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This heretofore-unpublished article, by my good friend G. Randall Foote, offers historical perspective and cogent contemporary commentary on the state of our nation.

                    - Dick Russell 

 

 

Evangelical Nationalism and the Four Horsemen:

Religion and Populism, Fear and Nationalism

 

Randy Foote (GRFoote@aol.com)

 

 “…[P]eople who are most ignorant of history are those who are most constrained by the past.  The more we understand and know the past, the more free we are to depart from its repeatable patterns, to choose our way: the great profound difference between free will and determinism, between the reality of human history and the theories of evolution.” (Lukacs)[i]

 

Since the 2004 election, and in light of what seems to be increasing Republican dominance on the national level of government, there has been a steady stream of books and articles attempting to explain this fact and casting about for a ‘solution’.  Some of these solutions include:

-            Improved “Framing” of the Democratic message, as per George Lakoff, Professor of Linguistics*

-            Holding to a clear ‘economic populism’ message, to convince working voters that Democratic policies are much more in their economic interest than are Republican policies.  This is well explicated in Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas”+

-            Moving back to the centrist pro-business and -globalization position of Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council.

 

DNC Chair Howard Dean (who wrote a preface to Lakoff’s book) is trying to get the Democratic Party to listen to both Lakoff and Frank: to change the language and to take the battle to every county and township in the US -- Red, Blue or Purple.  This is necessary, but it will not be sufficient.

 

Economic reasons may suggest that working people should be receptive to a message of economic populism, such as discussions of health care, education, equitable taxation and jobs.  However, it is not so simple to get these voters back to the Democratic side with a Populist economic program, any more than well-framed slogans will change the Republican appeal to people who place their personal sense of God, Country and Family above obvious material concerns.   Certainly, most responsible middle-class Americans would say that their conscience, morality, family and homeland are more important in their own lives than how much money they have.

 

First of all, Democrats have to realize that the Radical Republicans have appropriated the three most powerful emotions of American politics since the nation’s birth: populism, nationalism and evangelical religion.  To know where we are, and where we may be heading, it is critical to first understand these threads of the American psyche and political life.

 

Nationalism, Populism and Religion

“In its predominant sense, democracy is the rule of the majority.  Here liberalism enters. Majority rule is tempered by the legal assurance of the rights of minorities, and of individual men and women. And when this temperance is weak, or unenforced, or unpopular, then democracy is nothing more (or less) than populism.  More precisely: then it is nationalist populism.[ii] (Lukacs)

 

Nationalism and Populism are driving this nation’s agenda for the first time since the era of Andrew Jackson, who coupled the nationalist sense of aggressive manifest destiny with the populist resentment of the Eastern Establishment, the shadowy elite that has been the enemy and convenient foil from the beginning of American populism: the elite decried by populists from Daniel Shays to William Jennings Bryan to George Wallace and Pat Buchanan.

 

Populism is the countervailing factor of liberal democracy.  It is what conservatives in the 18th and 19th centuries (by which was meant supporters of the aristocracy and monarchy) feared would result from Democracy: rule by majority emotion.  It has the value, though,  of breaking the hold of political elites that are not responsive to people’s needs, and it has been responsible for keeping alive democracy and political justice for much of our history.

 

“What I most reproach in democratic government, as it has been organized in the United States, is not, as many people in Europe claim, its weakness, but on the contrary, its irresistible force. And what is most repugnant to me in America is not the extreme freedom that reigns there, it is the lack of a guarantee against tyranny” … I do not know any country where, in general, less independence of mind and genuine freedom of discussion reign than in America.[iii] (Tocqueville)

 

Populism has historically involved people trying to maintain their traditional economies and cultures against a distant elite, in times of threatening change.  This has been true ever since the earliest American populist uprisings: The Whiskey and Shays’ Rebellions, against the newly formed and far away US Government.  This spirit continued with the rise of Jacksonian Democracy, when the populist Westerners finally overthrew the (Eastern) elites that had governed the US since the beginning – both the Northeast bankers and merchants as well as the Southern tidewater aristocracy. 

 

The Jacksonian period, from about 1828 – 1852, was the early period of popular nationalism, the time of Manifest Destiny and the sweeping away of the Indians, as well as taking half of Mexico and various other parcels of territory. This populism was also reflected in the various nativist movements – such as the Know Nothings – which were a reaction to increased immigration. This period ended as the North – South opposition took center stage, culminating in the Civil War. However, this populist nationalism has remained a key element in the politics and culture of the old South and Border areas to the present day, having only been deepened by the defeat in the Civil War. 

