Biblical Capitalism - The Sacralizing of Political and Economic Issues
Numerous sources were used for historical material, quotes, and graphics. A picture is worth a thousand words and my presentation included over 100 graphics, but perhaps less words than the following summary! Hopefully the following bibliographies and online sources will be useful for those who would like to do additional reading on this topic.
"The Public Eye" is a publication of Political Research Associates, an organization which has tracked the money trail of funding for right wing think tanks supporting radical free market and anti-union policy. The introduction of the presentation included "The Public Eye's" tracking of 170 million dollars of funding.
Following the money trail alone does not answer the question of how economic policy becomes "sacralized."
Throughout the presentation quotes were included from various textbooks which include the following concepts.
Federal government statistics show homeschooling increasing rapidly with an estimate of 1.5 million students home schooled in 2007. Homeschooling organizations and the Alliance for Separation of School and State claim that number is growing rapidly. The latter is an organization which aims to eradicate public education in America. This agenda to privatize all schooling is supported by numerous religious leaders, and includes Rep. Ron Paul, syndicated columnist John Rosemond, and former Secretary of the Interior Don Hodel.
A short history of the emergence of "biblical capitalism" was included in the presentation beginning with the struggle to counter the "social gospel" in the early 1900s. "The Fundamentals," a series of pamphlets funded by Lyman Stewart, were distributed to ministers across the nation beginning in 1910. William Bell Riley was one of the founders of the World Christian Fundamentals Association and a prominent leader of the fundamentalist movement which declared war on modernism, liberalism, progressivism and evolution. The creation-evolution controversy erupted in the Scopes trial in 1925.
The combined business/fundamentalist war on the legislation of the New Deal is the topic of a book released last month by Kim Phillips-Fein, titled Invisible Hands, the Businessmen's Crusade against the New Deal. This book serves as a good compliment to the bestseller, The Family by Jeff Sharlet, which details a religious/ political fraternity begun in the 1930s which continues today and includes sponsorship of the National Prayer Breakfast. Phillips-Fein tracks the war on New Deal legislation including J. Howard Pew's "Spiritual Mobilization" which distributed Frederich Hayek's Road to Serfdom to churches and ministers.
Phillips-Fein continues with the "anti-communist" preachers of the 1950s and the Christian Businessmen Committees as the Cold War "divided the world into the God-fearing and the godless." Anti-communist preachers such as Billy James Hargis targeted civil rights and sex education as communist plots. Carl McIntire claimed that churches in the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches had been infiltrated with communist cells.
This battle was continued by Billy Graham who was handpicked by William Bell Riley to lead his fundamentalist empire after Riley's death.
"In the 1920's a loosely united band of militant conservatives launched a crusade to capture control of the major Protestant denominations," in the words of historian William Vance Trollinger, Jr. These fundamentalists were viewed after the Scopes trial as "uneducated, intolerant rustics."
Graham rehabilitated and modernized fundamentalism, making it more inclusive. However, he retained much of fundamentalist doctrine as well as the fundamentalist determination to combat progressive and liberal churches. Recently released Nixon tapes include conversations in which Graham discussed his plans to developing an alternative to the World Council of Churches, which Nixon and Graham described as friendly to communists. In relating his plans for the Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization (LCWE), Graham states "just as you have changed the political picture, we hope to change the religious picture." The LCWE convened in 1974 and Graham, who remained remarkably nonpartisan, was dramatically successful in "changing the religious picture." You can hear the tape and read the transcript here and here. This is the same segment of tape in which Graham refers to Doug Coe, head of "The Family" and describes some Jews as the "synagogue of satan."
The Institute on Religion and Democracy has been dedicated to continuing the task left undone by Riley and the fundamentalist in the 1920s, of taking over or dismantling churches they view as progressive. The IRD has served as the umbrellas organization for the "renewal" groups whose hot button issue is the participation of homosexuals and gay leadership. However, the funding for the organization has come from Richard Mellon Scaife and some of the same foundations that support laissez-faire and anti-union economic policies, seen in the introduction of the presentation.
Ayn Rand, author of The Fountainhead,, and Atlas Shrugged popularized the "free market gospel," the idea that unregulated capitalism was the ideal economic system. However, Rand was fiercely anti-religious, believing that capitalism worked because of self-interest. As Phillips-Fein explains, Rand believed that a moral code which taught that "everybody was responsible for everybody else's welfare" was the real danger to capitalism. Rand described herself as a "radical for capitalism" and her books have sold over 25 million copies but, due to her disdain for religion, Rand's views did not appeal to religious fundamentalists.
The person who brought together all the components for biblical capitalism is not a household name but one of the most important thinkers behind today's Religious Right - the late Rousas John Rushdoony, founder of Christian Reconstructionism.
It was only with the publications written by R.. J. Rushdoony, beginning in the early 1960's that any theologian began to make a serious, systematic, exegetical attempt to link the Bible to the principles of limited civil government and free market economics.
