The Last Temptation

The Last Temptation by Michael Gerson, The Atlantic, May 2018

How evangelicals, once culturally confident, became an anxious minority seeking political protection from the least traditionally religious president in living memory

One of the most extraordinary things about our current politics—really, one of the most extraordinary developments of recent political history—is the loyal adherence of religious conservatives to Donald Trump. The president won four-fifths of the votes of white evangelical Christians. This was a higher level of support than either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, an outspoken evangelical himself, ever received.

Trump’s background and beliefs could hardly be more incompatible with traditional Christian models of life and leadership. Trump’s past political stances (he once supported the right to partial-birth abortion), his character (he has bragged about sexually assaulting women), and even his language (he introduced the words pussy and shithole into presidential discourse) would more naturally lead religious conservatives toward exorcism than alliance. This is a man who has cruelly publicized his infidelities, made disturbing sexual comments about his elder daughter, and boasted about the size of his penis on the debate stage. His lawyer reportedly arranged a $130,000 payment to a porn star to dissuade her from disclosing an alleged affair. Yet religious conservatives who once blanched at PG-13 public standards now yawn at such NC-17 maneuvers. We are a long way from The Book of Virtues.

Trump supporters tend to dismiss moral scruples about his behavior as squeamishness over the president’s “style.” But the problem is the distinctly non-Christian substance of his values. Trump’s unapologetic materialism—his equation of financial and social success with human achievement and worth—is a negation of Christian teaching. His tribalism and hatred for “the other” stand in direct opposition to Jesus’s radical ethic of neighbor love. Trump’s strength-worship and contempt for “losers” smack more of Nietzsche than of Christ. Blessed are the proud. Blessed are the ruthless. Blessed are the shameless. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after fame.

According to Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelicals have “found their dream president,” which says something about the current quality of evangelical dreams.

And yet, a credible case can be made that evangelical votes were a decisive factor in Trump’s improbable victory. Trump himself certainly acts as if he believes they were. Many individuals, causes, and groups that Trump pledged to champion have been swiftly sidelined or sacrificed during Trump’s brief presidency. The administration’s outreach to white evangelicals, however, has been utterly consistent.

Trump-allied religious leaders have found an open door at the White House—what Richard Land, the president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, calls “unprecedented access.” In return, they have rallied behind the administration in its times of need. “Clearly, this Russian story is nonsense,” explains the mega-church pastor Paula White-Cain, who is not generally known as a legal or cybersecurity expert. Pastor David Jeremiah has compared Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to Joseph and Mary: “It’s just like God to use a young Jewish couple to help Christians.” According to Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelicals have “found their dream president,” which says something about

Loyalty to Trump has involved progressively more difficult, self-abasing demands. And there appears to be no limit to what some evangelical leaders will endure. Figures such as Falwell and Franklin Graham followed Trump’s lead in supporting Judge Roy Moore in the December Senate election in Alabama. These are religious leaders who have spent their entire adult lives bemoaning cultural and moral decay. Yet they publicly backed a candidate who was repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct, including with a 14-year-old girl.the current quality of evangelical dreams.

In January, following reports that Trump had referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries,” Pastor Robert Jeffress came quickly to his defense. “Apart from the vocabulary attributed to him,” Jeffress wrote, “President Trump is right on target in his sentiment.” After reports emerged that Trump’s lawyer paid hush money to the porn star Stormy Daniels to cover up their alleged sexual encounter, Graham vouched for Trump’s “concern for Christian values.” Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, argued that Trump should be given a “mulligan” for his past infidelity. One can only imagine the explosion of outrage if President Barack Obama had been credibly accused of similar offenses.

The moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption. Blinded by political tribalism and hatred for their political opponents, these leaders can’t see how they are undermining the causes to which they once dedicated their lives. Little remains of a distinctly Christian public witness.

As the prominent evangelical pastor Tim Keller—who is not a Trump loyalist—recently wrote in The New Yorker, “ ‘Evangelical’ used to denote people who claimed the high moral ground; now, in popular usage, the word is nearly synonymous with ‘hypocrite.’ ” So it is little wonder that last year the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship, an 87-year-old ministry, dropped the “E word” from its name, becoming the Princeton Christian Fellowship: Too many students had identified the term with conservative political ideology. Indeed, a number of serious evangelicals are distancing themselves from the word for similar reasons.

I find this desire understandable but not compelling. Some words, like strategic castles, are worth defending, and evangelical is among them. While the term is notoriously difficult to define, it certainly encompasses a “born-again” religious experience, a commitment to the authority of the Bible, and an emphasis on the redemptive power of Jesus Christ.

I was raised in an evangelical home, went to an evangelical church and high school, and began following Christ as a teen. After attending Georgetown University for a year, I transferred to Wheaton College in Illinois—sometimes called “the Harvard of evangelical Protestantism”—where I studied theology. I worked at an evangelical nonprofit, Prison Fellowship, before becoming a staffer for Senator Dan Coats of Indiana (a fellow Wheaton alum). On Capitol Hill, I found many evangelical partners in trying to define a “compassionate conservatism.” And as a policy adviser and the chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush, I saw how evangelical leaders such as Rick and Kay Warren could be principled, tireless advocates in the global fight against aids.

Those experiences make me hesitant to abandon the word evangelical. They also make seeing the defilement of that word all the more painful. The corruption of a political party is regrettable. The corruption of a religious tradition by politics is tragic, shaming those who participate in it.

How did something so important and admirable become so disgraced? For many people, including myself, this question involves both intellectual analysis and personal angst. The answer extends back some 150 years, and involves cultural and political shifts that long pre-date Donald Trump. It is the story of how an influential and culturally confident religious movement became a marginalized and anxious minority seeking political protection under the wing of a man such as Trump, the least traditionally Christian figure—in temperament, behavior, and evident belief—to assume the presidency in living memory.

Understanding that evolution requires understanding the values that once animated American evangelicalism. It is a movement that was damaged in the fall from a great height.

My alma mater, Wheaton College, was founded by abolitionist evangelicals in 1860 under the leadership of Jonathan Blanchard, an emblematic figure in mid-19th-century Northern evangelicalism. Blanchard was part of a generation of radical malcontents produced by the Second Great Awakening, a religious revival that had touched millions of American lives in the first half of the 19th century. He was a Presbyterian minister, a founder of several radical newspapers, and an antislavery agitator.

In the years before the Civil War, a connection between moralism and a concern for social justice was generally assumed among Northern evangelicals. They variously militated for temperance, humane treatment of the mentally disabled, and prison reform. But mainly they militated for the end of slavery. 
Indeed, Wheaton welcomed both African American and female students, and served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. In a history of the 39th Regiment of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry, the infantryman Ezra Cook recalled that “runaway slaves were perfectly safe in the College building, even when no attempt was made to conceal their presence.”

Blanchard had explained his beliefs in an 1839 commencement address given at Oberlin College, titled “A Perfect State of Society.” He preached that “every true minister of Christ is a universal reformer, whose business it is, so far as possible, to reform all the evils which press on human concerns.” Elsewhere he argued that “slave-holding is not a solitary, but a social sin.” He added: “I rest my opposition to slavery upon the one-bloodism of the New Testament. All men are equal, because they are of one equal blood.”

During this period, evangelicalism was largely identical to mainstream Protestantism. Evangelicals varied widely in their denominational beliefs, but they uniformly agreed about the need for a personal decision to accept God’s grace through faith in Christ. The evangelist Charles G. Finney, who was the president of Oberlin College from 1851 to 1866, described his conversion experience thusly: “I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love.”

Early evangelicals were an optimistic lot who thought that human effort could help hasten the arrival of the Second Coming.

In politics, evangelicals tended to identify New England, and then the whole country, with biblical Israel. Many a sermon described America as a place set apart for divine purposes. “Some nation,” the evangelical minister Lyman Beecher said, “itself free, was needed, to blow the trumpet and hold up the light.” (Beecher’s daughter Harriet Beecher Stowe was among the founders of this magazine.) The burden of this calling was a collective responsibility to remain virtuous, in matters from ending slavery to ending Sabbath-breaking.

This was not advocacy for theocracy, and evangelical leaders were not blind to the risks of too close a relationship with worldly power. “The injudicious association of religion with politics, in the time of Cromwell,” Beecher argued, “brought upon evangelical doctrine and piety, in England, an odium which has not ceased to this day.” Yet few evangelicals would have denied that God’s covenantal relationship with America required a higher standard of private and public morality, lest that divine blessing be forfeited.

Perhaps most important, prior to the Civil War, evangelicals were by and large postmillennialists—that is, they believed that the final millennium of human history would be a time of peace for the world and of expansion for the Christian Church, culminating in the Second Coming of Christ. As such, they were an optimistic lot who thought that human effort could help hasten the arrival of this promised era—a belief that encouraged both social activism and global missionary activity. “Evangelicals generally regarded almost any sort of progress as evidence of the advance of the kingdom,” the historian George Marsden observes in Fundamentalism and American Culture.

In the mid-19th century, evangelicalism was the predominant religious tradition in Americaa faith assured of its social position, confident in its divine calling, welcoming of progress, and hopeful about the future. Fifty years later, it was losing intellectual and social ground on every front. Twenty-five years beyond that, it had become a national joke.

The horrors of the Civil War took a severe toll on the social optimism at the heart of postmillennialism. It was harder to believe in the existence of a religious golden age that included Antietam. At the same time, industrialization and urbanization loosened traditional social bonds and created an impression of moral chaos. The mass immigration of Catholics and Jews changed the face and spiritual self-conception of the country. (In 1850, Catholics made up about 5 percent of the population. By 1906, they represented 17 percent.) Evangelicals struggled to envision a diverse, and some believed degenerate, America as the chosen, godly republic of their imagination.

But it was a series of momentous intellectual developments that most effectively drove a wedge between evangelicalism and elite culture. Higher criticism of the Bible—a scholarly movement out of Germany that picked apart the human sources and development of ancient texts—called into question the roots, accuracy, and historicity of the book that constituted the ultimate source of evangelical authority. At the same time, the theory of evolution advanced a new account of human origin. Advocates of evolution, as well as those who denied it most vigorously, took the theory as an alternative to religious accounts—and in many cases to Christian belief itself.

Religious progressives sought common ground between the Christian faith and the new science and higher criticism. Many combined their faith with the Social Gospel—a postmillennialism drained of the miraculous, with social reform taking the place of the Second Coming.