 

The new dominance of nationalism and populism corresponds to re-ascent to political power of the Southern and Border states, again for the first time since the Jackson era.  That earlier period of regional power ended in the fragmentation preceding the Civil War, and the formation of new political parties reflecting new realities and passions.  We are in the midst of another such time, with no end in sight.

 

With the rise of Yankee finance and industry after the Civil War, power shifted to the NorthEast.  In the late 19th century, organized populist movements developed throughout the south and Midwest in reaction to the dominance of Eastern banking and landowning.  They culminated in the three presidential candidacies of William Jennings Bryan, the Great Commoner from the plains of Nebraska, who with ringing rhetoric opposed the Robber Baron domination of government, railroads and the economy. As Bryan cried out: ‘You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold’.  He lost his three national campaigns to the money powers and the Republicans.

 

American populism has always drawn its strength from evangelical revivalist religion. American religion has been as democratic as its government, in contrast to Europe and Latin America, with their long-established and hierarchical Protestant and Catholic churches. The revivalist Great Awakenings of the mid-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries (pre-Revolutionary and Jacksonian eras) spread Protestant fervor into every part of the country, led by charismatic preachers, who gained followings in proportion to the vehemence and simplicity of their messages of repentance and salvation.  This was – and still is -- American populism in the broadest sense.*

 

In the late nineteenth century, this populist movement came to be allied with the new Progressive movement, both seeking to rein in the power of the trusts and business and to broaden the scope of American democracy. Both movements drew strength from religion and the Church, although from different churches: the Populists from evangelical revivalism and the Progressives from Eastern ‘mainline’ churches. This alliance produced the income tax, direct election of senators, women’s suffrage, labor and anti-trust regulations – and Prohibition.

 

But the Populists and Progressives were (and are still…) two very different movements, supported by very different people. The progressives were (and are…) primarily well-to-do and well-educated northeasterners (now bi-coastal metropolitans) who believed in reform from the top down, through social planning.  The populists were generally from the south and Midwest, and they represented a popular uprising from below. The religious belief of the Progressives was more intellectual; that of the Populists was more visceral and emotional. The essential conflict of these two movements (and a herald of the present) has a symbolic moment in the Scopes evolution trial, pitting the fundamentalist populist Bryan against the agnostic Clarence Darrow, the great progressive lawyer. 

 

The Depression brought populists and progressives back together, but the underlying opposition was still there, as represented by such as Huey Long and Father Coughlin. The US was fortunate that Roosevelt was elected in 1932 -- the same year that Hitler took power in Germany.  Both Hitler and Roosevelt were masters of the new forms of communication and propaganda, but Roosevelt used it skillfully to a more liberal purpose.  Otherwise, Long -- had he survived and the economy worsened – or someone much like him (or like Lindbergh, as in Philip Roth’s recent book: It Cant Happen Here) could well have emerged as an American-style national socialist.

 

We are now seeing again the conflict between American Populists and Progressives (as Liberals have renamed themselves), and the same mutual lack of understanding of underlying differences.  And: if we do not understand our past and the road that brought us to this point, then we cannot possibly understand our present or shape our future with consciousness and intelligence.  This runs a lot deeper than ‘framing’ and economics.

 

In fact, American populists have been consistent in perceiving the same enemy over two centuries: Eastern commercial and banking interests in alliance with European finance, and the cultures associated with them both.  Internationalists as opposed to nationalists.  Modern and secular as opposed to traditional and God-fearing.  European and American bankers once set the price of Midwestern farm goods and railroad rates, broke trade unions and formed the ‘entangling alliances’ with the corrupt states of the Old World -- the alliances that sent American boys to die in Flanders Fields.  They controlled the media and promoted the secular values that mocked the bedrock religion of the Heartland and the South. Later they were the fellow travelers and effete intellectuals suckered in by godless Communism. Now they are seen as the liberal metropolitan elites who champion minorities at the expense of the hard-working whites who built this nation, the elites who still control the mainstream media (sort of….), and now have even less respect for religion and traditional values.  It is still the shades of Bryan and Darrow, and we continue to inherit the winds.  There is still a great mutual lack of understanding, of resentment on one side and condescension on the other.

