American secular

The founding moment of the United States brought a society newly freed from religion. What went wrong?

Source: Aeon

Author: Sam Haselby

Emphasis Mine

In the beginning was the thing, and the thing was against God. So might begin the gospel of American secularism. The sudden flourish of secularism at the time of the United States’ foundation is incongruous, a rogue wave of rationality in a centuries-long sea of Protestant evangelising, sectarianism and God-talk. But it is undeniable. In 1788, with the adoption of its Constitution, the United States became the first modern republic founded on a legal separation of church and state. In a country that holds sacred the intentions of its revolutionary-era founders, those founders’ secular ambitions are clear. Thomas Jefferson wrote a book, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, to try to prove that Jesus was not Christ, that the man was not the son of God. Around the world, his pithy expression ‘a wall of separation between church and state’ continues to represent a particular secular ideal of separating religious and political power.

James Madison, the primary author of the US Constitution, was an even more rigorous and consistent, if less poetic, secularist. On grounds of what he called ‘pure religious freedom’, Madison opposed military and congressional chaplains, believing that they amounted to government sponsorship of religion. Every step short of this ‘pure religious freedom’, he wrote, would ‘leave crevices at least thro’ which bigotry may introduce persecution; a monster… feeding & thriving on its own venom’.

So, in brief, what went wrong? How did the country founded by visionary secularists, and that made historic advances in both religious freedom and the separation of religious and political powers, nonetheless become the world’s most religious political democracy? Understanding secularism better helps to answer the question. Secularism is not one simple thing; it has distinct theological, philosophical and political lives. Its theological and philosophical versions are formed from simple, if explosive, ideas. In its political guise, ideas are less important than institutions, and it is on the shoals of institution-building that American secularism wrecked.

In theological terms, secularism is an Anglo-Protestant heresy that arose on the periphery of the 18th-century British Empire. In the past two centuries, it has developed offshoots in Catholicism and Islam, and genealogies in these and other faiths have been produced, but the influence of secularism is due in good part to the rise of US power in the modern world.

Prior to 18th-century Anglo-America – specifically revolutionary-era Virginia – no other modern society had sought to separate law, politics, social life and civic institutions from the divine. Such separation is antithetical to Catholicism, in which the truth and the path to salvation are found within the Church and its Magisterium. The Magisterium – literally the ‘offices’ ­– holds all the teachings and doctrine and history of the Church. English translators often render the Arabic din as ‘religion’, but it really means a way of life, including law, politics, institutions and more. The same is true of the Sanskrit dharma or ‘way’. It was, simply, only Protestants who systematised the idea of religion as a matter separable from the rest of life, a ‘private’ matter, in the well-known secularist formulation.

Because of secularism’s Protestant origins, its history must include the thought of Martin Luther. He argued that man needed no institution, no hierarchy of learned clerics, to broach God. Luther insisted that man could, with the Bible alone, arrive at salvation – could, as Baptists in the American South say, ‘get right with God’. From this insistence, radical implications unfolded. As the Catholic Church immediately recognised, Luther’s ideas did not just defy established religious teachings. They made religious institutions profane, rendering the experience of the sacred a private matter. They elevated private judgment as equal to or above that of the high and learned, and threw religion and religious experience beyond the reach of the state and society. It marked the creation of the modern sovereign individual.

Of course, Luther himself was anything but a secularist. For a start, his motive was to protect religion from politics, not politics from religion. As far as Luther was concerned, faith was the prime realm, to be made safe from the pollutant of worldly power. Second, Luther’s championing of the individual conscience had nothing to do with any kind of equality. The 19th-century Methodist saying ‘Methodism hates democracy as much as it hates sin’ spoke from a spirit closer to that of Protestantism’s founder, who never questioned that social status would be inherited, and that it was the lot of most to serve and suffer. Ideas of political equality born in the Age of Revolution were inconceivable to the founder of Protestantism. He would have found the relatively modest revolutionary-era American ideas about equality not just absurd but criminal, heretical.

Nonetheless, in the Age of Revolution, when America’s Virginia planters embraced the sovereignty of the individual in the name of religious freedom, they were clearly following in the footsteps of Luther. Catholicism, Islam or Judaism presented no similar path to the sovereign individual. Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786) legislated that people could hold their own religious views, whatever they might be, in the name of freedom. Following its passage, the usually cautious Madison wrote exultantly to Jefferson that they had ‘in this country extinguished forever the ambitious hope of making laws for the human mind’.

‘It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg’

Jefferson concurred that the achievement was historic. His reply also made clear who had been history’s great enemies of freedom: ‘Kings, priests, & nobles’ had for centuries conspired to keep man in ignorant subordination. It was, he wrote, Virginia’s great honour ‘to have produced the first legislature who had the courage to declare that the reason of man may be trusted with the formation of his opinions’. Jefferson felt the honour was also his, as he chose to have his authorship of the statute inscribed on his tombstone.

In the context of early modern political philosophy, to state that the reason of man could be trusted with the formation of his opinions was another way of stating the radical content of ‘all men are created equal’. The famous phrase did not mean that men possessed equal physical or intellectual capacities. It meant that all men could reason and were capable of acting as responsible and accountable moral agents. There is a clear intellectual link with Luther’s valuation of individual judgment.

For Luther, however, the implications of the sovereign individual were narrowly and entirely theological, rather than social or political. Princes would always be princes; peasants were to perpetually remain peasants. Luther’s sovereign individual simply had no social or political implications. By contrast, American religious freedom, as it took shape in Virginia during the Age of Revolution, contained little differences that made big differences. The Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom granted broad, principled protections for freedom of thought. It granted them to everyone, including those without theological qualification or learning.

Luther was an erudite Augustinian monk. He could envision theological debate only among the tiny number of similarly learned. Jefferson captured the extent of the Virginia Statute when he said: ‘It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.’ Broad principled protection of religious belief was, in fact, far more consequential than Jefferson’s quote wants one to conclude. Beliefs tend to lead to actions; and it is actions, not beliefs, that cause injury. Historic as it was, Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom grants no protections to actions taken on the basis of religious beliefs, only to the quiescent holding of private beliefs. The idea that belief and action, faith and life, can be so easily separated is central to the secular heresy.

The Virginians’ goals were in a real sense the opposite of Luther’s. They thought they were protecting the nation by separating politics from religion, protecting political society from the poison of religious passions. From a theological perspective, their secularism was a heresy. It diminished the role of the established churches. It separated religion from the world and made it private, and this privatising imperative of secularism is one of its great victories, albeit an incomplete one. The devout tend to conceive of God or Jesus or Allah or the Quran or the Bible as incomparable, unique authorities. They interpret the secular obligation to render religion a private matter as the impious or heretical telling them that some of their sacred duties are inherently illegitimate.

While it is a matter of history that secularism was in origin an Anglo-Protestant heresy, it is also true that America’s 18th-century secularists were not themselves moved by theological concerns. Rather, philosophy drove them, and their goals were thoroughly political. The simplest way to grasp the underlying philosophical idea of the secular is to understand that its original antonym is not religious, but divine. That is, secular refers to all things that are not the prerogative of the divine, of God, but are in the world and ‘in time’. God is not in time, or worldly, because God and the City of God are eternal. It is the worldly, the City of Man, that changes.

The shadow of this philosophical meaning of secular as worldly is evident in the Catholic notion of secular law – or the law of the world, of trusts and land and inheritances, with which the Church must be involved. Secular law stands in contrast to, and beneath, the laws of God, that is to say, beneath theology, which is concerned with the divine and the eternal.

Natural history has replaced the supernatural creation story. Geology – not theology – explains the features of the Earth

The one time Jefferson used the term ‘secular’, in July 1788, it was in this philosophical sense. Writing in excitement to a friend about the work of Pierre-Simon de Laplace, Jefferson wrote that the French mathematician and astronomer had ‘discovered that the secular acceleration and retardation of the Moon’s motion is occasioned by the action of the Sun’. Laplace had demonstrated that the eccentricities of planetary orbits were further proof of (not a deviation from) Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity. These eccentricities had led Newton to speculate that occasional divine intervention kept the solar system in orbital equilibrium. Laplace’s findings removed the notion of an active God from celestial mechanics. The Moon’s changing speeds were a result not of the hand of God, but of gravitational forces, expressible in mathematics and discoverable by men.

Economists and statisticians still use the term ‘secular’ in the same sense as Jefferson’s ‘secular acceleration and retardation’. It means, essentially, change over time. For 18th-century intellectuals the question was simple: was God active in the world? To Jefferson, Laplace’s discovery amounted to the heavens themselves attesting that God did not even intervene in the cosmos. This caused Jefferson much excitement both because of the great authority of science for Enlightenment thinkers, and for its political implications. Jefferson brought this core philosophical idea of the secular from the cosmos down to Earth in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1785). Describing the origin of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley, he gave a geological explanation meant as a direct challenge to the Christian account of creation.