Rushdoony laid the foundation for "biblical capitalism" by claiming that unregulated markets are pure because they are dictated by biblical law. In his vision the federal government was to be largely dismantled including all economic regulatory systems. Law and order would be maintained through strict enforcement of biblical law including execution for offenses like homosexuality, abortion, adultery, and heresy. Rushdoony believed that generations of children would need to be trained outside of public school systems to serve as the holy warriors to "reconstruct" America along biblical lines and he is considered the "father" of modern homeschooling. He is also credited with helping creationists, such as Henry Morris, revive the war on evolution and science.
Perhaps even more significantly, Rushdoony provided the foundation in which millions of those who now describe themselves as the "Religious Right" could become activists working with the political Right. Rushdoony taught that fundamentalists should not retreat, or separate from, but take "dominion" over society. Rushdoony's inner circle included both Howard Phillips, founder of the Conservative Caucus and Howard Ahmanson, who funded Rushdoony's Chalcedon Foundation and poured millions into political/Religious Right activism. Rushdoony's message has now been heeded across a broad range of the American religious spectrum.
Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands, The Businessmen's Crusade Against the New Deal (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009).
Current Filters for Sacralizing Economic Policy:
The "filters" are activists who take economic issues and "sacralize" them as biblical mandates. Rushdoony's son-in-law Gary North and David Barton, head of Wallbuilders are two prominent examples of leaders in this process.
Gary North's archived writing can be viewed at this link. Several of the "Biblical Economics Today" newsletters (select from left column) were featured in the presentation including Pat Robertson's 1979 article titled "A Christian Action Plan for the 1980s" and North's articles on labor unions. North also writes for column of Lew Rockwell, head of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and has served as a research assistant for Rep. Ron Paul. North was speaking at a Christian History Conference in the north Atlanta suburbs on January 30.
"We must use the doctrine of religious liberty ... until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government.
David Barton, founder of Wallbuilders, has built a reputation across the nation for his Christian Nationalist interpretation of American history. He served as the Vice Chair of the Texas Republican Party and is currently serving on the Texas schoolbook commission which is in process of removing Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall from history texts and is pushing to make Joseph McCarthy a hero. See the Texas Freedom Network newsletter.
Growth in the sophistication of revisionist Christian nationalist media can be demonstrated with a sequence of three books by David Barton and Wallbuilders - The Myth of Separation of Church and State (1992), Original Intent (1999) and Under God (2004).
The "biblical capitalist" message is disseminated to churches by Barton's Wallbuilders and through organizations like Family Research Council. A 2007 interview with FRC leaders by Abby Sher, previously with The Public Eye, indicates the ongoing efforts to convince churches to embrace Gary North's brand of radical free market ideology.
History Is Powerful: Why the Christian Right Distorts History and Why it Matters
Right Wing Populism and the Dangers of Conspiracy Theories:
In times of economic downturn, scapegoating and conspiracy theories are often used to divert attention away from serious evaluation of policy and to provide simplistic answers and narrow targets for public anger.
An example given was my personal experience in Georgia in May 2009. Georgia has had more bank failures in the last two years than any other state and the real estate market is devastated in many locations. However, I was told by several Georgians that the failure in the housing market was due to a secret deal made by the government to provide reparations to African Americans. This is an alternate narrative which obscures the real issues behind Georgia's economic failures and diverts the blame.
Conspiracy theories similar to those promoted by fundamentalists in the 1920s and 1930s which combine secular conspiracy with the anti-Christ narrative of the end times, have been given new life by Pat Robertson, John Hagee, and groups like the "The Prophecy Club" have utilized conspiracy-minded former military leaders.
These conspiracy theories are then "re-secularized" by rightwing pundits like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh who drop some of the overt religious language but maintain the literal demonization of liberals found in these end times narratives.
For instance, Prophecy Club speakers such as Ret. Col. Jim Ammerman and Al Cuppett, who advertises himself as a retired US Army & Action Officer with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are a widely referenced source of claims that the U.S. is losing its sovereignty and will imminently be attacked by millions of foreign troops waiting at U.S. military bases and national forests. Cuppett is a source of the claim that Christian patriots are on "red and blue lists" and will be taken by boxcars to FEMA concentration camps to be executed. These conspiracy theories, widely broadcast during the Clinton administration and making a media comeback, stoke fears that the president and other politicians are "Manchurian candidates" working for outside forces as part of a satanic plot against the U.S.
The sources of conspiracy theories are not always white supremacist groups. Ret.Col. Jim Ammerman currently heads the endorsing agency that approves and oversees independent charismatic chaplains in the United States military. He is on the board of an accreditation agency for evangelical schools, TACI and is Vice President of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Schools where he serves on the board with Chuck Norris.
Ammerman's colleague, Religious Right leader John Hagee, has spent years priming his international broadcast audience to believe that the Federal Reserve is part of a Rothschild/Illuminati/New World Order cabal which is intentionally destroying the American economy. Despite his anti-Semitic rants, Hagee is defended by many Jewish leaders including Joe Lieberman. This support by some Jewish leaders for regressive Religious Right leaders has created a rift in the American Jewish community and in Israel, much like the rifts that the Religious Right has helped to create inside Christian denominations.