 

Nationalism

There are three great political movements that have contended in the West – and indeed most of the world -- through the twentieth century:  1) liberal democracy – a form of government that developed in the nineteenth century, represented primarily in northern and western Europe and the Anglo settled lands like the US, Canada and Australia; 2) Socialism – including its extreme form of Communism, and 3) Nationalism, also a world-wide movement, flourishing from Japan to Europe to Latin America. 

 

Before 1914, right-minded people (especially Socialists) thought that there could not be a great war, because the working classes of the European powers felt more kinship with each other than with the ruling classes in their own countries.  In mutual solidarity, they believed that working people would not fight each other for the benefit of capitalists and aristocrats.  This could not have been more wrong, as the working classes of each country marched and enlisted as soon as war arrived, in a high pitch of nationalism whipped up by the new mass medium of the popular press. 

 

And then after the Great War, in the exhaustion of the terrible blood-letting, good liberal democrats and businessmen again knew that another war could not happen, because people had learned of the dreadful consequences and because it would destroy the global economy.  The Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawed aggressive war, and the League of Nations would be the guardian of peace. However, the next war was even more terrible than the first, and it showed again that nationalism trumped economics at all levels, just as it had trumped class solidarity.

 

In the end, Nationalism -- in its extreme forms of Fascism, National Socialism and Japanese militarism -- was only defeated when Communist Russia and the Liberal Democracies joined in an unlikely (and temporary) alliance in 1941.  The Nationalists fell in 1945, and then Communism dissolved in 1989.  Moderate socialism was incorporated by liberal democracy in most western nations (though less so in the US). This apparently has left liberal democracy as the sole successful system, destined to spread throughout the world.  Or at least so argued Francis Fukuyama, in his (absurdly named) End of History (1990).  And thus also argues George Bush in his call for “Freedom and Democracy” (and by extension for American business interests).  The end of war is declared once again, at least war on a large scale.

 

Somehow it hasn’t worked out quite so smoothly.  Nationalism has resurfaced in many places, as has its corollary religious fundamentalism, to complicate the easy summing up of history.  Most importantly, both nationalism and religious fundamentalism have risen with a vengeance in the US, the dominant world power, and American liberal democracy is becoming increasingly less liberal.

 

True nationalism – as opposed to simple military or authoritarian rule – is a development of democratic times.  It is a product of the nation, rather than the state, and becomes effective when national popular emotion begins to drive state policy.  In Western Europe it appears with Revolutionary France (or rather re-appears, since the Athenian Empire was essentially a nationalist democratic enterprise).

 

Patriotism and nationalism are two very different ideas. Patriotism is a love of country and its culture, and it is inclusive of all who would call themselves Americans (or citizens).  It is defensive and protective, traditional.  But nationalism is exclusive and is most of all directed outward against the enemies who are not seen to share one’s culture and values: be they Communists, Muslims, illegal immigrants or liberals.  It is expansionist and offensive (internally and/or externally).  It is an emotion – much more akin to hatred than to love -- that can be ratcheted up by fear and demagoguery, as is happening now in our country. And it is most powerful when conjoined with the cultural resentments embodied in what might be called “values”—as opposed to “economic” – Populism, and even more so when God is on its side.

 

(When Samuel Johnson said that “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels”: he meant Nationalism, a term that had not been invented in his time.)

 

These 21st century American nationalists are the children of the anti-Communists of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and the grandchildren of the isolationists (actually nationalists) of the ‘30s and ‘40s. They have also been the patriotic backbone of our military for two hundred years, in service to their country against all enemies, roused to righteous anger when the nation is threatened.  They believe strongly and instinctively in American exceptionalism, that the US is the ‘shining city on the hill’, the example to all the world. And they believe that that the US should never subordinate itself to any foreign alliance.

 

Nationalism has been an integral part of the American political psyche since the beginning, but the present is the first time since Jackson that it has taken sole power.  We may forget that only recently have presidents emphasized their constitutional title of Commander-in-Chief. Previously, even military men who became president were careful to don civilian clothes and civilian character. But beginning with Ronald Reagan, who played a soldier in Hollywood, the President began to offer some kind of military salute to his troops, and now George Bush (a serial draft dodger) relishes his role as military leader, as in his ‘mission accomplished’ appearance on the Lincoln flight deck (one struggles mightily to imagine Abraham Lincoln playing at soldier…). 