Religious conservatives, by contrast, rebelled against this strategy of accommodation in a series of firings and heresy trials designed to maintain control of seminaries. (Woodrow Wilson’s uncle James lost his job at Columbia Theological Seminary for accepting evolution as compatible with the Bible.) But these tactics generally backfired, and seminary after seminary, college after college, fell under the influence of modern scientific and cultural assumptions. To contest progressive ideas, the religiously orthodox published a series of books called The Fundamentals. Hence the term fundamentalism, conceived in a spirit of desperate reaction.

Fundamentalism embraced traditional religious views, but it did not propose a return to an older evangelicalism. Instead it responded to modernity in ways that cut it off from its own past. In reacting against higher criticism, it became simplistic and overliteral in its reading of scripture. In reacting against evolution, it became anti-scientific in its general orientation. In reacting against the Social Gospel, it came to regard the whole concept of social justice as a dangerous liberal idea. This last point constituted what some scholars have called the “Great Reversal,” which took place from about 1900 to 1930. “All progressive social concern,” Marsden writes, “whether political or private, became suspect among revivalist evangelicals and was relegated to a very minor role.”

This general pessimism about the direction of society was reflected in a shift away from postmillennialism and toward premillennialism. In this view, the current age is tending not toward progress, but rather toward decadence and chaos under the influence of Satan. A new and better age will not be inaugurated until the Second Coming of Christ, who is the only one capable of cleaning up the mess. No amount of human effort can hasten that day, or ultimately save a doomed world. For this reason, social activism was deemed irrelevant to the most essential task: the work of preparing oneself, and helping others prepare, for final judgment.

The banishment of fundamentalism from the cultural mainstream culminated dramatically in a Tennessee courthouse in 1925. William Jennings Bryan, the most prominent Christian politician of his time, was set against Clarence Darrow and the theory of evolution at the Scopes “monkey trial,” in which a Tennessee educator was tried for teaching the theory in high school. Bryan won the case but not the country. The journalist and critic H. L. Mencken provided the account accepted by history, dismissing Bryan as “a tin pot pope in the Coca-Cola belt and a brother to the forlorn pastors who belabor half-wits in galvanized iron tabernacles behind the railroad yards.” Fundamentalists became comic figures, subject to world-class condescension.

It has largely slipped the mind of history that Bryan was a peace activist as secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson and that his politics foreshadowed the New Deal. And Mencken was eventually revealed as a racist, an anti-Semite, and a eugenics advocate. In the fundamentalist–modernist controversy, there was only one winner. “In the course of roughly thirty-five years,” the sociologist James Davison Hunter observes in American Evangelicalism, “Protestantism had moved from a position of cultural dominance to a position of cognitive marginality and political impotence.” Activism and optimism were replaced by the festering resentment of status lost.

The fundamentalists were not passive in their exile. They created a web of institutions—radio stations, religious schools, outreach ministries—that eventually constituted a healthy subculture. The country, meanwhile, was becoming less secular and more welcoming of religious influence. (In 1920, church membership in the United States was 43 percent. By 1960, it was 63 percent.) A number of leaders, including the theologian Carl Henry and the evangelist Billy Graham (the father of Franklin Graham), bridled at fundamentalist irrelevance. Henry’s book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism was influential in urging greater cultural and intellectual engagement. This reemergence found its fullest expression in Graham, who left the fundamentalist ghetto, hobnobbed with presidents, and presented to the public a more appealing version of evangelicalism—a term that was deliberately employed as a contrast to the older, narrower fundamentalism.

Fox News and conservative talk radio are vastly greater influences on evangelicals’ political identity than formal statements by religious denominations.

Not everyone was impressed. When Graham planned mass evangelistic meetings in New York City in 1957, the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr editorialized against his “petty moralizing.” But Niebuhr’s attack on Graham provoked significant backlash, even in liberal theological circles. During a 16-week “crusade” that played to packed houses, Graham was joined one night at Madison Square Garden by none other than Martin Luther King Jr.

Over time, evangelicalism got a revenge of sorts in its historical rivalry with liberal Christianity. Adherents of the latter gradually found better things to do with their Sundays than attend progressive services. In 1972, nearly 28 percent of the population belonged to mainline-Protestant churches. That figure is now well below 15 percent. Over those four decades, however, evangelicals held steady at roughly 25 percent of the public (though this share has recently declined). As its old theological rival faded—or, more accurately, collapsed—evangelical endurance felt a lot like momentum.

With the return of this greater institutional self-confidence, evangelicals might have expected to play a larger role in determining cultural norms and standards. But their hopes ran smack into the sexual revolution, along with other rapid social changes. The Moral Majority appeared at about the same time that the actual majority was more and more comfortable with divorce and couples living together out of wedlock. Evangelicals experienced the power of growing numbers and healthy subcultural institutions even as elite institutions—from universities to courts to Hollywood—were decisively rejecting traditional ideals.

As a result, the primary evangelical political narrative is adversarial, an angry tale about the aggression of evangelicalism’s cultural rivals. In a remarkably free country, many evangelicals view their rights as fragile, their institutions as threatened, and their dignity as assailed. The single largest religious demographic in the United States—representing about half the Republican political coalition—sees itself as a besieged and disrespected minority. In this way, evangelicals have become simultaneously more engaged and more alienated.

The overall political disposition of evangelical politics has remained decidedly conservative, and also decidedly reactive. After shamefully sitting out (or even opposing) the civil-rights movement, white evangelicals became activated on a limited range of issues. They defended Christian schools against regulation during Jimmy Carter’s administration. They fought against Supreme Court decisions that put tight restrictions on school prayer and removed many state limits on abortion. The sociologist Nathan Glazer describes such efforts as a “defensive offensive”—a kind of morally indignant pushback against a modern world that, in evangelicals’ view, had grown hostile and oppressive.

This attitude was happily exploited by the modern GOP. Evangelicals who were alienated by the pro-choice secularism of Democratic presidential nominees were effectively courted to join the Reagan coalition. “I know that you can’t endorse me,” Reagan told an evangelical conference in 1980, “but I only brought that up because I want you to know that I endorse you.” In contrast, during his presidential run four years later, Walter Mondale warned of “radical preachers,” and his running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, denounced the “extremists who control the Republican Party.” By attacking evangelicals, the Democratic Party left them with a relatively easy partisan choice.

Billy Graham (right) left the fundamentalist ghetto, hobnobbed with presidents, and presented to the public a more appealing version of evangelicalism. (Bettmann / Getty)

The leaders who had emerged within evangelicalism varied significantly in tone and approach. Billy Graham was the uncritical priest to the powerful. (His inclination to please was memorialized on one of the Nixon tapes, in comments enabling the president’s anti-Semitism.) James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, was the prickly prophet, constantly threatening to bolt from the Republican coalition unless social-conservative purity was maintained. Jerry Falwell Sr. and Pat Robertson (the latter of whom ran for president himself in 1988) tried to be political kingmakers. And, following his dramatic conversion, Chuck Colson, of Watergate infamy, founded Prison Fellowship in an attempt to revive some of the old abolitionist spirit as an advocate of prison reform. Yet much of this variety was blurred in the public mind, with religious right used as a catchall epithet.

Where did this history leave evangelicals’ political involvement?

For a start, modern evangelicalism has an important intellectual piece missing. It lacks a model or ideal of political engagement—an organizing theory of social action. Over the same century from Blanchard to Falwell, Catholics developed a coherent, comprehensive tradition of social and political reflection. Catholic social thought includes a commitment to solidarity, whereby justice in a society is measured by the treatment of its weakest and most vulnerable members. And it incorporates the principle of subsidiarity—the idea that human needs are best met by small and local institutions (though higher-order institutions have a moral responsibility to intervene when local ones fail).

In practice, this acts as an “if, then” requirement for Catholics, splendidly complicating their politics: If you want to call yourself pro-life on abortion, then you have to oppose the dehumanization of migrants. If you criticize the devaluation of life by euthanasia, then you must criticize the devaluation of life by racism. If you want to be regarded as pro-family, then you have to support access to health care. And vice versa. The doctrinal whole requires a broad, consistent view of justice, which—when it is faithfully applied—cuts across the categories and clichés of American politics. Of course, American Catholics routinely ignore Catholic social thought. But at least they have it. Evangelicals lack a similar tradition of their own to disregard.

So where do evangelicals get their theory of social engagement? It is cheating to say (as most evangelicals probably would) “the Bible.” The Christian Bible, after all, can be a vexing document: At various points, it offers approving accounts of genocide and recommends the stoning of insubordinate children. Some interpretive theory must elevate the Golden Rule above Iron Age ethics and apply that higher ideal to the tragic compromises of public life. Lacking an equivalent to Catholic social thought, many evangelicals seem to find their theory merely by following the contours of the political movement that is currently defending, and exploiting, them. The voter guides of religious conservatives have often been suspiciously similar to the political priorities of movement conservatism. Fox News and talk radio are vastly greater influences on evangelicals’ political identity than formal statements by religious denominations or from the National Association of Evangelicals. In this Christian political movement, Christian theology is emphatically not the primary motivating factor.

The evangelical political agenda, moreover, has been narrowed by its supremely reactive nature. Rather than choosing their own agendas, evangelicals have been pulled into a series of social and political debates started by others. Why the asinine issue of spiritually barren prayer in public schools? Because of Justice Hugo Black’s 1962 opinion rendering it unconstitutional. Why such an effort-wasting emphasis on a constitutional amendment to end abortion, which will never pass? Because in 1973 Justice Harry Blackmun located the right to abortion in the constitutional penumbra. Why the current emphasis on religious liberty? Because the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing same-sex marriage has raised fears of coercion.

It is not that secularization, abortion, and religious liberty are trivial issues; they are extremely important. But the timing and emphasis of evangelical responses have contributed to a broad sense that evangelical political engagement is negative, censorious, and oppositional. This funneled focus has also created the damaging impression that Christians are obsessed with sex. Much of the secular public hears from Christians only on issues of sexuality—from contraceptive mandates to gay rights to transgender bathroom usage. And while religious people do believe that sexual ethics are important, the nature of contemporary religious engagement creates a misimpression about just how important they are relative to other crucial issues.

