How Christian Delusions Are Driving the GOP Insane

By Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet, October 9, 2013

Why aren’t Republicans more afraid? The entire premise of both the government shutdown and the threats to force the government into debt default is that Democrats care more about the consequences of these actions than the Republicans do…A handful of wide-eyed fanatics in Congress have hijacked the party [6]. The Tea Party base and the hard right politicians driving this entire thing seem oblivious to the consequences. It’s no wonder, since so many of them—particularly those in leadership—are fundamentalist Christians whose religions have distorted their worldview until they cannot actually see what they’re doing and what kind of damage it would cause...The Tea Party is actually driven primarily by fundamentalist Christians whose penchant for magical thinking and belief that they’re being guided by divine forces makes it tough for them to see the real world as it is…this latest power play from the Republicans is, in essence, a move from that demographic to assert their “right” to control the country, even if their politicians aren’t in power… In other words, the Christian right has worked itself into a frenzy of believing that if this health care law is implemented fully, then we are, in fact, facing down either the end of American Christianity itself or quite possibly the end times themselves. In comparison, it’s hard to be too scared by the worldwide financial collapse that they’re promising to unleash if the Democrats don’t just give up their power and let Republicans do what they want. Sure, crashing stock markets, soaring unemployment, and worldwide economic depression sounds bad, but for the Christian right, the alternative is fire and brimstone and God unleashing all sorts of hell on the world.

This is a problem that extends beyond just the immediate manufactured crisis… fundamentalist Christianity has been harnessed to promote the notion that climate change isn’t a real problem. Average global temperatures are creeping up, but the majority of Christian conservatives are too worried about the supposed existential threats of abortion and gay rights to care…


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Why aren’t Republicans more afraid? The entire premise of both the government shutdown and the threats to force the government into debt default is that Democrats care more about the consequences of these actions than the Republicans do. Republicans may go on TV and shed crocodile tears about national monuments being shut down, but the act isn’t really fooling the voters [3]: The only way to understand these fights is to understand that the GOP is threatening to destroy the government and the world economy in order to get rid of Obamacare (as well as a panoply of other right wing demands). Just as terrorists use the fact that you care more about the lives of the hostages than they do to get leverage, Republican threats rely on believing they don’t care about the consequences, while Democrats do.

So why aren’t they more afraid? Businessweek, hardly a liberal news organization, said the price of default would be [4] “a financial apocalypse” that would cause a worldwide economic depression.  This is the sort of thing that affects everyone. Having a right wing ideology doesn’t magically protect your investments from crashing alongside the rest of the stock market.

The willingness of Republicans to take the debt ceiling and the federal budget hostage in order to try to extract concessions from Democrats is probably the most lasting gift that the Tea Party has granted the country. More reasonable Republican politicians fear being primaried by Tea Party candidates [5]. A handful of wide-eyed fanatics in Congress have hijacked the party [6]. The Tea Party base and the hard right politicians driving this entire thing seem oblivious to the consequences. It’s no wonder, since so many of them—particularly those in leadership—are fundamentalist Christians whose religions have distorted their worldview until they cannot actually see what they’re doing and what kind of damage it would cause. 

The press often talks about the Tea Party like they’re secularist movement that is interested mainly in promoting “fiscal conservatism”, a vague notion that never actually seems to make good on the promise to save taxpayer money. The reality is much different: The Tea Party is actually driven primarily by fundamentalist Christians whose penchant for magical thinking and belief that they’re being guided by divine forces makes it tough for them to see the real world as it is.

It’s not just that the rogue’s gallery of congress people [6] who are pushing the hardest for hostage-taking as a negotiation tactic also happens to be a bench full of Bible thumpersPew Research shows that people who align with the Tea Party [7] are more likely to not only agree with the views of religious conservatives, but are likely to cite religious belief as their prime motivation for their political views.  White evangelicals are the religious group most likely to approve of the Tea Party. Looking over the data, it becomes evident that the “Tea Party” is just a new name for the same old white fundamentalists who would rather burn this country to the ground than share it with everyone else, and this latest power play from the Republicans is, in essence, a move from that demographic to assert their “right” to control the country, even if their politicians aren’t in power.

It’s no surprise, under the circumstances, that a movement controlled by fundamentalist Christians would be oblivious to the very real dangers that their actions present. Fundamentalist religion is extremely good at convincing its followers to be more afraid of imaginary threats than real ones, and to engage in downright magical thinking about the possibility that their own choices could work out very badly. When you believe that forcing the government into default in an attempt to derail Obamacare is the Lord’s work, it’s very difficult for you to see that it could have very real, negative effects.

It’s hard for the Christian fundamentalists who run the Republican Party now to worry about the serious economic danger they’re putting the world in, because they are swept up in worrying that President Obama is an agent of the devil and that the world is on the verge of mayhem and apocalypse if they don’t “stop” him somehow, presumably be derailing the Affordable Care Act. Christian conservatives such as Ellis Washington [8] are running around telling each other that the ACA  will lead to “the systematic genocide of the weak, minorities, enfeebled, the elderly and political enemies of the God-state.” Twenty percent of Republicans believe Obama is the Antichrist [9].Washington Times columnist Jeffrey Kuhner [10] argued that Obama is using his signature health care legislation to promote “the destruction of the family, Christian culture”, and demanded that Christians “need to engage in peaceful civil disobedience against President Obama’s signature health care law”.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops joined in, demanding that the Republicans shut down the government [11] rather than let Obamacare go into effect. The excuse was their objection to the requirement that insurance make contraception available without a copayment, saying ending this requirement matters more than “serving their own employees or the neediest Americans.”

