are a danger, and so on. This makes perfect sense in the context of a Christian Nationalism. We are the chosen people. The others are the Canaanites. So slaughter them. Why not?

As a summary, Dominionists believe in a political Kingdom of God, with the full power of a nation. Many within American Evangelicalism have adopted this idea and added to it the idea that America is God’s Chosen Nation. This belief poisons because it requires historical denialism, a whitewashing of the evil of the past, and makes the story of Christianity in America into a story of white people. This is why it is no accident that Christian Nationalism and White Nationalism are inextricably intertwined. "Making America Great Again" assumes that things were better before, back when we were more Christian - and more White. Right along with the hostility toward non-Christians you will nearly always find hostility toward the Civil Rights Movement, Multiculturalism, and a veneration of the White, Anglo-American culture of the past. In fact, much of what calls itself "Christian" in the United States is really just a civic religion based on the dominance of the cultural trappings of the white middle class of the past.

2. Religious Supremacy

This is a belief that the laws of the United States should privilege Christianity - particularly a certain type of Christianity above all other religions. This is essentially a denial that the 1st Amendment actually means what it says and the founders thought it meant.

I linked in my previous post to David Barton’s repeated claim that the 1st Amendment only means freedom of religion for Christians, not atheists or believers in other religions. 


You can see this played out in our culture today. I blogged previously about the Christmas Wars, wherein Evangelicals have a pity party that cashiers say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” As I stated in that post, this isn’t about some sort of “persecution.” This is about cultural dominance. “We are a Christian Nation, dammit! Say Merry Christmas!”

And it has only gotten worse. The shocking idea that Christians might have to treat people who do not share their beliefs as equal members of society, deserving the dignity of being treated equally, has been met with outrage - and legislation.

I’ll just mention the recent laws passed in Mississippi and North Carolina, which, among other things expressly permit businesses, landlords - and government workers - to deny employment, housing, government services, and business in general to people based on sexual orientation or even based on a belief that sex is only to be had in heterosexual marriage. As a group of law professors from Columbia have pointed out, this means that a single mother could be fired or denied housing on the grounds that she is a "slut." Furthermore, because "gender presentation" is mentioned, it could be interpreted as permitting governments to require female employees to wear skirts. And if we aren’t allowed to do this, we are being persecuted. Yeah, this is exactly the sort of behavior that Christ called us to. I want to vomit. 
This is one area where Evangelicals are often quick to say “but we’re not Dominionists.” To wit, unlike Rushdoony, they do not believe we should execute people who practice other religions or atheism. No sir, they don’t go that far.

But think about it. They are all too eager to deny people who don’t practice their particular brand of Christianity access to the mainstream of society. They can say things like “no Muslim or atheist should ever be elected to office” and “I shouldn’t have to provide housing or employment to people who don’t follow my sexual rules.” How is this that different? Someone who does not share your religious views may well not agree with your rules for what they do with their genitals. This is fundamentally a religious distinction, and we need to recognize it. We have embraced Dominionist ideas when we seek to damage those who do not share our religion by denying them housing and employment and services and access to opportunity. This is what Religious Supremacy is all about.

The other corollary of Christian Nationalism combined with Religious Supremacy is this: certain people are considered “true” Americans, while others are not.. “True” Americans are generally white protestants who vote Republican. (In some cases, the only “true” Christians are Calvinists…) Others are “liberals,” “communists,” or “atheists” or whatever epithet you prefer. Not “real” Americans.

So, my atheist colleague who has serves in the Reserves with distinction isn’t a “real” American. The Muslim family who runs the local Mediterranean grocery? Not “real” Americans. My Buddhist neighbors? Not “real” Americans. The Sikh doctor who provides primary care to an under served rural community - mostly to people who do not share his nationality or religion? Sorry, not a "real" American. And the list goes on...

The worst of this is what I started with, the belief that freedom of religion is for Christians only. Yep, David Barton again. 

3. Theocracy/Theonomy

This is one that gets into some controversy. True Theonomists in the Rushdoony mold are REALLY touchy about it, because they don’t want their pure cold water diluted by namby-pambys. For the true believer, the Old Testament was God’s true, pure, beautiful law. It should be put into full force and effect, penalties and all.

In my prior post about Ted Cruz, I referenced Kevin Swanson. He is just one of the modern manifestations of the Old Testament Theonomy belief. Hence the “kill the gays,” which is uncontroversial in hard core Dominionist circles. (Also, kill women who don’t bleed on their wedding nights, disobedient children, and those who leave the faith.)

I’m not going to get into the details of this in this particular post, as it might require multiple posts to unpack. Suffice it to say that I believe that the Mosaic Code makes more sense as an example of the laws of a Bronze Age tribal theocracy that believed women were chattel than as an example of “God’s Perfect Law for all time.” (The way Christ himself treated the mosaic law seems to indicate He didn’t expect it to be enforced literally…)

For most Evangelicals, this idea is ludicrous. (Even in the circles I was raised in - Gothardism excepted - most believed the OT law was replaced after the Cross.)

