How Did Politics Get So Personal?

By Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times,  JAN. 28, 2015

Political hostility in the United States is more and more becoming personal hostility. New findings suggest that the sources of dispute in contemporary life go far beyond ideological differences or mere polarization. They have become elemental, almost tribal, tapping into in-group loyalty and out-group enmity… Fully 36 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats believe the opposition party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being,” … partisans on both sides believe different facts, use different economic theories, and hold differing views of history… liberals and conservatives process the same set of facts with different cultural thought styles…liberals and conservatives in the same country think as if they were from different cultures… Starting in the 1960s, when race came to the forefront, Poole wrote, other issues involving nothing to do with economics — gun control, gay rights, sexual issues — began to be drawn into the “liberal” vs. “conservative” dimension…the depth of our polarization reflects ingrained personal, cognitive and psychosocial traits — traits that are, in Iyengar’s word, “primal.”…However much they might want to pitch themselves toward the center, politicians will feel the need to tap into the energy, not to mention the primary votes, that ideological purity provides. It is this contradiction between purity and pragmatism that will shape the political landscape for the foreseeable future.

Long excerpt

Political hostility in the United States is more and more becoming personal hostility. New findings suggest that the sources of dispute in contemporary life go far beyond ideological differences or mere polarization. They have become elemental, almost tribal, tapping into in-group loyalty and out-group enmity…. Partisans now discriminate against their adversaries “to a degree that exceeds discrimination based on race.” The authors find that this discrimination pervades decision making of all kinds, from hiring to marriage choices…From 1960 to 2010, the percentage of Democrats and Republicans who said that members of their own party were more intelligent than those in the opposition party grew from 6 percent to 48 percent; the percentage describing members of the opposition party as “selfish” rose from 21 percent to 47 percent…by a 2014 Pew Research Center study that revealed that “the level of antipathy that members of each party feel toward the opposing party has surged over the past two decades.” Fully 36 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats believe the opposition party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being,” …a new line of inquiry into the causes and nature of polarization… that partisans on both sides believe different facts, use different economic theories, and hold differing views of history… Do liberals and conservatives process the same set of facts with different cultural thought styles…liberals and conservatives in the same country think as if they were from different cultures. These researchers argue that liberals share a propensity for analytic thinking and have a stronger preference for deep thought and a rejection of simple solutions. Liberals are more tolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty, and they have less of a need for order, structure and closure.

Analytic thinking, in this view, “emphasizes slicing up the world and analyzing objects individually, divorced from context — much like scientific analysis requires thinkers to separate complex phenomena into separate parts….The analytic thinking typical of liberals is “more conscious, more focused on the rules of logic.”

Conversely, these researchers define holistic thinking – which they consider more typical of conservatives — as “seeing scenes as a whole and seeing people as a product of situations.” Talhelm described this style of thought as “more automatic, caught up in emotions, and in some ways less adherent to the rules of logic.”…Collectivism is not generalized sharing with “other people.” Collectivism is a system of tight social ties and responsibilities, but less trust and weaker ties toward strangers — a stronger in-group/out-group distinction. Conservatives care deeply about close others, but they may dislike welfare programs because those programs serve strangers or even people from out-groups.

Liberal individualism focuses on the self and personal fulfillment. As Talhelm put it:

If you see the world as all individuals, then welfare recipients are individuals too, just like you. Indeed analytic thinkers are more likely to agree with statements about universalism — “all people are equal”; “an African life is worth as much as an American life.”… Starting in the 1960s, when race came to the forefront, Poole wrote, other issues involving nothing to do with economics — gun control, gay rights, sexual issues — began to be drawn into the “liberal” vs. “conservative” dimension. Now almost every issue from foreign policy to taxes to lifestyle issues has been drawn into the left vs. right alignment…political scientists at Princeton, Yale and Berkeley, respectively, have stressed the key role of external factors in deepening our political schism, including inequality, the nationalization of politics, immigration and the fast approaching moment when whites will no longer be in the majoritythe depth of our polarization reflects ingrained personal, cognitive and psychosocial traits — traits that are, in Iyengar’s word, “primal.”

This is not an easy problem for politicians to solve. Republican and Democratic leaders are struggling to moderate their parties’ most extreme ideological positioning. But if polarization reflects primal aspects of the human condition, particularly when we are under stress, it isn’t going anywhere. However much they might want to pitch themselves toward the center, politicians will feel the need to tap into the energy, not to mention the primary votes, that ideological purity provides. It is this contradiction between purity and pragmatism that will shape the political landscape for the foreseeable future.

Full text

Political hostility in the United States is more and more becoming personal hostility. New findings suggest that the sources of dispute in contemporary life go far beyond ideological differences or mere polarization. They have become elemental, almost tribal, tapping into in-group loyalty and out-group enmity.

“Hostile feelings for the opposing party are ingrained or automatic in voters’ minds,” Shanto Iyengar, a political scientist at Stanford, and Sean Westwood, a post-doctoral researcher at Princeton, wrote in a July 2014 paper “Fear and Loathing Across Party Lines.” Partisans now discriminate against their adversaries “to a degree that exceeds discrimination based on race.” The authors find that this discrimination pervades decision making of all kinds, from hiring to marriage choices.

In a separate 2012 study, “Affect, Not Ideology,” Iyengar and two other colleagues used a polling method known as a “thermometer rating” to measure how Democrats and Republicans feel about each other. The temperature scale goes from 1 to 100. One means the respondent feels cold toward the group; 100 implies that the respondent has warm feelings. Iyengar and his colleagues found in 2008 that Democrat and Republican ratings of the opposition party had dropped to just below 32 degrees. In comparison, Protestants gave Catholics a 66 rating, Democrats gave “big business” a 51, and Republicans rated “people on welfare” at 50.

One of the most striking findings of Iyengar’s 2012 paper is the dramatic increase in the percentages of members of both parties who would be upset if their children married someone in the opposition party (shown in figure 1).

From 1960 to 2010, the percentage of Democrats and Republicans who said that members of their own party were more intelligent than those in the opposition party grew from 6 percent to 48 percent; the percentage describing members of the opposition party as “selfish” rose from 21 percent to 47 percent.

Iyengar and Westwood contend that the conflict between Democrats and Republicans is based more on deeply rooted “in group” versus “out group” sensibilities than on ideology.

Not in Our Family

Percent of Democrats and Republicans who would be unhappy if their children married someone of the opposing party.

In an email exchange, Iyengar speculated on a number of reasons for the increase in polarization: Residential neighborhoods are politically homogeneous as are social media networks. I suspect this is one of the principal reasons for the significantly increased rate of same-party marriages. In 1965, a national survey of married couples showed around sixty-five percent agreement among couples. By 2010, the agreement rate was near 90 percent.

The result, according to Iyengar, is that “since inter-personal contact across the party divide is infrequent, it is easier for people to buy into the caricatures and stereotypes of the out party and its supporters.”

Iyengar’s findings are backed up by a 2014 Pew Research Center study that revealed that “the level of antipathy that members of each party feel toward the opposing party has surged over the past two decades.” Fully 36 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats believe the opposition party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being,” Pew found.

More recently, a group of four scholars working with Jonathan Haidt, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, and Thomas Talhelm, a doctoral candidate in social psychology at the University of Virginia, have developed a new line of inquiry into the causes and nature of polarization. Their paper, “Liberals Think More Analytically Than Conservatives,” was published online in December. It argues that

partisans on both sides believe different facts, use different economic theories, and hold differing views of history. But might the differences run even deeper? Do liberals and conservatives process the same set of facts with different cultural thought styles?

The answer, according to Talhelm, Haidt and their colleagues: “liberals and conservatives in the same country think as if they were from different cultures.”

These researchers argue that liberals share a propensity for analytic thinking and have a stronger preference for deep thought and a rejection of simple solutions. Liberals are more tolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty, and they have less of a need for order, structure and closure.

Analytic thinking, in this view, “emphasizes slicing up the world and analyzing objects individually, divorced from context — much like scientific analysis requires thinkers to separate complex phenomena into separate parts.” Talhelm elaborated in a phone conversation: The analytic thinking typical of liberals is “more conscious, more focused on the rules of logic.”

Conversely, these researchers define holistic thinking – which they consider more typical of conservatives — as “seeing scenes as a whole and seeing people as a product of situations.” Talhelm described this style of thought as “more automatic, caught up in emotions, and in some ways less adherent to the rules of logic.”

Talhelm wrote me in an email that “analytic thinkers tend to do better in engineering, and they hold more patents for inventions. But holistic/intuitive thinkers tend to do better in more social fields, such as early childhood education and marketing.” One study in the 1960s, he said, “found that analytic thinkers were more likely to have long hair (for men) and short skirts (women).”

In their 2014 paper, Talhelm and his co-authorshypothesize that liberals think more analytically because liberal culture is more individualistic, with looser social bonds, more emphasis on self-expression, and a priority on individual identities over group identities.

Conservatives, in this analysis, are more dedicated to their communities and to the idea of community than liberals. Conservatism, they write, is often associated with rural areas, where people are enmeshed in tight-knit communities and are more likely to know the people they see walking on the street. Conservatism is also associated with interconnected groups, such as churches, fraternities, and the military.

Talhelm and his colleagues suggest a different interpretation for the words “individualism,” which traditionally is associated with conservatism, and “collectivism,” which is often linked to liberalism:

Collectivism is not generalized sharing with “other people.” Collectivism is a system of tight social ties and responsibilities, but less trust and weaker ties toward strangers — a stronger in-group/out-group distinction. Conservatives care deeply about close others, but they may dislike welfare programs because those programs serve strangers or even people from out-groups.

Liberal individualism focuses on the self and personal fulfillment. As Talhelm put it:

If you see the world as all individuals, then welfare recipients are individuals too, just like you. Indeed analytic thinkers are more likely to agree with statements about universalism — “all people are equal”; “an African life is worth as much as an American life.”

Looking at the issue of partisan conflict in historical terms, Keith T. Poole, a political scientist at the University of Georgia, explained via email that polarization was very high before the Civil War, and again in the 1880s and 1890s “at the height of industrial capitalism” when the parties split over “gold vs. silver, taxes, tariffs, labor organization and inflation.” Starting in the 1960s, when race came to the forefront, Poole wrote, other issues involving nothing to do with economics — gun control, gay rights, sexual issues — began to be drawn into the “liberal” vs. “conservative” dimension. Now almost every issue from foreign policy to taxes to lifestyle issues has been drawn into the left vs. right alignment.

The work of Iyengar, Talhelm and Haidt adds a new layer to the study of polarization. In seminal work, scholars like Nolan McCarty, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, political scientists at Princeton, Yale and Berkeley, respectively, have stressed the key role of external factors in deepening our political schism, including inequality, the nationalization of politics, immigration and the fast approaching moment when whites will no longer be in the majority.

David Leege, political scientist emeritus at Notre Dame, provided further insight into the economic forces exacerbating polarization: the pool of under-employed and unemployed semi-skilled labor and their former managers, accountants, etc. have been ripped from the productive (assembly-line) and social institutions (organized labor, health care, ethnic and industrial bars) that ordered their lives and assured a meaningful place in their communities. For the persons who worked hard and more or less lived by the rules, there is no longer the pride of breadwinning and self-sufficiency brought to home or church or neighborhood interactions. These people are setups for polarizing political appeals.

Iyengar, Talhelm and Haidt do not reject the importance of these external factors. But they do argue that the depth of our polarization reflects ingrained personal, cognitive and psychosocial traits — traits that are, in Iyengar’s word, “primal.”