 

Evangelical Religion

“In their identification of religion with the nation, the fundamentalist wing of the American evangelical churches is unique in Western Christendom (except for Northern Ireland, from which their tradition is ultimately derived). …To find a Western parallel for the instinctive nationalism of some of the evangelicals, one would once again have to go back to Europe before 1939, or even before 1914.”[iv] (Lieven) (actually, the Afrikaners are another example, as are the Serbs in Eastern Christendom and the Israeli Likudniks)

 

Coupled with this American nationalism and populism is the current evangelical religious movement.  American evangelicalism is the most active and growing religious movement in the world, reaching even into Asia and Latin America.  In the US it has become a political as well as a religious movement, and it is largely a reaction against modern secularism. We are now in the midst of another American Great Awakening period, when popular evangelical religion arises again with a vengeance to counter modernism and secularism. 

 

The first Great Awakening – in the mid-eighteenth century – was most of all a Puritan reaction to the rationalism and modernism of the Enlightenment, as embodied by most of the founders of our nation. It was a regeneration of the Puritan spirit that had set Oliver Cromwell marching and had cost the thrones and the heads of British Kings, and that had populated the northeastern American colonies when the monarchs returned.  That Puritan spirit is rising again in a new Evangelical Awakening, and the words of Jonathan Edwards’ renowned sermon of 250 years ago, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, are paraphrased again and again across the country: in churches, on billboards and radio stations:

 

“There are in the souls of wicked men those hellish principles reigning, that would presently kindle and flame out into hell fire, if it were not for God's restraints. There is laid in the very nature of carnal men, a foundation for the torments of hell. There are those corrupt principles, in reigning power in them, and in full possession of them, that are seeds of hell fire. These principles are active and powerful, exceeding violent in their nature, and if it were not for the restraining hand of God upon them, they would soon break out, they would flame out after the same manner as the same corruptions, the same enmity does in the hearts of damned souls, and would beget the same torments as they do in them.

 

It is everlasting wrath. It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of Almighty God one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity. There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long for ever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all.

 

And let every one that is yet out of Christ, and hanging over the pit of hell, whether they be old men and women, or middle aged, or young people, or little children, now harken to the loud calls of God's word and providence…Now undoubtedly it is, as it was in the days of John the Baptist, the axe is in an extraordinary manner laid at the root of the trees, that every tree which brings not forth good fruit, may be hewn down and cast into the fire. [v]

 

This is little different than the way in which the death and torment of the unsaved – the “Left Behind” – is vividly described in the ‘Rapture’ series of books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins (the highest selling: 62 million copies) series of books ever in American literature) that describe the last days before the imminent Second Coming of Christ. These books mirror Edwards in the joyously brutal descriptions of the deaths of the vast majority of unredeemed and unsaved humanity. Only the elect can be saved, those who have given themselves to Christ, in the proper manner.  The rest of mankind faces eternal torment and damnation, at the hands of a vengeful God. Our enemies are by their nature evil, as true Americans stand strong in the army of God, in crusade as Christian soldiers.

 

More than one third of Americans believe in the literal truth of the Bible and in the apocalyptic message of Revelations; and they believe that only by God’s Grace can one be saved from the imminent torments of the Rapture and of Hell.  Good works avail not, and are of no matter in the final accounting. All that matters is to accept the message of Christ, to save one’s own imperiled individual soul:

“Over and over the Bible proclaims that good deeds CANNOT merit us salvation…  All the love and kindness in the world will NOT get you into Heaven.  …. If salvation comes by works, then it is NOT by God’s grace anymore.  The whole reason that Jesus died on the cross folks is because we could not perform enough good works to get saved.  There is NO amount of good deeds that can reconcile us to God.  Only through Jesus Christ can anyone be saved.  If it were possible for us to get to Heaven by living a good and upright life, then Jesus died for nothing…...  Like it or not, you are just too sinful and wicked to save yourself—you CANNOT earn your way into Heaven.[vi] (Stewart)

Framing and economic appeals pale in the face of the Wrath of God and Eternal Damnation.  How do reason and policy stand up to this passion, this anger, this fear?  Do not underestimate the force that drives the new radical movement, nor what strength and emotional support it gives to its believers in a world that seems corrupt and immoral.

 

 

“Indeed, conservative populism’s total erasure of the economic could only happen in a culture like ours where material politics have already been muted and where the economic has largely been replaced by those aforementioned pseudospiritual fulfillments”[vii] (Frank)

 

Frank misses an essential historical and spiritual -- not ‘pseudo-spiritual’ -- point in wondering why populism is now in the service of the most rapacious elements of American business.  Why does the lower middle class resolutely demand cutting the taxes of the wealthy?