However, let me note again that Ted Cruz - and other influential members of the GOP - are in thick with the “hard” Dominionists who do believe in the OT law and penalties. (Looking at you, Kevin Swanson…)

However, a “soft” version of Theonomy is widely accepted in Evangelical circles. Again, this is related to the false belief that our laws are “based on the Bible” and that we are a “Christian nation.” Most Evangelicals believe that the source of our civil laws should be the Bible. I suppose if “do not murder” and “do not steal” were the rules we we talking about, it would be fairly uncontroversial. I'm pretty sure all my atheist friends would be on board with those two. There are universal laws of behavior that tend to transcend time, place, and religion, so there is no reason we can’t agree on many of them. These are not the "Theonomic" laws that cause controversy.

The ones that are problematic are the laws that only make sense if you believe the religion.

Let me give some examples. If one is Orthodox Jewish or Muslim, then one should not eat pork. A Mormon may not drink coffee or alcohol. Some Christian sects, like the Mennonites - my ancestors - and some of my atheist friends too, will not swear an oath - which is why we are able to give an “affirmation” that we will tell the truth. All these things make sense to one with a particular belief, but not so much to someone with different beliefs.

More to the point, perhaps, are sexual rules. Many religions forbid divorce in most cases. Does that mean that people without those beliefs may not divorce? And then we have homosexual acts. Unless one believes God forbids them, there really isn’t a justification for criminalizing them. These are perhaps the biggest sources of contention in our modern political system. How do we deal with people who do not follow certain sexual rules? Can we deny them government services? Can we exclude them from full participation in society like we did African Americans until just 50 years ago?

This is where one’s view of our nation matters. Are we a nation that exists for people with a wide variety of beliefs? Or are we just a “Christian Nation”? Can people of different belief systems (including atheism) participate fully in our society? Or should we be able to exclude them?

And, perhaps to the point of Theonomy, should our laws be an enforcement of “god’s” sexual rules? Or are our laws based on reason and a desire to order a society to the benefit of everyone?

That is a huge question, and one that I think a majority of Evangelicalism has answered with the Theonomic answer.

A full discussion of Theonomy is far beyond the scope of this post. Going down that rabbit hole would require hundreds of hours. I’m no fan of Theonomy, for a number of reasons - chief of which is that it requires, to some degree or another, an acceptance of the sexist and misogynist ideas and institutions of the time in which Scripture was written.

I am in the minority, though, in my own faith, as the vast majority at least believe that one of the chief functions of civil government is to enforce sexual rules and train children in a particular religion.

This is ultimately where Christianity Today and those who are so quick to try to claim “we’re not Dominionist” miss the point. The point is that Dominionist ideas and goals have thoroughly embedded themselves in American Evangelicalism. Even if most Evangelicals wouldn’t stone gays   or make women marry their rapists, most believe that the laws of our nation should be expressly based on the Bible - particularly the sexual rules. A significant number appear to believe that “religious freedom” means being able to exclude people from society - including necessities such as housing, employment, and government services. A significant number believe that Genesis should be taught in science class. A majority favor making Christianity the “official religion” of the United States - a flagrant violation of the 1st Amendment. (The number was 94% for Huckabee supporters - he’s a Gothard associate, though, so no surprise…) 

And, if you look at the political priorities of the Religious Right, it is pretty darn clear that they are Dominionist goals, to assert power over others, and enforce religious rules using the power of the State.

This is the problem that needs to be faced.

If our faith is about the exercise of political power, it is Dominionist, whether we embrace the label or not.

If we believe in Christian Nationalism, Religious Supremacy, and Theonomy, then we are indeed Dominionist, whether we admit it or not.

Those who do not hold our religious beliefs have every right to be concerned, then, that they would suffer if Dominionist Christianity took over the government. Even the “soft” dominionists.

For that matter, I too would be concerned. After all, my ancestors, the Mennonites, were persecuted, hounded from country to country, and slaughtered because of what they believed. This was at the hands of fellow Christians, who couldn’t abide dissent or difference. As pacifists, they were a threat to the idea that it was all about power, and they had to be eliminated accordingly.

The reason that they eventually found peace was that the United States in the 1890s believed in a separation of church and state, and the religious freedom that comes with that separation.

And that is, to a large degree, what this is about.

I myself advocate for a different view of the Kingdom of God, one based on service to others, rather than power. One based, not on forcing others to abide by rules, but one where we cultivate in ourselves that important fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Those things that violate no laws, and cannot be forced on others. It seeks, not to be the instrument of divine wrath on others, but the instrument of love and service.