The Christian right media has been hammering home the message that Christians should oppose the Affordable Care Act. Pat Necerato of the Christian News Network accused [12] the supporters of the law of committing idolatry and accused people who want health care of being covetous. The Christian Post approvingly reported various Christian leaders [13], including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, saying things like the health care law is “a profound attack on our liberties” and lamented “Today is the day I will tell my grandchildren about when they ask me what happened to freedom in America.”

Some in the Christian right straight up believe Obamacare portends the end times. Rick Phillips, writing for [14], hinted that Obamacare might be predicted in Revelations, though he held back from saying that was certain. Others are less cautious. On the right wing fundamentalist email underground, a conspiracy theory has arisen claiming that Obamacare will require all citizens to have a microchip implanted [15]. While it’s completely untrue, many Christians believe that this means the “mark of the beast” predicted in Revelations that portends the return of Christ and the end of the world.

In other words, the Christian right has worked itself into a frenzy of believing that if this health care law is implemented fully, then we are, in fact, facing down either the end of American Christianity itself or quite possibly the end times themselves. In comparison, it’s hard to be too scared by the worldwide financial collapse that they’re promising to unleash if the Democrats don’t just give up their power and let Republicans do what they want. Sure, crashing stock markets, soaring unemployment, and worldwide economic depression sounds bad, but for the Christian right, the alternative is fire and brimstone and God unleashing all sorts of hell on the world.

This is a problem that extends beyond just the immediate manufactured crisis. The Christian right has become the primary vehicle in American politics for minimizing the problems of the real world while inventing imaginary problems as distractions. Witness, for instance, the way that fundamentalist Christianity has been harnessed [16] to promote the notion that climate change isn’t a real problem. Average global temperatures are creeping up, but the majority of Christian conservatives are too worried about the supposed existential threats of abortion and gay rights to care.

Under the circumstances, it’s no surprise that it’s easy for Christian conservatives to worry more about imaginary threats from Obamacare than it is for them to worry about the very real threat to worldwide economic stability if the go along with their harebrained scheme of forcing the government into default. To make it worse, many have convinced themselves that it’s their opponents who are deluded. Take right wing Christian Senator Tom Coburn [17], who celebrated the possibility of default back in January by saying it would be a “wonderful experiment”. Being able to blow past all the advice of experts just to make stuff up you want to believe isn’t a quality that is unique to fundamentalists, but as these budget negotiations are making clear, they do have a uniquely strong ability to lie to themselves about what is and isn’t a real danger to themselves and to the world.

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Of Course Michele Bachmann Believes the End Times Are Here

Abby Ohlheiser, Atlantic Wire, Oct 7, 2013

Over the weekend, Rep. Michele Bachmann seemed to confirm what the congresswoman has long hinted: that she believes we are all currently living in the end of days, as fortold by the End Times scripture in the Bible. Speaking to “Understanding the Times” host Jan Markell, Bachmann connected the U.S.’s support of Syrian rebels directly to biblical prophecy that she believes outlines the signs of the end. On the show, Bachmann first falsely claims that the U.S. is funding and arming Islamic extremists in Syria, then says that based on that claim, “we are to understand where we are in God’s end times history.”

Bachmann is a frequent guest on Markell’s program, which is more or less devoted to discerning the signs of where we are in the End Times — her ministry functions off of the basic question of “when” and not “if” when it comes to the end of days. The content of this particular interview was first noticed by Right Wing Watch, who provide an excerpt and transcript of her End Times praise:

“[the U.S.'s funding of al Qaeda in Syria] happened and as of today the United States is willingly, knowingly, intentionally sending arms to terrorists, now what this says to me, I’m a believer in Jesus Christ, as I look at the End Times scripture, this says to me that the leaf is on the fig tree and we are to understand the signs of the times, which is your ministry, we are to understand where we are in God’s end times history. Rather than seeing this as a negative, we need to rejoice, Maranatha Come Lord Jesus, His day is at hand. When we see up is down and right is called wrong, when this is happening, we were told this; these days would be as the days of Noah.”

Bachmann’s relationship to “Understanding the Times” and its parent organization the Olive Tree Ministries hasn’t gone unnoticed. Back in 2011, Mother Jones did a long, quite good, story on Bachmann’s mixture of prophecy and politics. Her take on the extent of the U.S.’s backing of Israel is based in it, for instance: in 2010, Bachmann cited Genesis 12:3 while explaining her political stance on the subject: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” That’s a quote from God to Abraham, from whom in the Bible all Israelites are descended. And while she’s made a bunch of appearances over the years on Markell’s show, Bachmann herself has played a bit coy with that association, as Mother Jones found:

When Minneapolis’ City Pages first reported on Bachmann’s relationship with Markell in 2005, the then-state senator denied any knowledge of Olive Tree Ministries. However, Markell tells Mother Jones that she’s known Bachmann off and on for 35 years, and says she spoke about Israel at Bachmann’s church in the late 1970s. “My hunch is that they misquoted her,” Markell says. “She’s been at my conference. Why she would have said [otherwise], I don’t know.”