Anyone looking at the Blue Ridge Mountains, wrote Jefferson, could see that ‘this Earth has been created in time, that the mountains were formed first, that the rivers began to flow afterwards, that in this place particularly they have been dammed up by the Blue ridge of the mountains’. Simple examination of the topography, he continued, revealed how an ocean had once filled the valley then torn down the mountain. Likewise, simple examination of the rocks attested to their ‘avulsion from their beds by the most powerful agents of nature’. The phrases ‘this Earth has been created in time’ and ‘the most powerful agents of nature’ were not subtle code phrases. Natural history has replaced the supernatural creation story. Laplace’s physics explains the working of the cosmos, and geology – not theology – explains the features of the Earth.

For Enlightenment thinkers, the authority of science was such that these findings in physics and geology carried direct political consequences. If physics made the cosmos, and geology the Earth, that left men to make political society. The opening of The Declaration of Independence (1776) – ‘When in the course of human events…’ – captures this elevation of human history and authority over theology and divine authority. The events are human events. Since God had not authorised political obligations, people could choose to dissolve and remake them. That is why the same line of the Declaration goes on to say that sometimes in history ‘it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another’. By contrast, one cannot dissolve divine obligations, they are made by God and are eternal.

It is not so difficult to understand the trajectory that led from the original Protestant championing of the sovereign individual to the heresy of 18th-century secularism extending that right of individual conscience to the masses. Nor is it so difficult to see that philosophical secularism provides strong grounds to separate the political and the religious into different spheres. But when it comes to secularisation itself – that is, the building of institutions to cultivate secular ideals deeply into the society – that’s when things get difficult.

Political life is where American secularism ran into a wall: the simple problem was its unpopularity. This unpopularity is one reason why American secularism remains clouded in some obscurity. Typically, big political ideas come into the world with names and words: they have champions and proponents, usually in writing. The Declaration of Independence announced US national independence, and a new theory of sovereignty, to the world. It soon entered world political literature. The Federalist Papers detail elaborate justifications for US constitutionalism. When big political ideas are born, just as in the birth announcement of a royal heir, the theatrical public statement, as weighty as possible, aims to impart legitimacy. Sometimes, the names arrive shortly thereafter, but come screaming: Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto(1848), for example. But there was no statement detailing secularism, no birth announcement, no manifesto.

In history, these are somewhat strange circumstances. A revolution leads to a historic achievement, but the beginnings and parameters of that achievement, even its moderately specific origins, remain murky, actually unstated. No one stepped up to offer a theory of the concept, or a formal statement of its principles. No one used the word. The thing itself was not even, on principled grounds, popular. But private communications between Madison, Jefferson and their allies in the effort to push secularising measures through the Virginia legislature in the mid-1780s reveal a plan that never came to be, a plan fully cognizant of the fact that a secular society would depend on secularising institutions.

The separation of church and state was not just an idea. It was a political act, in fact a very difficult political act. In revolutionary-era Virginia, the Anglican Church’s support for Britain in the War of Independence had left it weakened. Where it had supported 91 clergy before the war, following the Peace of Paris in 1783 only 28 Anglican clergy remained, in a population of approximately 690,000 in Virginia. Still, most people expected that the Anglican Church would remain Virginia’s state church, and that Virginia would continue to recognise Christianity. Just before becoming governor, Patrick Henry had prepared a bill calling upon the state of Virginia to legally recognise Christianity as the one ‘true religion’ by, among other means, a mandatory tithe to be paid to the government by each citizen. The bill also called for the state of Virginia officially to recognise that heaven and hell exist, that the Old and New Testaments were of divine origin, and that the Christian God be publicly worshipped. John Marshall, George Washington and other major figures in Virginia politics supported Henry’s bill.

However, a procedural oversight on Henry’s part delayed voting on the bill, and Madison moved to action. Both Jefferson and Madison were deeply opposed to a state church, or to any state recognition of religion. They also knew that their views against religion were unpopular and had no chance of prevailing on principle. Instead, Madison set out to terrify Virginia’s Presbyterians, Baptists and other rival sects into fearing that the state church would be an oppressive Anglican one. To this end, he wrote a broadside: theMemorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785). The Memorial succeeded, since most Virginia Christians wanted their own church to be the state church, and if not theirs then nobody else’s.

‘The mutual hatred of these sects has been much inflamed,’ Madison wrote to Thomas Jefferson in 1785, and ‘I am far from being sorry for it.’ Virginia’s disestablishment, or separation of church and state, came to be the model for national separation. But it was made possible only by a combination of parliamentary legerdemain and elite manipulation of sectarian hatred.

This first separation of church and state was, then, a purely negative measure. It was the governing equivalent of clearing a forest to build. It destroyed what secularists saw as unnatural public privilege for a corrupt institution holding vested interests in superstition and tyranny. To create a secular society, however, destruction was not enough. Positive measures must follow and the churches must be replaced, particularly in their social functions.

No one described this necessity better than Jean-Paul Rabaut, the architect of the French state education system. ‘The secret was well known to the priests,’ he said in 1791. ‘They took hold of man at birth, grasped him again in childhood, adolescence and adulthood, when he married and had children, in his moments of grief and remorse, in the sanctum of his conscience.. in sickness and in death.’ Public schools ought to ‘do in the name of truth and freedom’ what the church so ‘often did in the name of error and slavery’.

Quite simply, a secular society required the founding of public schools and libraries, served by qualified teachers. Scientific and philosophical education was necessary to replace the moral influence, social programmes and historical teachings of the churches. In the 1785–86 session of the Virginia Assembly, Jefferson proposed three bills intended to establish institutions to secularise Virginia society. The bills proposed to create a non-religious school system, organised by county, and providing free education through the elementary grades; to sever the College of William and Mary’s church ties, and make it a republican college; and to establish a public library system built around science, philosophy and civics. An ally of Jefferson’s described the ambition of the measures. They ‘propose a simple and beautiful scheme, whereby science… would have been “carried to every man’s door”.’

There was a reason that the Bible was the only book slave-owners allowed to circulate freely on plantations: America’s leading 18th-century secularists understood that religion brought a world of ideas – and sometimes a whole social life – as well as political opportunity to Virginians, rich and poor. Very few people would turn their backs on all of this simply out of political principle. The secularists would have to offer real alternatives: schools, libraries, ideas, stories, forms of community, an active and ongoing presence in the lives of Virginians. Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia described a plan by which a system of public schools would replace sacred history with profane history. The schools were to be free, for everyone, for three years. Examinations would find the best students among the poor, and these students could receive more schooling, paid for by the state, through the College of William and Mary. ‘By this means,’ Jefferson wrote, ‘the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish.’

The object was to provide an education suitable for people who must function as citizens. ‘Instead of putting the Bible and Testament into the hands of the children, at an age when their judgments are not sufficiently matured,’ he noted, children should instead receive educations in ‘Grecian, Roman, European, and American history’, Latin, Greek, mathematics, and the sciences. No law, he wrote, was ‘more important, none more legitimate’ than one to provide secular arts and sciences education for the people at large. It would, he wrote, make them effective ‘guardians of their own liberty’.

Churches would have been the big losers of this ‘systematical plan’, but their opposition was not the only reason, nor even the main reason, it failed to materialise. The nature of Southern plantation society did not permit potential alternatives, such as state-run school systems and libraries, to planter authority. The great 19th-century American intellectual, and former slave, Frederick Douglass called literacy ‘the pathway from slavery to freedom’. In his autobiography, he recalled his master admonishing his mistress for teaching him the alphabet: ‘If you teach that nigger how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave.’

Planter authority could not be compromised for the sake of the visions of a few eccentric deists, however prominent. At the same time, there was a reason that the Bible was the only book slave-owners allowed to circulate freely on plantations. ‘Slaves, obey your earthly masters in fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ,’ states Ephesians, one of many places where the scriptures authorise slavery, and counsel submissive obedience. Slavery was simply more important to US nation-building than secularism.

In hindsight, American secularism has experienced both clear victories and stark defeats. The Anglo-Protestant heresy of making all members of the political community into Luther’s sovereign individuals has become something of an American orthodoxy. Who is more consistently certain that the sanctity of their conscience has vouchsafed God-given rights, whatever they decide those rights might be, than Americans? However, American secularists have generally failed at building institutions that rival the special breadth and depth of religion’s involvement in people’s lives.

For their part, acutely religious Americans have understood that public education is the enemy: that it is – and must be – secularising. For the sciences and humanities offer worlds, and explanations, that the scriptures do not, and an education in the latter in particular seems to be a fairly reliable inoculation against authoritarian tendencies of religion. Indeed, historically, the purpose of public education in modern nation-states is to make people citizens, not to make them better Christians or Jews or Muslims. Finally, it is important to emphasise that the varieties of the secular are not all equal. Yes, secularism emerged out of Protestant theology, and philosophy transformed it from a heresy into a tenet of modern politics. But to its 18th-century proponents, it was at root a political project. A secular society, they were certain, would be a more enlightened, peaceful and just society. American secularism has not fulfilled those aspects of its promise. It never even secularised American political life. Whether it was a mistake in principle, or the problem is that secularists did not go far enough, is open to debate, but it is worth remembering that American secularism was always meant to be a means, not an end.