This is not an easy problem for politicians to solve. Republican and Democratic leaders are struggling to moderate their parties’ most extreme ideological positioning. But if polarization reflects primal aspects of the human condition, particularly when we are under stress, it isn’t going anywhere. However much they might want to pitch themselves toward the center, politicians will feel the need to tap into the energy, not to mention the primary votes, that ideological purity provides. It is this contradiction between purity and pragmatism that will shape the political landscape for the foreseeable future.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/28/opinion/how-did-politics-get-so-personal.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

Religion wars

Trump and Gorsuch Have The Right Wing Thinking Big. REALLY Big By Peter Montgomery, The Christian Left, rightwingwatch.org, June 29, 2017 – Intro – Excerpt: Religious Right leaders had hitched the movement’s wagon to the Trump train, and they had already begun reaping the rewards… He said he’d give them the Supreme Court of their dreams and he pledged to make them more politically powerful by doing away with restrictions on churches’ political activities. He won their trust by making one of their own, Mike Pence, his running mate. Religious Right leaders pulled out all the stops to help Trump rack up a massive margin of victory among white evangelicals.…So much for perennial predictions of the Religious Right’s political demise….Religious Right leaders have a half-century long grudge against the Supreme Court over rulings on church-state separation, the right to privacy, legal equality for LGBT Americans, and more. Religious Right leaders were thrilled when Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch. They rallied support for his nomination and celebrated when he was confirmed. They made it clear that they are counting on him to undermine the separation between church and state…Much of the Religious Right is also fully committed to the Tea Party’s radically restrictive view of the proper role of the federal government. At Road to Majority, Trump adviser Steven Moore said the government should get out of education and health care. That stance draws on both a right-wing ideological view of the Constitution and a Christian Reconstructionist worldview that God did not grant government the authority to be involved in education or the alleviation of poverty, jobs that they believe He assigned to the church and family…. “We are in a war for the future of this Republic.” [Sen. David Perdue of Georgia] cited the New Deal and the Great Society as consequences of periods with Democratic political dominance. “The great progressive experiment of the last 100 years, with bigger and bigger government, has failed, period.”  A primary vehicle for reversing the “great progressive experiment” will be by packing the federal courts with judges committed to a far-right view of the Constitution and laws…

Evangelical Political Operative Reveals Plan to Fundamentally Transform America — and It Involves 1,000 Pastors by Billy Hallowell, theblaze.com, Jan. 27, 2015  …The faith leaders assembled for the Issachar Training Event, which was organized by the American Renewal Project, an organization that is working toward bringing 1,000 preachers into the public square next election cycle…[American Renewal Project founder David Lane] launched the American Renewal Project after he began to think about the societal transformation that could happen if he was able to recruit 1,000 pastors to run in 2016 — a prospect that he said “would change America.”…“Somebody’s values are going to reign supreme. Our values or somebody else’s values,” Lane told Brody. “It’s our goal to bring spiritual men and women into the civil government arena.”…[Louisiana Gov. Bobby] Jindal wrote. “There is a great need for the kind of leaders we read about in the Old Testament, ‘The Men of Issachar’ (1 Chronicles 12:32). We need such men and women of wisdom today who will accept the challenge to restore our Judeo-Christian heritage in America.”… “These engaged evangelicals would be voting for their biblically-based conservative values.”


The Real Origins of the Religious Right By RANDALL BALMER, politico.com, May 27, 2014 They’ll tell you it was abortion. Sorry, the historical record’s clear: It was segregation……. One of the most durable myths in recent history is that the religious right, the coalition of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, emerged as a political movement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion. …But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools. So much for the new abolitionism.

Mike Huckabee’s Christian Sharia Law by Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, February 1, 2015 …Mike Huckabee is known as a former governor, an author, a onetime Fox News host, and as a possible contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nominationWhen he last ran for president in 2008, he argued that we “should amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards.”…What would be the reaction if a Muslim candidate for president…argued that we should amend our Constitution to agree with the Quran? The right wing in this country would explode… many of those same right-wing people who fabricate the claim that Muslims in America want to impose Islamic law have no problem when a Christian politician tells us point blank he wants to impose what is, in essence, Christian Sharia law. The good news: Our First Amendment prohibits the establishment of any religion in our country, be it Christianity or Islam or anything else…in the United States at least, our laws must be based on public policy considerations and the Constitution, not passages of religious text.

Why the Christian Right Believes It Has Once-in-a-Decade Chance to Impose Its Radical Worldview on America By CJ Werleman, Alternet.org, November 26, 2013

The Radical Christian Right and the War on Government by Chris Hedges, TruthDig.com, posted on CommonDreams.org, October 7, 2013…This ideology calls on anointed “Christian” leaders to take over the state and make the goals and laws of the nation “biblical.”… The intellectual and moral hollowness of the ideology, its flagrant distortion and misuse of the Bible, the contradictions that abound within it… are impervious to reason and fact. And that is why the movement is dangerous.

The “Libertarian Moment” Wouldn’t Exist Without Religion By Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches, August 13, 2014 …right wing religious extremist] principles emerge from the idea that the secular state is the enemy of a proper Christian ordering of markets, social norms, and family and religious life…

Six challenges for organizing a progressive religious movement By Robert P. Jones, Updated: August 2, 2013

How Patriarchal, Christian Backlash Politics Have Only Become More Vicious Salon.com By Arthur Goldwag, Posted on AlterNet.org, October 28, 2012

How religion played in the midterm elections By Mark Silk,  Nov 5, 2014  Simply put, the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. According to yesterday’s exit polls, the religious layout of the electorate looks almost identical to the last midterm election in 2010, and not much different from the 2012 presidential election…The one group that appears to have shifted significantly compared to the last midterm were members of “other religions” — Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, etc. In 2010, three out of four voted Democratic, while this time around it was two out of three. And given that their proportion of the vote increased from 8 percent to 11 percent, that was not a trivial number of votes…the Nones, despite evidence of their rise, continue to punch below their demographic weight, remaining at 12 percent. (The latest numbers show them at 20 percent of the adult American population.)

How the Christian Right Plays Victim While Imposing Its Ideology on America By Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet, December 5, 2013

How the Unholy Alliance Between the Christian Right and Wall Street Is ‘Crucifying America’ By CJ Werleman, Dangerous Little Books, published by Alternet.org, November 8, 2013 

…[Karl] Rove’s “real skill lay in finding how to use religion as a political tool,” making the executive branch “more openly and avowedly religious than it had ever been.” Ironically, he notes, Rove has “no discernible religious beliefs himself.”… In Head and Heart: A History of Christianity in America, historian Garry Wills

Why Progressives Can’t Ignore Religion by Mike Lux, AlterNet, February 27, 2012  Wall or no wall, politics and religion have always been inextricably intertwined, and we won’t win until we recognize and deal with that fact.

Why the Mainstream Media Are Clueless About the Religious Right By Adele M Stan, AlterNet August 18, 2011

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 Alternet.org, March 5, 2013 

Why the Christian Right Believes It Has Once-in-a-Decade Chance to Impose Its Radical Worldview on America By CJ Werleman, AlterNet, November 26, 2013  

How Propagandists for the 1% Are Manipulating Christian Teachings to Rob the Middle Class By Michael Meurer, Truthout, posted on Alternet.org, October 17, 2012 

The political influence of no-religion voters, USA Today, Feb 28, 2014   …Democrats and Republicans planning their political campaigns for 2014 and 2016…should turn their focus on another rising group: the “nones”…a term used to describe religiously unaffiliated people…One-fifth of the U.S. public is religiously unaffiliatedThe key unifying element between religious and secular outreach is the word valuesnones would play a big role in the election; however, there wasn’t really an infrastructure set up to respond to that… voters want to bring values into politics, religious or not…

Why We Must Reclaim The Bible From Fundamentalists by John Shelby Spong, Retired American Bishop of the Episcopal Church, HuffingtonPost.com, 10/13/2011    The contrast between the way the Bible is understood in the academic world and the way it is viewed in our churches is striking…issues and insights, commonplace among the scholars, are viewed as highly controversial and even as “heresy” in the churches. The result has been that the majority of people who have remained in the church have become more and more rigid and fundamentalist, while those who have left have become more and more dismissive of everything, good or bad, about Christianity… there are other ways to view Christianity. In the world of Christian scholarship, for example, to read the Bible literally is regarded as absurd. To call the words of the Bible “the Word of God” is more than naïve…There are some biblical facts that cannot and should not be ignored, if Christians really value truthChristianity is, I believe, about expanded life, heightened consciousness and achieving a new humanity. It is not about closed minds, supernatural interventions, a fallen creation, guilt, original sin or divine rescue. I am tired of seeing the Bible being used, as it has been throughout history, to legitimize slavery and segregation, to subdue women, to punish homosexuals, to justify war and to oppose family planning and birth control. That is a travesty which must be challenged and changed…

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.”

Dwindling Christian Right Turns Into Cornered Animal, Lashes Out at Civil Rights and Democracy By CJ Werleman, AlterNet, February 26, 2014   Like a cornered animal, which turns instinctively to confront pursuing predators, the Christian Right, knowing it represents the views of an ever shrinking number of Americans, is engaged in an existential fight to the deathto transform America’s secular democracy into a tyrannical theocracy…The Christian Right’s ideology drives virtually all social policy debate within the Republican Party…It’s a threat fueled by a seemingly unlimited supply of campaign finance, and a rabid base that believes it’s fighting for its place in a 21st-century world…

Indoctrinating Religious Warriors By CHARLES M. BLOW, NewYork Times, January 3, 2014 – In 2009, the gap between the share of Republicans and Democrats who believed in evolution was just 10 percentage points, 54 percent and 64 percent, respectively. Last year, that gap widened to a whopping 24 points because as the percentage of Democrats who believed in evolution inched up to 67 percent, the percentage of Republicans believing so plummeted to 43 percent…news comes via a survey released this week by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project…I don’t personally have a problem with religious faith, even in the extreme, as long as it doesn’t supersede science and it’s not used to impose outdated mores on others. But some people see our extreme religiosity itself as a form of dysfunction.  In a 2009 paper in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, Gregory Paul, an independent researcher, put it this way: “The level of relative and absolute societal pathology in the United States is often so severe that it is repeatedly an outlier that strongly reinforces the correlation between high levels of poor societal conditions and popular religiosity.” But I believe that something else is also at play here, something more cynical. I believe this is a natural result of a long-running ploy by Republican party leaders to play on the most base convictions of conservative voters in order to solidify their support. Convince people that they’re fighting a religious war for religious freedom, a war in which passion and devotion are one’s weapons against doubt and confusion, and you make loyal soldiersThere has been anti-science propagandizing running unchecked on the right for years, from anti-gay-equality misinformation to climate change denials...Pew found that most staunch conservatives were regular viewers of Fox News, preferring the network to any other news source. Fox has helped to ingrain the idea that Republicanism and religiosity are embattled and oppressed, fighting for survival against the forces of secular extremists…The Christians-on-the-defensive stance was front and center in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries…Newt Gingrich…citing “secular bigotry”…This is a tactic to keep the Republican rank-and-file riled up, to divert their attention from areas of common sense and the common good. After all, infidels are deserving of your enmity, not your empathy.• /indoctrinating-religious-warriors/