As evidenced by the logo of Olive Tree Ministries, the politics of Israel plays a huge role in many American flavors of End Times prophecy. The more literary set will know this from a Lawrence Wright piece in the New Yorker (later turned into a “This American Life” segment) on Clyde Lott, who tried to breed a blemish-free red heifer, which, according to prophecy, has to be sacrificed in a purity ritual before the Temple of Solomon can be rebuilt.

Talking about the End Times might not be a popular pursuit for members of Congress seeking re-election (which, remember, Bachmann is not), but it isn’t that rare among conservative American Christians. In the past month, two Christian groups have attempted to quantify that belief: a recent survey by the Evangelical polling group Barna  found that over 40 percent of Americans believe we’re in the End Timesa number that matches up with another recent survey asking a similar question from the Public Religion Research Institute, which has a different worldview from Barna. PRRI’s poll adds that 65 percent of White Evangelical Christians believe that the recent severity of natural disasters is a sign of the end. And LifeWay, associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, found that one in three Americans believe that the Syrian conflict is related to End Times prophecy. The LifeWay researchers believe the apocalyptic interest in Syria has a lot to do with its proximity to Israel.

Mitt, Moochers, and Mormonism’s “Other” Legacy

By Mary Barker, Religion Dispatches, September 21, 2012

Growing up with Mormon narratives—a two-part memoir and reflection on the good, the very bad, and a dreamed-for future. -  Mary Barker is a professor of political science at Syracuse University’s campus in Madrid, Spain as well as at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas

There are many stories on which a Mormon is raised: narratives of the elect, America and the Constitution, the latter days, and free agency—all of which play a role in Mitt Romney’s “severe” conservatism. The bombshell release of video in which he trumpets his disdain for moochers, and reveals a remarkably casual approach to Middle East politics, all resonate with the Calvinist heritage of Mormon theology, as well as with principal Mormon narratives. But Mormonism also holds the seeds of a decidedly progressive politics—a possible Mormon liberation theology.

Does Romney’s religion matter? It’s a question that has been asked many times this election season. My answer, below, is in two parts, as I journey from End Times theology (the “latter days”) through Mormonism’s radical social and political past.


I grew up at the end of the world. As a Latter-day Saint, I made my debut just before the final curtain. During my youth, rumors circulated about neighbors and boyfriends whose special “patriarchal blessings” prophesied that they would never taste of death. That fairly clearly set the limit on time. The rebellious Sixties just confirmed what the Cold War had already shown us—that we were in a final showdown with evil that would only get worse until the second coming of Jesus which is now.

Mormons have a smidgen of the survivalist in them. They expect total political and economic collapse, and are instructed to store what has come to be known as the “two-year supply”—a stock of water and imperishable food items to sustain them in the event of (the imminent) catastrophe. My dad used to tell us that he built our ranch to be able to house the extended family during the chaos to come; and possible treks on foot back to Nauvoo,Illinois, the site of the original Garden of Eden and the future New Jerusalem, punctuated normal conversation.

As an elementary school student, I used to draw crayon farms with imaginary fields that could provide for all our needs, and I am still plagued by an obsessive-compulsive ritual that must stem from these days. I harbor secret fears about being able to provide for my own children in the event of apocalypse, and play mental games in which I am magically granted all of the foods (“carrots, peas, beans, corn…”) or personal items (“soap, shampoo, toothpaste…”) that I can pronounce in my head before, let’s say, the subway door closes. (I’ve gotten good at it.)

End Times talk left me with an ingrained pessimism that took years to overcome.

The most sinister elements of the End Times narrative, however, involve the unconscious attitudes and orientations it engenders. These include a lack of social trust, militarism, and narcissism (a preoccupation with one’s own elect status and general safety and an interpretation of scripture in which ancient writings were really meant for us; the people to whom they were addressed being a sideshow in our drama).

Manichean and alarmist, it pits Light versus Dark—extreme dark. Those who belong to the Light “hear my voice” (i.e. recognize and believe the right doctrines—in this case, Mormon) and “follow my commandments,” which favor a “purity” understanding of religion. The Book of Mormon, for example, ranks fornication as “most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood” and Mormon leader Bruce R. McConkie wrote in his encyclopedic Mormon Doctrine that it is better to surrender your life than to allow someone to “steal your virtue,” leaving you “unclean.” It also encapsulates the class understandings of the Calvinist heritage.

Those of the Light should not be hard to identify, then. They are us. In these times, however, the wicked walk the earth disguised as the righteous, deceiving even the “very elect.” Despite a “veneer of piety,” McConkie warned, the Gentiles (non-Mormons) will be subject to “apostate darkness and… every form of evil.” “Any show of godliness is to be in form only,” he cautioned, “not in substance.” For the then-Apostle Ezra Taft Benson, this veneer was evident in the Sixties antiwar movement. He warned the faithful against wearing clothing or otherwise displaying “the broken cross, anti-Christ sign, that is the adversary’s symbol of the so-called ‘peace movement.’” The watchword, then, is beware.