Why You Need to Understand Evangelical Christianity’s Outrageous and Influential Far-Right Fringe

Its followers believe the Bible, and the laws contained within it, should rule over every aspect of life.

Source: AlterNet

Author:Bill Berkowitz

Emphasis Mine

Here’s a simple question: Have you ever heard of Christian Reconstruction, Rousas J. Rushdoony, or one of his most influential works, The Institutes of Biblical Law? Probably not! Christian Reconstruction, is a religious belief system, set out by the late Rushdoony, which maintains that every aspect of society – church, state, family, economy — should be based on Biblical law. It is evangelical Christianity’s right-wing fringe, yet its tentacles reach deep into the Clown Car that is the Republican Party’s field of presidential candidates. Is Christian Reconstruction so fringed out that it is not worthy of attention? Not according to Julie J. Ingersoll, author of the new book, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction, who posits that Reconstructionists’ “biblical worldview” played, and continues to play, a highly influential role, although subtle and often hidden, in contemporary right-wing politics.

When Christian Reconstructionists say God’s law –– as it is revealed in the Old and New Testaments — should control every aspect of life, they mean every aspect, interpreting the Bible as mandating a challenge to the legitimacy of democracy, justifying slavery, and advocating the stoning to death of homosexuals, adulterers, and Sabbath-breakers. If any of this sounds familiar, you might be thinking Taliban and/or ISIS.

As investigative reporter John F. Sugg pointed out in a 2004 extensive piece in Tampa, Florida’s Weekly Planet, “Most churchgoers have never heard of Christian Reconstruction or theonomy. Believers would be hard-pressed to define ‘dominion theology,’ ‘covenant theology,’ ‘pre-millennial,’ [or] ‘post- millennial.’ … Nor would most Americans reflexively embrace a ‘theology’ that denounced all government social programs, public schools, environmental protections — a religion that promoted mass executions for sins as minor as swearing at parents, …”

While a number of investigative reporters, researchers and writers such as John Sugg, and Chip Berlet, author of Eyes Right! Challenging the Right Wing Backlash, and Frederick Clarkson, author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, have delved deeply into this movement over the years, perhaps no one has been as immersed in it as Ingersoll.

In the Preface to Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2015), Ingersoll, an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Florida, writes that she first encountered Christian Reconstruction in the early 1980s during and after her days at Rutgers University.

Steeped in the conservative movement, Ingersoll worked as a volunteer, intern, writer and researcher for several of the more significant New Right political organizations of that period, including the National Conservative Political Action Committee, Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation, and the American Life Lobby. She attended campaign schools run by the National Conservative Foundation, the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, and the College Republican National Committee Feldman School.

“In 1983,” Ingersoll writes, she “married a member of one of the Reconstructionist families,” and was divorced in the early 1990s. Although she had differences with many in the movement, mostly over issues related to the treatment of women – she was a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment – she worked with a number of right-to-life groups, including Operation Rescue, and was the California chapter president of Feminists for Life.

Building God’s Kingdom is the result of nearly thirty years of research, writing, reflection, re-thinking, involvement with and detachment from evangelical Christian conservative movements. Ingersoll acknowledges that it is difficult to quantify the influence of Christian Reconstruction on mainstream politics as they have their own institutions and do not readily share their data, therefore leaving “the strategy of trying to trace the[ir] influence in more subtle, nuanced, and admittedly interpretive ways.”

Rushdoony: New Right intellectual “godfather”

According to Ingersoll, Rushdoony never received his props: He was one of the religious right’s “intellectual godfathers,” but he was “often treated like a crazy uncle.” Nevertheless, while Recostructionism never attracted “much [grassroots] support … the movement’s ideas became a driving force in American politics,” as Reconstructionists “found a home in Washington-based political organizations, such as the Moral Majority and Christian Voice.”

Howard Phillips, a major figure in the early development of the religious right called Rousas John Rushdoony the “most influential man of the 21st century” whose work brought about “historic changes in the thinking of countless leaders.” Phillips told Ingersoll that Rushdoony was “early and often on all the big issues, and he was a pioneer in the homeschool movement.”

On the occasion of Rushdoony’s death in February 2001, Gary North, a movement leader and Rushdoony’s son-in-law, credited him with “being the source of many of the core ideas of the New Christian Right,” and maintained that “the mainstream media” never understood the scope of his influence.

Ruashdoony’s appeal to religious right leaders was that he put the Bible at the center of everything. Rushdoony’s work permeated “arguments made by conservative Christians about biblical government that focus on the character and structure of families, free-market economics, the legal status of religion, the critique of public education, care for the poor, the right to own guns, the funding of health care.”

Ingersoll’s Building God’s Freedom “address[es] one aspect of the story of the contemporary conservative Christian subculture and the rise of the religious right: the impact of a small group of fundamentalists known as Christian Reconstructionists.”

“Well before the establishment of the Washington-based political organizations designed to harness the growing dissatisfaction among conservative Christians,” Ingersoll writes, “Reconstructionists were laying the intellectual foundation that would shape the twenty-first century conservative Christian subculture, developing what would become the religious right’s critique of the American social order, and plotting strategies to bring about change.”

While adherents of the religious right do not make up a majority of this country’s population, nevertheless, a substantial number of people believe – as Christian Reconstructionists do — that America is Christian nation, separation of church and state is a liberal-initiated shibboleth, patriarchy is the God-ordained structure for families, that the Bible, and the laws contained within it, should rule over every aspect of life.

Christian Reconstruction is playing the long game, and Ingersoll meticulously explores its “strategy” of “mak[ing] meaningful the mundane details of day-to-day life by situating them in a sweeping narrative framed as the fundamental purpose of God and his creation.” Building God’s Kingdom traces the origins of the New Christian Right back to the Old Christian Right; describes how Reconstructionists “helped the movement take root in the conservative Protestant subculture”; and, details how Reconstructionist ideas were planted in evangelical culture, even amongst those that didn’t identify with Reconstructionism.

Cyclically, mainstream media’s pundits and prognosticators bury the religious right. And while it is worthwhile pointing out that the religious right’s influence has ebbed and flowed over the past two decades, some of its issues — now most famously being played out under the meme of “religious freedom” — remains at center stage. While Reconstructionists are not responsible for totally birthing the religious right, and have rarely been in the spotlight, nevertheless its “influence continues, although often until recently unacknowledged and sometimes denied.”

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement.


What The GOP Candidates Meant When They Were Talking About God At Last Night’s Debate

What a man believes may be ascertained, not from his creed, but from the assumptions on which he habitually acts.

George Bernard Shaw

What a man believes may be ascertained, not from his creed, but from the assumptions on which he habitually acts.

George Bernard Shaw

What a man believes may be ascertained, not from his creed, but from the assumptions on which he habitually acts.
(George Bernard Shaw)

Source:Think Progress

Author: Jack Jenkins

Emphasis Mine

(N.B.: It might be interesting to learn how the candidates might have responded to this question: if elected, how would you perform your duty to uphold the First Amendment?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.)


Thursday night’s highly-anticipated Republican presidential debate was political theater at its finest, complete with hard-nosed questions, heated exchanges, and vaguely articulated policy positions that political pundits will continue to pore over for weeks to come.

The final question of the debate, however, was arguably the most difficult to parse.

“I want to know if any of [the candidates] have received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first,” read the inquiry, which was submitted online but repeated by host Megyn Kelly.

Several candidates answered the question, but the exchange was confusing for some viewers. After all, not everyone speaks spiritual language, and many of the candidates come from very different Christian traditions.

So what were the candidates actually talking about when they referenced their faith? ThinkProgress’ God Squad is here with a breakdown of some of the more important theological ideas discussed during last night’s debate.

Ted Cruz: The classic evangelical

When Senator Cruz (R-TX) was asked if he had received “a word from God” telling him what he should do if he became president, his answer was essentially a three-pronged list of his evangelical bona fides.

He began, naturally, with his love of scripture:

“Well, I am blessed to receive a word from God every day in receiving the scriptures and reading the scriptures. And God speaks through the Bible.”

Cruz is Southern Baptist, which makes him Protestant, and the line above is a deeply Protestant axiom. During the Protestant Reformation, Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin argued that theology should be rooted solely in scripture, as opposed to the opinions of church leadership they claimed were corrupt. Thus, the Bible — also often called the Word of God — became the bedrock of what eventually evolved into Protestant Christianity. Catholics, of course, feel similarly about scripture, but Protestants place far more emphasis on the written text than on tradition.

Thus, for Cruz, his “word from God” is the Bible, which he claims to read every day.

Cruz then moved on to a story about his father overcoming alcoholism with faith:

“I’m the son of a pastor and evangelist and I’ve described many times how my father, when I was a child, was an alcoholic.”

Cruz has indeed recounted his family history many times, partly because of how deeply it resonates with his party’s evangelical base. Redemption stories are an important aspect of conservative Christianity, and alcoholism is an area where evangelicals have a lot of influence: Alcoholics Anonymous evolved out of the The Oxford Group, a Christian organization that sought to help people overcome problems with faith.