The Tragic Story of Christianity: How a Pacifist Religion Was Hijacked by Rabid Warmongering Elites By Gary G. Kohls, Consortium News, posted on Alternet.org, January 30, 2012 — From time to time, I read about condemnations of religion coming from non-religious groups, especially concerning the all-too-common violence perpetrated in the name of religious gods. Indeed there is plenty to condemn…Obvious examples include those portions of the three major war-justifying religions of the world: fundamentalist Islam, fundamentalist Judaism and fundamentalist Christianity. I use the term fundamentalist in the sense that the religious person, who ascribes to a fundamentalist point of view, believes, among other dogmatic belief, that their scriptures are inerrant and thus they can find passages in their holy books that justify homicidal violence against their perceived or fingered enemies, while simultaneously ignoring the numerous contradictory passages that forbid violence and homicide and instead prescribe love, hospitality, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation. Behind the scenes, of course, there are hidden elites — amoral, politically and financially motivated operatives who are embedded in these religious organizations — who, through the strength of their political power, can easily manipulate the followers into clamoring for war, not against their enemies, but rather against the enemies of the ruling elites: the politicians, the financiers and the other exploiters of natural resources… critics of Christianity should start challenging the churches to go back to their roots where evil was not allowed to run rampant, but rather was aggressively and courageously resisted using the nonviolent methods of Jesus and his inspired disciples like Tolstoy, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, A. J. Muste, Martin Luther King, the Berrigan brothers, John Dear, Kathy Kelly and a multitude of other courageous prophetic voices…Jesus was definitely NOT a punitive, pro-death penalty, pro-militarism conservative. His power came not from the sword but from the power of love…That brand of Christianity definitely deserves condemnation… Church leaders need to repent of their support for (or their silence about) their nation’s state-sponsored terrorism and start acting ethically, as if the Sermon on the Mount mattered…

The New Religious Right in America By Dennis E. Owen and Samuel S. Hill 1982 Abingdon ISBN 0-687-27867-8 ‘The reader will see we’ve reached the conclusion that its impact on our common life will be limited. A movement to be taken seriously, yes. A movement that is likely to alter the basic course of American life, probably not…”

Holy Terror: The Fundamentalist War on America’s Freedoms in Religion, Politics, and Our Private Lives by Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman 1982 StillPoint Press, Dell Publishing 0-385-29286-4  http://holyterror.stillpointpress.net/

Brand new war for the Army of God? Frederick Clarkson 02.19.2002 -Under government scrutiny for their ties to antiabortion anthrax hoax letters, the Army’s leaders are spouting new, violent rhetoric against gays. -”Let us give thanks,” Army of God “chaplain” Rev. Michael Bray proclaimed on the Army of God Web site, after sword-wielding officials in Saudi Arabia beheaded three gay men New Year’s Day. The official Saudi Press Agency reported that the men had “committed acts of sodomy, married each other, seduced young men and attacked those who rebuked them.”Best known for its terror campaign against abortion providers, the militant Army of God has lately displayed a virulent antigay animus in recent postings on its Web site. The sudden trend has set off alarms among human rights groups.

Milquetoast Liberal Religion Won’t Challenge Conservative Values: A History Lesson

By Sheila D. Collins, Religion Dispatches, March 24, 2014

Congress’s year-end slashing of food stamps and refusal to extend unemployment benefits for the 1.3 million people whose benefits were about to expire are just some of the latest examples of the heartless approach to poverty and unemployment that characterizes contemporary policy making. Not only have millions of the long-term unemployed started the New Year with no safety net, but many of those with full-time jobs earn less than the poverty level for a family of four (18 million people in 2012 or 17.5 percent of all full-time, year-round workers).

It was not always like this. There was a time in our history when the poor and unemployed experienced a more compassionate government. During the Great Depression the federal government not only provided safety nets in the form of relief, food aid, public housing, mortgage assistance, unemployment insurance, and farm aid, but more significantly, it undertook a series of job-creation programs that gave back to millions of unemployed workers and their families precisely what the Depression had taken from them—the opportunity to support themselves with dignity.

The jobs provided by the New Deal made it possible for them to put their broken lives back together again while they waited for the private economy to recover. Moreover, these jobs contributed invaluably to the building of the nation’s infrastructure, to the conservation and preservation of its natural resources, to its national culture and to the soul of its people.

So how is it that the 1930s approach to poverty and unemployment was such a far cry from the cruel indifference we see today? There are a number of reasons, among them the fact that when Roosevelt took office, conditions were far more desperate for a far larger segment of the population than they were when the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008. This was, ironically, thanks in part to the very reforms like unemployment and food stamps that the New Deal had established.

More importantly, however, the New Deal’s approach to economic distress was shaped by the kind of people Roosevelt appointed to deal with the crisis. These weren’t economic technocrats with Wall Street ties, like those appointed by contemporary presidents, but people who had come of age in the progressive era and who’d been imbued with the values of the Social Gospel. Many had direct experience working with the poor and unemployed in the urban settlement houses of the time.

Social Gospelers emphasized the ethical teachings of Jesus and sought the Kingdom of God through the transformation of the socioeconomic structures of society. Intensely critical of capitalism, they sought a more egalitarian and democratic society, some espousing one or another variant of socialism. By 1908 the Social Gospel movement had succeeded in penetrating the institutional structures of the churches with a “Social Creed” that was adopted by the mainline denominations.

Anticipating by three or four decades many of the reforms enacted in New Deal legislation, the Social Creed called for the alleviation of Sunday working hours, the abolition of child labor, a living wage, the negotiation and arbitration of labor disputes, social security for workers in old age, disability insurance, poverty reduction, and a fairer distribution of wealth. According to Gary Dorrien in Social Ethics in the Making (Wiley-Blackwell, 2008), the Social Gospel movement, though often “sentimental, moralistic, idealistic and politically naïve,” nevertheless “produced a greater progressive religious legacy than any generation before or after it,” paving the way for everything else in social ethics.

Faced with mass unemployment, social workers-turned-government administrators like Harry Hopkins, head of Roosevelt’s Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and his assistant, Aubrey Williams, held the view that unemployment was caused by a lack of jobs, not by the failure of the unemployed to seek or accept work, which was the view (supported by the teaching of classical and neo-classical economists) on which the nation’s existing poor law system was based.

The belief that joblessness is the fault of the jobless has returned today in the assumption, shared by most Republicans, that the unemployed can be prodded into getting a job by the withdrawal of the “crutch” that extended unemployment insurance supposedly provides. Many liberal Democrats share a less pejorative variant of this belief, of course, attributing joblessness to a “skills mismatch,” lack of education and training, or the excessive demands of unions, all of which place the onus for unemployment on the victims instead of an economic system that fails to deliver enough jobs—in good times and bad.

Religious bodies follow suit. Instead of organizing their constituencies to reverse this assault on the poor and unemployed, they dole out charity. However well motivated, providing soup kitchens and homeless shelters can never meet all of the need; but more importantly, it doesn’t do anything to confront the psychological and moral devastation faced by those without the prospect of meaningful, self-supporting work.

Putting America to Work

The underlying logic of the New Deal was that society had an obligation to offer aid to persons denied the opportunity to be self-supporting. Hopkins, in particular, favored jobs programs over relief or “welfare,” although relief was to be available to those who couldn’t work. For New Dealers, the goal was to close the economy’s job gap, not to correct the supposed moral failings of jobless individuals or to put pressure on them to seek and accept work when there wasn’t any.

The most obvious strategy was to use public funds to create jobs, which the New Dealers did in two ways. The first was to increase federal funding for public works contracted with private companies. Over its seven-year life, the Public Works Administration (PWA) awarded contracts to build more than 70% of the nation’s new educational buildings, 65% of its courthouses, city halls, and sewage-disposal plants; 35% of its new public-health facilities; 10% of all of new roads, bridges, tunnels and subways, in addition to large dams, airports and recreational facilities. The first effort to provide affordable housing for the working poor was undertaken by the PWA.

The second approach was to establish public employment programs for needy workers in which the government itself acted as the employer. The creation of these new jobs then stimulated job creation in the private sector by increasing both consumer purchasing power and capital goods orders.

While conservatives frequently accused these programs of being useless “make-work,” a waste of taxpayers’ money, the reality is just the opposite. Useful work which would not otherwise have been done literally changed the face of the country and provided a lasting legacy. Workers built and repaired 1 million miles of roads and 200,000 public facilities—including schools, playgrounds, courthouses, parks and athletic fields, swimming pools, dams, bridges, and airports—drained malarial swamps, eradicated malaria, and exterminated rats in slums. They planted over 3 billion trees, essentially reforesting a country whose original forest cover had been decimated, taught farmers how to conserve soil after nearly one-sixth of the nation’s topsoil had blown away in the Dust Bowl, reseeded a large part of the Great Plains, restored wildlife and built a system of over 800 state and county parks.

They electrified an entire region of the country, bringing what had been America’s “Third World” up to 20th century standards. They created works of art, gave concerts, set up theaters throughout the country, ran nursery schools, served over 1.2 billion school lunches to needy children, gave immunizations, taught illiterate adults to read and write, conducted surveys of economic, social and geophysical conditions, collected forgotten pieces of the nation’s heritage like the slave narratives, and wrote state guidebooks—classics that are still in use, providing invaluable material for historians and writers. They sewed 383 million coats, overalls, dresses and other garments, and, using surplus cotton, made more than a million mattresses that were given to destitute families, as were the garments.

These work programs weren’t perfect. Enacted on an ad hoc basis they were temporary emergency measures—and the number of people they could employ was limited by political opposition and the fear of government deficits. Moreover, the racial and gender discrimination of the time, enforced by Southern Democratic control of key committee chairmanships, limited their capacity to reach everyone who needed work.

Nevertheless, beyond the material benefits to the nation, these programs brought hope, a sense of purpose and dignity, and a feeling of national unity and pride to millions of people who had been beaten down and deeply stressed. They were a manifestation, however limited, of the “Kingdom of God” the Social Gospelers had preached about, and they showed a nation steeped in an ideology of individualism that government could alleviate problems beyond the scope of the private sector.

Near the end of World War II, President Roosevelt, fresh from the experience of the Great Depression and having seen how economic desperation had led to fascism in Germany, called for an Economic Bill of Rights that began with the guarantee of what he subsequently referred to as the “paramount right”—the right to living-wage work that would “earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.”

In addition, he called for the right to decent housing, adequate medical care, good education, adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment, and freedom from unfair competition and monopoly power. Unfortunately, Roosevelt’s untimely death, the military industrial complex that emerged from the war, and the failure of organized liberals to place job creation at the top of the agenda doomed this proposal to failure.

The Rise of Timid Religion

By the end of the war, those who’d been inspired by the Social Gospel—those who’d seen poverty and unemployment up close—were no longer in charge of the government. In the liberal churches and seminaries the Social Gospel gave way to Christian realism and neo-orthodoxy with some liberals during the Cold War even turning to neoconservatism. With a private economy booming as a result of the new markets opened up by the Marshall Plan and deferred domestic demand, the specter of mass unemployment no longer loomed, though unemployment would continue to be a chronic problem.

Even in the boom years of the 1960s there were twice as many job-seekers as there were jobs. And despite the 1963 March on Washington which had called for “jobs and freedom” and Dr. King’s call for a “Poor Peoples’ Campaign,” with his death the moral traction for economic justice was aborted.

But did that moral traction have to die with King? Why, at this pivotal moment was there no prophetic religious movement to carry his banner forward? There may be several answers. Certainly, the assassinations, the political trials and the ongoing Vietnam War had a traumatizing effect on the nation. In The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Picador, 2008) Naomi Klein wrote that when traumatizing events like these happen, capital rushes in to take advantage of the crisis to restructure the economy in favor of the radical free market. It was this period—the end of the 1960s and early 1970s—when the business community embarked on a war of ideas to take back the country from the “radicals” who had been undermining faith in the free market.