In their nightmare scenarios, harsh punishments await the unbelieving and refractory. McConkie claimed that capital punishment was ordained of God and that sexual “perversions” were “worthy of death.” The fact that Western governments no longer applied such penalties simply attested to their “apostasy.” The God of Mormon scripture stands ready to damn the unbelieving, who are “ripe for destruction.” During the End Times, Jesus will lead God’s army with the “flame of devouring fire” to strike down the wicked, who will be “cast out,” “destroyed”—“the whole vineyard burned”—and become “as stubble.”

End Times talk fosters extremely conservative politics. Every change—in gender roles, in sexual mores, in the religious backdrop of national politics—represents a move toward Satan. This includes constitutional interpretations that allow for a living understanding of its principles. Shrouded in an aura of the Mormon divine, America’s founding documents must be preserved on stone tablets, not allowed to breathe and grow. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “We say that God is true; that the Constitution of the United States is true; that the Bible is true; [and] that the Book of Mormon is true.”

In its brashest manifestations, End Times thinking gives us Glenn Beck’s conspiracy theories, with their convoluted reasoning and circuitous connections. What sounds outrageous in the unapologetic, forthright discourse of Beck, however, springs from the unacknowledged or semi-conscious visions of a much larger segment of the population.

I have never met Beck, but I knew him as a child. His name back then was Cleon Skousen, and we had his books. The two brains think alike. Skousen’s The Naked Communist (1958) presented a paranoid and simplistic case for the worldwide Soviet-Communist conspiracy, with pages of instruction urging parents, teachers, students, and ministers to be ever alert to the stealth communist penetration of society (“education was infiltrated by the Socialist-Communist contingent over thirty-five years ago” and they have “ambitions to eliminate all local control”). From exposing left-leaning bias in the media to taking one’s children to church; being active in the PTA (“If you are not, Communists and centralized planners will take over”); fighting against the separation of church and state in the public schools; and subscribing to U.S. News and World Report; we were all to be vigilant or our children and our nation would soon be lost.

The Naked Communist was written at the urging of the Prophet David O. McKay, who also offered financial support; found a publisher; and recommended it over the airwaves at the 1959 Mormon General Conference (or “Conference”), the most important meetings in the Mormon year.

In Skousen’s follow up, The Naked Capitalist (1970), communists had already infiltrated the government, schools, media, and even the churches. Everyone was in on the conspiracy—especially the Democratic Party, but also Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon. He backed his claims by citing the Bible as easily as he did presumed communist insiders, and defended Senator Joseph McCarthy, the “tough, frustrated, American ex-Marine” who was crucified by the “liberal press.”

Skousen casts a long shadow. His work has been praised and promoted not only by Beck, but also by Romney and Rick Perry. At his funeral, Apostle (and now prophet) Thomas S. Monson eulogized him, as did Senator Orrin Hatch from the Senate floor. On occasion, he overstepped even Mormon bounds, however, and the Church eventually withdrew its active support.

“When the Prophet Speaks, the Debate is Over”

Nothing is pounded into a Mormon’s head more firmly than that the Church cannot steer him wrong. From the Prophet Brigham Young in 1870 (“I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call Scripture”) to the Improvement Era magazine of 1945 (“When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan—it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe”), the message is clear. The Apostle N. Eldon Tanner put it succinctly in 1979, When the prophet speaks the debate is over.”

“Follow the Prophet” is the theme of children’s songs, refrigerator magnets, breakfast mugs, and board games. The then-Apostle Harold B. Lee added politics: “You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church,” he cautioned. “It may contradict your political views… But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself… the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.’”

No leader was considered more in tune with the Lord’s political counsel than the Apostle and Prophet Ezra Taft Benson, who continues to be read and re-read today. A tireless anti-Communist crusader and admirer of the John Birch Society, Benson’s packaging of the message parallels Skousen’s right down to the racial affronts (he claimed that the civil rights movement was a “tool of Communist deception”). And while the Church could distance itself from Skousen, it could not (and still cannot) from Benson. Moreover, Benson’s jeremiads resonated with that of the Church hierarchy generally. Any who disagreed (rumors abounded) failed to speak publicly.

In Benson’s view, the Book of Mormon (considered a record from the ancient Americas) prophesied the communist conspiracies of his day. God had made this record available to us for our instruction, to learn from them and their destruction. He summed it up best in a Conference talk of 1972 by stating, “There is no conspiracy theory in the Book of Mormon. It is a conspiracy fact.” Skousen-like, he saw communism as having already penetrated deep into American society.

That any central planning served demonic ends was as evident to Benson as the Soviet Antichrists who practiced it; and it was as easy for him to make the hop, skip, and jump from central planning to federal regulations and redistribution in democratic societies as it is for Beck to draw straight lines on a chalkboard today. Moreover, since we stood opposed to them, our system—capitalism (already ordained by the Calvinist heritage)—stood as God’s alternative to the socioeconomic designs of the devil. Finally it may be concluded that, as with all things godly, the purer the better. Libertarian economics thus intertwined with cosmic reality to animate policy debates. But even this is an older story of rightward bias.

The Church supported right-to-work legislation even before the dawn of the twentieth century. As early as 1886, the Deseret News opposed any binding union activities. The Apostle Joseph F. Merrill, speaking at the 1941 Conference, referred to closed shops as “Satan’s club,” and in 1965, the Prophet David O. McKay wrote to Mormon congressmen urging them to protect right-to-work legislation in the name of “free agency.”