 

Neo-Puritan evangelicalism is qualitatively different from ‘moderate’ (or ‘mainstream’) Christianity.  To evangelicals, liberal Christians substitute good works – social activism and reform – for the one true faith as taught by Christ and reflected in 2,000 years of Christian Biblical tradition. Only Christ can save us from our own sins, individually and as a society, and we cannot save anyone else, except by spreading the gospel.  The salvation of an individual soul is of more value than all social programs. Nothing else is of relevance.  This is in truth the essence of ‘compassionate conservatism’: that government can be of no help where it really matters -- Salvation.

 

Evangelical religion is essentially individualistic, on all levels.  Every person is individually free and self-governing, in body and in soul. Success is a sign of God’s favor; and poverty is a sign of spiritual as well as economic failings.  Charity is an individual decision, and it is more blessed to give on one’s own or through the Church than through the Government.*

 

This is an attempt to find security only on an separate and individual level, through personal salvation and the power of the nation alone – rather than as a part of a greater community.  That is indeed a lack of faith.  It is fear of life and fear of death, fear of freedom and fear of insecurity.

 

This new Fundamentalism is a reaction against the corruption and secularism of modern times. Society is under attack, especially in the Heartland.  The children listen to rap music and leave home for the big city, looking for work and excitement.  Or they stay home, trying to find work, while the girls get pregnant and the boys get hooked on meth.  And it is all blamed on the evils of the outside world.  It is little different from the reactions among the Islamic fundamentalists.

 

But the true corruption is within us all if we dare to look.  Christian, Muslim, and secular.  We project it onto the Other: but it is within each us that the battles truly lie.  We hate the Other even though (and because) it is our own Shadow, and our hatred gives it ever more power. 

 

With the four horsemen of fear and nationalism, religion and populism, in the saddle.…..there is a long and a hard ride ahead.

 

Tocqueville said, many years ago: “The kind of oppression with which democratic peoples are threatened will resemble nothing that had preceded it in the world…I myself seek in vain an expression that exactly reproduces the idea that I form of it for myself and that contains it; the old words despotism and tyranny are not suitable.  The thing is new, therefore I must try to define it, since I cannot name it.”[viii]

 

I think that radical evangelical nationalism is a fair shorthand for the possibilities that may await us, if our country continues down the current track.  Fascism is too facile and too foreign a word for what may be coming in our country.  We are not talking about black- or brownshirts.  Hitler, Mussolini, Peron and others drew on and exaggerated the native traits and emotions of their own nations.  It will follow the same course here, after our own manner.

 

In America, this change is being clothed in traditional American values and symbols: in the Flag and God, in life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Or as Sinclair Lewis said (It Cant Happen here): “When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.”  If Americans believe this to be the chosen nation both by virtue of its political system (Freedom and Democracy) as well as chosen by God’s hand, and if people are manipulated to feel themselves under attack by outside forces: then this is too powerful a force to be stopped by appeals to economic interests and international co-operation. 

 

Aggressive nationalism has historically come to a bad end.  In the past, it has ultimately been  stopped by uniting enough opponents to inflict military defeat, or by economic bankruptcy (or both).  Reflect upon Napoleonic France, Fascist Italy, Germany of Wilhelm and Hitler, Athens: all dominant powers that drank nationalism to the bitter dregs. Or smaller powers, such as Serbia of Milosevic, or Argentina of the Falklands War, gutted by stronger nations.  And now, at a time when exhaustion and bloodletting have made the “Old Europe” foreswear nationalism, the most powerful force of the twentieth century -- now the United States has embraced it for the new millennium. 

 

 “The sudden change from democracy will no longer result in the rule of an individual – but in the rule of a military corporation.  And by it, methods will perhaps be used for which even the most terrible despot would not have the heart.”[ix] (Jacob Burckhardt)

The current phase of nationalist and economic adventure we are embarked upon will come to an end at some point, and not a pleasant one. Ideological hubris will reap the whirlwind, and this will be the turning point, the time of ‘testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure’. 

Then – when we feel even more under attack and threatened – the US will face a choice: to continue a nationalist program into what will necessarily be an authoritarian form of government, or to return to a real American conservative and internationalist policy, adapted to the actual conditions of the new millennium: reality-based rather than faith-based as now. It is very much an open question as to which choice will be made.

