Friday, December 23, 2011

Newt Gingrich the Republicans and the Loony Religious Fringe

Every single one of the sops Newt Gingrich and the other Republican candidates are throwing the far right have been scripted for them by generations of so-called Reconstructionist "thinkers", Roman Catholic ideologues and Christian Zionists that have been pushing the religious community -- and America -- steadily in the direction of overthrowing democracy and replacing it with some version of an Americanized theocracy.

I'll look at Gingrich here but what I say below could be said of every Republican candidate this year.

Newt

Newt Gingrich has been making a series of outrageous statements in ascending rhetorical volume as a means to throw the religious right scraps of validation that he is "one of us." What Gingrich has done is to sign on to the extremist Dominionist/Roman Catholic agenda. Since I used to be a leader and the son of a leader on the Religious Right (in the 1970s and 80s) what Gingrich is saying invokes a bad case of déjà vu for me

What he's really doing is sending signals to 3 overlapping constituencies that now control the Republican Party: The "Pro-Israel" Lobby; The Reconstructionist/Dominionist Lobby and The Conservative Roman Catholic Lobby. We'll look at these groups' and their influence one at a time.

The Gingrich Context

Wanting to outdo the rest of the Republican field on support for the hardliners in the State of Israel Gingrich told America that the Palestinian people are really a fiction an "invented people", illegitimate and don't actually exist.

Not wanting to let the far right down on his purity when it comes to abortion politics Gingrich corrected himself on when "life begins" and got his "position" in line with the American Roman Catholic bishops and declared that when he said it "begins" with the implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterine wall what he really meant was that it begins with fertilization, thus putting himself squarely in the corner with the extremist bishops who would like to lump the pill in with abortion as a means that " destroys a life."

And when it comes to the rule of law Gingrich advocates the arrest of judges that rule against "Christian values."

So much for the separation of powers let alone the separation of church and state. And now Gingrich wants to further expand protection for religion and its meddling in politics saying that as president he'd roll back, examine and generally bulk up the rights of believers - rather the rights of far right believers -- to flout the law when it comes to gay rights, abortion, stem cell research and so on.

The "Pro-Israel" Lobby

Re Gingrich's support for the State of Israel, call this the Gingrich/Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye Left Behind "foreign policy" based on the series of sixteen novels that represents everything that is most deranged about religion.

The evangelical/fundamentalists--and hence, from the early 1980s until the election of President Obama in 2008, the Religious Right as it informed U.S. policy through the the dominant Republican Party--are in the grip of an apocalyptic Rapture cult centered on revenge and vindication. This End Times death wish is built on a literalist interpretation of the book of Revelation.

The Left Behind series is really just recycled evangelical/fundamentalist profit taking from scraps of "prophecy" left over from an earlier commercial effort to mine the vein of fearsome End Times gold. A book called The Late Great Planet Earth was the 1970s incarnation of this nonsense.

It was written by Hal Lindsey, a "writer" who dropped by my evangelical leader parents' ministry of L'Abri several times. Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth interpreted Revelation for a generation of paranoid evangelicals who were terrified of the Soviet Union and communism and were convinced that the existence of the modern State of Israel was the sign that Jesus was on the way in our lifetimes, as Lindsey claimed. According to Lindsey, Revelation was "speaking" about the Soviet Union and imminent nuclear attacks between the Soviet Union and the United States. When Mikhail Gorbachev became president of the U.S.S.R., Planet Earth groupies claimed Gorbachev was the Antichrist, citing the references in Revelation to the "mark of the beast" as proof because Gorbachev had a birthmark on his forehead!

According to Jenkins and LaHaye, who have taken over the Hal Lindsey franchise of apocalypse-for-fun-and-profit and expanded it into a vast industry, the "chosen" will soon be airlifted to safety. And all this "fulfillment" of prophecy depends on Israel "reclaiming" (stealing) all the land of Samaria and Judea, in other words the West Bank.

The focus on the "signs" leading up to this hoped-for aeronautical excursion is understandably no longer the defunct U.S.S.R. but the ripped-from-the-headlines gift that keeps on giving: the Middle East.

The truth is that when it comes to pandering to powerful religious/ethnic "blocs" in the US the biggest game in town is the across the board bowing to the white Evangelical "base" of the Republican Party. That's the bloc of voters that adds up to real numbers, as high as a third of the American voting population. And that bloc is pro-Israel because they take the Bible literally! And that in turn is why these folks send their sons and daughters to die for endless wars to make the Middle East "safe" for Jesus, i.e., getting rid of Saddam Hussein for bogus reasons.

