Cross Examination: On God and Caesar in America
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Mon Nov 21, 2005 at 08:04:23 AM EST
Gary Hart, author of God and Caesar in America
Gary Hart, author of God and Caesar
in America


This is the first essay in a series on how to engage moderate Christians in effective dialogue on why theocracy is dangerous and how to strengthen democracy -- including freedom of speech and freedom of religion -- for everyone. The questions at the end may be particularly useful for Christians engaging other Christians on the importance of building community, contributing to public dialogue, respecting diverse viewpoints, and living out our guiding principles without imposing our opinions on others. In addition, responses and questions from individuals of all experiences, perspectives, and beliefs are welcome.

Former Senator Gary Hart (D-CO) just published God and Caesar in America: An Essay on Religion and Politics (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2005). In this 86-page paperback, he analyzes the dangers of a minority wing of a religious movement subverting one political party in order to exert power and force its opinions on all individuals and families in a large and diverse democracy. Hart offers a slim text that packs a smooth and powerful argument -- one strong enough to be effective against  the giant, invasive, and chest-thumping theocratic Christian Right, its proponents, and their GOP-generated talking points.
His appeal is especially effective since it is not only grounded in history and relevant to current events -- including growing opposition to America's imperialist foreign policy -- but also informed by a deeply felt faith, and spoken from the heart. He draws on his public service career, his experience as a teacher, and on his religious training. Hart was raised in Kansas, in a family that belonged to the Church of the Nazarene. Speaking as a former elected official, and as one whose theology has inspired him to advocate liberal principles (including separation of church and state, a liberal principle which is found in the New Testament and foundational to American democracy), he boldly knocks down theocrats from their presumed position of political superiority.

One such theocrat whom Hart may have had in mind is his fellow Coloradan and Focus on the Family leader James Dobson, who was reared in the same faith community as Hart, but who labors to undermine democracy and replace it with theocracy.

Hart recently told Denver Post columnist Diane Carman that "my wife's family knew Dobson's family." He added, "In the book I raise the question: How could the same God who insisted that James Dobson become a Republican insist that I become a Democrat?"

Dobson, who is trained not as a minister, but as a child psychologist, has told conservative, evangelical Christians that God "has called us to be His representatives in our nation and in our world. Select candidates who represent your views and work for their election." Dobson leaves no room for doubt that the candidates and views of which he speaks are conservative, evangelical Christians and others whose views coincide with Dobson's political agenda.

Hart, who is trained in theology, law, and philosophy -- he earned degrees from Bethany Nazarene College in 1958 and Yale Divinity School in 1961 before graduating from Yale University Law School in 1964, and earning a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University in 2001 -- rejects the notions that God needs to be represented by politicians and their operatives, or that Christians need to impose their private beliefs on others.

Hart paraphrases the opening language of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to make a compelling point: "It is a far cry from 'Congress shall make no laws concerning the establishment of religion' to 'Congress shall adopt my religious beliefs and make them the law of the land." (p. 28)

He goes on to challenge Christian supremacy without sacrificing his own deeply and privately held religious convictions:

"Those on the right seem to think that they deserve a special place on the political platform simply because they are intense in their beliefs and that their intensity is somehow significantly more spiritual than anybody else's," writes Hart. "But I hold to my religious beliefs and am committed to the liberal humanitarian agenda they command in me, every bit as strongly as any person on the religious right. It does not seem to occur to those on the religious right that another person's spiritual beliefs might lead them to different political conclusions, conclusions that we should care for the poor, seek peaceful resolution of conflict before making war, act as nature's stewards, or be committed to social justice. The religious right is entitled to its interpretation of religious truth. It is not entitled to conclude that the intensity of its passions grants it a position of political superiority....