Both these threads of the American political psyche: the nationalist and the internationalist, the evangelical and the modern, the radical and the truly patriotic – both these threads have been a part of our political and social fabric throughout our history. 

Now, however, American politics and the American psyche have become greatly magnified by the power of the US and by its influence over the world, and in the moment of this power the evangelical and the nationalist have taken the helm.  International and domestic policies have transcended politics to become a battle between Good and Evil.  The current Radicals, the evangelical nationalists, see this as the final battle, to take over this country, to change the world – and, for the Truly Faithful, to bring on Armageddon and Rapture.

They may well be correct in a way they do not realize: this is shaping to be the last battle to determine if the Republic as we have known it will long endure.  And we are creating opposition throughout the world that may haunt us for generations.

Before the last election, Hal Lindsey – one of the most popular evangelical writers and speakers – “told audiences that liberals were determined to ‘bring about our literal annihilation.’”[x]  The same is heard from radical commentators like Limbaugh and Coulter, calling all who oppose them traitors.   As from Russell Johnson, an Ohio evangelist who is enlisting “Patriot Pastors” to register voters for the 2006 election:  “There is a warfare for the heart and soul of America. This is a battle between the forces of righteousness and the hordes of hell. Millions of souls weigh in the balance and the church stands at the Critical Crossroads of history.”[xi]

Politics is becoming War. Religious War.

Evangelical Christianity has become firmly allied with the State, dominating the ruling political party and denying what Jesus said to render unto Caesar only that which is Caesar’s, as well as denying the founding principles of the United States.  It may not yet be clear who will hold the reins, but Empire and Church are in close alliance in a way not seen in the West in modern times.  The current evangelical nationalists now believe that rational political opposition is treason and blasphemy. Fear and populism, religion and nationalism: a powerful and intoxicating mixture, Four Horsemen fraught with great danger for the world as we know it.

This alliance corrupts both politics and religion…..

This is in no way “Conservatism”: this is a movement every bit as radical as Fascism, though it draws upon thoroughly American themes and emotions. It is diametrically opposed to the traditions upon which this country was founded and from which we have drawn strength and unity.

The great men who founded this country knew well the wars of religion that had caused so much blood shed in Europe for three centuries as well as they remembered the wars of monarchs that had so bloodied Europe.  As they sought to avoid the political wars of Europe, so they sought to separate politics from religion. England had endured two centuries of war between Puritans and monarchical Cavaliers, which cost the head of a king and the throne of another, as well as many lives, Catholic, Puritan and Anglican.  In fact, these religious wars had spurred the settling of America, as the losers of each phase often migrated across the ocean to avoid reprisal: the Puritans to New England and the Cavaliers to the plantation South.   Our founders understood history as a living thread, in a way that we do not.

This nation was certainly founded with a belief in Divine Providence, but even moreso it was founded upon a belief that Providence had given Man his reason and free will to fathom and to live by that Providence.  As Jefferson states: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…*

Government is created by and derives its powers from the governed, not from divine authority.  John Adams:  "The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.”+[xii]

Abraham Lincoln, the founding father of the Republican Party and of the re-birth of the nation, was the most deeply spiritual of American political leaders.  His Memorial is the political temple of the American Union.  On the walls of that temple are inscribed the ideal of our political faith, from his Second Inaugural:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

This is the faith of Christian charity as applied through government of the people. This is as far from our current radical evangelicalism as is true patriotism from our current nationalism. It represents the wisdom and humility of the man who fought and won our bloodiest war – a battle for freedom and for union.  Lincoln spoke that day in essential opposition to the Radical Republicans of his own time, who sought vengeance rather than charity, individual power rather than union, evangelical self-righteousness rather than Christian humility. 

Lincoln’s words are even more true 140 years later.

This new political movement and belief system that calls itself ‘Conservatism” - this new Radical Republicanism - is in fact Evangelical Nationalism.  As such, it is a radical departure from anything that could be called traditional American politics and governance, both nationally and internationally.  It is in no way conservatism, any more than Hitler was a ‘conservative’. 

Bit by bit, over the last 25 years, American politics has abandoned the beliefs upon which this Republic was founded and maintained for 200 years, beliefs which had made this country Lincoln’s ‘last, best hope of earth’.  Only by looking back can we understand how much we have truly lost, and how dangerous a time we have entered.  And only by looking within can we understand the deep emotions these radicals play upon within the American psyche. 