Finally, Cruz discussed his competitors:

”I would also note that the scripture tells us, ‘you shall know them by their fruit.’ We see lots of ‘campaign conservatives.’ But if we’re going to win in 2016, we need a consistent conservative, someone who has been a fiscal conservative, a social conservative, a national security conservative.”

He is referencing Matthew 7 here, which includes Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount and the following warning for followers: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.”


What a man believes may be ascertained, not from his creed, but from the assumptions on which he habitually acts.

George Bernard Shaw


Thus, Cruz wants his fellow Republicans to be wary of conservatives without “consistent” right-wing records, positing himself as a better alternative (and, presumably, a “true” prophet.)

John Kasich: The mainline Christian

Governor Kasich (R-OH) identifies as an Anglican, a more conservative variant of Episcopalian in the United States (technically all Episcopalians are Anglicans, but bear with me). His denomination is within the “mainline” Christian tradition, which includes many institutional forms of Christianity that have been around since our nation’s founding — Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc.

These groups have conservative camps, and Kasich appears to be a member of a more right-wing community. Still, mainline theology, while varying wildly from church to church, tends to be more liberal and welcoming of dissenting opinions. Moreover, mainline pews are often filled with white liberals who participate in faith-based social justice movements, and many of these Christians — conservative or otherwise — balk at the evangelical tendency to lift up the United States as a uniquely holy land.

This makes Kasich a committed Christian, but one that doesn’t fit in as well among many hardline conservative groups. Consequently, it’s not surprising that he was repeatedly asked about his religious beliefs during the debate, and that his response to Kelly’s question about “a word from God” included this humble approach to the issue of faith and patriotism:

“And we’ve got to listen to other people’s voices, respect them, but keep in mind, and I believe in terms of the things that I’ve read in my lifetime, the lord is not picking us. But because of how we respect human rights, because that we are a good force in the world, he wants America to be strong … He wants America to succeed. And he wants America to lead. And nothing is more important to me than my family, my faith, and my friends.”

Kasich’s mainline tendencies were also on display in his similarly spiritual but equally openminded answer to the question of same-sex marriage. The governor was clear that he opposes marriage equality, but said he is willing to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize it because he doesn’t see an issue with living alongside people he disagrees with — and because his faith compels him to do so.

“Look, I’m an old-fashioned person here, and I happen to believe in traditional marriage. But I’ve also said the court has ruled … I said we’ll accept it. And guess what? I just went to a wedding of a friend of mine who happens to be gay. Because somebody doesn’t think the way I do, doesn’t mean that I can’t care about them or can’t love them. So if one of my daughters happened to be [gay], of course I would love them and I would accept them. Because you know what? That’s what we’re taught when we have strong faith.”

“God gives me unconditional love. I’m going to give it to my family and my friends and the people around me.”

Kasich’s faith-fueled interest in poverty also came up as a question during the debate. He was asked directly about his decision to expand Medicaid in his home state of Ohio, a decision he justified by saying that God doesn’t judge people for “what you did about keeping government small, but he’s going to ask you what you did for the poor.” When Kelly wondered aloud if he would extend this to expanding all government programs as president, Kasich didn’t take the bait, explaining that his faith inspired him to offer healthcare to the poor:

“The working poor, instead of them having come into the emergency rooms where it costs more, where they’re sicker and we end up paying, we brought a program in here to make sure that people could get on their feet … Everybody has a right to their God-given purpose.” 

Rubio: For God and country

Senator Rubio (R-FL), a Roman Catholic with ties to both evangelicalism and Mormonism, was asked to put his faith in conversation with his respect for veterans. He leapt at the chance to fuse God and country, offering a notably different vision of America’s spiritual specialness than Kasich:

“Well, first, let me say I think God has blessed us. He has blessed the Republican Party with some very good candidates. The Democrats can’t even find one … And I believe God has blessed our country. This country has been extraordinarily blessed. And we have honored that blessing. And that’s why God has continued to bless us. And he has blessed us with young men and women willing to risk their lives and sometimes die in uniform for the safety and security of our people.”

Rubio goes on to discuss the need to reform the VA system, but his general position is pretty straightforward: America is blessed, and if we do what God wants, God will keep blessing us.

Scott Walker: The other evangelical

Governor Walker (R-WI), like Cruz, is a Southern Baptist and the son of a preacher. Consequently, he recited a litany of traditional evangelical expressions when answering the “word from God” question:

“I’m certainly an imperfect man. And it’s only by the blood of Jesus Christ that I’ve been redeemed from my sins. So I know that God doesn’t call me to do a specific thing, God hasn’t given me a list, a Ten Commandments, if you will, of things to act on the first day.”

Then, after detailing how he defeated unions in Wisconsin, he added:

“It wasn’t just how I took on those political battles. It was ultimately how I acted. Not responding in kind. Not lashing out. But just being decent going forward and living my life in a way that would be a testimony to him and our faith.”

Walker makes a classic evangelical theological argument here. He admits he is a sinner (an “imperfect man”) whose sins are forgiven by Christ’s sacrificial crucifixion (his reference to the “blood of Jesus Christ”). Since Christianity asks for boldness, he took on his political opponents (unions) — but claims he did it nicely.

Ben Carson: God wants a flat tax (but not really)

Carson, a neurosurgeon and Seventh-day Adventist, basically dodged the God-question when Kelly directed it at him. But he did try to invoke God as justification for a flat tax earlier on:

“What I agree with is that we need a significantly changed taxation system. And the one that I’ve advocated is based on tithing, because I think God is a pretty fair guy. And he said, you know, if you give me a tithe, it doesn’t matter how much you make. If you’ve had a bumper crop, you don’t owe me triple tithes. And if you’ve had no crops at all, you don’t owe me no tithes. So there must be something inherently fair about that.”

“And that’s why I’ve advocated a proportional tax system. You make $10 billion, you pay a billion. You make $10, you pay one. And everybody gets treated the same way. And you get rid of the deductions, you get rid of all the loopholes…”

Excusing for a moment Carson’s theologically disputed (but common) claim that God is a “guy” outside of Jesus Christ, his analogy likely resonates with many American believers. Lots of Christians grow up with the idea that 10 percent of their income should be given to their local church as part of their faithful service. The term “tithe” literally means this, and people of faith often write checks to their churches each year for roughly this amount — especially Mormons, who explicitly ask believers to donate one tenth of their earnings.

Theologically speaking, however, Carson is a bit off. Although the Old Testament does include several clear instructions for giving back to God, they were never about cash — they were about one’s crops, and there is no evidence that people without land were asked to give. The Bible also mentions three kinds of tithing for ancient Hebrews — two given each year and a third every third year — which averages out to 23.3 percent (not 10 percent) of a believer’s annual stock. Meanwhile, the New Testament is actually a bit more vague on what tithing means: In 1 Corinthians: 16, the biblical writer simply asks followers to give “whatever extra you earn” without specifying exact proportions.

Regardless, all of this only applies to a church community, not federal taxes. In fact, when it comes to paying the government, the biblical Jesus was actually pretty clear about wanting to keep the two systems separate: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” reads Mark 12:17.


The 10 Worst Weather Disasters This Year and Why They Are Happening

We’ve already had 10 disasters topping $1 billion each and it’s only September — what gives?…is hoping that people may begin to better understand how global warming can affect us by stepping back and seeing these disasters as part of a bigger picture.

From Alternet, by Tara Lohan

N.B.: The article contained the ambiguous, misleading word ‘midwest’.  I replaced it with one more accurate.

Floodwaters remain threatening in parts of the Northeast. Acresting Susquehanna River caused evacuations late last week in Pennsylvania — the culprit that time was tropical storm Lee, which came on the heels of Hurricane Irene. These days extreme weather is beginning to seem like the new normal in a year marked by disastrous events — deadly tornadoes, raging floods, crippling drought and wildfire, massive hurricanes, and don’t forget the great white-out of “snowpocalpyse.”

All these events have taken their toll on the country, both in terms of human lives lost and the amount of damages incurred. FEMA’s disaster fund has dipped so low it is having to divert funds from Joplin, Missouri, site of the heartbreaking May tornado, to areas clobbered by Irene. The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) reports that we’ve already set a record of 10 disasters over $1 billion each this year— and it’s only September.

So how bad have things been, and what’s to blame? Let’s take a look at the NCDC’s list of wreckage of the last nine months.

1. Ground Hog Day Blizzard, Jan 29-Feb 3

It may be hard to think back to the frigid days of winter, but the massive storm that blanketed central and eastern states was a killer. It put Chicago under several feet of snow, claimed 36 lives and caused losses over $2 billion. The storm stymied travel, exhausted plowing budgets, and brought major cities to a standstill. For New York, the storm capped a month of snowfall that hit 36 inches.

2.Central/Southeast Tornadoes, April 4-5

Next came the beginning of a horrifying tornado season, which included five events topping $1 billion. The first, on April 4-5 hit 10 southern and central states with 46 tornadoes, losses over $2.3 billion and nine people killed.

3. Southeast/Great Lakes Tornadoes, April 8-11

Then came another 59 tornadoes that battered the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa and Wisconsin. Total losses topped $2.2 billion but no casualties were reported.