"Living one's beliefs in everyday life and seeking to influence by example and contribution is one thing. Imposing one's beliefs on others by political manipulation and coercion is quite another. The great danger of the politicization of the early twenty-first-century religious revival, or the religious occupation of politics, is the corruption of both politics and religion." (pp. 33-34)

That's a reasonable stance, and a respectful tone. And Hart's argument is all the more accessible since he does not set himself on a pedestal, but admits to falling short of Jesus's example repeatedly. (But then, haven't we all, and isn't that why Jesus emphasized grace and forgiveness instead of casting stones?)

Hart titles his essay after Jesus' teaching that people of faith should pay their taxes dutifully, and otherwise respect the authority of secular rulers, such as Tiberius Caesar, whose stern countenance was stamped on Roman coins.

Jesus held one such coin and said, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." (New International Version, Gospel According to Matthew: 22:21) Further, Jesus rejected the notion that he came to replace Roman rule with theocracy, when he stated to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, "My kingdom is not of this world." (Gospel According to John, 18:36)

Questions:

(1) Does God really ask people to be his representatives on earth? And if so, what does that mean? How does one figure out whether the self-proclaimed "representative" is really speaking for God instead of his own personal and highly subjective political agenda that has little or nothing to do with the example and teachings of Jesus?

(2) Since Jesus urged followers to respect secular government, and taught that "the kingdom of God" is not to be an earthly institution, how can any attempt to establish the kingdom of God on earth (that is, a theocracy) be reconciled with the example and teachings of Jesus?

(3)  Bonus round for American history buffs. Hart freely admits to being imperfect; maybe his greatest sin is misquoting New Hampshire's state motto. ("Taken from early revolutionary America, the New Hampshire state slogan, 'Don't Tread on Me,' encapsulates a truth at the heart of America's polity: do not try to impose your beliefs on others." p. 27) Hart makes a good point, but uses the wrong ammo: "Don't Tread on Me" was indeed used during the Revolutionary War, but on battle flags, such as the Gadsden flag, with its defiant rattlesnake symbol. For five extra points, and the right to do a Church Lady "superior dance," what is the real New Hampshire state motto (a quote from General John Stark, the Granite State's greatest Revolutionary War hero), and why does it spell out a cold welcome for theocrats?




Display:
I'm very excited about this blog since I have a real interest in helping inform people about the growing dangers of theocracy and dominionism.  I noticed the comment in the introduction about speaking to moderate Christians.  That's very important, since many are not well informed on this issue.  However, I also believe it is important to find ways to dialogue with people in the pews of theocracy-oriented fundamentalist churches, many of whom are both unaware of and would not support the kind of government their local and national leaders are working for.  In fact, this may be the more important group to try to reach.

I'm in touch with liberal Christians and progressive secularists in Houston who also have an interest in broadening the debate on this issue.  We'll be showing Theocracy Watch's video on "Are We Becoming a Theocracy" in several venues and Americans United for Separation of Church and State recently showed it at a workshop on that subject in Houston.

If others have creative ideas on how to reach both moderate church people and honest evangelicals who don't really know how they are being duped, please share them with the rest of us.

Larry Jones

by larry jones on Mon Nov 21, 2005 at 05:21:45 PM EST

Many of our front page posting members - Jonathan Hutson, Chip Berlet, and others, specialize in that very approach.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Nov 21, 2005 at 05:41:43 PM EST
Parent


I was driving behind someone with a NH plate this morning, and the motto is "Live Free or Die".

Pretty stark, if you ask me.

To answer question one, I think that we are all God's representatives, since we are ensouled human beings. If we were made in God's image, that means that we represent him.

But of course, there will always be people who gallop off with the bit (or the Bible) and declare that they are 'anointed' somehow, and their representation of God (or, "Gawd") is better than anyone else's. Then they get a big head and start trying to dictate what "Gawd" is telling them to do.

Once upon at time, people who heard voices of that sort, (and admitted to them) were either confined to churches or mental institutions. Today, their declarations of what "Gawd" wants us to do are everywhere, including places that they perhaps not ought to be. God can care less about politics. He's probably off somewhere swanning around, or trimming his beard, not micromanaging humanity.

