on 10 July 2015
As a Democrat I like the way Kevin Phillips bashes the Republican Party in American Theocracy.
As a Christian I think he is a little too harsh on Christianity. Phillips agrees with Edward Gibbon, whose eighteenth century classic, “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” blamed Christianity for the fall of the Roman Empire.
Actually, what fell in 476 AD was the Western Roman Empire. The Eastern Roman Empire, which became known as the Byzantine Empire, lasted until 1453 AD. The Holy Roman Empire, which considered itself to be the restoration of the Western Roman Empire, lasted until 1806. At various times in history each of these empires prevented Europe from being conquered by the Muslim world. Both were thoroughly Christian.
In “On Human Nature” E. O. Wilson suggested that religion increased the resilience of a social group by unifying it.
Wilson was writing of Paleolithic hunting bands, but this would also be true of tribes, nations, and empires.
Phillips writes, “Rome, the Spanish-centered Hapsburg Empire, the Netherlands, and Great Britain were each, in its day, the leading world economic power, and the principal naval or military power.” He blames Christianity for the decline of each. One could just as plausibly credit Christianity for the dominance of each.
Although organized Christianity has not always been friendly to science, it is also true that the scientific method originated in a thoroughly Christian Italy during the Renaissance, rather than in a non Christian country.
I know. I know. The Roman Catholic Church silenced Galileo. It also sponsored Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
It is true that there are potential dangers in American Evangelicalism and the religious right. President George W. Bush claimed that God told him to invade Iraq. As a Christian I think God would have given better advice. As a Democrat, I am also glad that Bush did not think God told him to nuke Russia.
During the Cold War Protestant Fundamentalists sometimes associated the Second Coming of Christ with a nuclear war. Phillips correctly complains that, “Disasters of sickening magnitude are welcomed by prophecy buffs because the evoke feelings that God is present and alive.”
If one believes that Jesus will come again soon one is unlikely to care about the effect global warming will have on the earth’s climate a hundred years from now.
Nevertheless, much of the hostility affluent, well educated people like Kevin Phillips express for the religious right seems to be motivated by religious bigotry. The better sort simply do not like those Fundamentalist preachers with their swarmy personalities, their southern accents, and their churches full of rubes raising their arms in the air and whispering, “Thank you Jesus.”
I have followed the religious right with interest and a degree of sympathy since 1980. My take on it is that it does not want to create a theocracy. It wants to restore the ethos of the 1950’s. I was a child back then. It was a good time to be a child. The illegitimacy rate was about six percent. Children raised to adulthood by both biological parents living together in matrimony tend to do much better in life, even if they are raised in poverty.
The national consensus back then was captured by a song that sang, “Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.”
Alas, the religious right was unable to restore that consensus. In a country like the United States there is little the government can do to influence sexual behavior. Therefore, the sexual revolution is not really a political issue.
I regret the fact that the religious right has given lower income whites a reason to vote against their economic interests by voting Republican. The Republican Party exists to advance the economic interests of the richest ten percent of the American population. The GOP serves mammon, not God.
A Republican rewrite of the Sermon on the Mount would include, “Blessed are the rich, for they shall be given more in the Kingdom of Heaven. But cursed are the poor. Their poverty is God’s punishment for laziness and sin.”
The doctrine that wealth is God’s reward for righteousness can be found in a few verses of Proverbs. Even Proverbs has verses like 28:6 Better the poor that walketh in his uprightness, than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich.
The Old Testament prophets blamed the fall of David’s empire in part on the mistreatment of Israel’s poor by Israel’s rich. Amos wrote 6:1, 4, 6 Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel came!... That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall…That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.
In the New Testament Jesus had nothing good to say about the rich as a class.
During New Testament times the Sadducees, who were rich, agreed that wealth was God’s reward for virtue. They conspired to get Jesus crucified. The Sadducees also martyred St. James, who was Jesus’ next oldest brother, and the first Bishop of Jerusalem.
The Epistle of St. James includes 5:1, 4 - 6 Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you….Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.
Republican leaders pretend to share the concerns of Christian conservatives during every election. Their real concerns were elsewhere. They want to skew things more in favor of the well to do. With the votes of economically struggling Christian conservatives they have succeeded quite well at this.