One of their targets for conversion was the country’s religious leadership. Using both the carrot (invitations to all-expenses paid weekend retreats where the values of laissez-faire were extolled) and the stick (the establishment of religious fronts like the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) among others that targeted liberals and progressives in the mainline denominations), they succeeded in both enabling the rise of a militantly political religious right and in weakening if not destroying whatever was left of the Social Gospel in the mainline denominations and their ecumenical bodies.

The liberal churches were ill-equipped to counter this assault on their values. Some time during the post-war dominance of the New Deal coalition they had given up the prophetic edge to a politics that sought accommodation within a liberal status quo. They would lobby the government on issues of “fairness,” seeking more funds for poverty alleviation or affordable housing, or, as they are doing today, for an extension of unemployment insurance or a raise in the minimum wage, but they dare not question the underlying structures that create poverty or homelessness or long-term unemployment. The more they were targeted by the Right for even these liberal aspirations, the more timid and uninspiring they became. In the liberal pews there is rarely a naming of the “principalities and powers” that now dominate our landscape. Is it any wonder that according to a recent Pew Research poll, millenials today have fewer attachments to traditional political or religious institutions than any other generation in the last quarter century?

With no movement like the Social Gospel to develop the ideas that could carry us into a new millennium and inspire young people with the idealism that the people, working through their government, could create a more humane social order, the stage was set for the triumph of the business counterrevolution with its ruthless privatizations, its wholesale destruction of democracy and the environment, and a return to the days of the Poor Law.

In the progressive era the banner for economic justice had been carried by the Social Gospel movement with its belief in the redemption of the sociopolitical order, a message inspiring enough to set the stage for some of the most significant reforms this nation has ever seen. We could use more of that alleged political naiveté today.

Sheila D. Collins is Professor of Political Science Emerita, William Paterson University and co-editor with Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg of When Government Helped: Learning from the Successes and Failures of the New Deal (Oxford University Press, 2013).  Her other books include Washington’s New Poor Law: Welfare Reform and the Roads Not Taken, 1935 to the Present (with Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg, 2001); Let Them Eat Ketchup! The Politics of Poverty and Inequality (1996); Jobs for All: A Plan for the Revitalization of America (with Helen Lachs Ginsburg and Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg, 1994); The Rainbow Challenge: The Jackson Campaign and the Future of U.S. Politics (1987); A Different Heaven and Earth: A Feminist Perspective on Religion (1974).

http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/politics/7486/milquetoast_liberal_religion_won_t_challenge_conservative_values__a_history_lesson

How Christianity Became a Lucrative Brand

 By Sarah Banet-Weiser, New York Press, posted on Alternet.org, December 17, 2012  http://www.alternet.org/books/how-christianity-became-lucrative-brand – The following is an excerpt from Sarah Banet-Weiser’s book Authentic published by NYU Press.

Mini-excerpt

Prosperity Christianity, or what some call “health and wealth” religion…is the adoption of the logic of free enterprise and branding as a way of understanding, experiencing, and proselytizing Christian religious values….. A focus on “free” enterprise—meaning (in part) an opposition to organized labor, state intervention, and public resources—made Christian enterprise compatible with conservative, anticommunist ideologies and the ideology of whiteness…. As a set of religious teachings and training, the theology is centered on the notion that God provides material wealth—prosperity—for those individuals he favors… the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the ‘sowing of seeds’ through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings…..a prioritizing of individualism, a privileging of the free market, a distrust in the state…

Excerpt

Prosperity Christianity, or what some call “health and wealth” religion… is often tied to Oral Roberts and other evangelists…historically related to faith healing… is related to the rise of Christian free enterprise in the mid-20th century and the interrelation between professional business and theologyChristian business schools (specifically in the midwestern US) emerged as places in which future evangelists could be trained to merge business skills with religious principles…provide a conservative and “moral” frameworkin the late 1970s. In the economic recession during this period, combined with residual countercultural fears…cultivated the individual entrepreneur as an important element to Christian free enterprise, which found a particularly rich home in small towns, farms, and local churches…the entrepreneur was cast as a special and rare type, not your typical bureaucratic businessman: “In this guise, the entrepreneur inherited the mantle of Jeffersonian virtue from the independent farmers and the Populist rebellion—a hero for the age of the mass office…. the Waltons, the founders of Wal-Mart, promoted Christian business schools and Christian free enterprise and free trade, which serve a vital function in the economic backdrop of advanced capitalism in the branding of religion Christian free enterprise is not simply the use of the marketplace to sell religion. It is the adoption of the logic of free enterprise and branding as a way of understanding, experiencing, and proselytizing Christian religious values. This not only is a necessary condition for the branding of particular religions but also changes the understanding of religion itself.

Indeed, the connection between Christian religious values and a kind of pro-corporate populism is crucial for branding Christianity because it offers the possibility of a wide audience for the brand. As Moreton points out, procorporate populism (which argues vehemently against government or state intervention) imbues the political economy with moral legitimacy, infusing it with the conservative values of a “rural white virtue.” … A focus on “free” enterprise—meaning (in part) an opposition to organized labor, state intervention, and public resources—made Christian enterprise compatible with conservative, anticommunist ideologies and the ideology of whiteness.Prosperity Christianity. As a set of religious teachings and training, the theology is centered on the notion that God provides material wealth—prosperity—for those individuals he favors. Prosperity Christianity cuts across denominational boundaries and is defined “as the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the ‘sowing of seeds’ through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings.” …found a welcome home in many megachurches across the US in the early 21st century this reimagined relationship between religion and the economy has become increasingly mainstream: a cover of Time magazine, in 2006, asked, “Does God Want You to Be Rich?”; a later cover, after the global economic collapse in the fall of 2008, asked a follow-up question: “Maybe We Should Blame God for the Subprime Mess?”

The Atlantic Monthly in 2009 asked a similar question: “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?” ….The most popular evangelical in the US in the 21st century, Joel Osteen…Another popular Prosperity evangelist, T. D. Jakes…primarily African American church in Dallas, Texas… televangelists Kenneth Copeland and Gloria Copeland, founders of the Kenneth Copeland Ministries and authors of books such as The Laws of Prosperity and Prosperity: The Choice Is Yours, preach that the more money worshipers give to the church, the more they will receive in their own lives. sermons focus on the righteousness of acquiring individual wealth and material success, a pursuit that becomes its own sort of salvation.

Not only are religious messages packaged like other brands, through infomercials, merchandise, and sophisticated media distribution, but also the content of the message can only be understood within a brand context: materialism, consumption, capitalist exchange, and personal empowerment… megachurches and other contemporary religious institutions (including many religious websites) are strategically nondenominational or “postdenominational” in their religious messages and practices. Within branded religions such as Prosperity Christianity, vague references to a Christian tradition that are individualized, such as how to make one’s life better, are more lucrative than specific and community-oriented content, such as a mention of Jesus….In the 1980s, televangelists like Jerry Falwell, Billy Swaggart, and Jimmy Bakker used television to build huge congregations across the nation…evangelicals draw millions of followers by reimagining Christianity, and part of this reimagining has been enabled by the normalization of the entrepreneur… With weak or no denominational ties, they are ‘free agents’ who make their mark on contemporary American society.”… some evangelists to consider themselves “free agents” in a neoliberal marketplace…

 

In the vacuum that was left by the eradication of the safety net [public provisions], churches and other faith-based organizations became the provider of last resort. Their family values rendered care a private privilege awarded in defense of marriage, not a mutual social duty of citizens to one another.…the fundamentalism of Christian ideology works in concert with the fundamentalism of the market, so that “prosperity” preaching provides a space in which the contradictions of “free” enterprise are resolved…The branding of religion in contemporary capitalism also means that neoliberal ideologies of the individual, the “free” market, and a lessening of state intervention of any kind are increasingly part of religious ideologies….a prioritizing of individualism, a privileging of the free market, a distrust in the state…For the vast majority of televangelists, commitments to hyper-American patriotism, free-market capitalism, and patriarchal conceptions of the ordering of society are regularly transmitted through mass-mediated images and ‘Christian’ discourse.”

If branding in its contemporary form emerges from a kind of fundamentalism of the free market, then this connects to (though does not always neatly map onto) a particular fundamentalism within religion. “Fundamentalism” here indicates not merely a strict adherence to religious doctrine as the truth but also a powerful belief in the set of neoliberal principles that structure contemporary cultural, political, and economic life. The fundamentalism of the free market, in turn, implies not only a strict adherence to capitalist doctrine as the truth (though it is about this kind of observance) but also a loyalty to capitalist logic as structuring principles for everyday life.

…Sarah Palin has efficiently built a self-brand as a religious American woman... The collapse of conservative ideologies into affective, indeed nostalgic, sentiments, especially those of a neoliberal definition of morality, is achieved through the use of conservative women as spokes- people for the nation. This collapse is also the crux of religious brand culture, which retools capitalist strategies and logics into cultural norms.

Full text

Prosperity Christianity, or what some call “health and wealth” religion, is largely a North American religious movement, connected to Pentecostal Christianity and Word of Faith teachings, and is often tied to Oral Roberts and other evangelists who became well known in the 1980s and 1990s. However, Prosperity Christianity is also historically related to faith healing; in the early 20th century, evangelicals focused on physical well-being as the therapeutic ethos of culture became normative and activities like the “mind cure,” which stressed the power of positive thinking as a cure for disease, became popular. Additionally, Prosperity Christianity is related to the rise of Christian free enterprise in the mid-20th century and the interrelation between professional business and theology. For instance, business schools began to attract religious individuals as both students and administrators by midcentury, and as business schools began to take a more prominent role in higher education, Christian business schools (specifically in the midwestern US) emerged as places in which future evangelists could be trained to merge business skills with religious principles.

In the later half of the 20th century, schools such as the University of Arkansas, the University of Ozarks, Southern Methodist University, and others developed business schools as a response to a variety of factors, including national market concerns, postwar inflation and debt, an increasing national demand for vocational business instruction, and a growing desire for whitecollar workers in the US. Christian business schools, however, could provide a conservative and “moral” framework for this kind of education. In her careful history of the global corporation Wal-Mart, Bethany Moreton argues that the figure of the contemporary religious entrepreneur became important to the rise of business programs at schools and universities around the US in the late 1970s. In the economic recession during this period, combined with residual countercultural fears of big business and bureaucratic businessmen, small-business enterprises and business schools cultivated the individual entrepreneur as an important element to Christian free enterprise, which found a particularly rich home in small towns, farms, and local churches. Outside the crowded, competitive urban industrial landscape, the emphasis on religion and American heritage that often characterized rural areas in the 1970s provided a welcoming context for the emergence of Christian free enterprise. These cultural spaces, as Moreton argues, “provided the cultural resources to enable a massive shift of economic possibility.”

In the small business schools that cropped up along the Sunbelt in the late 1970s, courses were offered in entrepreneurship, where, as Moreton states, the entrepreneur was cast as a special and rare type, not your typical bureaucratic businessman: “In this guise, the entrepreneur inherited the mantle of Jeffersonian virtue from the independent farmers and the Populist rebellion—a hero for the age of the mass office, a foil to sissified bureaucrats and the distant Shylocks of Wall Street.” As Moreton points out, the Waltons, the founders of Wal-Mart, promoted Christian business schools and Christian free enterprise and free trade, which serve a vital function in the economic backdrop of advanced capitalism in the branding of religion.

