Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ben Carson's theocratic lie:

 The pernicious myth of America the “Christian nation”

The surging presidential candidate revives a destructive, ahistorical trope about America's founding

Ben Carson's theocratic lie: The pernicious myth of America the "Christian nation"

One of the more enduring tropes on the religious right is this notion that America is a Christian nation, or at the very least a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles. This has become central to conservative mythology in this country. Despite having no basis in fact or history, this trope simply won’t die. One hears it from virtually every Republican politician, and it’s always accepted uncritically by conservative commentators and audiences.
This week, Republican candidate for president Ben Carson repeated this lie on Fox News, and he did it in typical nonchalant fashion, as though it were a truism. Near the end of a rambling interview about traditional marriage and religious liberty, Carson said: “This is a Judeo-Christian nation, in the sense that a lot of our values are based on a Judeo-Christian faith.”
This statement isn’t even remotely true, but it reflects a widespread ignorance about American history. America is populated overwhelmingly by Christians, but this isn’t a Christian nation in any meaningful sense – and it never was. This inconvenient distinction is often lost on conservatives, and it’s why they’re under the impression that the government ought to respect their religious morality over and above all others (i.e., Kim Davis).
There are two ways to argue that America is a Christian nation. One is to claim that our laws and Constitution are grounded in Christian values. The other is to say that the Founders of the country were Christians and that they conceived the government on the basis of those beliefs. Both of these arguments are patently false.
First, the Constitution (which is sacrosanct in conservative circles) makes no mention of God or Christianity or even Christ. Indeed, when it does mention religion, it’s to prohibit the state from establishing one over the other. Of course, Christians eagerly point to the Declaration of Independence, especially the part that reads “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” But that statement in no way justifies the view that American is a Christian nation.
To begin with, that line was authored by Benjamin Franklin, who was a deist, not a conventional Christian. More important, the use of the word “Creator” is intentionally vague; it certainly does not specify Christianity. And that’s because the Founders were intent on building a wall of separation between church and state. If Franklin (or any other Founder) wanted to refer to Christianity or Christ in that document, he would have.
As for the Founders themselves, many of them were deists, not Christians – and certainly not Christians in the sense that Mike Huckabee or Ted Cruz or Bobby Jindal is. John Adams, for instance, the principal author of the Massachusetts constitution and our second president, signed the Treaty of Tripoli, which stated that “The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” Thomas Jefferson, the main author of the Declaration of the Independence and our third president, wrote in the Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom (the precursor to the First Amendment) “That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” There’s nothing unclear about the Founders’ intentions, in other words. America’s political roots are decidedly secular – only fundamentalists are confused about that.
The irony of all this is that the Founders (most of them, at least) are precisely the kind of people modern conservatives abhor. They were elitist European-style intellectuals who were inspired by the progressive ideals of the Enlightenment. They looked to history and Western philosophy for guidance, not to the Bible. And they wanted to create a government based on classical republican principles above all else – no objective or disinterested analysis of our founding documents suggests otheConservatives can (and almost certainly will) ignore this, but that doesn’t change the fact that America is and was intended to be a secular republic, not a Christian theocracy. If the myth of America as a Christian nation endures among conservatives, it’s because people like Ben Carson repeat it endlessly without evidence and for political purposes. It’s true that, culturally speaking, there were periods of American history that were dominated by Christianity (e.g., the post-Civil War era). It’s also true, as I wrote several months ago, that Christianity became deeply politicized in the 1940s, thanks in large part to the influence of industrialists on the political process. But if you return to the founding documents of this country, there is no question that revisionists like Carson are wrong about this.

Jesus is a political prisoner: An American history of Christianity’s corruption

Nowadays, the Christian right is a fixture of the political world. But it hasn't always been that way
According to the Pew Research Center, the Christian share of the population has declined in recent years from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent. At the same time, the number of Americans identifying as religiously unaffiliated – including atheists and agnostics – has increased from 16.1 percent to 22.8 percent. The study attributes the changing religious landscape largely to millennials, who attend church far less than previous generations. But the trend is noticeable among older demographics as well. So what are to we make of these findings?
They should be seen, in part, as an inevitable result of the politicization of Christianity. Politics and religion have always made uneasy bedfellows, but there was a definitive shift in America’s political and religious culture in the 1940s that set Christianity on its current course. As historian Kevin Kruse notes in a recent essay, it was during this period that Christian America was co-opted by corporate America. Following the Great Depression, Big Business had something of an image problem, and needed rebranding. Also problematic was FDR’s New Deal, which was indispensable to the middle class but anathema to corporate interests.
Industrialists realized, Kruse writes, that, “As men of God, ministers could voice the same conservative complaints as business leaders, but without any suspicion that they were motivated by self-interest.” Kruse goes on to explain how religious authorities were recruited by business leaders: “It was a watershed moment – the beginning of a movement that would advance over the 1940s and early 1950s a new blend of conservative religion, economics, and politics that one observer aptly anointed Christian libertarianism.” Under the guise of this ideology, American clergy began to demonize the state: individualism was exalted; secularism was synonymous with socialism; and collectivism became the preferred boogeyman of businessmen and Christians. In short, capitalists purchased the pulpits of preachers, who equated economic freedom with spiritual salvation, God with limited government.