When it comes to the State of Israel, it's the Christian Zionists who have driven American foreign policy over a cliff. Christian Zionists continuously jeopardize our future by putting the promotion of harebrained interpretations of biblical "prophecy" ahead of the well being of both Israel and the US.

To the Christian Zionists "defending Israel" is just a handy pretext for indulging their obsession: egging on, even "helping" the fulfillment of "biblical prophecies" about the "return of Christ." But their worst sin isn't just embracing dumb "theology" but that they have enabled a nefarious group of extremist Zionists in America -- the so-celled neoconservatives -- to irreparably harm America and contribute to the needless killing of our men and women in uniform worldwide.

To the neoconservatives "defending Israel" is just a handy pretext for upholding the myth of "American exceptionalism" for profit and nationalistic "glory," of the kind that was supposed to have gone out of fashion when hubris and stupidity got half the young male population of Europe killed in World War One.

America needlessly went to war in Iraq because neoconservative war mongers -- who laugh at the "those rubes" as they think of earnest Evangelical Christian Zionists, and whose own sons and daughters seem notably absent from our armed services -- used the religious passion and dedication of conservative Evangelicals to provide political means and cover for the neoconservatives' commitment to America's military dominance of the world. In other words the Evangelicals provided the votes to put foolish war mongers like George W Bush in power. And now Gingrich wants their votes.


The Reconstructionist/Dominionist Lobby

Gingrich's "view" of the law was developed by the Reconstructionists. Nothing better illustrates the how and why of the Christian-conservative shift to the extreme Right - its sense of victimhood combined with its fearful hatred of the (Muslim, gay, or pro-choice) "Other" -- than the rise of the so-called Reconstructionist movement.

Reconstructionists seek to apply the full scope of the Biblical Law to modern America and to the world.

To put it bluntly, Reconstructionists want to replace the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights with their interpretation of the Bible. That includes executing people for being gay.

The Reconstructionist worldview has its origins in ancient Israel/Palestine, when vengeful and ignorant tribal lore was written down by frightened men (the nastier authors of the Bible) trying to defend their prerogatives to bully women and their rival tribes. In its modern American incarnation, which began in the 1960s and became widespread in the 1970s, Reconstructionism was propagated by people I knew personally and worked with closely when I was both a Jesus Victim and Jesus Predator. I describe my journey out of this movement in my book Sex, Mom and God.

The leaders of the Reconstructionist movement include the late Rousas Rushdoony (Calvinist theologian, father of modern-era Christian Reconstructionism, patron saint to gold-hoarding Federal Reserve-haters, and creator of the modern Evangelical home-school movement), his son-in-law Gary North (an economist, gold-buff, publisher and leading conspiracy theorist), and David Chilton (ultra-Calvinist pastor and author.)

Reconstructionism, also called Theonomy, seeks to reconstruct "our fallen society." Its worldview is best represented by the publications of the Chalcedon Foundation, which has been classified as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

According to the Chalcedon Foundation website, the mission of the movement is to apply "the whole Word of God" to all aspects of human life: "It is not only our duty as individuals, families and churches to be Christian, but it is also the duty of the state, the school, the arts and sciences, law, economics, and every other sphere to be under Christ the King. Nothing is exempt from His dominion. We must live by His Word, not our own."

Until Rushdoony, founder and late president of the Chalcedon Foundation, began writing in the 1960s, most American fundamentalists (including my evangelical leader parents) didn't try to apply biblical laws about capital punishment, homosexuality, and divorce to the United States. Even the most conservative Evangelicals said they were "New-Testament Christians." In other words, they believed that after the coming of Jesus, the harsher bits of the Bible had been (at least to some extent) transformed by the "New Covenant" of Jesus' "Law of Love."

By contrast, the leaders of the Reconstructionism Movement believe that Old- Testament teachings--on everything from capital punishment for gays to child spanking/beating--are still valid, because they are the inerrant Word and will of God, and therefore should be enforced.

George Grant (Calvinist author, publisher and pastor and former friend of mine) was one of the early leaders of the Reconstructionist movement. He wrote The Changing of the Guard: Biblical Principles for Political Action, in which he called on Christians to recognize their

"[H]oly responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ - to have dominion in the civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness... It is dominion we are after. Not just influence. It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time. It is dominion we are after: World conquest. That's what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel." Or as Reconstructionist/Calvinist theologian David Chilton explained, "The Christian goal for the world is the universal development of Biblical theocratic republics." But it was my old friend, the short, stocky bearded gnome-like Armenian-American Rousas Rushdoony who, in 1973, most thoroughly laid out the Far Right/Religious Right agenda in his book The Institutes of Biblical Law.