The commodification of religion had been a practice for centuries, but the use of the commercial marketplace to “sell” religion to reluctant, hard-to-reach, or otherwise inaccessible potential congregations proved successful in making religion “relevant” to an increasingly modern and pro-corporate population. But Christian free enterprise is not simply the use of the marketplace to sell religion. It is the adoption of the logic of free enterprise and branding as a way of understanding, experiencing, and proselytizing Christian religious values. This not only is a necessary condition for the branding of particular religions but also changes the understanding of religion itself.

Indeed, the connection between Christian religious values and a kind of pro-corporate populism is crucial for branding Christianity because it offers the possibility of a wide audience for the brand. As Moreton points out, procorporate populism (which argues vehemently against government or state intervention) imbues the political economy with moral legitimacy, infusing it with the conservative values of a “rural white virtue.” In the contemporary moment, the merging of Christian values with capitalist entrepreneurship takes the form of megachurches and charismatic evangelist leaders. A focus on “free” enterprise—meaning (in part) an opposition to organized labor, state intervention, and public resources—made Christian enterprise compatible with conservative, anticommunist ideologies and the ideology of whiteness. As Moreton argues, the wedding of conservative corporate ideologies to not simply Christian enterprise but Christian education in the formation of private Christian business schools created a context in which these two discourses were completely compatible, each informing the other: “The southwestern Christian college and the new mass white-collar workplace were just beginning a quietly historic partnership, and the terms of the bargain were clear enough.”

In the advanced capitalism of the later 20th century, the terms of the bargain find purchase in Prosperity Christianity. As a set of religious teachings and training, the theology is centered on the notion that God provides material wealth—prosperity—for those individuals he favors. Prosperity Christianity cuts across denominational boundaries and is defined “as the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the ‘sowing of seeds’ through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings.” Prosperity preaching has found a welcome home in many megachurches across the US in the early 21st century, spaces in which an evangelist preaches to hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals, as well as offering services to even larger audiences through live streams online. While there are certainly many religious detractors from Prosperity Christianity—indeed, Christianity Today describes it as “false gospel,” “unethical and unChristlike,” and “spiritually unhealthy”—it has garnered attention from thousands of followers, its message of gaining material wealth through prayer and commitment to one’s own congregation especially powerful since the global recession of 2008.

Recent headlines tell us something about how this reimagined relationship between religion and the economy has become increasingly mainstream: a cover of Time magazine, in 2006, asked, “Does God Want You to Be Rich?”; a later cover, after the global economic collapse in the fall of 2008, asked a follow-up question: “Maybe We Should Blame God for the Subprime Mess?”

The Atlantic Monthly in 2009 asked a similar question: “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?” Christian blogs have taken up the issue of merging money talk with scripture in sermons (alternately defined as Prosperity Christianity or “Christianity Lite”), with vehement defenders on both sides of the debate. The most popular evangelical in the US in the 21st century, Joel Osteen, whose Prosperity megachurch in Houston boasts more than 40,000 weekly worshipers, writes in his best-selling book Your Best Life Now, “Telling yourself you are poor, or broke, or stuck in a dead-end job is a form of sin and invites more negativity into your life.” Another popular Prosperity evangelist, T. D. Jakes, emphasizes personal achievement in his role as pastor of Potter’s House, a 28,000-member, primarily African American church in Dallas, Texas. As Shayne Lee and Phillip Luke Sinitiere point out, Jakes “argues that his ministries provide African-Americans with the life skills, emotional health, and psychological well-being to be successful.” They continue: “[Jakes’s] brand of personal empowerment promotes the bourgeois conservatism of the new black church.” In yet another example of Prosperity preachers, televangelists Kenneth Copeland and Gloria Copeland, founders of the Kenneth Copeland Ministries and authors of books such as The Laws of Prosperity and Prosperity: The Choice Is Yours, preach that the more money worshipers give to the church, the more they will receive in their own lives. 

The focus of evangelicals on personal empowerment and individuals (and, in this case, individual wealth) has reached a heightened significance in the early 21st century. Prosperity Christianity has become an important non- or postdenomination for many contemporary evangelical preachers, where sermons focus on the righteousness of acquiring individual wealth and material success, a pursuit that becomes its own sort of salvation.

Not only are religious messages packaged like other brands, through infomercials, merchandise, and sophisticated media distribution, but also the content of the message can only be understood within a brand context: materialism, consumption, capitalist exchange, and personal empowerment. As Einstein says about Prosperity preaching, “In order to draw in the masses, preachers must include what will attract the largest number of people—ideas about how their lives will be better, more prosperous, more fulfilling—and exclude those things that will lead viewers to reach for the remote control—mentions of Jesus, requests for contributions, suggestions that they are going to hell.”

A mention of Jesus is a turnoff for Christians? If Jesus is not an appropriate focus for spiritual leaders, the question then becomes: How does a spiritual leader become a valuable brand in a rapidly changing society? Evangelists now need to self-brand but another element obviously has to do not only with how particular individuals are skilled at making religion “relevant” to a contemporary culture (through communication technologies, social media, and so on) but with what identities are particularly brandable. That is, a lack of specificity in religious branding is important in order to reach a broad audience of religious consumers, so that megachurches and other contemporary religious institutions (including many religious websites) are strategically nondenominational or “postdenominational” in their religious messages and practices. Within branded religions such as Prosperity Christianity, vague references to a Christian tradition that are individualized, such as how to make one’s life better, are more lucrative than specific and community-oriented content, such as a mention of Jesus.

Contemporary evangelists, including Prosperity preachers, are the latest in a long history, dating back to the 18th century, of successful evangelists in the US. George Whitefield, who came to the US in 1738, was arguably the first successful evangelist; he was also an early marketer of religious ephemera.

The most successful early evangelists were skilled orators and entrepreneurs who were particularly savvy at using communication technologies to publicize their messages. Radio was a very useful medium for early 20th-century evangelists (as well as for advertisers and politicians). Religious leaders such as Aimee Semple McPherson, Charles Fuller, and Charles Coughlin became expert at using mass media to spread religious messages. In the 1930s, Coughlin’s weekly broadcasts reached more than 30 million listeners. In the 1980s, televangelists like Jerry Falwell, Billy Swaggart, and Jimmy Bakker used television to build huge congregations across the nation.

Today, as Lee and Sinitiere point out, evangelicals draw millions of followers by reimagining Christianity, and part of this reimagining has been enabled by the normalization of the entrepreneur: “Through the power of their appeal, rather than the authority of ecclesiastical positioning, [contemporary evangelists] assemble multi-million-dollar ministries and worldwide renown. With weak or no denominational ties, they are ‘free agents’ who make their mark on contemporary American society.” One way contemporary evangelicals “make their mark” is through the efficient use of new communication technologies to distribute their messages, from live streaming online videos of their services, to selling books and DVDs on iTunes, to Facebook pages. Self-branding, for some contemporary evangelists, has become an effective way to promote both themselves and the religious teachings they provide. Since, as I have argued elsewhere, self-branding is becoming a more normative practice in contemporary US culture as a way to craft personal identity, it makes sense for some evangelists to consider themselves “free agents” in a neoliberal marketplace. In other words, it is not simply more sophisticated media technologies, or a shifting capitalist system, or new understandings of individual subjectivities that authorize the emergence of the new evangelists in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. It is all of these elements, along with a more general cultural ethos of promotion, which suggests that branding is an aspect of new media logic that is altering even seemingly unconnected domains (such as religion).

The mass white-collar workplace Moreton details as emerging in the mid-20th-century US is precisely the demographic on which 21st-century advanced capitalism depends, both as a source of labor (itinerant labor, antiunion) and as the locus of racialized fears about immigrant labor (outsourcing, denial of immigration rights). Historically, the church has been an advocate of some state intervention and support—social gospelers, for instance, worked with New Deal policies in the early 20th century. Additionally, various Christian denominations have been community oriented rather than individually oriented. But rather than challenge neoliberal economic practices of “free enterprises” and work toward reestablishing state and federal public policies and practices, Christian “free” enterprise and individual entrepreneurship provide solutions to increased alienation (an alienation that ostensibly is caused partly by a multiracial and multicultural workforce and widening income gaps). The church becomes a site of refuge:

In the vacuum that was left by the eradication of the safety net [public provisions], churches and other faith-based organizations became the pro- vider of last resort. Their family values rendered care a private privilege awarded in defense of marriage, not a mutual social duty of citizens to one another. The irony was that both the corporations and the churches were already public-private partnerships by definition, built with public subsidy and dependent on state nurturance.

Advanced capitalist doctrine is expert in circumnavigating this kind of irony, where the emergence of the private, individual entrepreneur is validated by the state and public-private partnerships. In the context of the religious, individual entrepreneur, this irony manifests not only in the public- private partnerships of the church but also in the practice of spiritual leaders of simultaneously disavowing of capitalism and embracing of its logic. For instance, an immensely popular evangelist, Rick Warren, with an impressive megachurch of his own (the Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, currently the eighth-largest church in the US, averaging 22,000 weekly attendees) strongly disagrees with emphasizing a relationship between God and personal financial success.

As he says, “This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy? There is a word for that: baloney. It’s creating a false idol. You don’t measure your self-worth by your net worth.”  Warren’s comments are another example of how religious leaders purport to use the strategy of capitalism in the name of faith, without capitulating to capitalism’s system of value. This double mobilization maintains authenticity for such leaders; Warren’s statement that Prosperity teaching is “baloney” is another way to articulate it as inauthentic. Yet Warren has also been described being “as much Bill Gates as he is Billy Graham.” Forbes magazine “called Warren a ‘spiritual entrepreneur’” and stated that if Warren’s ministry were a business, it “would be compared with Dell, Google, or Starbucks.” Of course, Warren’s ministry is a business, so it makes perfect sense to situate it alongside Google or Starbucks. His book The Purpose Driven Life is a New York Times best seller and offers a personal guide for individuals to figure out their purpose in life (and despite the first line of the book, which answers this question with “It’s not about you,” it clearly is about you, and buying the book, and following his “Purpose Driven” philosophy).

Warren gave the benediction at President Obama’s inauguration in 2008, and Time magazine named him one of “15 World Leaders Who Mattered Most in 2004” and in 2005 one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.” Also, in 2005 U.S. News & World Report named him one of “America’s 25 Best Leaders.” So while Warren may preach against Prosperity Christianity, he is nonetheless part of a broader pattern of branding Christianity.

Warren and other contemporary evangelists like him, even when not expressing Prosperity Christianity explicitly, demonstrate the various ways in which religion is increasingly understood through the language of the brand. As Linda Kintz argues in her work Between Jesus and the Market, the fundamentalism of Christian ideology works in concert with the fundamentalism of the market, so that “prosperity” preaching provides a space in which the contradictions of “free” enterprise are resolved. That is to say, the practice of branding religion does not merely indicate that religious doctrine is simply communicated and experienced in an economic context. The branding of religion in contemporary capitalism also means that neoliberal ideologies of the individual, the “free” market, and a lessening of state intervention of any kind are increasingly part of religious ideologies. For example, the Prosperity leader Benny Hinn preaches about the specific ways in which God “wants” people to become wealthy. In one of his articles on his website, “Your Supernatural Wealth Transfer Is Coming,” Hinn cites Psalm 35:27: “Yea, let them say continually, Let the Lord be magnified, which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant.” Hinn interprets this as “It is God’s will that you prosper!” In this article, Hinn lists six “wealth transfers” that have happened throughout history, offering narratives of biblical figures such as Abraham and Isaac as benefiting materially from God’s will. The seventh person on Hinn’s list in line for a “wealth transfer” is, not surprisingly, “you” (“Next in line for a great wealth transfer is you!”). The key to becoming rich, Hinn tells his congregation, is to pray and spread the word of the gospel.63 Alongside tabs on his website like “spiritual life” and “healing,” Hinn features “financial freedom,” where he gives advice on money management, tithing, and God’s prosperity.