This alliance paved the way for the prosperity gospel, a preposterous doctrine according to which godliness and wealth are one and the same. Although the prosperity gospel emerged in the late 1940s as an independent Pentecostal movement, it aligned perfectly with the free market theology of Christian libertarianism.
Much like Christian libertarianism, the prosperity gospel is a swindle, a half-baked justification for hucksterism and greed. It’s also an affront to Christ, who told his followers “to sell what you have and give to the poor,” to deny one’s self and “take nothing for the journey.” I’m not a Christian, but these are clearly not the words of a libertarian or a capitalist. That anyone could wrest a doctrine of self-interest out of Christ’s teaching is a miracle of misinterpretation. Christ was a prophet, not a profiteer. Prosperity theology is the gospel of those who want to feel good about serving themselves, who want to make a virtue of vice. And it’s alive and well in America today, thanks, in part, to the corruption of Christianity by entrenched economic interests.
The politicization of Christianity was hastened in the 1970s and ’80s, as conservative Protestants became politically active. The culture wars were reignited, and conservatives rallied to defend what they believed were traditional family values. The movement was explicitly religious, and fueled by fundamentalism. As evangelical scholar Lynn Buzzard observed, conservative Christians were told to “reject the division of human affairs into the secular and sacred and insist, instead, that there is no arena of human activity, including law and politics, which is outside of God’s lordship.”

This unholy union of religion and politics has proven disastrous, particularly in the era of PACs, which allow economic libertarians to manipulate conservative Christians for political purposes. It has also created a demand-side problem in the Republican Party. Candidates are forced, increasingly, to pander to religious lunatics who openly pine for theocracy, and who insist on imposing a religious test on political candidates. The results of this have been evident in recent presidential primaries, with Republican candidates seeking to out-Christian each other for votes. This has real consequences. It’s the principal source of anti-intellectualism in the GOP. And it’s the reason the Republican Party doesn’t pay a political price for denying science as a basis for public policy. There isn’t another serious country in the world in which presidential candidates are rewarded for their abject stupidity as they are in today’s GOP.
The GOP’s religious problem has only intensified in recent years. The worst, most reactionary elements of the right wing have united under the banner of Christianity. The party has since become a theo-political movement, unable to govern and unwilling to compromise. The Republican ranks are brimming with bigots and unthinking purists with no real interest in governance. Much of the base consists of old, disconnected white people who are fearful of modernity and nostalgic for an America that exists only in their minds. We’re faced with enormous problems like climate change and rising inequality, and political discourse is dominated by religious demagoguery. This has been equally destructive to Christianity and the country’s political process.

Is it any wonder people are turning away from this politicized brand of Christianity? Young Americans don’t give a damn about the culture war. We accept that we live in a secular and pluralistic society. The GOP’s opposition to LGBT rights is a trite anachronism to most people, not a moral crusade. When Republicans are indignant about poor people abusing food stamps, but uninterested in bankers looting middle class pensions, something is amiss. When “value voters” prioritize tax breaks for the wealthy over expanded health care for the poor, most Americans – including earnest Christians – are justifiably turned off.
That so many for so long have cared so little about actual justice is a disgrace. That they’ve done so under the cover of Christianity only makes it worse. The founding fathers placed a wall between church and state for a reason: They knew the alternative would be ruinous to both. They were right. Christianity has been unmoored from its roots, poisoned by the pursuit of worldly power; the faith ought to pay a price for that. And if that price also means less religion in politics, that’s a good thing – for everyone.


  1. Do you read anything other than the leftist rag Salon???

  2. “The founding fathers placed a wall between church and state for a reason:”

    That wall is a myth created by people who took Einstein’s rigorously proven science ‘Relativity’ and turned it into a wandering and pointless doctrine of ‘relativism’. People who adopted Darwin’s survival of the fittest and turned it into social doctrines of Stalin and Hitler, later rebranding itself is liberalism. People who took the grossly unproven theories of Freud and turned the nation into a society of pill popping schizophrenics in search of meaning.

    To clarify... Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...

    It makes absolutely no statements about religious values being used in the formulation of any law because, that directly contradict the free exercise thereof...

    Having said that, it is about time government of both the right and left got out of the business of declaring social doctrine and enshrining it in law.

    1. What if the free exercise of religion involves breaking the law? An ISIS spokesman last week declared that rape is a religious rite, not only condoned by Islam, but encouraged. So, if an American citizen belongs to that faith, should they be free to rape?

    2. Only if it is consensual... otherwise the religious act was perpetrated against someones will, which violates their religion.. or sensibilities ... or secular doctrine... whatever... you get the point. This is where your religion stops and mine begins.. so if you have no willing partners with which to conduct your religious ceremony ... I guess you would just have to go F..k yourself!

    3. On a more serious note... could anyone actually provide passage, verse and most importantly context confirmation of this in the Koran?... other than the same kind of twisted interpretation that gave the KKK the right to hang people...

    4. Yes Mick they should be able to rape. But only in a sanctuary city.