“That’s Not Flip-Flopping”

A key principle of Mormon theology, “free agency” is foundational, with roots extending all the way back to the Mormon pre-earthly existence, which was also the scene of a momentous battle. God had centered his plan for our earthly salvation on freedom, and had to defeat the followers of Lucifer, who proposed to force us all to obey God and thus guarantee our eternal reward. Ironically, however, Mormon leaders don’t apply the concept where it seems to fit best (the freedom to “sin”) but instead to economic policy, where it is largely irrelevant. Lucifer would have forced us to obey God’s commandments, not tampered with tax schedules.

Nevertheless, “free agency” became the rallying cry of right-wing politics; one in which no distinction was made between totalitarianism and the American safety net. Benson argued that supporting the “weak, indolent, and profligate,” was “economic and social cannibalism,” and that we shouldn’t “deny the fruits of success to those who produce.” Cleverly drawing on John Locke (Thomas Jefferson is cited only as a proponent of private charity), he contended that welfare programs were the “legalized plunder” of “unscrupulous individuals” and that the minimum wage would inevitably end in “totalitarianism.” Even a little bit of socialism was bad, he argued, being akin to “a little bit of theft or a little bit of cancer.”

The choices were stark; no less than between “God and liberty” or “atheism and slavery” (Conference, 1965). Benson even urged Mormons to precipitate Church leadership in the struggle, thereby proving their “valiance.” The devil had succeeded in “neutralizing much of the priesthood” (Mormon men), he argued. “To have been on the wrong side of the freedom issue during the war in heaven meant eternal damnation,” and nothing less hangs in the balance today. The “choice spirits” take the lead, he cajoled; they don’t wait “to be commanded in all things.” After all, the prophecy did not say that the Church would save the Constitution, but rather that the “elders of Israel” would. “What are you waiting for?” he wondered.

In the style of Beck, he claimed that to remain on the sidelines was akin to collaboration with Hitler. “There has never been a greater time to stand up against entrenched evil.” What counted as evil? “No matter what you call it—communism, socialism, or the welfare state—our freedom is sacrificed,” He went on to mention both the minimum wage and foreign aid.

Individual welfare initiatives, he warned in 1966, though seemingly innocuous, nevertheless represented the small doses of Satan’s piecemeal advance. Once again the rallying cry goes out: “Are you prepared to see some of your loved ones murdered, your remaining liberties abridged… and your eternal reward jeopardized?”

If this all sounds eerily like Tea Party madness, then you’ll understand why Utah is awash in it, but End Times talk isn’t just about communism and its supposed cousin, the welfare state. Big Conspiracies are on the move. Any large, powerful organization of global reach (except the US military) is suspect.

LaVerkin, Utah, for example, passed an ordinance in 2001 making it a “United Nations-free zone” (the UN being a “sign of the times” and a horrendous mistake that Skousen thought we should rectify). The law banned the UN from La Verkin and required anyone collaborating with it to file an annual report and post a sign in the window stating, “United Nations Work Conducted Here.” It also protected native La Verkin soldiers against UN “involuntary servitude.”

The Cold War is over; both Benson and Skousen are dead; but End Times influence lives on. Even those who might squirm at the more brazen scenarios may nevertheless have absorbed some of the assumptions; namely that the good works of outsiders prove nothing about their intentions; we can only trust our own (if Eisenhower is suspect, how much more so a Muslim Kenyan); and we must turn back the tide of welfare encroachment.

End Times talk is all about division—it’s us versus them. Ironically, Mormons are so trusting of us that Utah has become the scam capital of America, and the them is so politically skewed that no amount of good works on the part of the political left frees it of suspicion, nor does any scandal or plunder detract from the right’s “elect” status.

Despite his profligate past (as the pro-choice governor of Massachusettsand author of Romneycare), Mitt is one of the Mormon us. My mom tells a Romney redemption story that illustrates this us-them divide. She did not vote for Senator Kerry in the 2004 presidential election because, as she explained it, he “flip-flopped.” So when the next election rolled around, I teased her about her support for Romney, pointing out that he, too, had “flip-flopped”—and on issues important to the faith. “That’s not called flip-flopping,” she replied, “That’s called repentance.”


When I first cut my teeth on politics as a young adult, my dad and I had an argument in which he said (hyberbolically, and for effect) that he wished that he could resurrect FDR just in order to shoot him. So intertwined is Mormonism with the socioeconomic status quo that its Utah members often take the Republican Party to be God’s Party.

Mormon Utah is arguably the most conservative state in the Union, being the only one in which the third-party candidate for president in the 1992 election, Ross Perot, finished second, beating Bill Clinton. Mormon narratives borrowed from Calvinism favor the job-creating elite (heroes among the Mormon “elect”) and speak words of tough love to the unregenerate poor. Others borrowed from John Nelson Darby and the Dispensationalists place us at the end of the world in a Manichean showdown with evil. These narratives foster a “severely conservative” politics.

Yet neither exhausts the plethora of Mormon narratives, and the minority of Mormon Democrats finds plenty of sustenance in their religious tradition as well. Take my father, for instance. Despite his words and ballots cast, my Republican dad acted with the noblesse oblige of a Roosevelt. As the police commissioner for Salt Lake City, he donated a pay raise to buy sports equipment for the Central City Community Center, and when the Republicans tried to block the police from forming a union, my dad not only defended their right to it, but also helped them to set it up.