These fears of conspiracies are manipulated by right wing radio and television personalities as well as politicians.
The cover of Senator Jim DeMint's book, Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America's Slide into Socialism, features an American flag behind rows of barbed wire, playing on the fears induced by conspiracy theories and popular revisionist history. DeMint attacks "labor union power," separation of church and state, FDR's New Deal, and "taking prayer out of schools" as putting America where "Germany was before World War II."
DeMint claims that there is evidence that the Depression was not caused by a failure of capitalism but by the "mismanagement of currency by the newly formed Federal Reserve." Texts such as A Beka's United States History in Christian Perspective shown in the presentation, claim that the extent of the Depression was exaggerated by journalist and photographers, in order to create the opportunity for socialism to take root and that socialist propaganda included "rumors of mortgage foreclosures, mass evictions, and hunger riots and exaggerated statistics representing the unemployed and homeless."
The Public Eye's articles on right wing populism
Challenges in 2010 and Beyond:
Despite the bigotry and racism that has drawn attention since the election of President Obama, the Religious Right is increasingly multi-racial and international. Many of the Religious Right organizations and activities common to the U.S. are being exported to nations around the globe.
The fundamentalist movement of a century ago reemerged as a political force by updating its image and making its message more palatable to modern society. The Religious Right movement continues to evolve including aggressive efforts to engage African Americans and Hispanics in regressive economic and social policies. Extensive outreach and propaganda materials, including revisions of American history, are being used to appeal to groups that would not normally be considered as likely targets for indoctrination into "biblical capitalism."
Examples include outreach to African Americans with histories that imply that the Civil Rights movement was the product of religious conservatives, while evil " secular humanist liberals" plotted to eradicate the Black population through abortion. These narratives, including many by David Barton and Wallbuilders, are now well developed and emerging in mainstream media. Download PFAW's report on Barton.
This ideology is reflected in a series of billboards sponsored by the National Black Republican Association including one I recently saw in South Carolina which praises Rush Limbaugh as "Saving the Soul of America." This and other billboards sponsored by the NBRA can be seen at this link.
The international face of the Religious Right can be seen in the worldwide networks of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), a charismatic movement which is becoming increasingly visible in political activism. For example Apostle Lou Engle has led internationally televised events which have included Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee, and led the recent "Prayercast" against health care reform along with Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council. Other participants included Sen. Sam Brownback, Sen. Jim Demint, and Rep. Michelle Bachmann. Engle also holds events around the globe including Brazil, Israel, and Kenya.
The apostles and prophets of the NAR have adopted Rushdoony's biblical capitalism but in a form that is less legalistic and more appealing to young people. They disseminate David Barton's revisionist histories through their "spiritual warfare" networks and have modernized an approach for theocratic control or "dominion" which utilizes progressive language and extensive charitable outreach in order to gain influence with local, state, and national level governments. The New Apostolic agenda is being promoted through a series of movies called "The Transformations" and a motivational campaign called Reclaiming the Seven Mountains which is run by "Market Apostles." A star of the first Transformations movie, Thomas Muthee, anointed Sarah Palin in a ceremony at Wasilla Assembly of God before she ran for governor.
The Apostles and Prophets of the NAR are a challenge to progressives because they use the lingo of progressivism and appear to represent a return to "social gospel." However, there approach to combating AIDS, poverty, corruption, and even environmental degradation is not progressive. They believe societal issues will be miraculously cured when their brand of Christianity gains "dominion" over all government and social entities. This "dominion" involves the expulsion of "demons" and those they claim are working with demonic forces. The literal demonization of liberals is becoming more overt and militant. At some youth events, there have been calls for martyrs.
Although the biblical capitalism agenda is still fully intact in this growing charismatic movement, it is camouflaged in an inclusive package which flaunts its "reconciliation" of racial and ethnic groups including elaborate reconciliation programs and ceremonies.
The New Apostolics organizing efforts around the globe parallel the activities of political leaders in organizations such as "The Family" and the efforts of the IRD and "renewal" groups that have worked to dismantle progressive religion. One example is the nation of Uganda which has been viewed for a century as the "Gate of Central Africa." Uganda's recent draconian anti-gay legislation has been shown to be a product of leadership with ties to The Family, the apostles and prophets of the New Apostolic Reformation, and also "renewal" groups which have broken away from Mainline Protestant denominations. These multi-pronged attacks originating in the U.S., promote "biblical capitalism" combined with regressive social policy, and can be found in nations around the globe.
[Authors note: Yesterday's Washington Post had an excellent op-ed by Harold Meyerson on the current plight of labor. Meyerson stated, "No nation has ever been home to a middle-class majority absent a sizable labor movement." Link here.]
Biblical Capitalism - The Sacralizing of Political and Economic Issues | 20 comments (20 topical, 0 hidden)
Biblical Capitalism - The Sacralizing of Political and Economic Issues | 20 comments (20 topical, 0 hidden)