I am reminded of a particular quote from The Scarlet Letter, which I think sums up the American Dominionist dream. When Chillingworth, Hester’s long-lost husband shows up, an unnamed Puritan greets him with this:

“Truly, friend, and methinks it must gladden your heart, after your troubles and sojourn in the wilderness, to find yourself, at length, in a land where iniquity is searched out, and punished in the sight of rulers and people; as here in our godly New England.”

But there is another vision. When One who was asked if He was the One, or if there would be someone else, responded:

“The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

Isn’t that the question? What does the Kingdom of God look like? Does it look like the Puritans (and Pharisees) trying to ensure that sin is discovered and punished? Or does it look like what Christ exemplified here on earth?

***

Just because it came up after I wrote the Ted Cruz article, I thought I would address the difference between Theocracy and Theonomy. (A friend of a friend made the accusation that I didn’t grasp the difference.

Yes, yes I do. But I believe that in practice, it is a distinction without a real difference.

Let me explain.

Merriam Webster defines Theocracy as follows:

Government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided.

It also gives a shorter definition as: a form of government in which a country is ruled by religious leaders.

The concept of Theocracy has been known since the dawn of human history. In contrast, “Theonomy” was coined a mere 125 years ago. While the dictionary tends to define Theonomy as a rule by a divinity, those of us who spent time in the movement have a more accurate sense of what the word means.

It is a portmanteau of the words for “god” and “law” and as such, is meant to mean a rule by god’s law.

So, for the Theonomist, this form of government isn’t so much a rule by a deity via a priesthood, but a rule by a deity via the Bible (and of course a priesthood to interpret it…). See very different.


It doesn’t take a genius to see how these play out. In the first, a god speaks to the priests, who then rule based on what they believe the god told them.

In the second, a god has spoken in an ancient written document. The priests then must study the document and (maybe) listen to the god so they can interpret it, and then rule based on what they believe (or the god told them) the ancient book told them to do.

In practice, therefore, you are going to have rule by a priesthood that believes it knows the will of the deity.

If anything, though, Theonomy is more brutal than Theocracy, because the gods can change their minds to avoid injustice. The Theonomist has no such recourse, because much of the “words of the gods” are enshrined in a document thousands of years old, which addresses the nuances of ruling a Bronze Age tribalist society. So a Theocracy could have a clarification, for example, that slavery is wrong, but a Theonomist would have to go with the permission and regulation of slavery in the Old Testament. This problem is why in practice Theonomy leads to a return to the view of women as chattel which was the universal belief throughout most of history.

It should be readily apparent that this is simply a variation on the Christian Nationalist theme. It aims for what is essentially a rule by religion, and it whitewashes the past, claiming it was more “godly” while ignoring how bad things really were and how much they have improved.

Again, a lot of this would require multiple posts in the future. Perhaps I shall address it at some point.

But just to finish up, a good way to look at this is by changing religions. Theocracy would be rule by the Imams. Theonomy would be Sharia. It should come as no surprise that the two look extremely close to each other, and that the fundamentalist Sharia approach is the most brutal of all.


Let me conclude this section with a couple of quotes from C. S. Lewis.

           
I believe in God, but I detest theocracy. For every Government consists of mere men and is, strictly viewed, a makeshift; if it adds to its commands ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ it lies, and lies dangerously.
           
~ from Is Progress Possible? (1958)
   
I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point may be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely more because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations.
And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches to Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them, like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the very ordinary human passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt. A political programme can never in reality be more than probably right. We never know all the facts about the present and we can only guess the future. To attach to a party programme — whose highest claim is to reasonable prudence — the sort of assent which we should reserve for demonstrable theorems, is a kind of intoxication.

~ from     A Reply to Professor Haldane

Lewis wrote this in a response to a professor who advocated for Marxism. (Like French philosopher Raymond Aron and atheist Christopher Hitchens, Lewis recognized that Communism in practice is a religion - cult, really.) While this quote is certainly true of totalitarian systems in general and Communism in particular, it also reminds me far too much of the American Religious Right. So much is being driven by fear and lust of power, and yet this is believed to be the voice of God. The ordinary rules of morality are in fact being abrogated, and its members cannot admit any grain of truth or good in the other side. And isn’t it clear that wholesome doubt is thoroughly unwelcome in Evangelicalism right now? 

***

For those wishing to look a bit more at Peter Marshall, here is an article by John Fea. In general, Fea is more conservative (possibly even fundamentalist) than I am, but he has a good perspective on the problems inherent in “providential history.”

Also, another one on Dominionism in general, and Ted Cruz and David Barton in particular.


Excellent article on Christian Nationalism, including good information on the founding of the nation as a secular, rather than religious, republic. 