Most Christian theologians argue that the New-Testament Law of Love transforms the Old-Testament Law of Retribution. Not Rushdoony's son-in-law Gary North, who apparently channels both Ayn Rand and Attila the Hun when reading his Bible. North has seriously argued that in the Sermon on the Mount the commandments about love are, "recommendations for the ethical conduct of a captive people."

North says that when Jesus commands us to agree with adversaries quickly, to go the second mile, to turn the other cheek, He is really doing nothing more than telling us how to survive captivity at the hands of unbelieving rulers while we - Jews under the pagan Romans then, American Christians under the wicked U.S. Federal Government now -- are not in power. Once we take over the government and the "unbelieving ruler" is overthrown, then Jesus' ethics no longer applies. Once we take over, according to North, the Christian should no longer go the second mile to love others as he loves himself, let alone turn the other cheek to those who hurt him.

Once Christians are in charge, according to North we, "should either bust him in the chops or haul him before the magistrate, and possibly both." North says, and I quote (no kidding), "It is only in a period of civil impotence that Christians are under the rule to 'resist not evil '." In other words, I suppose the "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" part of the Lord's Prayer no longer applies, once we've got "the power, the glory and the kingdom"--at least until Jesus comes back.

How far would the Reconstructionists go? For North, the death penalty (preferably by stoning people to death) should be part of our law. "The question eventually must be raised," he writes in a book on economics and the Ten Commandments. "Is it a criminal offence to take the name of the Lord in vain? When people curse their parents, it unquestionably is a capital crime (Exodus. 21:17). The son or daughter is under the lawful jurisdiction of the family. The integrity of the family must be maintained by the threat of death. Clearly, cursing God (blasphemy) is a comparable crime, and is therefore a capital crime (Leviticus. 24:16)."


The Conservative Roman Catholic Bomb Throwers Lobby

Non-Evangelicals with political agendas have cashed in on the Evangelicals' willingness to lend their numbers and influence to one moral crusade after another, or rather I should say, to one political crusade after another masquerading as moral crusades. For instance, conservative Roman Catholic Princeton University Professor of Jurisprudence Robert George was an antiabortion, anti- Obama, anti-gay-rights, and anti-stem-cell-research "profamily" activist, and he found ways to effectively carry on the Reconstructionist agenda while truthfully denying any formal connection to people like Rushdoony.

George has advised many of the key players in the Gingrich Roman-Catholic-Purity team.

George's brainchild: the "Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience" is the script Gingrich is following when he talks about overthrowing the rule of law in favor of religious "rights."

This was published in 2009 as an anti-Obama manifesto, and many Evangelical leaders signed on. George may not have been following Rushdoony or have ever read his work, but the Evangelicals who signed on to George's agenda would never have done so if not for the influence of Reconstructionism on American Evangelicals decades before.

The "Manhattan Declaration" reads:

"We will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act . . . nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar's. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God's."

In case you've never heard of George, he's been a one-man "brain trust" for the Religious Right, Glenn Beck, New Gingrich, and the Far Right of the Republican Party as well as for the ultraconservative wing of the Roman Catholic Church. Here's how the New York Times introduced him to its readers:

"[Robert George] has parlayed a 13th-century Catholic philosophy [the natural law theory] into real political influence. Glenn Beck, the Fox News talker and a big George fan, likes to introduce him as "one of the biggest brains in America," or, on one broadcast, "Superman of the Earth." Karl Rove told me he considers George a rising star on the right and a leading voice in persuading President George W. Bush to restrict embryonic stem-cell research. . . . Newt Gingrich called him "an important and growing influence" on the conservative movement, especially on matters like abortion and marriage. "If there really is a vast right-wing conspiracy, the conservative Catholic journal Crisis concluded a few years ago, "its leaders probably meet in George's kitchen."

George is now advising the Roman Catholic bishops and through them, Newt Gingrich. He's also been in direct contact with Gingrich.

George's "Manhattan Declaration" was signed by more than 150 American "mainstream" (mostly Evangelical) conservative religious leaders. They joined to "affirm support for traditional marriage" and to advocate civil disobedience against laws contradicting the signers' religious beliefs about marriage and/or the "life issues." The drafting committee included Evangelical Far Right leader Charles Colson.