4. Mid Atlantic/Southeast Tornadoes, April 14-16

This round of 160 tornadoes rocked Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia and Pennsylvania. North Carolina received the brunt with tornadoes killing 22 people out of the storms’ total of 38 casualties. More than $2 billion in losses were reported.

5. Southeast/Ohio Valley/Miss. Valley Tornadoes, April 25-30

And still the tornadoes kept coming — this time 305 tornadoes and 327 people dead, 240 of them killed in Alabama. The twisters hit more populated areas like Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Huntsville and Chattanooga, bringing the tab to over $9 billion.

6. Central/Southeast Tornadoes, May 22-27

Then came 180 tornadoes that terrorized central and southern states, claiming 177 lives and costing over $7 billion. The town of Joplin, Missouri lost 141 people and received the unfortunate honor of being the site of the country’s deadliest tornado strike. Before and after photos of Joplin showed obliterated neighborhoods, roads, schools, churches and hospitals, and the media was filled with heartbreaking stories of people searching for loved ones.

7. Southern Plains/Southwest Drought, Heatwave and Wildfires, Spring-Summer

Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, southern Kansas, western Arkansas and Louisiana have been massively hot and dry. This has resulted in mammoth wildfires, lost crops and livestock, charred homes, and dwindling water supplies. Texans have now experienced the hottest three months (June through August) ever recorded in the U.S. Climate-denying Texas governor Rick Perry has been praying for rain, but his prayers have done nothing to help the 3.6 million acres torched in his state. (It also hasn’t helped that he cut the volunteer fire department budgets from $30 million to $7 million — a really bad decision considering that most Texans’ first line of defense is from the volunteer corps.) Across the Southwest and southern plains states, firefighting costs have reached $1 million a day. The total economic damages are still being tallied as this summer of hell is far from over, but losses to agriculture, cattle and buildings are more than $5 billion.

8. Mississippi River Flooding, Spring-Summer

The combination of massive rainfall and melting snow made for an epic flood event this year along the Mississippi and its tributaries, with losses creeping toward $4 billion and several lives lost. Homes and fields were submerged and towns evacuated. Photos showed water reaching the top of street signs, barns floating away and roadways disappearing into the floodwaters.

9. North Central Flooding, Summer

That wasn’t the only big flood event of the year either. The same disastrous combo of snow melt and hefty precipitation set the Missouri and Souris rivers on a wild ride. Minot, North Dakota‘s 11,000 folks were sent packing as the water claimed 4,000 area homes. In all Montana, the Dakotas, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri lost homes, businesses and farms with damage estimates at over $2 billion and five deaths reported.

10. Hurricane Irene, August 20-29

And that brings us back to Irene’s recent course through Eastern states. The final tab is still a guess, especially in a stunned and soggy Vermont. According to Circle of Blue, “Standard & Poor reported that total economic losses from the disaster could reach $US 20 billion, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, catastrophe modeler AIR Worldwide has insured-loss estimates between $US 3 to 6 billion, and risk-management firm Kinetic Analysis Corporation has estimated the total damage from Hurricane Irene at $US 7 billion.” The death toll has now reached 45.

Why All the Weather Disasters?

After tallying the lives lost and property damaged, has all this weather taken a toll on our consciousness yet? Are people beginning to wonder if it’s just a crappy, unlucky year — or is there something else going on? Bill McKibben, the environmental author and activist, is hoping that people may begin to better understand how global warming can affect us by stepping back and seeing these disasters as part of a bigger picture. As McKibben told Amy Goodman this week on Democracy Now!:

We’re in unprecedented, off-the-charts territory. It’s not that there haven’t been disasters before. There have always been disasters. Nature is relatively random in that sense. But now we’re seeing two things. One, disasters that go beyond the bounds of what we’ve ever seen before. Because there’s more water in the atmosphere, it’s possible to have bigger floods, record snowfalls when it’s cold, record rainstorms. And we’re seeing more of them in conjunction. Think about what’s been going on just on this continent this year. We’re about one-and-a-half percent of the surface area of the globe in the continental U.S., and we’ve had not only this extraordinary flooding, but on the same day that Hurricane Irene was coming down, Houston set its all-time temperature record, 109 degrees. We’re in the middle of the worst drought ever recorded in Texas. And, you know, Governor Perry’s prayers for rain have so far been unanswered, maybe because he’s done so little to ameliorate the flow of carbon into the atmosphere. We’re in a new situation.

It doesn’t mean that everything that happens is caused by global warming. Hurricanes aren’t caused by global warming. They’re caused by tropical waves drifting off the coast of Africa and encountering the earth’s spin that can begin to set them into rotation. But they are made more powerful. As this hurricane rode up the coast, one of the reasons it was able to pick up so much water, that it’s now dumping on Vermont and Quebec, is that sea surface temperatures were at an all-time record high off New York and New Jersey. Never–the last two years have seen the highest temperatures ever recorded in those waters. When you amp up a system–and so far we’ve added about three-quarters of a watt per square meter of the earth’s surface extra solar energy to the planet by burning coal and gas and oil--when you do that, you can expect more dynamic, more amped-up, more violent weather. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing.

So, to recap — it’s not that any one of our weather events was caused by global warming; it’s that global warming can make them worse. There is an increase in the frequency and the severity of storms — wet storms get even wetter, heat waves get hotter and droughts get even drier. As Seth Borenstein writes for the AP, “This year, there’s been a Pacific Ocean climate phenomenon that changes weather patterns worldwide known as La Nina, the flip side to El Nino. La Ninas normally trigger certain extremes such as flooding in Australia and drought in Texas. But global warming has taken those events and amplified them from bad to record levels, said climate scientist Jerry Meehl at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Associated reported that this year was the second hottest on record — and last year was the hottest. They also turned up a few more disturbing facts:

  • Only nine of the lower 48 states experienced August temperatures near average, and no state had August average temperatures below average.
  • Wetter-than-normal conditions were widespread across the Northeastern United States, which had its second wettest August, as well as parts of the Northern Plains and California. Drier-than-normal conditions reigned across the interior West, the Midwest, and the South.
  • Despite record rainfall in parts of the country, drought covered about one-third of the contiguous United States, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The Palmer Hydrologic Drought Index indicated that parts of Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas are experiencing drought of greater intensity, but not yet duration, than those of the 1930s and 1950s.
  • An analysis of Texas statewide tree-ring records dating back to 1550 indicates that the summer 2011 drought in Texas is matched by only one summer (1789), indicating that the summer 2011 drought appears to be unusual even in the context of the multi-century tree-ring record.
  • Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Louisiana had their warmest (June-August) summers on record.
  • The U.S. Climate Extremes Index, a measure of the percent area of the country experiencing extreme climate conditions, was nearly four times the average value was during summer 2011.

And if that’s not enough, Arctic sea ice is at a record level low.

So, we’ve got extreme weather that is getting more dangerous. What are we going to do? Apparently not much. Writing for the Guardian, Jule Boykoff takes politicians — especially the climate-denying Republicans — to task for ignoring the perils of climate change. Boykoff writes:

As Republican candidates rehearse Exxon-esque talking points, journalists need to ask them where their weather and climate change thresholds lie. Someone should ask Perry, “At what specific threshold would you begin to ‘believe’ in global warming?” Would he reconsider his position if Texas were thrashed by an Old Testament-style concoction of droughts and tornadoes on an even more regular basis? How regular would this thrashing have to be? More than 97% of active climate scientists are in consensus that humans are contributing significantly to climate change. What percentage does he require to eliminate doubt? 99%? 109%?

Same goes for Obama. How many deaths and billions in economic damage from extreme weather would it take for him to take action to mitigate climate change and, for example, put the kibosh on the Keystone XL pipeline?

Here’s the crux of this issue — at what point are we willing to do everything we can to change the course we’re on and demand the same from our elected officials? Perry and his Republican cohorts in the presidential race (minus Jon Huntsman) are adamant in their belief that climate change is not real despite the the conviction of 97 percent of people trained in that scientific field. Seems crazy right? Even crazier if you think about it this way: There’s a 97 percent change our ship is going to sink. Wouldn’t you want to get the heck off that boat?

There’s no way off this planet, so why aren’t we doing everything we can — Republicans, Democrats, everyone — to divert our ship from its disastrous course?”

Tara Lohan is a senior editor at AlterNet and editor of the new book Water Matters: Why We Need to Act Now to Save Our Most Critical Resource. You can follow her on Twitter @TaraLohan.

Emphasis Mine


Michele Bachmann Was Inspired By My Dad and His Christian Reconstructionist Friends — Here’s Why That’s Terrifying

By Frank Schaeffer, AlterNet
Posted on August 9, 2011,

As presidential candidate Michele Bachmann chews up scenery in the GOP primaries, the mainstream media is finally digging into her extremist beliefs in a serious way. In a profile published earlier this week, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza talked about Bachmann’s radical right-wing influences, which include the most extremist figures in the history of the religious right movement.

One of these was my evangelical leader father, Francis Schaeffer. Bachmann says in the New Yorker article that she got into politics because she watched a film series I directed called “How Should We Then Live,” written by and featuring my dad.