In a time of increasing cultural sensationalism and of ignorance of history and tradition, can we recall those real American convictions upon which to stand, convictions that are moral and ethical far more than just economic and emotional?  These need to be grounded in both American traditions and in modern realities, as well as in the dictates of the all-too-human heart, or else we can never stand up against the simple and emotional (faith-based) answers offered by the religious nationalists in our battle for the heart of America.  Our foundation must be both deeper and stronger than theirs.

 

We cannot go backwards to find easy answers for a modern world.  But we must bring our past with us, our traditions and our beliefs, and we must stand on the convictions of our conscience that are as strong and unyielding as fundamentalist faith.  If we do not, we must fear for our country and for the world we stand astride, and we must fear indeed for the future that we leave to our children.

 



* As Lakoff says, “There is no escaping framing – it is how the human brain works. Framing is more than finding ‘better’ words.  It is the way you think about the world. Good framing reflects your values and your beliefs, and connects them to issues in ways that have self-contained arguments built in.  If you are framing honestly, then the arguments will be the ones you believe in.” (George Lakoff, Democracy for America training document)

 

+ “For decades Americans have experienced a populist uprising that only benefits the people it is supposed to be targeting…The angry workers, mighty in their numbers, are marching irresistibly against the arrogant…they are massing at the gates…they are bellowing out their terrifying demands.  ‘We are here’ they scream, ‘to cut your taxes’.[viii] (Frank)…. “The people who were once radical are now reactionary.  Though they speak today in the same language of victimization, and though they fear the same array of economic forces as their hard-bitten ancestors, today’s populists make demands that are precisely the opposite…All that Kansas asks today is a little help nailing itself to that cross of gold” (Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas, pg 109)

 

 

* For information on American evangelicalism, I have learned much from Mark Noll’s works, America’s God (2002, Oxford Press), and The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1992, Eerdman’s).  Noll is a critical evangelical scholar at Wheaton College.  See also George Marsden’s Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (1991, Eerdman’s)

*As far as individualizing criminal justice, “Gary North {a Dominionist closely allied with Pat Robertson) describes the ‘just restitution’ system of the bible, which happens to reinstitute slavery, like this: ‘At the other end of the curve, the poor man who steals is eventually caught and sold into bondage under a successful person. His victim receives payment; he receives training; his buyer receives a stream of labor services. If the servant is successful and buys his way out of bondage, he re-enters society as a disciplined man, and presumably a self-disciplined man. He begins to accumulate wealth.’”  Katharine Yurica , The Despoiling of America http://www.yuricareport.com/Dominionism/TheDespoilingOfAmerica.htm, referencing Gary North, “The Covenantal Wealth of Nations,” from Biblical Economics Today, Vol. XXI, No. 2, February/March 1999. http://reformed-theology.org/ice/newslet/bet/bet99.02.htm

 

 

*Much of the US founding principles come from John Locke, as in the following:  I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other. If this be not done, there can be no end put to the controversies that will be always arising between those that have, or at least pretend to have, on the one side, a concernment for the interest of men's souls, and, on the other side, a care of the commonwealth. ….The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil interests…..Civil interests I call life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like. (John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, 1689)

 

+ Adams writing to Jefferson (September 14, 1813: The Adams-Jefferson Letters)): “The human Understanding is a revelation from its Maker, which can never be disputed or doubted…No Prophecies, no Miracles are necessary to prove this celestial communication.  This revelation has made it certain that two and one make three; and that one is not three; nor can three be one.” Adams the New England Puritan and Jefferson the Virginia Cavalier - partners in Revolution, then bitter political foes, then at the end of their lives close friends and confidantes – embody the ideals, the faith  and the wisdom upon which this nation was founded.



[i] John Lukacs’ Confessions of an Original Sinner.

[ii] John Lukacs, Democracy and Populism,  pg. 5

[iii] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 1, Part 2, Ch. 7, pgs 241, 244

[iv] Lieven, America: Right or Wrong, pg. 144

[v] Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

[vii] Frank, ibid, pg 242

[viii] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 

[ix] Burckhardt, in New Republic, Lukacs, pg 414

[x] http://www.cjr.org/issues/2005/3/blake-evangelist.asp (Columbia Journalism Review)

xi http://www.au.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7408&abbr=cs_  Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, June, 2005

xii "A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America" [1787-1788], quoted at http://earlyamerica.com/review/summer97/secular.html

 

 

 

 

 


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