The upside potential of evangelical social engagement was illustrated by an important, but largely overlooked, initiative that I witnessed while working at the White House. The President’s Emergency Plan for aids Relief (pepfar)—the largest initiative by a nation in history to fight a single disease—emerged in part from a sense of moral obligation informed by George W. Bush’s evangelical faith. In explaining and defending the program, Bush made constant reference to Luke 12:48: “To whom much is given, much is required.” pepfar also owes its existence to a strange-bedfellows political alliance of liberal global-health advocates and evangelical leaders, who had particular standing and sway with Republican members of Congress. Rather than being a response to secular aggression, this form of evangelical social engagement was the reaction to a massive humanitarian need and displayed a this-worldly emphasis on social justice that helped save millions of lives.

This achievement is now given little attention by secular liberals or religious conservatives. In the Trump era, evangelical leaders have seldom brought this type of issue to the policy front burner—though some have tried with criminal-justice reform and the fight against modern slavery. Individual Christians and evangelical ministries fight preventable disease, resettle refugees, treat addiction, run homeless shelters, and care for foster children. But such concerns find limited collective political expression.

Part of the reason such matters are not higher on the evangelical agenda is surely the relative ethnic and racial insularity of many white evangelicals. Plenty of African Americans hold evangelical theological views, of course, along with a growing number of Latinos. Yet evangelical churches, like other churches and houses of worship, tend to be segregated on Sunday. Nearly all denominations with large numbers of evangelicals are less racially diverse than the country overall.

Compare this with the Catholic Church, which is more than one-third Hispanic. This has naturally stretched the priorities of Catholicism to include the needs and rights of recent immigrants. In many evangelical communities, those needs remain distant and theoretical (though successful evangelical churches in urban areas are now experiencing the same diversity and broadening of social concern). Or consider the contrasting voting behaviors of white and African American evangelicals in last year’s Senate race in Alabama. According to exit polls, 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Roy Moore, while 95 percent of black evangelicals supported his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones. The two groups inhabit two entirely different political worlds.

Evangelicals also have a consistent problem with their public voice, which can be off-puttingly apocalyptic. “We are on the verge of losing” America, proclaims the evangelical writer and radio host Eric Metaxas, “as we could have lost it in the Civil War.” Franklin Graham declares, a little too vividly, that the country “has taken a nosedive off of the moral diving board into the cesspool of humanity.” Such hyperbole may be only a rhetorical strategy, employing the apocalypse for emphasis. But the attribution of depravity and decline to America also reflects a consistent and (so far) disappointed belief that the Second Coming may be just around history’s corner.

The difficulty with this approach to public life—other than its insanely pessimistic depiction of our flawed but wonderful country—is that it trivializes and undercuts the entire political enterprise. Politics in a democracy is essentially anti-apocalyptic, premised on the idea that an active citizenry is capable of improving the nation. But if we’re already mere minutes from the midnight hour, then what is the point? The normal avenues of political reform are useless. No amount of negotiation or compromise is going to matter much compared with the Second Coming.

Moreover, in making their case on cultural decay and decline, evangelicals have, in some highly visible cases, chosen the wrong nightmares. Most notable, they made a crucial error in picking evolution as a main point of contention with modernity. “The contest between evolution and Christianity is a duel to the death,” William Jennings Bryan argued. “If evolution wins … Christianity goesnot suddenly, of course, but gradually, for the two cannot stand together.” Many people of his background believed this. But their resistance was futile, for one incontrovertible reason: Evolution is a fact. It is objectively true based on overwhelming evidence. By denying this, evangelicals made their entire view of reality suspect. They were insisting, in effect, that the Christian faith requires a flight from reason.

This was foolish and unnecessary. There is no meaningful theological difference between creation by divine intervention and creation by natural selection; both are consistent with belief in a purposeful universe, and with serious interpretation of biblical texts. Evangelicals have placed an entirely superfluous stumbling block before their neighbors and children, encouraging every young person who loves science to reject Christianity.

Evangelicals remain the most loyal element of the Trump coalition. They are broadly eager to act as his shield and sword. They are his army of enablers.

What if Bryan and others of his generation had chosen to object to eugenics rather than evolution, to social Darwinism rather than Darwinism? The textbook at issue in the Scopes case, after all, was titled A Civic Biology, and it urged sterilization for the mentally impaired. “Epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness,” the text read, “are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity.” What if this had been the focus of Bryan’s objection? Mencken doubtless would still have mocked. But the moral and theological priorities of evangelical Christianity would have turned out differently. And evangelical fears would have been eventually justified by America’s shameful history of eugenics, and by the more rigorous application of the practice abroad. Instead, Bryan chose evolution—and in the end, the cause of human dignity was not served by the obscuring of human origins.

The consequences, especially for younger generations, are considerable. According to a recent survey by Barna, a Christian research firm, more than half of churchgoing Christian teens believe that “the church seems to reject much of what science tells us about the world.” This may be one reason that, in America, the youngest age cohorts are the least religiously affiliated, which will change the nation’s baseline of religiosity over time. More than a third of Millennials say they are unaffiliated with any faith, up 10 points since 2007. Count this as an ironic achievement of religious conservatives: an overall decline in identification with religion itself.

By the turn of the millennium, many, including myself, were convinced that religious conservatism was fading as a political force. Its outsize leaders were aging and passing. Its institutions seemed to be declining in profile and influence. Bush’s 2000 campaign attempted to appeal to religious voters on a new basis. “Compassionate conservatism” was designed to be a policy application of Catholic social thought—an attempt to serve the poor, homeless, and addicted by catalyzing the work of private and religious nonprofits. The effort was sincere but eventually undermined by congressional-Republican resistance and eclipsed by global crisis. Still, I believed that the old evangelical model of social engagement was exhausted, and that something more positive and principled was in the offing.

I was wrong. In fact, evangelicals would prove highly vulnerable to a message of resentful, declinist populism. Donald Trump could almost have been echoing the apocalyptic warnings of Metaxas and Graham when he declared, “Our country’s going to hell.” Or: “We haven’t seen anything like this, the carnage all over the world.” Given Trump’s general level of religious knowledge, he likely had no idea that he was adapting premillennialism to populism. But when the candidate talked of an America in decline and headed toward destruction, which could be returned to greatness only by recovering the certainties of the past, he was strumming resonant chords of evangelical conviction.

Trump consistently depicts evangelicals as they depict themselves: a mistreated minority, in need of a defender who plays by worldly rules. Christianity is “under siege,” Trump told a Liberty University audience. “Relish the opportunity to be an outsider,” he added at a later date: “Embrace the label.” Protecting Christianity, Trump essentially argues, is a job for a bully.

It is true that insofar as Christian hospitals or colleges have their religious liberty threatened by hostile litigation or government agencies, they have every right to defend their institutional identities—to advocate for a principled pluralism. But this is different from evangelicals regarding themselves, hysterically and with self-pity, as an oppressed minority that requires a strongman to rescue it. This is how Trump has invited evangelicals to view themselves. He has treated evangelicalism as an interest group in need of protection and preferences.

A prominent company of evangelical leaders—including Dobson, Falwell, Graham, Jeffress, Metaxas, Perkins, and Ralph Reed—has embraced this self-conception. Their justification is often bluntly utilitarian: All of Trump’s flaws are worth his conservative judicial appointments and more-favorable treatment of Christians by the government. But they have gone much further than grudging, prudential calculation. They have basked in access to power and provided character references in the midst of scandal. Graham castigated the critics of Trump’s response to the violence during a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia (“Shame on the politicians who are trying to push blame on @POTUS”). Dobson has pronounced Trump a “baby Christian”—a political use of grace that borders on blasphemy. “Complaining about the temperament of the @POTUS or saying his behavior is not presidential is no longer relevant,” Falwell tweeted. “[Donald Trump] has single-handedly changed the definition of what behavior is ‘presidential’ from phony, failed & rehearsed to authentic, successful & down to earth.”

It is remarkable to hear religious leaders defend profanity, ridicule, and cruelty as hallmarks of authenticity and dismiss decency as a dead language. Whatever Trump’s policy legacy ends up being, his presidency has been a disaster in the realm of norms. It has coarsened our culture, given permission for bullying, complicated the moral formation of children, undermined standards of public integrity, and encouraged cynicism about the political enterprise. Falwell, Graham, and others are providing religious cover for moral squalor—winking at trashy behavior and encouraging the unraveling of social restraints. Instead of defending their convictions, they are providing preemptive absolution for their political favorites. And this, even by purely political standards, undermines the causes they embrace. Turning a blind eye to the exploitation of women certainly doesn’t help in making pro-life arguments. It materially undermines the movement, which must ultimately change not only the composition of the courts but the views of the public. Having given politics pride of place, these evangelical leaders have ceased to be moral leaders in any meaningful sense.

Every strong Trump supporter has decided that racism is not a moral disqualification in the president of the United States.

But setting matters of decency aside, evangelicals are risking their faith’s reputation on matters of race. Trump has, after all, attributed Kenyan citizenship to Obama, stereotyped Mexican migrants as murderers and rapists, claimed unfair treatment in federal court based on a judge’s Mexican heritage, attempted an unconstitutional Muslim ban, equivocated on the Charlottesville protests, claimed (according to The New York Times) that Nigerians would never “go back to their huts” after seeing America, and dismissed Haitian and African immigrants as undesirable compared with Norwegians.

For some of Trump’s political allies, racist language and arguments are part of his appeal. For evangelical leaders, they should be sources of anguish. Given America’s history of slavery and segregation, racial prejudice is a special category of moral wrong. Fighting racism galvanized the religious conscience of 19th-century evangelicals and 20th-century African American civil-rights activists. Perpetuating racism indicted many white Christians in the South and elsewhere as hypocrites. Americans who are wrong on this issue do not understand the nature of their country. Christians who are wrong on this issue do not understand the most-basic requirements of their faith.

Here is the uncomfortable reality: I do not believe that most evangelicals are racist. But every strong Trump supporter has decided that racism is not a moral disqualification in the president of the United States. And that is something more than a political compromise. It is a revelation of moral priorities.

If utilitarian calculations are to be applied, they need to be fully applied. For a package of political benefits, these evangelical leaders have associated the Christian faith with racism and nativism. They have associated the Christian faith with misogyny and the mocking of the disabled. They have associated the Christian faith with lawlessness, corruption, and routine deception. They have associated the Christian faith with moral confusion about the surpassing evils of white supremacy and neo-Nazism. The world is full of tragic choices and compromises. But for this man? For this cause?