What the New Yorker article doesn’t do is explain why people like Bachmann, Sarah Palin, et al. turned to the hard reactionary anti-government right. I explain this in my book Sex, Mom and God. I think it’s important to understand this. So let me add what the New Yorker left out.

The Back Story

In 1983 I was the leader of a group of protesters who screamed abuse at Justice Harry Blackmun and made him beat a hasty retreat back into a college building at the University of Nebraska after he’d just been awarded an honorary degree. In the early 1980s my daughter Jessica and I—she was 12—drove into Boston several times to picket abortion clinics, including one where a few years later (in 1994) two people were shot dead and five were seriously wounded by “pro-life” activist John Salvi.

Dad agreed to lead several antiabortion demonstrations, too. He said, “We’re telling everyone else to get out there and picket, and some of our people are getting arrested, so we can’t say no to doing what we’re telling others to do.”

That was then. Today I’m on the “other side.”

America has a problem: It’s filled with people who take the Bible seriously. America has a blessing: It’s filled with people who take the Bible seriously. How does this blessing coexist with the curse derived from the same source: the Bible? The answer is that the Bible is a curse or a blessing depending on who is doing the interpreting. Sometimes belief in the Bible leads to building a hospital. Sometimes it leads to justifying perpetual war and empire building. Same book—different interpretation.

If the history of Christianity proves one thing, it’s that you can make the Bible “say” anything. When you hear words like “We want to take back America for God!” the 21st-century expression of such theocratic ideas can be traced back to some of my old friends: the Reconstructionists.

Most Americans have never heard of the Reconstructionists. But they have felt their impact through the Reconstructionists’ profound (if indirect) influence over the wider (and vast) evangelical community.

Take Michele Bachmann. She is a Reconstructionist schooled – literally – by some of that obscure movement’s leading thinkers, including my father.

The evangelicals have shaped the politics of a secular culture that barely understood the religious right, let alone the forces within that movement that gave it its edge. The Americans inhabiting the wider (and more secular) culture just saw the results of Reconstructionism without understanding where those results had come from—for instance, how the hell George W. Bush got elected and then reelected or why Michele Bachmann was into home schooling long before she was into trying to become president in order to turn America into a homophobic theocracy.


If you feel victimized by modernity, then the Reconstructionists have the answer in their version of biblical interpretation. Reconstructionists want to replace the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights with their interpretation of the Bible.

The Reconstructionist worldview is ultra-Calvinist but, like all Calvinism has its origins in ancient Israel/Palestine, when vengeful and ignorant tribal lore was written down by frightened men (the nastier authors of the Bible) trying to defend their prerogatives to bully women, murder rival tribes, and steal land. (These justifications may have reflected later thinking: origin myths used as propaganda to justify political and military actions after the fact, such as the brutality the Hebrews said God made them inflict on others and/or their position as the Chosen People.)

In its modern American incarnation, which hardened into a 20th-century movement in the 1960s and became widespread in the 1970s, Reconstructionism was propagated by people like my father and others I knew and worked with closely when I, too, was both a Jesus Victim and a Jesus Predator claiming God’s special favor.

The Leaders

The leaders of the Reconstructionist movement included the late Rousas Rushdoony (Calvinist theologian, father of modern-era Christian Reconstructionism, patron saint to gold-hoarding haters of the Federal Reserve, haters of the US Government and creator of the modern evangelical home school movement), his son-in-law Gary North (an economist and publisher), and David Chilton (Calvinist pastor and author).

No, the Reconstructionists are not about to take over America, the world, or even most American evangelical institutions. Bachmann – for instance – will likely never be president. But their influence has not abated, however a la Tea Party.

The Reconstructionists have been like a drop of radicalizing flavoring added to a bottle of water: They’ve subtly changed the water’s flavor. And even though most evangelicals, let alone the general public, don’t know the names of the leading Reconstructionist thinkers, the world we live in—where a radicalized, angry government-hating religious right has changed the face of American politics and spun off into movements such as the Tea Party—is a direct result of that “flavoring.”

Anyone who wants to understand American politics, not to mention North American religion, had better get acquainted with the Reconstructionists. For instance these folks just held America hostage in the debt crisis, an attempt to – literally – destroy the government’s ability to function at all a manufactured “crisis” in which Bachmann was a leading proponent of scorched-earth, destroy the system “politics.”

Reconstructionism, also called Theonomism, seeks to reconstruct “our fallen society.” Its worldview is best represented by the publications of the Chalcedon Foundation (which has been classified as an antigay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center).

Kill the Gays

According to the Chalcedon Foundation Web site, the mission of the movement is to apply “the whole Word of God” to all aspects of human life: “It is not only our duty as individuals, families and churches to be Christian, but it is also the duty of the state, the school, the arts and sciences, law, economics, and every other sphere to be under Christ the King. Nothing is exempt from His dominion. We must live by His Word, not our own.”

Until Rushdoony, founder and late president of the Chalcedon Foundation, began writing in the 1960s, most American fundamentalists (including my parents) didn’t try to apply biblical laws about capital punishment for homosexuality to the United States. Even the most conservative evangelicals said they were “New Testament Christians.” In other words, they believed that after the coming of Jesus, the harsher bits of the Bible had been (at least to some extent) transformed by the “New Covenant” of Jesus’ “Law of Love.”

By contrast, the leaders of Reconstructionism believed that Old Testament teachings—on everything from capital punishment for gays to the virtues of child-beating—were still valid because they were the inerrant Word and Will of God and therefore should be enforced. Not only that, they said that biblical law should be imposed even on nonbelievers. This theology was the American version of the attempt in some Muslim countries to impose Shariah (Islamic law) on all citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

It was my old friend, the short, stocky, bearded Armenian American Rousas Rushdoony who in 1973 most thoroughly laid out the far right/religious right agenda in his book The Institutes of Biblical Law. Rushdoony changed the definition of salvation from the accepted evangelical idea that it applies to individuals to the claim that salvation is really about politics. With this redefinition, Rushdoony contradicted the usual reading of Jesus’ words by most Christians to mean that Jesus had not come to this earth to be a political leader: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

According to Rushdoony, all nations on earth should be obedient to the ancient Jewish/Christian version of “God’s Law,” so that the world will experience “God’s blessings.” Biblical salvation will then turn back the consequences of the Fall, and we’ll be on our way to the New Eden. To achieve this “turning back,” coercion must be used by the faithful to stop evildoers, who are, by definition, anyone not obeying all of God’s Laws as defined by the Calvinist and Reconstructionist interpretation of the Bible.

Once Christians are in charge, according to Gary North, rather than turning the other cheek to our enemy, we “should either bust him in the chops or haul him before the magistrate, and possibly both.” North adds, “It is only in a period of civil impotence that Christians are under the rule to ‘resist not evil.’”

How far would the Reconstructionists go? North, writes, “The question eventually must be raised: Is it a criminal offence to take the name of the Lord in vain? When people curse their parents, it unquestionably is a capital crime (Exodus. 21:17). The son or daughter is under the lawful jurisdiction of the family. The integrity of the family must be maintained by the threat of death. Clearly, cursing God (blasphemy) is a comparable crime, and is therefore a capital crime (Leviticus. 24:16).”

How might a Reconstructionist version of the Sermon on the Mount read, inclusive of Reconstructionist “inside” theological/political code words like “Law-Word”? Maybe something like this:

Blessed are those who exercise dominion over the earth: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who deport the immigrants: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are those who agree that the significance of Jesus Christ as the ‘faithful and true witness’ is that He not only witnesses against those who are at war against God, but He also executes them: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who subdue all things and all nations to Christ and His Law-Word: for they shall be filled. Blessed are those who say that those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God must be denied citizenship: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the Calvinist Christians who are the only lawful heirs to the Kingdom: for they shall see God. Blessed are those who know that turning the other cheek is a temporary bribe paid to evil secular rulers: for they shall be called sons of God if they bust their enemies in the chops. Blessed are those who have taken an eye for an eye: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are ye when ye know that the battle for My sake is between the Christian Reconstruction Movement and everyone else. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven. For so we are to make Bible-obeying disciples of anybody who gets in our way, and kill those who resist.

The Movement to ‘Take Back America For God’

I remember first meeting Rushdoony at his home in Vallecito, California, in the late 1970s. (That was where I also met Gary North for the first time.) I was accompanied by Jim Buchfuehrer, who had produced the antiabortion documentary series of films with me that featured my father and Dr. C. Everett Koop. (Koop would become Ronald Reagan’s surgeon general.)

The movie series and book project later got Michele Bachamnn to become an ardent clinic picketer. Whatever Happened to the Human Race? was Koop’s and my brainchild. He had seen my dad’s and my first film series—How Should We Then Live? (the series I directed and that Bachmann says got her into politics and that the New Yorker article describes in detail) —and Koop wanted to team up to expand on the last episodes, in which Dad had denounced the “imperial court” for “stripping the unborn” of their right to life.