Hinn, like Osteen and other Prosperity preachers, is committed to an ideology of free-market capitalism and has found ways to imbricate this ideology into religious practice. Indeed, as Jonathan Walton points out, too little attention has been paid by religious scholars to evangelists as proselytizers of a particular Christian identity, “an identity defined, for the most part, by theological, cultural and political neoconservatism.” While neoconservatism cannot be collapsed with neoliberal culture, they share similar tenets in terms of a prioritizing of individualism, a privileging of the free market, a distrust in the state—and the way all of these discourses form a national- ist sensibility. As Walton continues, “For the vast majority of televangelists, commitments to hyper-American patriotism, free-market capitalism, and patriarchal conceptions of the ordering of society are regularly transmitted through mass-mediated images and ‘Christian’ discourse.”

If branding in its contemporary form emerges from a kind of fundamentalism of the free market, then this connects to (though does not always neatly map onto) a particular fundamentalism within religion. “Fundamentalism” here indicates not merely a strict adherence to religious doctrine as the truth but also a powerful belief in the set of neoliberal principles that structure contemporary cultural, political, and economic life. The fundamentalism of the free market, in turn, implies not only a strict adherence to capitalist doctrine as the truth (though it is about this kind of observance) but also a loyalty to capitalist logic as structuring principles for everyday life.

As Kintz argues, part of this fundamentalism has been the use of women as spokespeople for a kind of Christianity. Women have helped move fundamentalist religious concerns, once thought to be on the extreme margins, to the mainstream by collapsing these concerns into affective feelings about family, home, and domesticity: “That collapse has also paradoxically helped establish a symbolic framework that returns manliness to the center of culture.” A brief glance at US politics in the first decade of the 21st century demonstrates this, as former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin has efficiently built a self-brand as a religious American woman. In all her roles, as running mate to Republican presidential candidate John McCain, a political pundit for conservative news network Fox News, a spokesperson of the Tea Party, and a reality television star, Palin has clearly proselytized that the moral principles of the right wing in US politics and those of a masculinized religious sentiment can be merged—and merged most effectively in a feminine, preferably maternal, body. The collapse of conservative ideologies into affective, indeed nostalgic, sentiments, especially those of a neoliberal definition of morality, is achieved through the use of conservative women as spokes- people for the nation. This collapse is also the crux of religious brand culture, which retools capitalist strategies and logics into cultural norms.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/books/how-christianity-became-lucrative-brand

Links:
[1] http://nypress.com/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/sarah-banet-weiser
[3] https://nyupress.org/books/book-details.aspx?bookid=5999
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/mormons
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/christianity
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/propserity-gospel
[7] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Indoctrinating Religious Warriors

By CHARLES M. BLOW, NewYork Times, January 3, 2014

Excerpt

In 2009, the gap between the share of Republicans and Democrats who believed in evolution was just 10 percentage points, 54 percent and 64 percent, respectively. Last year, that gap widened to a whopping 24 points because as the percentage of Democrats who believed in evolution inched up to 67 percent, the percentage of Republicans believing so plummeted to 43 percent…news comes via a survey released this week by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project…I don’t personally have a problem with religious faith, even in the extreme, as long as it doesn’t supersede science and it’s not used to impose outdated mores on others. But some people see our extreme religiosity itself as a form of dysfunction.  In a 2009 paper in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, Gregory Paul, an independent researcher, put it this way: “The level of relative and absolute societal pathology in the United States is often so severe that it is repeatedly an outlier that strongly reinforces the correlation between high levels of poor societal conditions and popular religiosity.” But I believe that something else is also at play here, something more cynical. I believe this is a natural result of a long-running ploy by Republican party leaders to play on the most base convictions of conservative voters in order to solidify their support. Convince people that they’re fighting a religious war for religious freedom, a war in which passion and devotion are one’s weapons against doubt and confusion, and you make loyal soldiersThere has been anti-science propagandizing running unchecked on the right for years, from anti-gay-equality misinformation to climate change denials...Pew found that most staunch conservatives were regular viewers of Fox News, preferring the network to any other news source. Fox has helped to ingrain the idea that Republicanism and religiosity are embattled and oppressed, fighting for survival against the forces of secular extremists…The Christians-on-the-defensive stance was front and center in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries…Newt Gingrich…citing “secular bigotry”…This is a tactic to keep the Republican rank-and-file riled up, to divert their attention from areas of common sense and the common good. After all, infidels are deserving of your enmity, not your empathy.•

Full text

In 2009, the gap between the share of Republicans and Democrats who believed in evolution was just 10 percentage points, 54 percent and 64 percent, respectively.

Last year, that gap widened to a whopping 24 points because as the percentage of Democrats who believed in evolution inched up to 67 percent, the percentage of Republicans believing so plummeted to 43 percent… Now, more Republicans believe that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time” than believe in evolution.

This sad news comes via a survey released this week by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.

In fact, this isn’t only sad; it’s embarrassing.

I don’t personally have a problem with religious faith, even in the extreme, as long as it doesn’t supersede science and it’s not used to impose outdated mores on others.

But some people see our extreme religiosity itself as a form of dysfunction.  In a 2009 paper in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, Gregory Paul, an independent researcher, put it this way: “The level of relative and absolute societal pathology in the United States is often so severe that it is repeatedly an outlier that strongly reinforces the correlation between high levels of poor societal conditions and popular religiosity.”

But I believe that something else is also at play here, something more cynical. I believe this is a natural result of a long-running ploy by Republican party leaders to play on the most base convictions of conservative voters in order to solidify their support. Convince people that they’re fighting a religious war for religious freedom, a war in which passion and devotion are one’s weapons against doubt and confusion, and you make loyal soldiers…

There has been anti-science propagandizing running unchecked on the right for years, from anti-gay-equality misinformation to climate change denials.

When you look at white evangelical Protestants, the evolution denialism gets even worse. Only 27 percent of that group believes in evolution. According to a 2011 Pew report, while white evangelical Protestants make up only 18 percent of the population overall, they “make up 43 percent of Republicans who fall into the category of staunch conservatives.”

Pew defines “staunch conservatives” as those who “take extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues — on the size and role of government, on economics, foreign policy, social issues and moral concerns. Most agree with the Tea Party, and even more very strongly disapprove of Barack Obama’s job performance.”

Pew found that most staunch conservatives were regular viewers of Fox News, preferring the network to any other news source. Fox has helped to ingrain the idea that Republicanism and religiosity are embattled and oppressed, fighting for survival against the forces of secular extremists.

There was, for instance, the Fox News-fabricated “War on Christmas” and its fight against the “Happy Holidays Syndrome.” The face of the network’s defense-of-Christmas crusade has been the “Killing Jesus” co-author Bill O’Reilly, who this season declared a victory. In December, he said on his show: “It isn’t a mythical war on Christmas. It’s real, and we just won.”

But Fox is not alone. The Christians-on-the-defensive stance was front and center in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries. During a debate in January of that year, this question from a Virginia man was put to the candidates: “Given that you oppose gay marriage, what do you want gay people to do who want to form loving, committed, long-term relationships? What is your solution?”

Newt Gingrich responded, in part citing “secular bigotry”: “The bigotry question goes both ways, and there’s a lot more anti-Christian bigotry today than there is concern on the other side, and none of it gets covered by the news media.”

There was a sustained round of applause for Gingrich’s statement. So of course, the eventual nominee, the self-proclaimed “severely conservative” eater of “cheesy grits” Mitt Romney, had to ride Gingrich’s coattails by chiming in, “As you can tell, the people in this room feel that Speaker Gingrich is absolutely right, and I do too.”

Last year, the Liberty Institute and the Family Research Council released an updated, 189-page version of a book called “Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America.”

This is a tactic to keep the Republican rank-and-file riled up, to divert their attention from areas of common sense and the common good. After all, infidels are deserving of your enmity, not your empathy.

I invite you to join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at chblow@nytimes.com.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/04/opinion/blow-indoctrinating-religious-warriors.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

The Bible Paradox

by Big Think Editors, October 20, 2013

Excerpt

Nearly 80 percent of all Americans think the Bible is either literally true or is the inspired word of God. And yet, most Americans have no idea what is actually in the Bible…so we have the paradoxical situation in which we as a culture “have invested the words of this book with amazing authority even when we don’t know what these words are and what they mean.”

So says Joel Baden, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Yale Divinity School…“The Bible has effectively ceased to become a text,” Baden argues, but instead has become a symbol of power and authority “that is undergirded by the relatively uninformed faith commitments of the majority of the American public. To speak in the name of the Bible is to claim a piece of that authority.” And this is a power that can be abused, and often is…Our religious traditions have taught us to read the Bible this way. Since we are conditioned to search the Bible for one meaning, we have lost the ability to be careful readers…if we are to continue to invest as much authority in the Bible as we do, Baden says, we – as serious readers of the text – cannot pretend that the Bible is a single, clear statement of belief. Rather, “it is a jumble of beliefs…This text that our culture holds most sacred is a living reminder that human interaction is founded on dialogue and not monologue – the inclusion of differences, not their exclusion.

Full text

Nearly 80 percent of all Americans think the Bible is either literally true or is the inspired word of God. And yet, most Americans have no idea what is actually in the Bible, as Stephen Prothero notably demonstrated in his book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t.

(To test your religious literacy, take Prothero’s quiz here.)

And so we have the paradoxical situation in which we as a culture “have invested the words of this book with amazing authority even when we don’t know what these words are and what they mean.”

So says Joel Baden, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Yale Divinity School. Baden gave a recent talk called “What Use is the Bible?” (see video below) at The Nantucket Project, a festival of ideas on Nantucket, MA.

“The Bible has effectively ceased to become a text,” Baden argues, but instead has become a symbol of power and authority “that is undergirded by the relatively uninformed faith commitments of the majority of the American public. To speak in the name of the Bible is to claim a piece of that authority.”

And this is a power that can be abused, and often is. When people invoke the Bible, they are often seeking to invoke a deeper Biblical truth, one that represents a singularity of message and meaning. In other words, in order for the Bible to work as a prop, it needs to function like a sledgehammer. ”Nobody wants a wishy-washy authority,” Baden says.

Our religious traditions have taught us to read the Bible this way. Since we are conditioned to search the Bible for one meaning, we have lost the ability to be careful readers.

In the video below, Baden does something radically different. He walks us through the two contradictory creation accounts in Genesis. On what day did God create the plants and the birds and land and sea and Adam and Eve? If you read Genesis I and II back-to-back you are bound to be thoroughly confused. So why couldn’t the authors of the Bible get their stories straight?

“Whoever put these stories together effectively privileged form over content,” Baden says. The Bible’s author “was willing to sacrifice easy meaning and singularity of perspective for the presence in scripture of multiple perspectives.” The author was “happier with an incomprehensible plot – an impossible story – than to have to give up one of these two viewpoints.”

And so if we are to continue to invest as much authority in the Bible as we do, Baden says, we – as serious readers of the text – cannot pretend that the Bible is a single, clear statement of belief. Rather, “it is a jumble of beliefs,” Baden says, “a combination of voices…embedded in the text right from the word ‘Go.’”