My mom was surprised one morning by a Native American gentleman at the doorstep who handed her an envelope full of cash. It turns out that, years before, my dad, a lawyer, had defended the tribe’s water rights and never sent a bill. Now that it had the money, the tribe wanted to pay.

The Democrats of Utah loved him. A professor of mine once congratulated me in the hallway—for my dad’s great work, he said. The last fifteen years of my dad’s career were spent in the consumer protection division at the Attorney General’s office, mostly fighting Utah Power & Light. So while my dad may have followed Calvinist and End Times political imperatives at the ballot box, he was a “King Benjamin” at heart.

The temporal and spiritual leader of Zarahemla (a Book of Mormon people), King Benjamin gave a long discourse that Mormons quote much like other Christians do the Sermon on the Mount. It includes plenty of hellfire and damnation, but also this: “I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” It goes on to warn against denying the petition of anyone for sustenance or aid by claiming, for instance, that the petitioner deserves his fate:

Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I… will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance… But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent… For behold, are we not all beggars?

If End Times talk is closed and divisive, King Benjamin talk is open and charitable, releasing some of the puffed up air of the “elect.” Kindness; compassion, service; they are so much the currency of religion that it’s sometimes easy to overlook them, but Mormons spend more of their time thinking about how to help the neighbors than they do worrying about communist teachers in the schools.Utah breathes volunteerism just as it does Tea Party platitudes, and the two are not unrelated; for the best of conservatism isn’t about astringent Calvinism, but rather the efficacy of private action.

Even critics of Mormonism attest to this spirit of King Benjamin in their characterization of them as “unceasingly kind.” Matt Stone, co-creator with Trey Parker of South Park, whose episode on the Joseph Smith story is punctuated with the musical refrain “dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb,” has stated that “[e]very Mormon we’ve met is a nice person. And even when they know who Trey and I are from our work—work that some Mormons don’t really like—they’re totally nice to us.”

Beyond individual charity, however, a central pillar of Mormon doctrine is unabashedly communitarian. The initial Mormon movement broke social norms in a way so shocking that they were forced to flee the United States to what was then the wilderness. These early Mormons practiced polygamy, of course, but equally shocking was their following of the United Order—a short-lived communal sharing arrangement that while not eliminating private property altogether nevertheless substantially redistributed land and output for the benefit of all. Considered God’s plan for his children, this moves Mormons beyond individualism and towards a Christian form of socialism. Largely relegated to the dusty past, its theological standing is nevertheless much firmer than any right-to-work politics that has dominated the tradition of late.

Perhaps the best contrast between the jealous End Times mentality and the open King Benjamin heart, however, may be seen in what is referred to now as the “clash of civilizations.” In my day, it didn’t involve Muslims so much as it did Catholics, who are condemned by Mormons much more severely than others in that they are considered responsible for the “great apostasy” of the Church. The Mormon restoration narrative requires, of course, a previous demonic apostasy, and in Mormon Manichean discourse the Catholic Church is scary.

Catholicism, Mormons claim, was founded by “the devil” (Apostle Orson Pratt). It has produced nothing but “famine for the word of God,” profound “intellectual stupor,” and dense “spiritual darkness” (B. H. Roberts, Mormon theologian). In Catholicism, “Satan’s own culture flourished” and its sacraments have “befouled” those originally given by the Lord. The pope is the “son of perdition” and it all reeks with the stench of blasphemy, idolatry, and lust which do nothing but “defile the earth” (Apostle James E. Talmage). It is surely the “Church of the Devil,” the “mother of harlots,” and the “whore of all the earth” (McConkie). My own grandfather contributed to this narrative with works like Apostasy from theDivineChurch.

Yet, a separate narrative softens, if not negates, such judgments. When the first Catholics and Jews trickled into Utah territory, for example, the Prophet Brigham Young opened Mormon churches for their use until they could build their own houses of worship. Knowing something about the Catholic Mass, the Mormon director of the Saint George Tabernacle Choir directed his group in the singing of the Catholic liturgy, in Latin, so that a high Mass could be sung for the newly arrived Father Scanlon in 1873.

Catholics have been extended free airtime on Mormon-owned radio stations and Mormon largesse has contributed to the renovation of the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City as well as to Catholic soup kitchens and other humanitarian efforts. Mormon and Catholic leaders have prayed in each others’ houses of worship and collaborated on a number of political initiatives. Speaking at the commemoration of the Cathedral’s one hundredth birthday, the Prophet Thomas S. Monson acknowledged the ecumenical spirit expressed in its tolling of the bells at the passing of each Mormon prophet since 1919.

Heavenly Mother

Mormonism’s Calvinist heritage is trumped—at least theologically, if not politically—by the United Order and King Benjamin sensitivities. Its Manichean elements have been softened through its coexistence with the flesh and blood faithful from outside the tradition. Other elements of Mormonism similarly cut in more than one way. Central to contemporary debates concerning gender and sexuality, for example, are Mormon narratives of the priesthood (it is only for men) and the family. While the former has been channeled into an attack on feminism (the Church campaigned vigorously against the ERA), it has not prevented the Church from empowering women.