Some evangelical leaders, it is worth affirming, are providing alternative models of social engagement. Consider Tim Keller, who is perhaps the most influential advocate of a more politically and demographically diverse evangelicalism. Or Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who demonstrates how moral conservatism can be both principled and inclusive. Or Gary Haugen, the founder of the International Justice Mission, who is one of the world’s leading activists against modern slavery. Or Bishop Claude Alexander of the Park Church in North Carolina, who has been a strong voice for reconciliation and mercy. Or Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, who shows the deep compatibility of authentic faith and authentic science. Or the influential Bible teacher Beth Moore, who has warned of the damage done “when we sell our souls to buy our wins.” Or the writer Peter Wehner, who has ceased to describe himself as an evangelical even as he exemplifies the very best of the word.

Evangelicalism is hardly a monolithic movement. All of the above leaders would attest that a significant generational shift is occurring: Younger evangelicals are less prone to political divisiveness and bitterness and more concerned with social justice. (In a poll last summer, nearly half of white evangelicals born since 1964 expressed support for gay marriage.) Evangelicals remain essential to political coalitions advocating prison reform and supporting American global-health initiatives, particularly on aids and malaria. They do good work in the world through relief organizations such as World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse (an admirable relief organization of which Franklin Graham is the president and CEO). They perform countless acts of love and compassion that make local communities more just and generous.

All of this is arguably a strong foundation for evangelical recovery. But it would be a mistake to regard the problem as limited to a few irresponsible leaders. Those leaders represent a clear majority of the movement, which remains the most loyal element of the Trump coalition. Evangelicals are broadly eager to act as Trump’s shield and sword. They are his army of enablers.

It is the strangest story: how so many evangelicals lost their interest in decency, and how a religious tradition called by grace became defined by resentment. This is bad for America, because religion, properly viewed and applied, is essential to the country’s public life. The old “one-bloodism” of Christian anthropology—the belief in the intrinsic and equal value of all human lives—has driven centuries of compassionate service and social reform. Religion can be the carrier of conscience. It can motivate sacrifice for the common good. It can reinforce the nobility of the political enterprise. It can combat dehumanization and elevate the goals and ideals of public life.

Democracy is not merely a set of procedures. It has a moral structure. The values we celebrate or stigmatize eventually influence the character of our people and polity. Democracy does not insist on perfect virtue from its leaders. But there is a set of values that lends authority to power: empathy, honesty, integrity, and self-restraint. And the legitimation of cruelty, prejudice, falsehood, and corruption is the kind of thing, one would think, that religious people were born to oppose, not bless. This disfigurement of evangelical faith squanders the reputation of something valuable: not just the vision of human dignity that captured Blanchard, but also Finney’s electric waves of grace. At its best, faith is the overflow of gratitude, the attempt to live as if we are loved, the fragile hope for something better on the other side of pain and death. And this feather of grace weighs more in the balance than any political gain.

It is difficult to see something you so deeply value discredited so comprehensively. Evangelical faith has shaped my life, as it has the lives of millions. Evangelical history has provided me with models of conscience. Evangelical institutions have given me gifts of learning and purpose. Evangelical friends have shared my joys and sorrows. And now the very word is brought into needless disrepute.

This is the result when Christians become one interest group among many, scrambling for benefits at the expense of others rather than seeking the welfare of the whole. Christianity is love of neighbor, or it has lost its way. And this sets an urgent task for evangelicals: to rescue their faith from its worst leaders.

Prosperity Gospel – religion and capitalism – Page 1

see also  Prosperity Gospel – Religion and Capitalism – Page 2

How Hyper-Religious Political Stunts by Republicans Keep Voters Captive to Corporate Ideology by CJ WERLEMAN, AlterNet, Mar-3, 2014  If you want to know why nine out of the 10 poorest states are located in the hyper-religious South, look no further than this calculated right-wing political play, which is designed for one purpose: to ensure Southern and Sunbelt voters continue to vote against their own self-economic interests.

A Christian Nation? Since When? By KEVIN M. KRUSE, New York Times, MARCH 14, 2015 How Business Made Us Christian 

How Corporate America Invented Christian America By KEVIN M. KRUSE,, April 16, 2015  Inside one reverend’s big business-backed 1940s crusade to make the country conservative again.

How Big Business Invented the Theology of ‘Christian Libertarianism’ and the Gospel of Free Market By Kevin Kruse / AlterNet, June 1, 2015 The inside history of how Evangelical preachers were used to infuse society with the economic dogma that plagues us today.

Why Christian Fundamentalism Is Still a Big Deal in U.S. Politics and How It Got That Way By Eric C. Miller / Religion Dispatches June 10, 2015 


Why Teaching People to Think for Themselves Is Repugnant to Religious Zealots

Why Teaching People to Think for Themselves Is Repugnant to Religious Zealots and Rick Santorum by Henry A. Giroux,  Truthout | Op-Ed, February 22, 2012

Right-wing fundamentalists such as Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum hate public schools, which he suggests are government schools wedded to doing the work of Satan, dressed up in the garb of the Enlightenment. Santorum, true to his love affair with the very secular ideology of privatization, prefers home schooling, which is code for people taking responsibility for whatever social issues or problems they may face, whether it be finding the best education for their children or securing decent health care. Actually, Santorum and many of his allies dislike any public institution that enables people to think critically and act with a degree of responsibility toward the public. This is one reason why they hate any notion of public education, which harbors the promise, if not the threat, of actually educating students to be thoughtful, self-reflective and capable of questioning so-called common sense and holding power accountable.

Of course, some progressives see this as simply another example of how the right wing of the Republican Party seems to think that being stupid is in. But there is more going on here than the issue of whether right-wing fundamentalists are intellectually and politically challenged. What makes critical education, especially, so dangerous to radical Christian evangelicals, neoconservatives and right-wing nationalists in the United States today is that, central to its very definition, is the task of educating students to become critical agents who can actively question and negotiate the relationships between individual troubles and public issues. In other words, students who can lead rather than follow, embrace reasoned arguments over opinions and reject common sense as the engine of truth.

What Santorum and his allies realize is that democracy cannot function without an informed citizenry and that, in the absence of such a citizenry, we have a public disinvested from either thinking reflectively or acting responsibly. There is nothing more feared by this group of fundamentalists than individuals who can actually think critically and reflectively and are willing to invest in reason and freedom rather than a crude moralism and a reductionistic appeal to faith as the ultimate basis of agency and politics.

What Santorum and his appeal to theocracy longs for is a crowd of followers willing to lose themselves in causes and movements that trade in clichés and common sense. This is the Tea Party crowd with their overt racism, dislike for critical thought and longing for outlets through which they can vent their anger, moral panics and hatred for those who reject their rigid Manichean view of the world. This is a crowd that embraces the likes of Santorum and other fundamentalists because they provide the outlets in which such groups can fulfill their desire to be amused by what might be called the spectacle of anti-politics.

As the anti-public politicians and administrative incompetents in Arizona made clear in their banning ethnic studies and censoring books critical of a conflict-free version of American history, critical pedagogy is especially dangerous. Not only does it offer students a way of connecting education to social change, it also invokes those subordinated histories, narratives and modes of knowledge in an attempt to give students often rendered voiceless the capacities to both read the word and the world critically. But the religious fanatics and privatizing fundamentalists do more than censor critical thought; they also substitute a pedagogy of punishment for a pedagogy of critical learning. Too many children in America now attend schools modeled after prisons. Schools have become places where the challenge of teaching and learning has been replaced by an obsession with crime, punishment and humiliation. Too many young people are being charged with criminal misdemeanors for behaviors that are too trivial to criminalize.(1)

What are we to make of a incident in a Stockton school where a five-year-old was handcuffed and taken to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation? This hard-to-believe event happened because the child in question pushed away a police officer’s hand after he placed it on the child’s shoulder. What does it mean when young people are charged with assault for engaging in behaviors that, in the past, would have barely solicited a teacher’s attention? How do we defend a public schools system that warrants the pepper spraying of a child with an IQ well below 70 because “he didn’t understand what the police were saying?”(2) This is barbarism parading as sound educational and disciplinary practice. As is well known, zero tolerance laws have become a plague imposed on public schooling. In fact, they have become a shameless quick and easy fix for punishing young people. For example, Texas served more than a 1,000 primary school kids over a six-year period with tickets for misbehaving and, in some cases, fines ran as high as $500.(3) In Chicago, Noble Street schools, run by Michael Milkie, set up a dehumanizing discipline system that repeatedly issued demerits and fines to students “for ‘minor infractions’ ranging from not sitting up straight to openly carrying ‘flaming hot’ chips.”(4) In the course of three years, ten Noble schools netted $386,745.00 in fines. The Advancement project has called such disciplinary practices “pernicious and harmful to youth.”(5) No doubt, but they are also harmful to poor families who have to choose between buying food and paying school administrators for punishing and cruel fines. In many respects, this amounts to a tax on poor people, one that Matthew Mayer, a professor in the graduate school of education at Rutgers University, described as “almost medieval in nature. It’s a form a financial torture, for lack of a better term…. because it likely has no bearing on students’ academic performance and disproportionately hurts poor families.”(6) Clearly, this practice cannot be defended as a disciplinary measure, however stringent. On the contrary, it is a form of harassment, one that is aimed at both students and their parents. And what is the pedagogical rationale for this illogical and cruel practice? Students in this pedagogical scenario are reduced to Pavlovian dogs, while the anti-public privateers extend the reach of the punishing state into the school and make a large profit to boot.

What is it about critical schooling and pedagogy that is so dangerous to the religious and ideological fundamentalists?

The most obvious answer is that critical pedagogy believes in forms of governing that respect both teachers and administrators on the one hand, and students on the other. That is, it supports those institutional conditions that extend from decent pay to equitable modes of governance that make good teaching possible. Second, it argues for modes of education that extend the capacities of students to both critique existing social forms and institutions and transform them when necessary. Put bluntly, it insists that knowledge is crucial not merely to thinking critically, but also to acting responsibly in the service of civic courage. What the critics of critical pedagogy refuse to accept is that as a moral and political practice, rather than an empty and sterile method, critical pedagogy offers the promise of educating students to be able to reject the official lies of power and the utterly reductive notion of training as a substitute for an informed mode of education.

