Yesterday we looked at the progressive pietist roots of the Religious Right, followed by a brief description of my family history. The purpose for sharing that personal anecdote was to illustrate to you that the fight for liberty is current and very real. Those German Lutherans who fought with the Roman Catholics to keep their parochial schools and block alcohol prohibition were people I knew and loved. They were my grandparents! Not some folks in a story about the ancient past.
It's easy to blame the left and difficult to look in the mirror. But when you take a wide-angle view of the world, observing the past and present in the same picture, it's easy to see that both the political left and right have adopted many of the attitudes and doctrines over the years that my family risked everything to escape. Nationalism, pietism, paper money, central planning, redistribution, war ... We can't act like the Germans my family fled, without becoming them ourselves.
Yes. It can happen here.
Christianity shattered the unity of the ancient, pagan world. The source of that unity was the state, usually identified with society itself, at the head of which was a great political ruler, a king or emperor, thought to be a god or god-like. The unity of the ancient, pagan world consisted of the divinization of the temporal order in the form of the state.
Christianity recognized "another king" (Ac. 17:7). While by no means anarchists, the early Christians recognized that no earthly authority, especially political authority, could be ultimate. God's authority is ultimate.
In clarifying orthodox Christology (the doctrine of Jesus Christ), the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) laid the foundation of Western liberty. Jesus Christ alone is both divine and human, fully God and fully Man, the unique link between heaven and earth. He is the only divine-human Mediator. This decision dramatically repudiated every divinization of the temporal order. No state, no church, no family, no man could be God or God-like.
This recognition set patristic Christianity on a collision course with classical politics. Early Christians were savagely persecuted not because they worshipped Jesus Christ, but because they refused to worship the Roman emperor. Polytheistic societies encourage the worship of deities. What they resist is the exclusion of all deities, particularly the state, except the true Deity, the God of the Bible.
Today it seems that Christians are intent on returning to the pagan world in which the coercive state is the unifying principle. Aggressive foreign policy easily trumps abortion, executive power takes precedent over liberty, American "interests" are more important than Christian Just War Doctrine, political expediency is superior to principle, and anyone who disagrees with the Religious Right ... is a slothful, unAmerican heathen.
Conservative historian and writer Paul Gottfried takes the Religious Right to task in the following article. Consider it a wake-up call, a warning over just how far from our religious and political roots the political right has gone.
The state is not god the father, nor the GOP your savior. Government is a secular institution, which as Thomas Paine warned, "even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one." Don't turn your faith over to the government or expect this evil institution to enforce virtue. For history tells us where that path leads ... death, destruction, poverty and tears.
One, white Evangelical Protestants, who constitute almost a third of the electorate, contribute mass support for signature neoconservative policies that neoconservatives could not generate without this assistance. Two, Evangelicals, and more generally the Religious Right, are disproportionately present among the Tea Party voters, and what often looks like a mass movement directed specifically against higher taxes and Obamacare is in fact the Religious Right in a different form. Three, in their pro-Zionist politics, Evangelical Protestants match if not exceed in their fervor even the neocons and (if humanly possible) the Wall Street Journal. Evangelicals are perpetually behind the Israeli Right, and even if they elicit undisguised contempt from their allies, the American Israeli lobby and its Middle Eastern agenda can depend on their unqualified support.
Like their hero George W. Bush, the members of the Religious Right ... prefer sloganeering to thinking. In this way they're like the Republicans I've encountered, people who recite party lines and who cheer for those carrying the proper party label. I'm also not sure that their anti-abortion enthusiasm is [sincere] ... Pat Robertson touted Giuliani as a presidential candidate ... despite Giuliani enthusiastic advocacy of a pro-choice position ... Robertson liked Giuliani because he was good on Israel. Leaders of the Religious Right have also had many nice things to say about Joe Lieberman, whose Zionism and advocacy of foreign wars seem to trump his support for third-term abortion.
Moreover, when the GOP occupied the White House, the Religious Right was not exactly out ahead the crowd attacking Bush’s (record) spending. Fiscal waste only became a vexing problem for this group when the Democrats took power.
The RR, everything being equal, act like white-bread Republicans. They vote predictably for the GOP and can be counted on to second the party's neoconservative advisors. They are opposed to abortion but GOP party leaders and advisors can please their followers by making rhetorical gestures ...
Presumably as long as we plunge into military adventures to help Israel or to advance "human rights," the Religious Right will go along with piecemeal concessions to the social Left. Indeed having the GOP embrace a sufficiently pro-democracy foreign policy may count for more with our family-value crowd than what Republicans champion domestically. In this respect the religious Right is simply mimicking the neoconservative masters of the GOP media.
My biggest problem [is] attribution of a biblically driven ethic to the Religious Right that defies human reasoning ... Unfortunately there is nothing identifiably biblical about the way the Religious Right formulates most of its positions ... Pray tell, how did the war in Iraq help Christian interests in that country, let alone fulfill any biblical precept?
Once we get beyond the numerology and the end-of-days narrative peddled by the Dispensationalists, which not all Evangelicals in any case seem interested in, we find at work a progressivist ideology. Richard Gamble addresses this human rights-enthusiasm in his monograph The War for Righteousness, which lays out the ideology of global democratic transformation that influenced American Protestantism on the eve of the Great War.
American exceptionalism, the doctrine of human rights, and the idea of historical progress were joined to produce a bastardized Protestant Christianity; and the eventual result was the liberal internationalism that Republicans, and especially the Evangelical ones, have signed on to. Thanks to the neoconservative-guided Republican Party, those who are the true descendants of the progressive Protestants of the early twentieth century have found a home, and it is one they are not likely to leave in the foreseeable future. The recycled Trotskyism of the neocons and the global democratic boosterism of the GOP presidential frontrunners are giving the Religious Right what they want programmatically.
But it is not the Evangelicals but the neocons in the media and in think-tanks who "drive the discourse." What the religious Right does is deliver homilies on "values," budgets, and the right of the unborn. They then go on to support the Bushes, Doles, and McCains whom their party provides them with in presidential races ... and usually attribute conservative virtues to those their party gives them as leaders. In this respect Evangelicals are like divine –right monarchists, who accept any sovereign that Providence sends them.