Conclusion

It was the Reconstructionists who, along with several less extreme activists like my father, created the climate in which the likes of Gingrich-as-Far-Right-Roman-Catholic-convert, George, Colson, and Beck have been taken seriously by many Evangelicals. Without the work of the Reconstructionists, the next generation of religious activists (trying to use the courts, politics, and/or civil disobedience to impose their narrow theology on the majority of Americans) would have been relegated to some lonely street corner where they could gather to howl at the moon. Instead, the twenty-first century's theocrats (though they'd never so identify themselves) enjoyed the backing of Fox News, were tolerated at places like Princeton University, and could be found running most Evangelical organizations.

George's, North's, and Gingrich's idea of the "rule of law" is that it must be subject to a biblical mandate, in other words to what Gingrich's bishops tell him will "sell" to their faithful and their evangelical fellow-traveler religious extremists. This is the constituency that Gingrich is now appealing to, with the direct help from his Roman Catholic advisers and his Reconstructionist and Dominionist friends. And then there is the cherry on the cake: in return for espousing their theocratic anti-democracy views Gingrich will be forgiven his multitude of divorces and a lifetime of adultery.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer his new book is Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hitchens and Jesus

Christopher Hitchens is dead. There will be people who think that as a famous atheist Hitchens was an enemy of not just religion in general but of his own cultural tradition of Christianity. In fact they will think that with his passing a threat to religion and faith has passed away no doubt to receive his "reward" of eternal damnation and the biggest surprise of his life, now extended for eternity by a God who doesn't like disbelievers and has a long memory.

Meanwhile another actor in the debate between religion and atheism - also dead - is on a fast track to canonization by the Roman Catholic Church for sainthood. Pope John Paul II is the "good Christian" that in the mind of millions of believers stood as a bulwark against the tide of official Soviet atheism at one time and also stood against another threat: the growing irrelevance of all fundamentalist religious beliefs in the age of science.

In simplest terms in the minds of the pious it would be that Hitchens was "bad" and Pope John Paul was "good." The idea might apply not just to personal morality but to the notion that Hitchens and his ilk (the other so-called New Atheists) have somehow damaged faith in general and faith in Christianity in particular while the pope and other Christian leaders, say the evangelist Billy Graham etc., have done their best to strengthen the faith of millions while guarding the reputation of Christianity and thereby defending Jesus himself.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. All the raging of today's atheist apologists combined are but a flea bite compared to the fatal blow that Christianity has been dealt by its own leadership in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

John Paul II presided over the era in which the Roman Catholic Church became known mostly for being the largest and best protected pedophile ring in the world while - simultaneously -- attacking gays, women who demanded reproductive rights and scientists doing stem cell research etc., etc., as "immoral." And Billy Graham presided over an era of American evangelical expansion at the very time when the word "Christianity" in America became synonymous with far right social causes and above all the capitalist pro-corporatism that smacked more of Ayn Rand than Jesus.

Put it this way: Hitchens and company attacked the idea of the supernatural as bogus. (Disclosure: I "answered" Hitchens rather harshly in one of my books on religion and before that we'd "talked" a bit via email and one or two phone calls.) Their attacks were frontal and honest. Religious people - and I am one and will be in church this Sunday - had nothing to fear from the atheists' honest critique. Conversely the leadership of Christianity has utterly corrupted the Christian witness from within.

The death of the Christian witness (especially here in America) has been brought about by two fatal wounds: First, the conflation the teachings of Ayn Rand with the teachings of Christ. Call this the American version of Jesus-wants-us-to-be-anti-government-regulation-of-business and to be anti-health-care-for-all Tea Party-type "Christianity."

Second: John Paul II's real place in history is that of a pope that protected his institution rather than his flock. (I describe this in some detail in my book Sex, Mom and God.)While boys and girls were being abused by bishops and priests around the globe he looked the other way, covered up for them and did all he could to "contain" the scandal, a scandal that is still unfolding.

Billy Graham and his many evangelical clones that are now running mega churches and other Religious-Industrial Complex money making empires, have done their best to turn salvation into a process of voting for Republicans and thus corporatist leaders intent on protecting the "rights" of billionaires rather than the people. Billy Graham's son Franklin, now running the Billy Graham organisation is a corporate shill and supporter of far right "pro-business" causes.

So the sins of the evangelical and Roman Catholic "Christian" leadership are the same: The Roman Catholics have sacrificed their own children to the sexual greed of pedophiles out to protect their institution and the Evangelicals have sacrificed the poor to the greed of their corporate masters to protect American businesses.

And both profound and filthy betrayals have been done to protect institutions instead of people. Both betrayals have also been accompanied by levels of hypocrisy - the "family values" "pro-life" talk by people who condone pedophiles and no health care for actual families - that would make any decent atheist blush.