Paraphrasing Bill Moyers, critical pedagogy is, in part, part of a project whose purpose is to dignify “people so they become fully free to claim their moral and political agency.”(7) In this instance, critical pedagogy opens up a space where students should be able to come to terms with their own power as critical agents; it provides a sphere where the unconditional freedom to question and assert one’s voice, however different, is central to the purpose of public education, if not democracy itself.(8) And as a political and moral practice, pedagogy should make clear both the multiplicity and complexity of history as a narrative in which students can engage as part of critical dialogue rather than accept unquestioningly. Similarly, such a pedagogy should cultivate in students a healthy skepticism about power, a “willingness to temper any reverence for authority with a sense of critical awareness.”(9) As a performative practice, pedagogy should provide the conditions for students to be able to reflectively frame their own relationship to the on-going project of an unfinished democracy. It is precisely this relationship between democracy and pedagogy that is so threatening to conservatives such as Santorum, Sarah Palin, and other religious advocates of the new theocracy as the only mode of political governance and learning.

Education as a critical moral and political project always represents a commitment to the future and it remains the task of educators to make sure that the future points the way to a more socially just world, a world in which the discourses of critique and possibility in conjunction with the values of reason, freedom and equality function to alter, as part of a broader democratic project, the grounds upon which life is lived.

This is hardly a prescription for political indoctrination, but it is a project that gives education its most valued purpose and meaning, which, in part, is “to encourage human agency, not mould it in the manner of Pygmalion.”(10) It is also a position that threatens right-wing private advocacy groups, neoconservative politicians and religious extremists because they recognize that such a pedagogical commitment goes to the very heart of what it means to address real inequalities of power at the social level, and to conceive of education as a project for democracy and critical citizenship while at the same time foregrounding a series of important and often ignored questions such as: “Why do we (as educators) do what we do the way we do it”? Whose interests does public education serve? How might it be possible to understand and engage the diverse contexts in which education takes place? In spite of the right-wing view that equates indoctrination with any suggestion of politics, critical pedagogy is not simply concerned with offering students new ways to think critically and act with authority as agents in the classroom; it is also concerned with providing students with the skills and knowledge necessary for them to expand their capacities both to question deep-seated assumptions and myths that legitimate the most archaic and disempowering social practices that structure every aspect of society and to take responsibility for intervening in the world they inhabit.

Education is not neutral, but that does not mean it is merely a form of indoctrination. On the contrary, as a practice that attempts to expand the capacities necessary for human agency and, hence, the possibilities for democracy itself, the public should nourish those pedagogical practices that promote “a concern with keeping the forever unexhausted and unfulfilled human potential open, fighting back all attempts to foreclose and pre-empt the further unraveling of human possibilities, prodding human society to go on questioning itself and preventing that questioning from ever stalling or being declared finished.”(11) In other words, critical pedagogy forges both critique and agency through a language of skepticism and possibility and a culture of openness, debate and engagement, all elements that are now at risk in the latest and most dangerous attack on public education.

The attack on public schooling and critical pedagogy is, in part, an attempt to deskill teachers and dismantle teacher authority. Teachers can make a claim to being fair, but not to being either neutral or impartial. Teacher authority can never be neutral, nor can it be assessed in terms that are narrowly ideological. It is always broadly political and interventionist in terms of the knowledge-effects it produces, the classroom experiences it organizes  and the future it presupposes in the countless ways in which it addresses the world. Teacher authority at its best means taking a stand without standing still. It suggests that, as educators, we make a sincere effort to be self-reflective about the value-laden nature of our authority while taking on the fundamental task of educating students to take responsibility for the direction of society. Rather than shrink from our political responsibility as educators, we should embrace one of pedagogy’s most fundamental goals: to teach students to believe that democracy is desirable and possible. Connecting education to the possibility of a better world is not a prescription for indoctrination; rather, it marks the distinction between the academic as a technician and the teacher as a self-reflective educator who is more than the instrument of a safely approved and officially sanctioned worldview.

The authority that enables academics to teach emerges out of the education, knowledge, research, professional rituals and scholarly experiences that they bring to their field of expertise and classroom teaching. Such authority provides the space and experience in which pedagogy goes beyond providing the conditions for the simple acts of knowing and understanding and includes the cultivation of the very power of self-definition and critical agency. But teacher authority cannot be grounded exclusively in the rituals of professional academic standards. Learning occurs in a space in which commitment and passion provide students with a sense of what it means to link knowledge to a sense of direction.

Teaching is a practice rooted in an ethico-political vision that attempts to take students beyond the world they already know, in a way that does not insist on a particular fixed set of altered meanings. In this context, teacher authority rests on pedagogical practices that reject the role of students as passive recipients of familiar knowledge and view them instead as producers of knowledge, who not only critically engage diverse ideas, but also transform and act on them.(12) Pedagogy is the space that provides a moral and political referent for understanding how what we do in the classroom is linked to wider social, political and economic forces.

It is impossible to separate what we do in the classroom from the economic and political conditions that shape our work, and that means that pedagogy has to be understood as a form of academic labor in which questions of time, autonomy, freedom and power become as central to the classroom as what is taught. As a referent for engaging fundamental questions about democracy, pedagogy gestures to important questions about the political, institutional and structural conditions that allow teachers to produce curricula, collaborate with colleagues, engage in research and connect their work to broader public issues. Pedagogy is not about balance, a merely methodological consideration; on the contrary, as Cornelius Castoriadis reminds us, if education is not to become “the political equivalent of a religious ritual,”(13) it must do everything possible to provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to learn how to deliberate, make judgments and exercise choice, particularly as the latter is brought to bear on critical activities that offer the possibility of democratic change. Democracy cannot work if citizens are not autonomous, self-judging and independent – qualities that are indispensable for students if they are going to make vital judgments and choices about participating in and shaping decisions that affect everyday life, institutional reform and governmental policy. Hence, pedagogy becomes the cornerstone of democracy in that it provides the very foundation for students to learn not merely how to be governed, but also how to be capable of governing.

One gets the sense that right-wing pundits, politicians and religious bigots believe that there is no place in the classroom for politics, worldly concerns, social issues and questions about how to lessen human suffering. In this discourse, the classroom becomes an unworldly counterpart to the gated community, a space for conformity and punishment as a tool for perpetuating dominant market-driven values and white Christian religious values. This is not education; it is a flight from self and society.

As Eric Fromm has pointed out, this type of education embodies a flight from freedom, produces authoritarian personalities and punishes those who refuse to live in a society modeled as a fundamentalist theocracy. The outcome of this type of anti-enlightenment education is not a student who feels a responsibility to others and who feels that her/his presence in the world matters, but one who feels the presence of difference, if not thinking itself, as an unbearable burden to be contained or expelled. Santorum and his fundamentalist allies argue for a notion of education that supports the notion of the teacher as a police officer, clerk or pitchman for privatization rather than an understanding of educators as engaged public intellectuals. That is, as intellectuals and civic educators who work under conditions that enable them to embrace the authority, respect and autonomy necessary for making education worldly practice and critical pedagogy an empower experience.

The current assault on young people, public education and critical thinking is first and foremost an attack not only on the conditions that make critical education and pedagogy possible, but also on what it might mean to raise questions about the real problems facing public education today, which include the lack of adequate financing, the instrumentalization and commodification of knowledge, the increasing presence of the punishing state in the schools, the hijacking of public education by corporate interests, the substitution of testing for substantive forms of teaching and learning and the increasing attempts by right-wing extremists to turn education into job training or into an extended exercise in patriotic xenophobia and religious fundamentalism.

As the right-wing juggernaut destroys the social state, workers protections, unions and civil liberties, it is easy to forgot that a much less visible attack is being waged on young people and especially on public schools and the possibility of critical forms of teaching. Critical pedagogy, that arch enemy of fundamentalists everywhere, must be understood as central to any discourse about educating students to be informed, skilled and knowledgeable critical agents, but, more importantly, it must be understood as the most crucial referent we have for understanding politics and defending all aspects of public schooling as one of the very few remaining democratic public spheres remaining in the United States today.


1. I take up this issue in great detail in Henry A. Giroux, “Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability?” (New York: Palgrave, 2010).
2. Chris McGreal, “The US Schools with their own police,” [5] The Guardian UK, (January 09, 2012)
3. Ibid.
4. Rosalind Rossi, “‘Flaming hot’ chips, gum, other ‘infractions’ costly at some schools,” [6] Sun Times (February 14, 2012).
5. Ibid.
6. The Associated Press, “Chicago School Draws Scrutiny over Student Fines,” [7] ABC News (February 20, 2012).
7. Bill Moyers, “Discovering What Democracy Means,” [8]TomPaine.Com (February 12, 007).
8. Jacques Derrida, “The Future of the Profession or the Unconditional University,” p. 233.
9. Edward Said, “Reflections on Exile and Other Essays” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), p. 501.
10. Stanley Aronowitz, “Introduction,” in Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom (Boulder: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), pp. 10-11.
11. Zygmunt Bauman and Keith Tester, “Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman” (Malden: Polity Press, 2001), p. 4.
12. Chandra Mohanty, “On Race and Voice: Challenges for Liberal Education in the 1990s,” Cultural Critique (Winter 1989-1990), p. 192.
13. Cornelius Castoriadis, “Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime,” Constellations 4:1 (1997), p. 5.
This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License [9].

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Between Rock of Ages and a Hard Place

By NICHOLAS WADE, New York Times, November 26, 2012

It was the standard political interview, about ambition and the right size for government. Then came the curveball question to Senator Marco Rubio of Florida from Michael Hainey of GQ magazine: “How old do you think the earth is?”

Senator Rubio, a possible contender in the 2016 Republican presidential race, gave the following answer: “I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians.”

He went on: “At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created, and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says.

“Whether the earth was created in seven days, or seven actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”

It may have been a mystery back in the 17th century, when Archbishop James Ussher calculated from the age of the patriarchs and other sources that Earth was created on Oct. 22, 4004 B.C. Today’s best estimate for the age of Earth, based on the radiometric dating of meteorites, is 4.54 billion years. The real mystery is how a highly intelligent politician got himself into the position of suggesting that the two estimates are of equal value, or that theologians are still the best interpreters of the physical world.

Catholics and Jews have always emphasized their priests’ interpretations of the Bible, not the text itself; Protestants, starting with Martin Luther, insisted the Bible was the literal truth and the sole dependable source of divine knowledge, a belief the Puritans implanted firmly in American soil. Then, in the 19th century, German textual critics like Julius Wellhausen showed that the Bible was not the inerrant product of divine inspiration but had been cobbled together by many hands whose editing was all too evident.