***

Sometimes we forget that most of the Dominionist/Theonomist ideas - particularly the sex and gender role rules - have already been tried. The Puritans had the political muscle and the guns to enforce it back in the day. While Dominionists will try to deny it, it ended in disaster, and the Puritan reputation has never recovered. Some Dominionists like Kevin Swanson are so furious at Nathaniel Hawthorne for exposing them that they claim he was literally demon-possessed when he wrote The Scarlet Letter. 

For some interesting facts about the Puritan experiment, see my previous installment and the excellent comment by a well-read friend.  

*** 

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15 comments:

  1. Wow! That was an interesting, enjoyable and challenging read (I am thankful for the whole series as well)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I seem to recall hearing Doug Phillips claim at a homeschool conference that America was bound by the terms of the Mayflower Compact because the Pilgrims had made a covenant between God and all their descendants. Or something very close to that.

    One of big ironies about the Puritans is that they were (in part) reacting against abuses of power by English monarchs and the Church of England hierarchy, and there are themes in their writings at the time about the dangers of power becoming too concentrated in either one single person (the Pope/the king) or a group of people (bishops). (Just finished a whole big nerdy book on this topic and its relation to their views on church government.) Too bad their own system ended up being living proof that you can still abuse people without the help of kings or bishops.

    Funny how often The Scarlet Letter comes in handy in these discussions. :-) I think Swanson claimed Melville was demonically influenced too. I wish I knew why. All I can figure is that Moby-Dick is 1) dedicated to Hawthorne and 2) contains non-white characters who worship idols and Ishmael pretty much doesn't care one way or the other about it. Then again, maybe all writers who write books more complicated than "Christian Good Guy Beats Caricature Atheist Bad Guy" are demon-possessed…

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    1. The Melville one is puzzling, particularly since he was a bit of a misogynist, which would seemingly appeal to Swanson.

      The other utterly bizarre thing to come out of that particular conference was one speaker, I can't remember the name, taking the time to praise Warren Harding. What? Why? Who knows?

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    2. Well, to be fair, Harding does have something in common with a lot of these folks: a mistress on the side.

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    3. You are a bad, bad, woman, Scarlet. :)

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    4. And what of the great majority of us whose ancestors didn't come on the Mayflower?

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    5. Aww.... come on now, jochanaan, Those are immigrant types, not real Americans. Probably have some Jewy-goodness or Mary-worshipping catholic cultist connections, or are maybe a touch brown. Stuff like that.

      As much as these types like the word Judeo-Christian, they don't really like at all the actual people that comprise the Judeo portion, and they are highly selective about whom to like, or even include, in the Christian part.

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  3. And it interests me that the "rules" the Dominionists et al focus on are the ones about sex, while the ones about equal treatment of rich and poor aren't even mentioned...!

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    1. They have no desire whatsoever to really look at Christ's teaching about wealth, charity to the poor, and aid to those disenfranchised by the system (whichever one you consider at hand). Think about some of the major purveyors of Dominionist ideology, or the more generic expressions of Fundamental, Evangelical Christianity. As individuals and organizations, we are talking about people and groups taht hold major MAJOR wealth.

      I think there are several reasons why focusing on sex and gender and ignoring issues of wealth and poverty are so common. One is that it is easy to focus on something that is deeply problematized in US culture, politics, and social ideas: sex. Whether we think about the power of the Purity Movement or the deliberate excess of Raunch Culture. Whether we think about the veneration of virgins or the instant celebrity some people have gained for making a sex tape. The thing is: Americans are obsessed with sex and telling others the correct way to express themselves sexually. At the same time, we have hardly any meaningful, honest macro-level discussions about sex, sexuality, consent, boundaries, and objectification. As a socio-cultural group, Americans have glorified, trivialized, and trampled sex and sexuality that it has become mysterious, dangerous,the root of all evil, the bedrock of the family, etc. It is everything and nothing. It is incredibly easy to pick up the ball and run with it, so to speak, under the guise of solving the US's problems.

      Addressing complex issues about distribution of wealth and alleviating poverty? Much harder. It is easier to find a scapegoat to blame such issues on, like the poor themselves or some convenient outsider group or a disliked political figure, than to think about the vast nexus of forces that shape wealth and its distribution.

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  4. The Council for National Policy is rife with theocrats.

    The 2014 membership list: https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/05/17/council-national-policy-behind-curtain

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    1. That's crazy. I know a lot of those names - and not in a good way. It has become obvious this election that the GOP is deeply in bed with the White Nationalist movement, and this is further proof of how much the Religious Right is still based on racism.

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  5. By the way, I love those C.S. Lewis quotes! He was wiser by far than almost any of the big-name theologians today.

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    1. What cracks me up is that Evangelicals are so eager to embrace Lewis, despite the fact that he was as much a "heretic" as Rob Bell or any number of "liberal" theologians today. If he were alive and hadn't written the beloved Narnia books, he would be run out of town on a rail by Evangelicalism.

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