In the nineteenth century, Romania Bunnell Pratt was the second woman doctor west of the Mississippi(1877) and one of many Mormon women of the time who were encouraged to attend universities in the East.Utah Territoryextended women the right to vote as early as 1869, earning it a visit by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Martha Hughes Cannon, a physician (University of Michigan, 1881), and polygamist Mormon wife, successfully ran against her own husband to become America’s first female state senator. This should not be surprising coming from a tradition that includes a goddess, Heavenly Mother.

(Other traditionally marginalized groups may not fare so well with Mormon doctrine. Homosexual unions, for example, run counter to Mormon narratives in a way that working women do not. They challenge not only traditional marriage on earth but the whole cosmic Mormon family plan which requires heterosexual partners that progress to godhood, beget spirit children, and raise families for eternity.)

A Mormon Liberation Theology?

One of the best kept secrets in the tradition is that early on Mormons were overwhelmingly Democrats, so much so that the Prophet Brigham Young assigned certain families to become Republican in order to create a bipartisan environment. Utah voted for FDR four times and Truman thereafter. It did not become solidly Republican until the 1950s, and was undoubtedly influenced by the Cold War and then the turmoil of the civil rights movement and rebellious youth culture. The deal was sealed by Roe v. Wade.

With the Cold War fading, however, apocalyptic narratives may abate, opening space for new “King Benjamin” political alignments. Mormons have not followed some of their Evangelical counterparts in their substitution of Islam for the Soviet menace, for example, and there are no Mormon gaffes on this score akin to those of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Franklin Graham—even though End Times prophesies place Mormons squarely behind Israel in all land disputes with its Muslim neighbors. Abortion remains a challenge, but with no doctrinal obstacles to birth control, Mormons could join hands with likeminded Democrats to forge a more robust policy of prevention.

Most importantly, there are seeds for a Mormon left-leaning politics in its cosmic tales, and perhaps even for a Mormon form of liberation theology. “Free agency,” the lynchpin of the Mormon Plan of Salvation, emphasizes the individual’s right to choose his or her own path (to follow God or to go one’s own way); the narrative of King Benjamin; the United Order; and the conception of a Heavenly Mother (co-equal with God), along with Mormonism’s previous empowerment of women all provide potential resources for a discourse that speaks to the liberation and well-being of all.

So steeped was my childhood in King Benjamin sympathies that I await the catalyst that gives rise to a waiting-in-the-unconscious wave of social justice politics across my beloved Mormon valley. In my own restoration daydreams, the pre-Tea Party Romney once played the role of Nixon opening China—the Mormon politician who flip-flops one last time to let his King Benjamin heart flood the Tea Party plains. While Mitt has since dashed the hopes of this particular fantasy, there are certainly others waiting in the wings.



Right wing religious extremism

… what I’m willing to do, which the mainstream church is not, is to denounce the Christian right as Christian heretics…what they have done is acculturate the worst aspects of American imperialism, capitalism, chauvinism, and violence and bigotry into the Christian religion… I think the great failure of the liberal tradition that I come out of is they were too frightened and too timid to stand up. I don’t know why they spent all the years in seminary if they didn’t realize that when they walked out the door they were going to have to fight for it. And they didn’t fight for it. Chris Hedges on Christian Heretics,, Nov 2, 2013 -

How Christian Delusions Are Driving the GOP Insane

‘Republicanity’—The GOP Transformation is Nearly Complete By Gary Laderman,, July 17, 2011   …The Republican Party is no longer a political party—it’s a full-fledged religious movement. The political ideology fueling this movement is religious to the core… it offers an unequivocal command: followers are children who must be obedient in the face of authority.…It is like the most narrow and conservative religious cultures in its absolutist ethical positions and refusal to tolerate any difference of opinion….

How the Unholy Alliance Between the Christian Right and Wall Street Is ‘Crucifying America’

American Theocracy — Clear and Present Dangers by Alan Brinkley, March 20, 2006 by the New York Times

The Reli­gious Right and The Repub­li­can Plat­form, by Lau­ren Feeney,, August 31, 2012 — …The forty-year time­line below traces the increased inclu­sion in the plat­form of the lan­guage and ideals of the Reli­gious Right…1976: first men­tion of abortion1976 Fol­low­ing the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade deci­sion, the Repub­li­can plat­form calls for “a posi­tion on abor­tion that val­ues human life.” It also asserts that “Our great Amer­i­can Repub­lic was founded on the prin­ci­ple: One nation under God, with lib­erty and jus­tice for all.”…2012: first men­tion of the “war on reli­gion” 2012 This year, there’s a resur­gence of reli­gious rhetoric and ide­ol­ogy. The party’s plat­form con­tains 10 ref­er­ences to God, 19 ref­er­ences to faith and the first ref­er­ence to a “war on reli­gion.” Cit­ing what it calls the Obama administration’s “attempt to com­pel faith-related insti­tu­tions, as well as believ­ing indi­vid­u­als, to con­tra­vene their deeply held reli­gious, moral, or eth­i­cal beliefs regard­ing health ser­vices, tra­di­tional mar­riage, or abor­tion,” the plat­form accuses “lib­eral elites” of try­ing to “drive reli­gious beliefs — and reli­gious believ­ers — out of the pub­lic square.”

Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party by Juan Gonzalez, Democracy Now! September 5, 2009


The Pundits and the Dominionists by Julie Ingersoll,, August 26, 2011 …The increase in coverage of the religious right’s longterm strategy to transform American culture has led to a number of responses charging “leftists” with fearmongering… Reconstructionists themselves  hold a view of knowledge that says that there are really only two possible worldviews (a biblical one and a humanist one that comes in several varieties) and that both worldview are in a conflict for dominion (so in their view “we” are fighting for it too)……These broad cultural changes have developed, in part, from a longterm strategy…the most important component of which is the education of children (theirs and insofar as is practical other peoples’ as well). It is not fearmongering, paranoia, or religious bigotry to try to understand their goals and strategies. In fact, it’s irresponsible not to. 

Religion wars

The Spiritual and Political Warfare of the New Religious Right by Bill Berkowitz for Buzzflash at Truthout, July 9, 2013 – As many of the pre-Reagan era Religious Right leaders retire and/or die off, beware of the new breed. Lou Engle is one of the new breed…the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), the charismatic evangelical political and religious movement that he has come to personify, has made such a splash that it threatens to drown out the more traditional voices of the Christian Right.…Rachel Tabachnick wrote in a long essay titled “The Christian Right, Reborn: The New Apostolic Reformation Goes to War,” in the Spring 2013 issue of Political Research Associates’ The Public Eye… “Engle has staged more than 20 similar rallies, and each has attracted tens of thousands of participants to stadiums across the United States. He and his organization have also become deeply involved in U.S. politics, especially in anti choice and antigay organizing,” …What the movement is really after is “to unify evangelical and all Protestant Christianity into a postdenominational structure, bringing about a reformation in the way that churches relate to one other, and in individual churches’ internal governance.” Engle calls for massive “spiritual warfare” that will result in a complete worldwide “political and social transformation”: “The revolution begins, they believe, with the casting out of demons, Tabachnick states…Demonic activity has caused the downfall of society, both at home and abroad. “The sources of demonic activity can include homosexuality, abortion, non-Christian religions, and even sins from the past.” …To achieve its goals, the NAR aims to have its apostles seize control over every important aspect of society, including, the government, military, entertainment industry and education.” If the NAR falls short of world denomination, it intends, as a minimum, to “turn America back to God.”…

Right-Wing Religion’s War on America By Rob Boston

10 Ways Right-Wing Christian Groups Will Likely Shove Religion Down Your Throat This Year By Simon Brown, Church & State Magazine, January 4, 2012

How the Fundamentalist Mind Compels Conservative Christians to Force Their Beliefs on You By Valerie Tarico, AlterNet, March 7, 2012

Why It’s Okay to Criticize Fundamentalist Evangelicals by Tom Eggebeen

Policy wars

How the Religious Right Is Fueling Climate Change Denial

How Pro­pa­gan­dists for the 1% Are Manip­u­lat­ing Chris­t­ian Teach­ings to Rob the Mid­dle Class

With Millions in Assets And Hundreds of Attorneys, Christian Right Is Waging War on the Church-State Wall, By Rob Boston, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, posted on, March 5, 2013 

Christian fundamentalist extremism

The Tragic Story of Christianity: How a Pacifist Religion Was Hijacked by Rabid Warmongering Elites By Gary G. Kohls, Consortium News, January 30, 2012

The Wild Hypocrisy of America’s Conservative Christians By David Sirota,, April 20, 2012

Group Behind King James Bible Congressional Resolution Thinks Obama Might Be Antichrist by Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches, April 26, 2011

The Christian Fascists Are Growing Stronger by Chris Hedges,, June 8, 2012

The Biggest Religious Movement You Never Heard of: Nine Things You Need to Know About Rick Perry’s Prayer Event by Paul Rosenberg, AlterNet, August 6, 2011

End times

Of Course Michele Bachmann Believes the End Times Are Here by Abby Ohlheiser, Atlantic Wire, Oct 7, 2013

The End Times come to prime time by Jeanne Halgren Kilde, StarTribune, April 13, 2005


The Radical Christian Right and the War on Government  by Chris Hedges,, posted on, October 7, 2013

The Values Voter Summit doesn’t own God

In Head and Heart: A History of Christianity in America

The Delu­sional Is No Longer Mar­ginal by Bill Moy­ers, pub­lished as “There Is No Tomorrow” By Bill Moy­ers in the Jan­u­ary 30, 2005 Star­Tri­bune, Min­neapo­lis  -  One of the biggest changes in pol­i­tics in my life­time is that the delu­sional is no longer mar­ginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power… For the first time in our his­tory, ide­ol­ogy and the­ol­ogy hold a monop­oly of power in Wash­ing­ton. The­ol­ogy asserts propo­si­tions that can­not be proven true; ide­o­logues hold stoutly to a world­view despite being con­tra­dicted by what is gen­er­ally accepted as reality.……What has hap­pened to our moral imag­i­na­tion?  The news is not good these days. I can tell you that as a jour­nal­ist I know the news is never the end of the story. The news can be the truth that sets us free — free to fight for the future we want. And the will to fight is the anti­dote to despair, the cure for cyn­i­cism… the capac­ity to see, to feel and then to act as if the future depended on you. Believe me, it does.