At that point most Protestants decided to join Catholics in interpreting the Bible metaphorically and avoiding embarrassing public spats with science. But after discussions in the early 20th century, the conservative wing of the Protestant movement elected to double down their bet and insist that every word in the Bible was true.

The inevitable clash with science, particularly in the teaching of evolution, has continued to this day. Militant atheists like the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins beat the believers about the head, accomplishing nothing; fundamentalist Christians naturally defend their religion and values to the hilt, whatever science may say.

A scientific statesman, if there were such a person, would try to defuse the situation by professing respect for all religions and making a grand yet also trivial concession about the status of evolution.

Like those electrons that can be waves or particles, evolution is both a theory and a fact. In historical terms, evolution has certainly occurred and no fact is better attested. But in terms of the intellectual structure of science, evolution is a theory; no one talks about Darwin’s “fact of evolution.”

Unlike a fact, a theory cannot be absolutely true. All scientific theories are subject to change and replacement, just as Newton’s theory of gravitation was replaced by Einstein’s. The theory of evolution, though it has no present rivals, is still under substantial construction.

Evolutionary biologists are furiously debating whether or not natural selection can operate on groups of individuals, as Darwin thought was likely but most modern evolutionists doubt. So which version of evolution is the true one?

By allowing that evolution is a theory, scientists would hand fundamentalists the fig leaf they need to insist, at least among themselves, that the majestic words of the first chapter of Genesis are literal, not metaphorical, truths. They in return should make no objection to the teaching of evolution in science classes as a theory, which indeed it is.

And rudderless politicians like Senator Rubio wouldn’t have to throw 15 back flips and a hissy fit when asked a simple question like how old is the earth.

Nicholas Wade, a longtime science writer for The New York Times, is the author of “The Faith Instinct,” about the evolutionary basis of religion.

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

Truthout / By Michael Meurer [1]  October 17, 2012 |


…the dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive…is that crip­pling amounts of pub­lic debt run up by prof­li­gate gov­ern­ment spend­ing have brought us to the brink of finan­cial ruin and must be off­set by deep cuts in social ser­vices and “entitlements.”

It is a false nar­ra­tive that masks the largest ongo­ing finan­cial swin­dle in human his­tory, a swin­dle being car­ried out at pub­lic expense by a small class of elite finan­cial spec­u­la­tors. This spec­u­la­tive class has been unleashed over the past three decades by a Utopian neolib­eral polit­i­cal project….

The $15.2 tril­lion total of reck­less gov­ern­ment give­aways and war spend­ing equals the national debt. Where did this money come from? It came from we the peo­ple...From this per­spec­tive, the ongo­ing finan­cial cri­sis of the past few years is a giant swin­dle that trans­fers wealth from low– and middle-income cit­i­zens to bankers, defense con­trac­tors, real estate spec­u­la­tors and the wealth­i­est 1% via the US Trea­sury, which is act­ing as an agent for upward redistribution.

How did this happen?

In the 1980s, US Pres­i­dent Ronald Rea­gan and British Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher set out to recon­fig­ure and lib­er­ate West­ern cap­i­tal­ism by shrink­ing government’s role in the econ­omy based on the neolib­eral con­cept that mar­kets are “self-regulating” and would pro­duce unprece­dented soci­etal wealth if dereg­u­lated.the “trickle down” the­ory of wealth was accom­pa­nied by promises of a smaller, less intru­sive state, except for a strong mil­i­tary. Fast for­ward through 30-plus years of nearly unin­ter­rupted neolib­eral pol­i­cy­mak­ing — Bill Clin­ton and Tony Blair were dereg­u­lat­ing neolib­eral cham­pi­ons — and not only do we have the most expen­sive, heav­ily mil­i­ta­rized, war-prone, increas­ingly inequitable and intru­sive state in US (and British) his­tory, it is also the most indebted.

Neolib­er­al­ism is fail­ing on its own terms, yet it con­tin­ues to define US pol­i­tics due to its appeal among a siz­able and par­tic­u­larly fer­vent seg­ment [29] of the elec­torate. (12) [30]

The Rise of the Utopians

In order to under­stand the fer­vor of this con­tin­ued pop­u­lar sup­port for failed poli­cies, it is impor­tant to grasp the utopian, quasi-theological nature of neolib­eral ide­ol­ogy. In the neolib­eral world­view [31], the self-regulating mar­ket is not a merely human con­struct, but a form of naturally-occurring “spon­ta­neous order” that pro­duces opti­mum out­comes and max­i­mum indi­vid­ual free­dom if left com­pletely unfet­tered. (13) [32] It is, as Karl Polanyi pointed out in “The Great Trans­for­ma­tion,” [33] a rad­i­cally utopian vision that rests on a blind faith that mar­kets are essen­tially part of the nat­ural order. (14) [34]

On the polit­i­cal right, this faith has reached its fullest expres­sion, ulti­mately mov­ing mar­kets into the realm of the sacred, where their legit­i­macy can­not be ques­tionedit has nonethe­less turned out to have pow­er­ful allure even among those who are being swin­dled out of their hard-earned assets as a result.

Not least among the rea­sons for this allure is the fact that in the US, neoliberalism’s utopian mar­ket fun­da­men­tal­ism meshes so read­ily with utopian strains of fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­tian­ity, thereby lend­ing the neolib­eral project a zeal­ous sense of pop­ulist mis­sion. A neolib­eral class project is dressed up and sold as a patri­otic reli­gious project.

While those at the top with access to pol­i­cy­mak­ers reap enor­mous finan­cial ben­e­fits from their embrace of neolib­eral the­ol­ogy, many of those at the bot­tom who stand to lose the most eco­nom­i­cally join forces with them because of polit­i­cal appeals to their utopian reli­gious and patri­otic beliefs. Neolib­eral pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates from Ronald Rea­gan to Rick San­to­rum and Mitt Rom­ney have come before vot­ers as kin­dred utopian spir­its, true believ­ers couch­ing their self-regulating mar­ket utopi­anism in the famil­iar and com­pelling lan­guage of patri­o­tism, indi­vid­ual free­dom, mom and pop entre­pre­neurism and reli­gion. (‘Believe in Amer­ica.’) Utopian faith thereby trumps the pain of ugly reality.

And the ugly real­ity is that neolib­eral mar­kets — unlike the ele­gant mod­els of clas­si­cal eco­nom­ics — are rigged. And rigged in favor of the wealth­i­est mem­bers of soci­ety. Income dis­par­ity [35] between the bot­tom and top 20 per­cent in the US has more than dou­bled since 1979. (15) [36] Income for the top 1 per­cent grew by 275 per­cent [37] from 1979 to 2007, while income for the bot­tom 20 per­cent grew just 18 per­cent [38]. (16) [39]

The USnow has 49.1 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in poverty [40], the high­est level since the Great Depres­sion [41] of the 1930’s. (17) [42] Yet among true believ­ers at both ends of the eco­nomic spec­trum, the pow­er­ful emo­tional pull of a shared utopian vision tran­scends the homely real­i­ties of the fact-based world.

Utopi­ans at the Gate

In the 2012 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the Repub­li­can Romney-Ryan ticket rep­re­sents the tri­umph of neolib­eral utopian faith over the messy real­i­ties of expe­ri­ence and his­tory…

Polanyi pos­tu­lated three essen­tial ele­ments of West­ern con­scious­ness: knowl­edge of death; knowl­edge of free­dom; and knowl­edge of soci­ety, which is gained expe­ri­en­tially and lib­er­ates us from our utopian illu­sions. (21) [50] The Repub­li­cans of 2012 are in denial about this third ele­ment of consciousness.

The cer­tainty that comes from faith in an imma­nent utopia leaves them unable to acknowl­edge and deal with the enor­mous com­plex­i­ties and uncer­tain­ties of a mod­ern multi-cultural, information-age soci­ety, except through demo­niza­tion and the story of an idol defiled. As a result, the com­mon­weal is eclipsed by a divi­sive utopian vision that defines extreme reli­gious eco­nomic indi­vid­u­al­ism as true patri­otic free­dom.

Given the bil­lions in Super PAC money [53] now avail­able to Repub­li­cans, (23) [54] this utopian strain in US pol­i­tics is not likely to fade away irre­spec­tive of November’s elec­tion results, and that is a trou­bling real­iza­tion in a nation more heav­ily armed [55] with weapons of mass destruc­tion than any other in his­tory. (24) [56]

Full text

In the endless swirl of headlines about the current global financial crisis, the dominant narrative, which is also driving the 2012 US presidential election, is that crippling amounts of public debt run up by profligate government spending have brought us to the brink of financial ruin and must be offset by deep cuts in social services and “entitlements.”

It is a false narrative that masks the largest ongoing financial swindle in human history, a swindle being carried out at public expense by a small class of elite financial speculators. This speculative class has been unleashed over the past three decades by a Utopian neoliberal political project now embodied in its most virulent form in the Republican presidential ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

Let’s start with the depth and size of the underlying financial crisis, which is almost in the realm of hyper-reality. In 1997, for example, the total value of annual financial transactions worldwide was an already-staggering 15 times greater than global GDP. Today, it is 70 times greater [2]. (1) [3] In 1995, the six largest US banks controlled assets worth 17 percent of annual GDP. Today, the figure is 64 percent [4]. (2) [5] Again in 1995, the global total of outstanding derivative debt obligations was $17.7 trillion. By 2010 [6], at nearly $470 trillion [7], outstanding derivatives were 741 percent of global GDP [8]. (3) [9]

This wholesale financialization of the US-led global economy has burdened the public sector with the task of propping up unregulated speculative debt in the private sector that is 7.4 times our annual productive capacity. Add USdeficit spending for three wars since 9/11, and major cuts in the top tax rates, and the burden becomes unsustainable. The difference is being made up in the guise of austerity, as everything we own is liquidated, from personal and retirement savings, to homes and public-sector assets that have been built up over generations.

In the US, the inexorable logic of this process is embedded in the numbers that comprise the national debt. By most estimates, the national debt is at least $15 trillion [10].(4) [11] Here is one way to understand where the money went.

  • · The USgovernment spent $7.4 trillion [12] on bank bailouts [13]. (5) [14]
  • · It then spent $5 trillion [15] for three elective wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. (6) [16]
  • · It simultaneously incurred $2.8 trillion [17] in lost revenue due to the Bush tax cuts for the top income brackets. (7) [18]

The $15.2 trillion total of reckless government giveaways and war spending equals the national debt. Where did this money come from? It came from we the people. During the current economic downturn:

The total losses to citizen wealth are also $15 trillion.