The impact of the two film series, as well as their companion books, was to give the evangelical community a frame of reference through which to understand the “secularization of American culture” and to point to the “human life issue” as the watershed between a “Christian society” and a utilitarian, relativistic “post-Christian” future. This has become Bachmann’s agenda, and also the agenda of Fox News as they blast her views over America.

By the time the films had been viewed by millions of American evangelicals, Dad had become the leader of those evangelicals who took a “stand” on the “life issues.” And the films made the Reconstructionists believe that perhaps in Francis Schaeffer and his up-and-coming son they might have found new allies. So I began to get messages that Rushdoony urgently wanted to meet me.

Hating America to ‘Save’ It

When we talked, Rushdoony talked about “secular America” as if it were an enemy state, not our country. He talked about how “we” should all use cash, never credit cards, since cards would make it “easy for the government to track us.” Rushdoony spoke passionately about the virtues of gold, how very soon the conflict between the Soviet Union and America would lead to war. Rushdoony also noted that Vallecito was “well located to survive the next war” given “the prevailing wind directions” and its water supply.

The message of Rushdoony’s work is best summed up in one of his innumerable Chalcedon Foundation position papers, “The Increase of His Government and Peace.” He writes, “The ultimate and absolute government of all things shall belong to Christ.” In his book Thy Kingdom Come—using words that are similar to those the leaders of al Qaida would use decades later in reference to “true Islam”—Rushdoony argues that democracy and Christianity are incompatible: “Democracy is the great love of the failures and cowards of life,” he writes. “One [biblical] faith, one law and one standard of justice did not mean democracy. The heresy of democracy has since then worked havoc in church and state.Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies.”

The impact of Reconstructionism (often under other names) has grown even though Rushdoony has largely been forgotten even in evangelical circles, let alone the wider world. He made the evangelical world more susceptible to being politicized—and manipulated by some very smart people like Bachmann.

Religious leaders like Jerry Falwell who once had nothing to do with politics per se were influenced by the Reconstructionists. That in turn moved the whole evangelical movement to the right and then into the political arena, where it became “normal” for evangelical leaders to jump head first into politics with little-to-no regard for the separation of church and state.

Extremists For Jesus

Without the work of the Reconstructionists, the next generation of religious activists (trying to use the courts, politics, and/or civil disobedience to impose their narrow theology on the majority of Americans) may have been relegated to some lonely street corner where they could gather to howl at the moon. Instead, the 21st century’s theocrats (though they’d never so identify themselves) enjoyed the backing of Fox News, were tolerated at places like Princeton University, and could be found running many evangelical organizations. And now in Bachmann they have their champion: a full fledged Reconstructionist radical.

From Puritans To Government Haters

The Puritans’ theology of government was formed in the context of an embrace of all Christians’ duty to demand the “public good.” This was exemplified by such unquestioned well-established concepts as the “king’s highway,” a common road system protected by the crown (government) and a common law that applied to all. One’s common duty to others was accepted as the essential message of Christian civilization. Public spaces were defended by government in the early New England settlements, just as they had been in England.

What’s so curious is that in this religion-inflicted country of ours, the same evangelicals, conservative Roman Catholics, and others like George and Bachmann who had been running around post-Roe insisting that America had a “Christian foundation” and demanding a “return to our heritage” and/or more recently trashing health care reform as “communist” ignored the fact that one great contribution of Christianity was a commitment to strong central government. For instance, this included church support for state-funded, or state-church-funded, charities, including hospitals, as early as the fourth century.

Government was seen as part of God’s plan for creating social justice and defending the common good. Christians were once culture-forming and culture-embracing people. Even the humanism preached by the supposedly “anti-Christian” Enlightenment thinkers of the 18th century was, in fact, a Deist/Christian “heresy,” with a value system espousing human dignity borrowed wholesale from the Sermon on the Mount.

In the scorched-earth post-Roe era of the “health care reform debates” of 2009 and beyond, evangelicals seemed to believe that Jesus commanded that all hospitals (and everything else) should be run by corporations for profit, just because corporations weren’t the evil government. The right even decided that it was “normal” for the state to hand over its age-old public and patriotic duties to private companies—even for military operations (“contractors”), prisons, health care, public transport, and all the rest.

The religious right/far right et al. favored private “facts,” too. They claimed that global warming wasn’t real. They asserted this because scientists (those same agents of Satan who insisted that evolution was real) were the ones who said human actions were changing the climate. Worse, the government said so, too!

“Global warming is a left-wing plot to take away our freedom!”

“Amtrak must make a profit!”

Even the word “infrastructure” lost its respectability when government had a hand in maintaining roads, bridges and trains.

In denial of the West’s civic-minded, government-supporting heritage, evangelicals (and the rest of the right) wound up defending private oil companies but not God’s creation, private cars instead of public transport, private insurance conglomerates rather than government care of individuals. The price for the religious right’s wholesale idolatry of private everything was that Christ’s reputation was tied to a cynical political party “owned” by billionaires. It only remained for a far right Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court to rule in 2010 that unlimited corporate money could pour into political campaigns—anonymously—in a way that clearly favored corporate America and the superwealthy, who were now the only entities served by the Republican Party.

The evangelical rubes who are Bachmann’s foot soldiers never realized that the logic of their “stand” against government had played into the hands of people who never cared about human lives beyond the fact that people could be sold products. By the 21st century, Ma and Pa No-name were still out in the rain holding an “Abortion is Murder!” sign in Peoria and/or standing in line all night in some godforsaken mall in Kansas City to buy a book by Sarah Palin and have it signed. But it was the denizens of the corner offices at Goldman Sachs, the News Corporation, Exxon, and Halliburton who were laughing.

Frank Schaeffer is the author of “Crazy for God: How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back.”

© 2011 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Governor Rick Perry’s Bizarre, Fringe Mass Prayer Rally

Gov. Rick Perry’s call for a day-long event of prayer and fasting Aug. 6 at a sports stadium in Houston is a dramatic escalation of government meddling in religion

Rob Boston, via Alternet

“American politicians love to invoke religion, and a generic form of an alleged “one-size-fits-all” piety is so common that scholars have even give it a fancy name:ceremonial deism.

Ceremonial deism is what explains “In God We Trust” on our money, “under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance and the tendency of presidents and governors to attend interfaith prayer services whenever there’s a natural disaster.

Despite its short-comings – ceremonial deism doesn’t offer much to non-believers, for example, and many devoutly religious people find it sterile and bland – the practice at least recognizes that religious beliefs come in many forms. Thus, God is appealed to but not Jesus. Prayers are “non-sectarian.”

What’s planned for Texas in August is not ceremonial deism. It’s something else entirely. And it’s a big problem.

Gov. Rick Perry’s call for a day-long event of prayer and fasting Aug. 6 at a sports stadium in Houston is a dramatic escalation of government meddling in religion. Called “The Response,” the event is being coordinated by the American Family Association (AFA), an extreme Religious Right group, as well as other far-right religious groups and figures with controversial theological and political ideas. The rally is exclusively Christian in nature; in fact, it reflects a certain type of Christianity – the fringes of fundamentalism.

What brought this about? Perry’s theological allies claim that America is being punished by God for its wicked ways. They see a national day of repentance as the solution.

On The Response’s website, Perry writes, “Right now, America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy.”

Of course, this could be just a sheer political ploy. Perry has been openly flirting with a presidential run, and this event could be little more than an effort to curry favor with the Religious Right in advance of that.

Regardless, word is spreading quickly among the religio-political right. Potential attendees to The Response are told to bring a Bible and encouraged to fast – although there will be a few food vendors on site for those who can’t or won’t. The groups behind this effort tend to come from the fringes of Christianity that are obsessed with things like prophecy, direct messages from God, faith healing and so on. These charismatic Christians emphasize a highly charged form of worship that stresses emotional outbursts and a theology of judgment. They seem to be convinced that God has it in for America, mainly because we permit legal abortion, tolerate gays and have a secular government.

Many churches in America preach this theology, and Americans are free to attend these houses of worship and hear it whenever they like. But government endorsement of this sectarian message goes too far – and that’s why more and more people are speaking out over Perry’s prayer confab.

Mainline Christian, non-Christian and secularist groups have protested the Perry event – and rightly so. Perry and his supporters don’t try to downplay the proselytizing nature of the event; in fact, they brag about it. They say non-Christians are welcome to attend to hear a message about redemption through Christ.

Perry defended the event, tellingThe New York Times, “It is Christian-centered, yes, but I have invited and welcome people of all faiths to attend.” He also brushed off charges that the AFA is extreme, calling it “a group that promotes faith and strong families, and this event is about bringing Americans together in prayer.”

Eric Bearse, a spokesman for the event who formerly worked as Perry’s communications director, told American Family Radio, which is run by the AFA, that the event would be evangelistic in tone.

“A lot of people want to criticize what we’re doing, as if we’re somehow being exclusive of other faiths,” Bearse said. “But anyone who comes to this solemn assembly, regardless of their faith tradition or background, will feel the love, grace, and warmth of Jesus Christ in that assembly hall, in that arena. And that’s what we want to convey, that there’s acceptance and that there’s love and that there’s hope if people will seek out the living Christ.”