So of what use is the Bible? This book is both the ultimate source of authority and completely indecisive. But that does not mean we should throw it away, Baden says. “This text that our culture holds most sacred is a living reminder that human interaction is founded on dialogue and not monologue – the inclusion of differences, not their exclusion.

http://bigthink.com/big-think-tv/the-bible-paradox

It Can’t Happen Here?

New Novel Explores Imposition Of A ‘Christian Nation’ On America

Americans United, September 2013

Fred Rich is an attorney in New York who has just published his first novel, Christian Nation. In this intriguing “what if,” Rich presents an alter­native version of recent U.S. history: It’s an America where the McCain/­Palin ticket wins the 2008 election, and McCain’s death shortly thereafter leads to a Palin presidency and a slide toward theocracy.

            Rich discussed the book with Church & State recently.

Q. You’re a successful lawyer who specializes in project financing. This is your first novel. What possessed you to write this book?

A. John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin shocked me. When she started insisting that America is a “Christian Nation” where all laws are and should be based on “God’s law” and the Bible, I started to do some research about what she meant. It was then that I found out about the breadth and depth of Christian nationalism, what the movement really wants and how profoundly they have influenced American politics. I felt I needed to do something and decided to try to tell the story in a different way.

Q. You obviously know a lot about Religious Right groups and how they operate. What non-fiction sources did you use to educate yourself while writing Christian Nation?

A. My primary sources were American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America and Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle both by Chris Hedges; Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism by Michelle Goldberg; The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power by Jeff Sharlet; American Theocracy by Kevin Philips and Republican Gomorrah by Max Blumenthal. In promoting my novel, I have done everything possible to direct people to these important books.

Q. Talk about the title of your book. Here at Americans United, we hear all the time that America was founded to be a “Christian nation.” Why isn’t it?

A. Political pundits have started to use the term “dog-whistle politics” to refer to the use of language that is assumed by the majority to mean one thing, but is only truly “heard” or correctly understood by a particular group. “Christian Nation” is one of those terms. When Palin, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry and others say that the U.S. is a “Christian nation,” most Americans think that simply means that over its history the majority of Americans have been Christian, and thus that Christianity has given our country many of its traditions and influenced its culture – all of which is, of course, true.  But that’s not what it means at all, or what is understood by the broad evangelical community. To them, it means the realization of America’s destiny to be a shining “city upon a hill,” a godly Kingdom in which God’s law as revealed in the Bible remains the source of all law.

It is a country in which politicians like Palin talk to God and tell the rest of us what He wants. To certain extremists, it also means a country in which Christians – evangelicals in particular – have “dominion” over all institutions of civic and political life, which they believe is a predicate to the second coming of Christ.

Q. Two obvious literary antece­dents to your book seem to be Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Were there other fictional works that inspired you?

A. Those were the main ones but also Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, where he uses a counterfactual – Charles Lindbergh becoming president in 1940 instead of Franklin Roosevelt – to animate his alternate history.  I suppose the book is most like Lewis’ book, since it is written contemporaneously with the problem and constitutes a plea to “not let it happen here.” My book differs from Margaret Atwood’s haunting book in that it outlines a practical path to the theocratic future, as opposed to just being set in a strange and unlikely future and leaving you to wonder how we got from here to there.

Q. People probably tell you all of the time that while your book is entertaining, it’s too fantastic and the scenario outlined could never happen in America. How do you respond to that?

A. It’s interesting – only people who have not read the book tell me that. That’s the mental place where we all start – it’s where I started.  It’s where the characters in my book start. I don’t argue with that or tell readers they are wrong. Instead, chapter by chapter, incrementally, with the ebb and flow of politics – with an unlucky combination of bad decisions and bad luck – a scenario starts to unfold under which the broader group of the “Christian Right” (perhaps 70 or 80 million Am­er­icans) buys into the agenda of the fundamentalists, the legal protections against authoritarianism are ever so gradually eroded and before long we find ourselves in a bad place. Most people who read the book find it totally credible, not believing that it will happen but convinced that it could happen.

Q. Some political analysts believe that American society is changing and that the Religious Right is on the ropes. What are your thoughts on this?

A. Too many of us in the big cities and “blue states” indulge in the wishful thought that the 2012 elections signal at long last the ebb tide of Christian fundamentalism in American politics. I certainly hope so. But that’s not what it looks like in much of the country. In what Garry Wills has called the “great bait and switch,” Tea Party politicians elected to tame deficits have instead unleashed a tsunami of conservative social legislation in the state legislatures, including by his count – in the first quarter of 2012 alone – 944 separate bills and amendments dealing with abortion and contraception. And most disturbingly, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports what they called a “stunning” rise in extreme right hate groups and militias.

Q. Days before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on marriage equality, several prominent Religious Right leaders issued a statement asserting that any ruling furthering same-sex marriage would be illegitimate and implied that they would strongly resist it. How far do you think these groups might go?

A. The “Freedom Federation,” a broad spectrum of about 200 groups, wrote, in part, “While there are many things we can endure, redefining marriage is so fundamental to the natural order and the true common good that this is the line we must draw and one we cannot and will not cross.”  And what does not crossing that line involve?  They explained:  “[I]f the government redefines marriage to grant a legal equivalency to same-sex couples, that same government will then enforce such an action with the police power of the State. This will bring about an inevitable collision with religious freedom and conscience rights. We cannot and will not allow this to occur on our watch.”

The Christian right is telling us that gay marriage and its “enforcement” by the state is an act that contravenes their own “religious freedom and conscience rights.”  When a gay couple gets married and lives in happy monogamy for the rest of their days, they argue, this constitutes a constitutionally and morally unacceptable infringement of the “religious freedom and conscience rights” of fundamentalist Christians, and thus something against which we can expect them to struggle – righteously – until they are once again “free.”  How far do I think they will go if they succeed in redefining the issue as an infringement of their own rights of religious freedom? All the way.

Q. Have you had any reaction from followers of the Religious Right?

A. Putting aside internet rants and insults, there have been a few comments challenging the idea that the evangelical political movement’s goal is theocratic. I understand these. Many self-identified “evangelicals” and “born-again” Christians do not share the agenda of the fundamentalists. I acknowledge this. But one of the lessons of history is that fundamentalists pose the greatest threat to their co-religionists – moderate Christians may have the most to lose by not calling out fundamentalists as the fanatics they are. I have been really pleased that so many moderate Christian ministers and theologians have praised my book.

Q. What can Americans do to prevent the kind of scenario outlined in Christian Nation from happening?

A. First and foremost, take it seriously. Everything depends on that. No one will be motivated to vote, speak or act to stop Christian fundamentalism if he or she believes they are a bunch of cranks. Listen to what they say, consider the possibility that they mean it, think about how fanatical movements have seized power throughout human history, and accept that our democracy, which strong, is not invulnerable. You will have noted that the book’s web site, www.readchristiannation. ­com, has a page called “Take Action,” in which I urge readers to join AU and similar organizations and do something. I will be very disappointed if a reader finishes my book and is not motivated to act.

Q. Is there anything you would like to add?

A. Only to thank everyone at AU for being among the first to understand this problem, for being relentless in their defense of separation of church and state and for doing what they do every day.

https://www.au.org/church-state/september-2013-church-state/featured/it-cant-happen-here

“Frederic C. Rich’s book, Christian Nation: A Novel  http://www.readchristiannation.com/novel/

The Spiritual and Political Warfare of the New Religious Right

by Bill Berkowitz for Buzzflash at Truthout, July 9, 2013

Excerpt

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.”…

Full text

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. Although Engle has been kicking around for more than a decade, it is only in the past few years that he and 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.

In 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that George W. Bush would be president, Lou Engle saw it as the answer to his prayers. A few months before the election, Engle had held an all-day prayer event in Washington, D.C., that drew approximately 400,000. Although Engle’s prayer rally wasn’t as magnetic or media buzz-worthy as when the Promise Keepers drew nearly one million to the nation’s capital three years earlier, it could be seen as Engle’s coming out party.

(The Promise Keepers is a still extant conservative Christian men’s organization whose membership and attendance at its stadium and arena events soared in the 1990s, and, due to internal squabbles, subsequently plummeted to earth in the first decade of this century.)

“The prayers of the faithful were answered when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Bush v. Gore decision, giving the election to George W. Bush,” 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. For the NAR, the DC rally was just the beginning of a more public political journey that has allowed it to become one of the most important and yet least understood religious/political movements in the country.

Since that first rally, “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,” Tabachnick, a PRA research fellow who has over the past several years become one of the nation’s leading experts on the New Apostolic Reformation, reported.

None other than the venerable Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, one of the Christian Right’s flagship entities, and a long-time culture warrior, credited Engle with bringing out the troops for a rally at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego one week before Election Day in 2008, and making a huge difference in helping pass Proposition 8, California’s anti-same-sex marriage initiative. According to Tabachnick, “Engle’s organization mounted a radio campaign and sent out email and phone blasts in support of Proposition 8, and he urged attendees to be martyrs for the cause.”

Journalist and Talk2Action co-founder, Bruce Wilson described Engle as “the unofficial prayer leader of the Republican Party.” He has been called a “radical theocrat,” and the Southern Poverty Law Center has said that he says he can occasionally “venture into bloodlust.”

Engle, a New Apostolic Reformation leader, has helped build a movement that has veered away from what we have come to know as the “traditional” Christian Right. It “is rooted in Charismatic Christianity, a cross-denominational belief in modern-day miracles and the supernatural.” It emerged from neo-Pentecostal movement of the 1980s and “spread to Roman Catholics and mainline and evangelical Protestant churches in the United States and worldwide.”

According to Tabachnick, the NAR embraces women and minorities, and is particularly focused on youth, “sponsoring youth events that look more like rock concerts than traditional church services.” Its “stylish leaders dress in casual clothes, encourage fasting and repetitive chanting as a means of inducing altered mental states, and use sophisticated media strategies and techniques to deliver their message.”

It’s not all style over substance as the NAR’s “most prominent leaders and prolific authors claim to be creating the ‘greatest change in church since the Protestant Reformation,’ and they describe themselves as modern-day prophets and apostles.”

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. “NAR training materials claim that communities around the world are healed of their problems — experiencing a sudden and supernatural decline in poverty, crime, corruption, and even environmental degradation — once demonic influences are mapped and then purged from society through NAR’s particular brand of ‘spiritual warfare,’ which is sometimes referred to as ‘power evangelism.’”

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.” According to NAR leaders, “strategic prayer can literally alter circumstances in the temporal world: the spontaneous burning and destruction of religious icons and structures,” Tabachnick noted.

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.”

Why pay any attention to what thus far appears to be a marginally effective political movement?

Tabachnick argues that, “The movement is bringing about profound changes in the character of conservative Christianity and the Christian Right, both in the United States and around the globe.” It is not only “building new institutions, but [it is] creating new networks and alliances among long-established institutions. The NAR’s leaders are methodically transforming the nature of the relationship between congregations and their leaders, creating a much more authoritarian leadership style than has traditionally been true of evangelical Christianity. That shift is central to the movement’s political potential.

“The NAR’s charismatic, authoritarian leaders are well-positioned to reinvent the Christian Right, infusing it with a new wave of energy, expanding its base of support, conducting sophisticated political campaigns, and doubling down on right-wing social and economic agendas — all while giving the Christian Right a new gloss of openness and diversity.”

The “leading theorist” and the NAR’s “most important organizing force” is C. Peter Wagner, a professor of “church growth” for three decades at Fuller Theological Seminary, a nondenominational evangelical seminary in Pasadena, CA. In the 1990′s, Wagner headed up the International Coalition of Apostles, a networking group that “presided over an association of apostles — many of which, in turn, claimed hundreds or thousands of ministries under their leadership.” He “also formed networks of faith-healing ministries, ‘deliverance ministries’ that claim to free people from demon possession, and an inner-circle of leading prophets, in addition to the Wagner Leadership Institute (WLI), a network of training programs in locations across the United States, Canada, and several Asian nations.”

Tabachnick pointed out that the New Apostolic Reformation’s influence does not end at America’s shores: “Engle was featured extensively in God Loves Uganda, a documentary about U.S. evangelical conservatives’ antigay influence in Uganda, where the infamous Anti-Homosexuality ‘Kill the Gays’ Bill was first introduced in 2009.”

The NAR might have reached its pinnacle in the summer of 2011 when 30,000 people attended a prayer rally in Houston, Texas. Promoted heavily of Texas Governor Rick Perry, then a leading contender for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, the rally featured several NAR leaders, “apostles and prophets who had for years remained under the radar were suddenly subjected to scrutiny from the media.”

“Exposed to this scrutiny, NAR’s leaders publicly distanced themselves from some of their more radical ideology. Webpages were removed and websites were amended to explain that the NAR’s apostles are either not Dominionists, or that the term simply means to gain influence in society.”

This increased scrutiny may have led to a retreat of sorts, but certainly not to surrender.

http://truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/item/18074-spiritual-political-warfare-new-religious-right

Yuletide’s Outlaws

By RACHEL N. SCHNEPPER, New York Times, December 14, 2012

Lexington, Va.

EACH year, as wreaths and colored lights are hung on any structure that can support their weight, another holiday tradition begins: the bemoaning of the annual War on Christmas.

The American Family Association has called for boycotting Old Navy and the Gap for, out of political correctness, not using the term “Christmas” in their holiday advertising. Parents have criticized schools for diminishing Christmas celebrations by giving equal time to Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. And the Catholic League used to have a Christmas “watch list” for naming and shaming “Christmas kill-joys.”

Anxiety over the War on Christmas is, in other words, an American tradition. But few realize how far back that tradition goes. The contemporary War on Christmas pales in comparison to the first — a war that was waged not by retailers but by Puritans who considered the destruction of Christmas necessary to the construction of their godly society.

In the early 17th century in England, the Christmas season was not so different from what it is today: churches and other buildings were decorated with holly and ivy, gifts were exchanged and charity was distributed among the poor.

Also much as it is today, it was a period of carousing and merriment. The weeks around Christmas were celebrated with feasting, drinking, singing and games. Mummers would blacken their faces and dress up in costumes, often in the clothes of the opposite sex, to perform plays in the streets or in homes. Carolers, too, would sing door to door as well as in the home. Wealthy lords threw open their manors, inviting local peasants and villagers inside to gorge on food and drink. Groups of young men called wassailers would march in and demand to be feasted or given gifts of money in exchange for their good wishes and songs.

Puritans detested these sorts of activities, grumbling that Christmas was observed with more revelry than piety. Worse, they contended that there was no Scriptural warrant for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Puritans argued (not incorrectly) that Christmas represented nothing more than a thin Christian veneer slapped on a pagan celebration. Believing in the holiday was superstitious at best, heretical at worst.

When the Puritans rebelled against King Charles I, inciting the English Revolution, the popular celebration of Christmas was on their hit list. Victorious against the king, in 1647, the Puritan government actually canceled Christmas. Not only were traditional expressions of merriment strictly forbidden, but shops were also ordered to stay open, churches were shut down and ministers arrested for preaching on Christmas Day.

The Puritans who came to America naturally shared these sentiments. As the Massachusetts minister Increase Mather explained in 1687, Christmas was observed on Dec. 25 not because “Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian” ones. So naturally, official suppression of Christmas was foundational to the godly colonies in New England.

On their first Christmas in the New World, the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony celebrated the holiday not at all. Instead they worked in the fields. One year, the colony’s governor, William Bradford, yelled at visitors to the colony who, unaware that Christmas was celebrated more in the absence than in the commemoration, were taking the day off. He found them “in the streete at play, openly; some pitching the barr, and some at stoole-ball, and shuch like sports.” After that incident, no one again tried to take off work for Christmas in the colony.

The Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony went one step further and actually outlawed the celebration of Christmas. From 1659 to 1681, anyone caught celebrating Christmas in the colony would be fined five shillings.

Well into the 18th century, those who attempted to keep the tradition of wassailing alive in New England often found themselves arrested and fined. Indeed, the Puritan War on Christmas lasted up to 1870, when Christmas became a legally recognized federal holiday. Until then, men and women were expected to go to work, stores were expected to remain open, and many churches did not even hold religious services.

So the next time someone maintains that they are defending traditional American values by denouncing the War on Christmas, remind them of our 17th-century Puritan forefathers who refused to condone any celebration or even observance of the holiday. In America, our oldest Christmas tradition is, in fact, the War on Christmas.

Rachel N. Schnepper is a junior faculty fellow in history at Washington and Lee University.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/15/opinion/the-puritan-war-on-christmas.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121215

Believers Beyond the Church: How the ‘Spiritual Not Religious’ Gospel Has Spread

By Matthew S. Hedstrom [2], Religion Dispatches [1]  November 9, 2012 

You can call them “unaffiliated,” as in a recent Pew poll, or “nones” — or even just “not very religious [5].” A new poll by the Public Religion Research Institute [6] divides this group further (and somewhat counterintuitively) into “unattached,” “atheists/agnostics,” and “seculars.” But whatever you call them, this ever-growing cohort of unchurched Americans makes up, at 23 percent [5], the single largest segment of Barack Obama’s “religious coalition” (compared to the 37 percent of white evangelicals who support Mitt Romney).

While we have yet to see a “Seculars for Obama” bumper sticker, the unaffliated are clearly having a moment [7]. Media analysis, however, has not gone very deep – there is a story here that goes beyond names and numbers.

Recent sociological work from Courtney Bender [8], Christian Smith [9], and others does help us understand who the current crop of unaffiliated are and what they do and believe. Yet we have precious little historical understanding of this critical and growing demographic. What are their roots? What religious, cultural, economic, demographic, and political processes shaped their sensibilities, habits, and makeup?

In order to understand these still-believing “nones,” we need to understand that much of the religious dynamism in the United States happens outside the church walls, and has for some time now. The “rise of the nones” is but the latest phase in the long transformation of religion into what we now commonly call “spirituality.” In my class on “Spirituality in America” at the University of Virginia, we use Leigh Schmidt [10]’s pathbreaking Restless Souls to trace this phenomenon over two centuries, from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s break with New England Unitarianism in the 1830s to the multibillion dollar spirituality industry of today.

Spirituality can mean many things, of course, and the language of spirituality is used by traditional religious adherents as well as the religiously unaffiliated. But only the “nones” have made it into a cliché: “spiritual but not religious.”

The history of American spirituality reveals that our commonplace understanding of spirituality—as the individual, experiential dimension of human encounter with the sacred—arose from the clash of American Protestantism with the forces of modern life in the nineteenth century. While religious conservatives fought to stem the tide, giving rise to fundamentalism, religious liberals adapted their faith to modernity, often by discarding orthodoxies in favor of Darwinism, psychology, and comparative religions.

The majority of today’s religious “nones” — those who claim no religion but still embrace spirituality – are engaged in the same task of renovating their faith for a new historical moment. And typically, they draw from this same liberal religious toolkit. Today’s unaffiliated, like the liberals of previous generations, typically shun dogma and creed in favor of a faith that is practical, psychologically attuned, ecumenical – even cosmopolitan – and ethically oriented.

This liberal spirituality, as it has evolved over time, has been deeply entwined with media-oriented consumerism. Of course Americans of all religious varieties have been deeply influenced by consumerism, but media and markets have particularly shaped the religious lives of those without formal institutional or community ties. The religiously unaffiliated might not attend services, but they “do” their religion in many other ways: they watch religion on TV and listen to it on the radio; find inspiration on the web; attend retreats, seminars, workshops, and classes; buy candles and statues, bumper stickers and yoga pants; take spiritually motivated trips; and, perhaps most significantly, buy and read books.

Since the 1920s, when the major New York trade presses first started offering nonsectarian religious books in significant numbers, books have been the most important conduit for spreading the “spiritual but not religious” gospel.

This dependency on the consumer marketplace, and especially books, has had significant consequences for the religious lives of all Americans, especially the unaffiliated. First, it has enhanced the tendencies within American religion toward a therapeutic understanding of the spiritual life. The profit-oriented commercial presses that came to dominate religious publishing naturally pursued the largest market possible for their goods, and seized on the non-creedal, nonsectarian, and psychologically modern forms of faith advanced by religious liberals as a common American religious vernacular. These trends have only accelerated from the 1920s to the present, such that now the line between religion and self-help disappears in the spirituality section of Barnes & Noble.

Second, spiritual consumerism has fostered a robust cosmopolitanism. Books allow readers entry into previously unimaginable religious worlds. Since trade presses entered the religion game with vigor, the lines of denomination and tradition have mattered less and less. The political and moral imperatives of World War II provided the greatest stimulus to such interfaith reading, and before long even the Protestant-Catholic-Jew formulation of the era could not contain American readers. What matters to the unaffiliated is not imprimatur but inspiration.

The Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith has observed [11], “Liberal Protestantism’s organizational decline has been accompanied by and is in part arguably the consequence of the fact that liberal Protestantism has won a decisive, larger cultural victory.” The “cultural victory” Smith and others write about happened not because more Americans joined liberal churches, in other words, but because liberal religious values and sensibilities became more and more culturally normative. And no single cultural force has been more significant to this profound religious shift than the unabashed consumerism of the religious book business in the twentieth century.

Even as religious affiliations decline, religious books sales continue to rise, as they have steadily for more than a half century. In this ultimate spiritual marketplace, American religion displays its full shape-shifting vitality.

See more stories tagged with:

Brookings Institute [12],

election2012 [13],

media [14],

nones [15],

obama [16],

pew [17],

public religion research institute [18],

publishing [19],

spirituality [20],

unaffiliated [21]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/belief/believers-beyond-church-how-spiritual-not-religious-gospel-has-spread

Links:
[1] http://religiondispatches.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/matthew-s-hedstrom
[3] http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/politics/4838/god%E2%80%99s_law_is_the_only_law%3A_the_genesis_of_michele_bachmann/
[4] http://www.religiondispatches.org/subscribe/
[5] http://www.religionnews.com/politics/election/the-biggest-slice-of-obamas-religious-coalition-the-unaffiliated
[6] http://publicreligion.org/research/2012/10/american-values-survey-2012/
[7] http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/6493/does_record_number_of_religious_%E2%80%9Cnones%E2%80%9D_mean_decline_of_religiosity/
[8] http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2012/10/10/what-does-spirituality-mean-in-america-today/
[9] http://www.nd.edu/~csmith22/
[10] http://www.religiondispatches.org/contributors/leighericschmidt/
[11] http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/ReligionTheology/SociologyofReligion/?view=usa&ci=9780195371796
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/brookings-institute
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/election2012
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/media-0
[15] http://www.alternet.org/tags/nones
[16] http://www.alternet.org/tags/obama-0
[17] http://www.alternet.org/tags/pew-0
[18] http://www.alternet.org/tags/public-religion-research-institute
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/publishing
[20] http://www.alternet.org/tags/spirituality
[21] http://www.alternet.org/tags/unaffiliated
[22] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B