From this perspective, the ongoing financial crisis of the past few years is a giant swindle that transfers wealth from low- and middle-income citizens to bankers, defense contractors, real estate speculators and the wealthiest 1% via the US Treasury, which is acting as an agent for upward redistribution.

To give a comparative sense for the historic scale of the swindle, it is worth noting that the entire inflation-adjusted cost of World War II [27] was $3.6 trillion.(11) [28]

How did this happen?

In the 1980s, US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher set out to reconfigure and liberate Western capitalism by shrinking government’s role in the economy based on the neoliberal concept that markets are “self-regulating” and would produce unprecedented societal wealth if deregulated. Using the ideas of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek of the famedAustrianSchool as macro-economic underpinning, Reagan and Thatcher sought to limit or eliminate government regulation that might inhibit the actions and movement of capital.

From the start of this Reagan-Thatcher revolution, the “trickle down” theory of wealth was accompanied by promises of a smaller, less intrusive state, except for a strong military. Fast forward through 30-plus years of nearly uninterrupted neoliberal policymaking – Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were deregulating neoliberal champions – and not only do we have the most expensive, heavily militarized, war-prone, increasingly inequitable and intrusive state in US (and British) history, it is also the most indebted.

Neoliberalism is failing on its own terms, yet it continues to define US politics due to its appeal among a sizable and particularly fervent segment [29] of the electorate. (12) [30]

The Rise of the Utopians

In order to understand the fervor of this continued popular support for failed policies, it is important to grasp the utopian, quasi-theological nature of neoliberal ideology. In the neoliberal worldview [31], the self-regulating market is not a merely human construct, but a form of naturally-occurring “spontaneous order” that produces optimum outcomes and maximum individual freedom if left completely unfettered. (13) [32] It is, as Karl Polanyi pointed out in “The Great Transformation,” [33] a radically utopian vision that rests on a blind faith that markets are essentially part of the natural order. (14) [34]

On the political right, this faith has reached its fullest expression, ultimately moving markets into the realm of the sacred, where their legitimacy cannot be questioned. In this utopian setting, regulation is not merely ill advised; it is a violation of natural law that is nearly sacrilegious. Witness, for example, the reactionary explosion on the right to the apostasy of Barack Obama’s health care plan to regulate the insurance cartels.

Although this pernicious sacralization of the self-regulating market is absurd on its face – modern markets being embedded in particular cultures and dependent on enormous government intervention and expenditures, full of frictions and totally absent the perfect information required by economic models – it has nonetheless turned out to have powerful allure even among those who are being swindled out of their hard-earned assets as a result.

Not least among the reasons for this allure is the fact that in the US, neoliberalism’s utopian market fundamentalism meshes so readily with utopian strains of fundamentalist Christianity, thereby lending the neoliberal project a zealous sense of populist mission. A neoliberal class project is dressed up and sold as a patriotic religious project.

While those at the top with access to policymakers reap enormous financial benefits from their embrace of neoliberal theology, many of those at the bottom who stand to lose the most economically join forces with them because of political appeals to their utopian religious and patriotic beliefs. Neoliberal presidential candidates from Ronald Reagan to Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney have come before voters as kindred utopian spirits, true believers couching their self-regulating market utopianism in the familiar and compelling language of patriotism, individual freedom, mom and pop entrepreneurism and religion. (‘Believe in America.’) Utopian faith thereby trumps the pain of ugly reality.

And the ugly reality is that neoliberal markets – unlike the elegant models of classical economics – are rigged. And rigged in favor of the wealthiest members of society. Income disparity [35] between the bottom and top 20 percent in the US has more than doubled since 1979. (15) [36] Income for the top 1 percent grew by 275 percent [37] from 1979 to 2007, while income for the bottom 20 percent grew just 18 percent [38]. (16) [39]

The USnow has 49.1 million people living in poverty [40], the highest level since the Great Depression [41] of the 1930′s. (17) [42] Yet among true believers at both ends of the economic spectrum, the powerful emotional pull of a shared utopian vision transcends the homely realities of the fact-based world.

Utopians at the Gate

In the 2012 US presidential election, the Republican Romney-Ryan ticket represents the triumph of neoliberal utopian faith over the messy realities of experience and history. There has been much discussion about the political calculations of Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, but it seems entirely plausible that he was picked because he is a kindred utopian spirit.

Born to wealth and privilege, Romney’s utopian worldview was formed among the high priests in the secretive and cloistered worlds of the Mormon Church and equity capital markets. At every turn in his insular pilgrim’s path, Romney’s utopian economic and religious beliefs have been reinforced in untroubled environments far removed from the struggles of daily life. He can change positions at will because his overriding utopian faith remains untouched irrespective of the particulars of individual policy prescriptions.

Also born to wealth, Ryan was a youthful devotee of neoliberal founding fathers von Mises and Hayek, supplementing his market faith with the culturally corrosive, ego-centered atheism of Ayn Rand, until the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, representing his professed Catholic faith, publicly objected to the cruelty and inhumanity of his 2011 US budget proposals.

The bishops described Ryan’s budget as being antithetical to their call to create “a circle of protection” [43] around the poor and vulnerable. With his tea-vangelical base of support threatened, Ryan quickly discovered St. Thomas Aquinas [44] as a more appropriate religious vehicle for channeling his market utopianism. (18) [45]

The presentation of the Romney-Ryan ticket by the Republican Party tells us that the path to utopia is stony and difficult, as it should be. Reaching the neoliberal Promised Land requires sacrifice. In order to scale the utopian summit, we must cast out the unbelievers (Obama, Democrats, liberals, environmentalists, feminists, et al.) and balance the divine books with the purifying fire of “austerity,” the neoliberal equivalent of self-flagellation.

Austerity-mandated cuts in vital public services must be accompanied by ever-increasing tax reductions for the top income brackets – aka, the priestly class of “job creators” – thus intentionally accelerating the insolvency of the iniquitous public sector. Someone has to pay for the extravagant incomes, lifestyles and war profiteering of the oracular speculative class in order to keep the swindle going, and it turns out to be us.

Where does this lead?

Were Romney and Ryan to be elected in November, it is probable that some of their more radical policy pronouncements [46] would be constrained by the realities of Washington. (19) [47] Yet there is something disquieting about the seriousness with which they embrace discredited utopian ideals. Fascism has been described as “a utopian movement in search of a utopia [48].” (20) [49] Today’s Republican Party, headed by true believers Romney and Ryan, comes dangerously close to this description.

Polanyi postulated three essential elements of Western consciousness: knowledge of death; knowledge of freedom; and knowledge of society, which is gained experientially and liberates us from our utopian illusions. (21) [50] The Republicans of 2012 are in denial about this third element of consciousness.

The certainty that comes from faith in an immanent utopia leaves them unable to acknowledge and deal with the enormous complexities and uncertainties of a modern multi-cultural, information-age society, except through demonization and the story of an idol defiled. As a result, the commonweal is eclipsed by a divisive utopian vision that defines extreme religious economic individualism as true patriotic freedom. Romney’s recent comments dismissing the lives of half the electorate [51] offer a clear illustration of the utopian incapacity to deal with society as it exists. (22) [52]

Given the billions in Super PAC money [53] now available to Republicans, (23) [54] this utopian strain in US politics is not likely to fade away irrespective of November’s election results, and that is a troubling realization in a nation more heavily armed [55] with weapons of mass destruction than any other in history. (24) [56]


1) Tobin isn’t enough now, Le Monde Diplomatique, February 2012

2) The Bill Daley Problem, from

3) International Swaps and Derivatives Association.NOTE: The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) actually reported a much higher total of $708 trillion for “notional amounts outstanding of over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives…” in a detailed 28 page analysis released November 2011 for the first half of 2011. To stay conservative, I have used the ISDA figure of $470 trillion. The BIS report can be found here: . [57] GDP from Wikipedia Public Data.

4) External government debt is actually $11.2 trillion. Getting to $15 or $16 trillion depends upon how one accounts for intra-governmental obligations. For the purposes of this article, the point is to show the orders of magnitude, not up to the minute totals, which are difficult to get in any event and tend to vary widely depending upon who is doing the calculations.ConcordCoalition.

5) Bloomberg Media.”Follow the $7.4 Trillion: Breakdown of US Government’s Rescue Efforts.”. NOTE: The real total of federal bailouts may be much higher. For example, a July 2011 GAO report documents over $16 trillion in secret loans to both US and foreign financial institutions.

6) Joseph Stiglitz estimated the total cost of Iraqand Afghanistanas high as $5 trillion in 2008, and in Sep. 2011 opined that this figure was too low. Project Syndicate, Joseph Stiglitz, The Price of 9/11. . [58] A June 2011BrownUniversity study reported by Voice of America, estimates the total forIraq andAfghanistan at nearly $4 trillion with a projected interest cost of an additional $1 trillion.Iraq,Afghanistan Wars Cost US Nearly $4 trillion. A detailed Sept. 2011, report by the Fiscal Times (more than a year ago) estimated the total US cost of war since 9/11 at over $5 trillion, with the wars inIraq andAfghanistan still in progress when the analysis was published. Fiscal Times, 9/11 and the $5 Trillion Aftermath.

7) Washington Post, Revisiting the cost of the Bush tax cuts.

8) For simplicity, I am using the CEPR figures below. While a more complicated case could be made for a higher total of lost citizen wealth, the main point is to show the logic of the process and the general orders of magnitude in the losses, which the CEPR figures conveniently encapsulate. Center for Economic and Policy Research, Paper Wealth and the Economic Crisis.

9) Other sources documenting US losses to citizen wealth. Reverse Mortgage Daily, Home Equity Declines more than 60% During Great Recession Says Fed Report. Federal Reserve Bank ofNew York, Household Debt and Saving During the 2007 Recession. American Progress, The Consequences of Conservatism (Estimates total losses at $12.8 trillion)

Urban Institute, How is the Financial Crisis Affecting Retirement Savings? ($3.4 trillion loss from 2007 to 2009). Reverse Mortgage Daily, Home Equity Declines more than 60% During Great Recession Says Fed Report. Dr. John Rutledge, Rutledge Capital, Total Assets of US Economy $188 trillion, 13.4 x GDP (Calculated $13 trillion loss to”household net worth” in 2008.) Don Shelton, The Great Recession of 2008-10.

10) Center for Economic and Policy Research, The $1 trillion wage deficit.