People who are attempting to establish an earthly "Kingdom of God" obviously are ignoring Christ's words. And it is very clear, if you read the writings of those who want to create a theocracy, that this so-called "Kingdom" is as far from Christ's teachings as the poles are apart on this planet.  

by Lorie Johnson on Mon Nov 21, 2005 at 09:27:08 AM EST

Hi: I'll break blog-etiquette by just congraluting all on this new blog. You are linked to http://cyberpols.blogspot.com (not an ad, but feel free to come by).

I've been digging TheocracyWatch, and not because it hails from my alma mater. Wolfowitz hails from my alma mater, too!

Excellent stuff, and I plan to read up when I'm not under a deadline, and also to publicize this blog, which is all-important.

I am very interested in reading Hart's book -- he always has very interesting things to say. Imagine if he'd been elected in 1984...?

Congrats to all participants and to the instigators, especially.

Dug

by dtarnopol on Mon Nov 21, 2005 at 11:37:05 AM EST
Parent

I just realized that my previous comment could easily be taken as using this blog to advertise my own. If I could edit that comment I would -- feel very free to ignore my blog -- that wasn't the point.

Point: Kudos to this blog!

Apologies...

Dug

by dtarnopol on Mon Nov 21, 2005 at 11:47:31 AM EST
Parent


I'd suggest this rule of thumb : if users link to their own blogs and the blog material is relevant, fine.

What we won't tolerate on the site are links to commercial products - in other words, no "Pespi-Blue" links. We reserve the right - of course - to make special exeptions. But that's the benchmark. No Pepsi Blue.

Reference : Pepsi Blue and group blogs

by TTA Site Administration on Mon Nov 21, 2005 at 03:46:42 PM EST
Parent



Lorie writes: "To answer question one, I think that we are all God's representatives, since we are ensouled human beings. If we were made in God's image, that means that we represent him."

Yes, one could say that all human beings share a divine spark, and in that respect, we humans are all "in the image of God." Many religions hold that as a tenet.

For First Century followers of Jesus, there was an idea of being not just a reflection of God (in a passive sense), but also a desire to more closely conform to the image of God, in an active sense. When I appreciate the divine stamp on my soul, that has ethical implications: it "renews" my sense that if I have the divine spark, then so does everyone else, and that perspective changes the way I treat other human beings as my brothers and sisters.

Having "knowledge in the image of [one's] Creator" means treating others equally, without discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, culture, gender, class or creed. "Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free..." (Colossians 3:9-11). In such a place, there is no room for Christian supremacy.



by jhutson on Mon Nov 21, 2005 at 05:13:45 PM EST
Parent



Live free or die...and they freaking MEAN it.

Mostly when it comes to being taxed, and having "local control" whatever that means.

I ran away from my home state as an adult and never looked back...

But yes, the libertarian streak in the state does incorporate living free from forms of tyranny such as the crossing of religion and state.

My MA blog: LeftinLowell.com


by lynne on Mon Nov 21, 2005 at 02:57:44 PM EST
this summer, in terms of social dysfunction :

Trends in murder, violent crime, rape, divorce, teen pregnancy.....

Well, Mass. has had the lowest divorce rate of any US state for several years running.

IN contrast NH has unusually high rates ( fourth of fifth quintile, if I'm recalling correctly ) in:

  1. Divorce
  2. Rape
  3. Beer Drinking

What it means I won't venture to guesss.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Nov 21, 2005 at 03:52:34 PM EST
Parent


  1. I BELIEVE: Everyone speaks based on their own personal and highly subjective political or social agenda. Some people actually may believe that they are echoing the thoughts or words of a God who, at some time or place whispered in a mortal ear when what they are actually echoing is the collected wisdom of humanity as it was filtered down through the ages.

  2. Beats me!

  3. The New Hampshire motto, "Live Free or Die" not only spells out a cold welcome for theocrats but for anyone else who tries to impose their moral authority on free, rational people.


by harveyg on Sun Nov 27, 2005 at 10:37:48 PM EST


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