Allan E. Parker Jr., one of the event’s organizers, writes on its website, “This is an explicitly Christian event because we are going to be praying to the one true God through His son, Jesus Christ.It would be idolatry of the worst sort for Christians to gather and invite false gods like Allah and Buddha and their false prophets to be with us at that time.Because we have religious liberty in this country, they are free to have events and pray to Buddha and Allah on their own.But this is time of prayer to the One True God through His son, Jesus Christ, who is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.”

So, if you’re Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist or even a liberal Christian you are welcome to attend this government-promoted Christian fundamentalist prayer rally – just be prepared to endure hardcore proselytizing designed to persuade you to change your views and leave your “false god” at home.

Perry and his backers ignore one thing: It is absolutely not the job of government to sponsor evangelistic rallies or encourage people to attend them. This type of proselytizing is only appropriate through private, not government-run, channels.

Perry’s partners in this gambit are also problematic. They are best known for angry and divisive rhetoric that often has more to do with politics than salvation. One of the organizers of the event is the International House of Prayer, a controversial congregation based in Grandview, Mo. The church’s founder, Mike Bickle, has been criticized for stressing the need to convert Jews to charismatic forms of Christianity and for a portrayal of Jesus that emphasizes militancy and violence.

Bickle also believes he has been to Heaven – twice. He and his followers are known for embracing a type of “theology of retribution.” They worship an angry deity who punishes his wayward subjects with extreme weather, economic downfalls and terrorism. They approach this god in a spirit of fear and trembling, not love and joy.

And in private venues this is their right. Plenty of churches preach this theology. People attend voluntarily, which is their business only. It’s only when the government elevates this narrow version of Christianity above all other forms of faith and non-faith that we have a church-state problem.

It would also be naïve to overlook the politics of this event. Its most prominent sponsor, the AFA, is well known for slinging extreme anti-gay and anti-Muslim rhetoric. The group, founded by the Rev. Donald Wilmon, got its start in the late 1970s as the National Federation for Decency, determined to clean up salacious TV. (How’s that working out for you, Don?)

Over the years, as cable grew and television became even more risqué, Wildmon branched out. These days, his son Tim oversees a sprawling Religious Right empire (annual budget: $21.4 million) in Tupelo, Miss., hitting on all of the theocrats’ favorite themes: gays are immoral, the public school system is damned, feminists want to destroy families, evolution is a lie, etc.

A rising AFA star is a cranky blogger named Bryan Fischer. In October of 2009, I sat in a crowded hotel ballroom in Washington, D.C., listening to Fischer tell a rapt audience at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit that Adolf Hitler invented church-state separation.

That rant was tame compared to some of Fischer’s other views. Since then, Fischer has gone on to assert that a killer whale that killed a trainer at Sea World should be stoned to death (because the Bible says so), opined that Native Americans deserved to lose control of the continent because they were Pagans and sexual deviants, called gay sex a form of “domestic terrorism,” advocated for the reintroduction of blasphemy laws in America, insisted that grizzly bear attacks on humans are a sign that “the land is under a curse” and helpfully pointed out that Muslims have no right to build mosques in this country because the First Amendment protects only Christians.

Most Americans do not accept these extreme views. It’s bad enough that Perry is using his government office to promote a prayer rally. It’s even worse that the one he is promoting excludes the majority of Americans. But worst of all is that he is partnering with the radical fringe of the Religious Right to bring it about.

Yet Perry is not only moving forward, he has invited the nation’s other 49 governors to endorse the fundamentalist event! (As of this writing, Govs. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana have said they will attend.)

Here’s the good news: Opponents are speaking out. The Texas Freedom Network, the Houston Clergy Council, the Secular Coalition for America and others have criticized the governor’s role in the rally. Kim Kamen, a Texas-based executive with the American Jewish Committee, cut to the heart of the matter when she toldThe Times, “There are many houses of worship here in Texas, not just Christian churches. As the leader of our state, we hope that he will bear that in mind.”

In mid June, more than 20 members of the clergy from the Houston area issued a joint letter blasting the Perry rally.

“We believe in a healthy boundary between church and state,” it read. “Out of respect for the state, we believe that it should represent all citizens equally and without preference for religious or philosophical tradition. Out of respect for religious communities, we believe that they should foster faithful ways of living without favoring one political party over another. Keeping the church and state separate allows each to thrive and upholds our proud national tradition of empowering citizens to worship freely and vote conscientiously.We are concerned that our governor has crossed the line by organizing a religious event rather than focusing on the people’s business in Austin.”

In addition, the Human Right Campaign, a gay rights organization, slammed Perry for “aligning with groups that, on a daily basis, seek to demonize” gays and lesbians.

There has been talk about a counter event. The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, released a video on YouTube knocking Perry’s prayer idea and calling for moderate and progressive religious and secular leaders to publicly oppose it.

Here’s hoping the momentum continues. Perry’s “fundamentalist-Christians-only” rally isn’t just a violation of separation of church and state, it’s also un-American. The government’s first duty is to treat all of its citizens equally, regardless of race, creed, gender and so on. A governor’s sponsorship of a rally that is truly welcoming to only certain types of Christians flies in the face of that standard.

And to all those fundamentalists out there who think someone’s trying to censor them – don’t even go there. No one is saying you can’t sponsor a rally. You can, using your own money and your own resources. It might even surprise you to learn that there are people well suited and especially trained to run these types of evangelistic events. And get this: The title before their name isn’t “governor,” it’s “pastor.””

Rob Boston is the assistant director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which publishes Church and State magazine.

Emphasis Mine


Action! ACLU Conference July 30-31 Columbus

Reporting from ACTION! – a Conference for Civil Libertarians.
Friday 30 July 2010.
Reception, welcome addresses from Chris Link and Susan Becker: grapes, gripes, recognition, reunion, conversation, and canopies.
Saturday 31 July 2010.
Opening Plenary by Ethan Nadelmann: Drug policy reform.
“Absent harm to others, it is no one else’s concern what I put in my body.”

He is a very dynamic, wake us up in the AM speaker,  who is dedicated to his cause: End the Failed War on Drugs.
Session: “Let’s talk about Choice ” – Louise Melling.
A woman has a right to have a child on her own terms: if women have control over having children, they may participate more fully in all other aspects of life.
She is attractive, charming, energetic, and informative – good session, which motivated me to stay on message for Choice.
Session: Mecca Meets Main Street: The changing face of religious liberty -Richard Saphire, Zeinab, and Jennifer Nimer.
Discussion of the religion clauses of the first amendment: Establishment, and Free expression, in the context of the growing number of Islamics in the USA, and how we can accommodate their particular needs.
Credible, well organized and informative speakers.
N.B.: The absence of Separation of Church and State – which has been so insipid in the past three Republican administrations – has impacted us in: AIDS treatment; GLBT rights; Reproductive Choice; stem cell, and all scientific, research; gender parity; respect for all belief (or not) systems; international standing; and perhaps was complicit in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Amy Goodman – Luncheon Keynote Speaker.  Update on WikiLeaks – a secure platform for whistle blowers – reporting the truth on violence in Iraq, and on the suppression of reporting of the demonstrations at the 2008 GOP Convention.
Covering Power rather than Covering For Power.

Another dynamic and motivating speaker.
Session: Technology and Privacy –  Craig Jaquith, Katherine Hunt Federle, and Jackie Ford.
Current issues on modern technology and old legal issues.  Issues of who owns what, and privacy expectations: well organized, well delivered, entertaining, and informative.
Sessions: Citizens United – Scott Greenwood, Daniel P. Tokaji, and Terri Enns.
A high point of the conference, featuring two gifted young lawyers, covering one of the key  decisions of the current Supreme Court.
Scott Greenwood – who has consistently been named among the best lawyers in America for 15 years – argued in favor of the decision, and Daniel Tokaji – an associate professor of Law at OSU – is a noted civil rights and election lawyer who argued against the decision.
The Case was the Federal Elections Commission vs. Citizens United, on a ‘documentary’ which was a ‘hit job’ on Hillary Clinton.  Scott said it was a victory for Free Speech, and did not authorize donations for corporations.  He observed that corporations wield influence through lobbying and bundled donations, and that in the twenty first century, radio, TV, and print are not the only media.  (The Obama campaign depended on the Internet.)  Post Citizens, there are many different proposals.
Stated that this was not a victory for Free Speech, but was an out lier.  Can rich and poor compete as equals?  Is money speech? Is equality a  Constitutional value?  He observed that the wealth gap has created a donor class, and that politics – like business – does not function well when unregulated.
A knowledgeable, well informed member of the audience asked about the issue of ‘Corporate Person hood’. Both men replied enthusiastically. Daniel stating that speech rights are the larger issue, and Scott that this is an 800 lb gorilla in the room.  An issue is: did this expand the power of non-people?
There is not a fixed amount of free speech; money for candidates is to effect policy, not merely the outcome of the election; and the question of corporate honesty is at hand.
N.B.: If only public money could be used for elections, this would not be an issue.
Another Viewpoint:
A worthwhile, valuable, expansive experience.
Charles Pervo 1 August 2010 CE.