11) Don Ritholtz, The Big, Big Bailouts, Bigger Bucks.

12) See Raymond Plant, The NeoliberalState, OxfordUniversityPress, 2009.
See also, David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, 2005.

13) Library of Economics andLiberty, Friedrich Hayek.

14) Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, Beacon Press.

15) Mother Jones, March/April 2011, It’s the Inequality Stupid.

16) Congresssional Research Service, March 7, 2012, The US Income Distribution and Mobility: Trends and International Comparisons
Congressional Budget Office report to Congress, Trends in Distribution of Household Income Between 1979 and 2007 [59]
CBO Director’s Blog, October 25, 2011, Trends in the Distribution of Income [59]
Top 1% income crew 275 Percent Grew 275 Percent from 1979 to 2007 [59]

17) Fox News, Nov. 7, 2011, Census Data Show Americans Hit by Poverty at All-Time High
CBS News, Nov. 8, 2011, New data shows poverty at an all-time high [40]

18) [40] Letter to Congressional leaders from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, April 16, 2012
New Yorker, August 11, 2012, Ayn Rand joins the Ticket [43]

19) Harper’s Magazine, Sep. 2012, Spend, Baby, Spend

20) Fascism – The Tensile Permanence, Dr. Sam Vaknin

21) Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, Beacon Press, 2001, p. 267-268

22) Mother Jones, Full Transcript of the Mitt Romney Secret Video

23) Rolling Stone, Right-Wing Billionaires Behind Mitt Romney, May 24, 2012

24) Wikipedia, Weapons of Mass Destruction

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Religion Trends

Chris Hedges on Christian Heretics,, Nov 2, 2013… 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.

The Distortion And Decline Of Christianity by Robert De Filippis TheBig, February 27, 2013 …organized religion is on the wane; particularly with young people.  I want to explore why this is happening…true Christians who remain silent…allowing Christianity to be politicized, commercialized, and generally maligned to conform to another agenda…The silent majority is allowing the vocal minority to distort Christianity.  Silence can be interpreted as agreement… two millennium of politically-based human revisionism has caused a pernicious Christian neurosis that is now coming into full bloom in some segments of society.  Our politicians have been infiltrated by this neurosis – as if they needed any help to be more neurotic.  And now we have a twisted knot of revisionist Christian propaganda inserted into our public discourse. Christianity in America is getting a reputation for being filled with hate mongers… But the overwhelming majority are good people – good, but silent…Take a lesson from history.  The Enlightenment era of the 18th century brought with it a new appreciation for human reasoning and a diminution or our dependence on “the official truth” in our holy texts.  I think it’s time we start reasoning again…  Does [rhetoric] truly reflect Christ’s teachings? Or is it from carefully selected Biblical excerpts, taken out of context, to justify a hate-filled and neurotic attack on another human being? One is true Christianity. The other is a reflection of a deeper character flaw in the perpetrator. Christianity can be good for good people and bad for bad people, independent of, in Thomas Jefferson’s words about Christ’s teachings, “The most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”

Why are so many Christians un-Christian?

A New Religious America – How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation by Diana L. Eck - Understanding America’s religious landscape is the most important challenge facing us today…the change since the 1960′s has been dramatic and Muslims now outnumber Episcopalians, Jews or Presbyterians….The Pluralism Project Eck directs at Harvard University is investigating religion in America, what the changes mean and “the challenge of creating a cohesive society out of all this diversity.” 
In the United States, the climate of tolerance and the engagement of pluralism emerge not from an authoritarian central regime, but from a democratic experiment as an immigrant nation, a nation in which, at our best, we are motivated by ideals and principles” says Eck.
The consequences for community life and public policy are enormous. (this is the full text)

Another Word on “God and the Twenty-First Century”by Michael Benedikt,, March 5, 2011 – It is no longer necessary to invoke the name of God to explain or promote compassionate action. Today we understand we have evolved that capacity…what are commandments? Ways of bringing goodness to life through actions, through deeds… These are the words of three champions of monotheism [Judaism, Christianity, Islam]…But what should followers of these theist traditions think of the good practiced by nonbelievers — people who would say it’s quite unnecessary, and even counterproductive, to bring “God” into ordinary morality, who would offer that morality can and should be understood from an entirely scientific, evolutionary, and historical point of view thus: the capacity for empathy, fairness, and altruism is wired into human beings and even other higher mammals from birth, thanks to millions of generations of reproduction-with-variation under the constraints of natural selection. Similarly, the laws of civility — from the Eightfold Way and the Ten Commandments to the Magna Carta, the Geneva Convention, and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights — are the culturally transmitted legacy of thousands of years of human social evolution overlaid upon older, natural reproductive-selective processes. Whereas laws of civility may once have needed the rhetorical force of God-talk to establish themselves, today they can be embraced rationally in the service of peace and prosperity.

New Satire Campaign Launches War Against Irrational Fear Wednesday, 27 November 2013 10:08 By Candice Bernd, Truthout   Americans are 9,000 times more likely to die from the influenza or pneumonia than a terrorist attack – and that fact alone is a weapon in a new “War Against Irrational Fear,” which is waging war across new fronts such as lighting strikes, dogs, football, bathtubs and the flu – all of which cause more American deaths annually than domestic terrorism. The new satirical campaign was created by Incitement Design, a design firm for progressive causes…uses statistics to show the truth behind the “war on terror,” using social media, videos and graphics backed up with fact-based research to reveal that America’s obsession with domestic terrorism is a costly and harmful distraction… New York Times survey of expert estimates put the total cost of anti-terrorism initiatives at more than $3 trillion since 9/11. [Professor John Mueller authored a report widely cited in the campaign] Mueller’s research shows the United States currently spends more than $400 million annually on domestic terrorism prevention per victim. But the US spends only $9,000 for cancer prevention research per victim. “What we want to do is make it so that people feel comfortable and feel like the price they’re going to pay politically for stating this obvious truth is not incredibly high,” Arnow [Robert Arnow, creative director at Incitement Design] told Truthout. “Our federal government portrays terrorists as wily supervillians, while the research shows they are small in number [and] generally incompetent and that 9/11 was a historical anomaly.”



Pope Francis ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ Calls For Renewal Of Roman Catholic Church, Attacks ‘Idolatry Of Money’ By Naomi O’Leary,  Reuters Posted on 11/26/2013-Pope Francis called for renewal of the Roman Catholic Church and attacked unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny”, urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality in the first major work he has authored alone as pontiff…In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticizing the global economic system, attacking the “idolatry of money” and beseeching politicians to guarantee all citizens “dignified work, education and healthcare”. He also called on rich people to share their wealth. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills,” Francis wrote in the document issued on Tuesday…Denying this was simple populism, he called for action “beyond a simple welfare mentality” and added: “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor.”…Stressing cooperation among religionsHe praised cooperation with Jews and Muslims and urged Islamic countries to guarantee their Christian minorities the same religious freedom as Muslims enjoy in the West.

Pope Francis called right-wing Christian fundamentalism a sickness. Stephen D. Foster Jr. October 21, 2013



The Corporate Bully Whose Front Groups, Willful Distortions and Hate-Mongering Has Poisoned U.S. Politics: Meet Richard Berman BySteven Rosenfeld, AlterNet, November 24, 2013 

5 Biblical Concepts Fundamentalists Just Don’t Understand

Did the Dalai Lama Just Call for an End to Religion?

The Bible Hates Homosexuality. So What?

Religious Diversity in America

Why Young People Are Fleeing Conservative Evangelicalism By Eleanor J. Bader, RH Reality Check, February 9, 2012

Holy Book Learning — Americans are shockingly illiterate when it comes to religions — including their own by Christoper Shea

Good Without God: Why “Non-Religious” Is the Fastest-Growing Preference in America By Terrence McNally,, May 10, 2011

Goodbye Religion? How Godlessness Is Increasing With Each New Generation by Adam Lee, AlterNet, August 10, 2011

5 Signs That America Is Moving Away from Religion,, September 28, 2011

Obama And the Rise of Secular Spirituality by Deepak Chopra and Dave Stewart,, January 18, 2009 - …Barack Obama has …become a symbol of the rise of secular spirituality in this country, a liberated set of values that exists largely outside organized religion…Obama’s worldview is more congruent with alternative theology than it is with churchgoers…millions of Americans who consider themselves spiritual have longed for peace, unity, nonviolence, and freedom that isn’t imposed by the force of arms…Religion was hijacked for political gain by the right wing beginning as far back as the Nixon era, yet there is a much stronger current of secular spirituality running through our history. The Founding Fathers were mostly Deists, rational Christians emerging from the Age of Enlightenment…They were tolerant believers in a benign God who transcended narrow denominations. They considered the rights of man to be the basis of enlightened belief, and when freedom was labeled an inalienable right, they meant that is was God-given, just as all men being created equal was God-given. …secular spirituality…now includes the following principles…– A spiritual duty to be benign stewards of the Earth and to preserve the ecology.– A responsibility to revere Nature and to be humble before it.– A duty to further peace among nations.– A pledge of nonviolence that will lead finally to total nuclear disarmament in our lifetime.– A refusal to useAmerica’s super power for militaristic ends. — A sense of compassion for the poor and wretched beset by pandemic disease, lack of political influence, and denial of basic human rights….Nothing about secular spirituality is radical. Most of its principles are articles of belief for millions of average Americans who have largely been shut out of politics for eight years….But secular spirituality isn’t limited to the left or the progressive movement in general. It is a national phenomenon, one that will swell steadily in the coming years, particularly among the young. Born after the divisive culture wars that gave the right wing its main chance, the younger generations yearn for new values….Nothing less than spiritual renewal is needed across the board, and there is no one of equal stature to lead it.

Why fundamentalism will fail by Harvey Cox,, November 8, 2009

Obama Says Faith Shouldn’t Be Used to Divide, President Barack Obama at National Prayer Breakfast, February 5, 2009

New Theists: Knowers, Not Believers by Rev. Michael Dowd

Religious tolerance, then and now by Dana Milbank, Washington Post, August 17, 2010

The Pluralism Problem by Brendan Sweetman, PBS, ONE NATION: RELIGION & POLITICS, January 28, 2010

The Distortion And Decline Of Christianity by Robert De Filippis TheBig, February 27, 2013
The Corporate Bully Whose Front Groups, Willful Distortions and Hate-Mongering Has Poisoned U.S. Politics: Meet Richard Berman 

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.