Result for the "Christian" witness?

On the one hand thousands of pedophile priests and bishops have been and are now free to abuse.

On the other hand Wall Street has been and is free to abuse.

So rest in peace Christopher Hitchens. At least you tried to tell the truth as you understood it and didn't live a lie. You didn't bugger little children and you didn't look the other way while the 1 percent stole the 99 percent's money. And unlike the recent popes and the evangelical leadership if there is a judgment day you'll be fine. You only disbelieved. You did not betray the "least of these."

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book is Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Who Should the Evangelicals Hate Most?


Frank Schaeffer

GET UPDATES FROM FRANK SCHAEFFER

The Great Evangelical Disaster of 2012

Posted: 12/ 7/11 02:21 PM ET

Speaking as a former evangelical anti-abortion leader, I note that if it boils down to a choice between the Mormon or the adulterer for the Republicans in 2012, the Evangelicals who drive the Religious Right will climb the walls. Do they vote for a heretic or a lying philanderer?

As Ross Douthat writes in "The Tempting of the Christian Right":

More than any other Republican constituency, religious conservatives have good reasons to be wary of Newt Gingrich... As Speaker of the House, he undercut their claim to the moral high ground by carrying on an extramarital affair even as his party was impeaching Bill Clinton for lying under oath about adultery.


...
Now his path to the nomination depends on this conversion paying off... The real issue for religious conservatives isn't whether they can trust Gingrich. It's whether they can afford to be associated with him. Conservative Christianity in America, both evangelical and Catholic, faces a looming demographic challenge: A rising generation that is more unchurched than any before it, more liberal on issues like gay marriage, and allergic to the apocalyptic rhetoric of the Pat Robertson-Jerry Falwell era...

Rallying around Newt Gingrich, effectively making him the face of Christian conservatism in this Republican primary season, would ratify all of these impressions. It isn't just that he's a master of selective moral outrage whose newfound piety has been turned to consistently partisan ends. It's that his personal history -- not only the two divorces, but also the repeated affairs and the way he behaved during the dissolution of his marriages -- makes him the most compromised champion imaginable for a movement that's laboring to keep lifelong heterosexual monogamy on a legal and cultural pedestal...

His candidacy isn't a test of religious conservatives' willingness to be good, forgiving Christians. It's a test of their ability to see their cause through outsiders' eyes, and to recognize what anointing a thrice-married adulterer as the champion of "family values" would say to the skeptical, the unconverted and above all to the young.


And then there is Mitt Romney.

He is a Mormon.

As John W. Kennedy noted for evangelical mainstream magazine Christianity Today, though some evangelicals concede that Mormons are good neighbors, the theological chasm is wide. Mormons profoundly distance themselves from orthodox Christianity in that they:

  • Do not interpret canonical Scripture as being solely the Old Testament and New Testament. They add the Book of Mormon and founder Joseph Smith's other works, The Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine and Covenants.
  • Do not believe in the Trinity. Mormons believe God the Father and God the Son have fleshly bodies and that the Holy Ghost is a spirit man.
  • Teach that God was once a finite being who achieved his exalted rank by "progressing."
  • Based on supernatural visitations in the 1820s, Smith believed he was called to restore the true Christian church that had been lost 16 centuries earlier. According to this great apostasy, God told Smith that all churches -- with specific reference to Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians -- were wrong, and to join none.


"On every major doctrine, the fundamental teachings of evangelical Christianity and Mormon doctrine are diametrically opposed," says Norman Geisler, dean of Southern Evangelical Seminary.

If you think that in their hearts any evangelicals can vote comfortably for what they'd call a heretic or worse, think again.

And so the great evangelical disaster of 2012 is on the way.

And here's the supreme irony: the man the evangelicals who have hijacked the Republican Party hate most -- President Obama -- is a faithful married man, good father and professing Christian who has described his born-again experience in detail.

But he's "liberal," black and perhaps "not born in America," or a "Muslim," or "communist," or "the Antichrist," or something else pretty terrible: actually Christ-like in his compassion for the poor!

This is considered a great sin by evangelicals now that most of them are actually followers of Ayn Rand, not Jesus.

So the evangelicals will be voting for either Romney or Gingrich holding their noses. This bodes badly for the Republicans.

In fact some evangelicals may even be forced to sit out the election and/or just deny it's happening at all just as they already deny global warming.

Maybe they will take to a hilltop and await the Return Of Christ and/or the return of Sarah Palin, whichever comes first.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book is Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway