Sunday, June 17, 2012

America's Founding Cult Members


Right wing Christians are forever pushing the fantasy that the United States began as a "Christian nation," and that it has strayed from its founding Christian principles and must be corrected.

This idea, and the idea that the "founders" were even Christian's themselves, has been refuted in many books and articles, most recently in a very good article by Gettysburg College philosophy professor Kerry Walters writing in Alternet. As articles go it's long and thorough, but it lays out a picture of the "founding fathers" most Americans are not aware of owing to right wing Christian propaganda that has been very effective in defining the United States as a "Christian nation." Walters explains that the "founding fathers," if they were religious at all, were Deists. Deism is a liberal, humanist version of Christianity, which most conservative Christian clergy include among the many sects, such as Catholicism and Mormonism, they label as cults.

As for why right wing Christians want to get it established that America was founded on beliefs that match theirs, you don't see as much analysis.

The most obvious reason is that it would make it easier to impose their will on others. It's about power. For example, activist conservative judges can claim that they are only returning the law to its original intent, meanwhile right wing Christians are making up what this original intent consists of. That reason is often unmentioned, quite possibly because it is so obvious, but I think some people have the notion that right wing Christians are sincere in their beliefs and think that they are obligated to try to spread them because it says so in the Bible.

Two things have to be kept in mind when trying to figure out what motivates right wing Christians. One is that what they believe in is not really Christianity, but Paulsim. The other is that they are right wing, first and foremost and fundamentally, and their Christianity is quite secondary and subservient to their politics.

I'll address the second thing first.

Politics and religion, like music, narratives, and a number of other things, are ways we use to make sense of the world, of our place in it, and of our place in our group, so they encompass both personal psychology and sociology, both of which are about understanding and explaining motivating aspects of human behavior.

But politics comes first in our formation. We start to have a political world view at an early age. We hear our parents talking about politics at the supper table, not just formal politics but in the sense of the polity, the community. We see how they operate in public. We start to understand how our parents see themselves as fitting into the world and the community, how they relate to it, what they think about "others," about authority, about the law, about customs. At school, we hear our peers on the playground talking about similar things from a different perspective. We see the day to day playing out of societal relations on the playground and in the classroom. In the classroom itself we also get schooling on how society operates, on our place in it, on how people relate to one another and how things are worked out or not worked out.

During this time in our formation our parents might be taking us to church and Sunday School, church for kids. We may be being fed Bible stories. But from our local churches we don't get much about theological questions, such as, how might the existence of God figure into human relations, or why does God permit bad things to happen. We don't get into any of the esoteric questions religious scholars are occupied with. Our local preacher probably doesn't have much in the way of theological training except for some basic sectarian indoctrination. We may go on to study more about theology on our own or in college, but this only comes after our political views are well formed, and after our minds have developed to the point at which we can make sense of such questions. 

So because our politics come first, our religion cannot contradict our politics. For personal psychological reasons, and because church itself is a society unto itself and is part of the larger local community, what we hear in church and what we believe as a result must fit into our already existing political worldview. It will be tailored that way for us and we will continue that tailoring process if we continue to be involved in religion.

Paulism

The first point I mentioned, that right wing Christianity is not really Christianity but Paulsim, came about because of the second reason.

Right wing Christianity is not about the teachings of Jesus Christ at all. You never hear the teachings of Jesus Christ from a right wing preacher. All of their doctrine (the "rules," what their sect believes,) and all their teachings (the Bible verses each particular sermon is based on) are from the books attributed to the Apostle Paul. They completely ignore the teaching of Jesus. You'd have to listen to them over a period of time to verify this, which I have. I've even heard right wing Republican Christianity preachers say that the books by Paul are the "doctrinal books."

They'd rather not deal with Jesus at all, and in fact only keep Jesus around because they think he's going to save their sorry asses from eternal damnation. They think that salvation is through Jesus, which in practice merely amounts to standing up in front of other of people and announcing that "I accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal savior," or some words to that effect. To correlate with this there is some teaching, made up by Paul*, about Jesus' death on the cross being a payment for all future sins committed by anyone who utters those words.

It's understandable that a clergy member wouldn't want to stand in front of his congregation and tell everyone to give all their money to the poor, as Jesus said to do. The following week he'd be standing in front of a lot of empty pews. He needs the money people put in the collection plate, and also, because of the way the peer group of the clergy operates, he needs to have full pews, for reasons of his ego and self actualization.

Paul, when you discount all his self promotion, was a sorry son of a bitch. Paul said, "If you don't work, you don't eat." Think about the implications. 'If you don't behave like I think you should, die. I don't care.' Paul said to women, "Sit down, shut up. You have nothing worthwhile to say. And while you're at it, cover your hair." The implications: 'Continue thinking of yourselves as our property, and if we can't control our passions, it's your fault.'

There is nothing in Paul of the generosity and love of Jesus, just like there is nothing of that in Republican politics. Jesus said, "If someone asks you for something, give it to them." Period.  He didn't say, 'Give it to them if they sit down over there and fill out a form.' He didn't say, 'Give it to them if they behave like you want them to, if they get a job, if they don't have men sleeping over, if they don't drive a nice car.' He certainly never said 'Give it to them for five years and then don't give it to them any more,' as our welfare laws are now configured.

The Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, where Jesus' teachings are, contain all kinds of Jesus' teachings that just flat out contradict the politics of conservatism, and so they can't even be considered in Republican Christianity, and aren't.

This idea, that there is Christianity, or the teachings of Christ, and Paulism, or the teachings of Paul, is something I haven't heard said by any religious scholars. It may have been said somewhere, but I haven't seen it.  Perhaps it's because of how the Bible is configured, with both Paul and Jesus, not to mention Judaism, all thrown in together, and the idea that it somehow must be considered as a whole, which the Catholic Church, among the Christian denominations, at least tries to do. Perhaps no one wants to acknowledge, or deal with the fact that the Bible we use, the Catholic Bible, was put together by the Roman dictator Constantine for political reasons, a dictator who went through all the books then in circulation and decided which to burn and which to put into a Bible.

Regardless of whether all that gets looked into or not, and I know that at least some of it is, this idea that America's "founding fathers" (and Walter's Alternet article talks about what "founding fathers" means according to conservative Christians) were Christians, with beliefs like today's conservative Christians, has more to do with trying to mold the world to fit the personal politics of right wing Christians.

Which brings up the question; Are the personal politics of right wing Christians, the world view they got around the supper table, reflective of the small, bitter, fearful world view that informs conservative politics?

Not exactly. I've known and knew many such people when I lived for a long time in the US South, in Arkansas, Texas and South Carolina. They are as nice and generous as anyone else, among people they have personal contact with. It's when they generalize things out to the larger society and to the world that the small and fearful inform their thinking.

But now you're into the ways that Capitalism informs our politics. Capitalists, just like Republican Christianity's leaders, and their clergy, can be very generous and self sacrificing, on an individual basis, just as could the Apostle Paul, who could be very self sacrificing when it was all about Paul.




* Paul uses the example of God giving Israel to the Jews to base his contention on that Jesus' death was atonement for all past and future sins committed by believers. He says Israel was a free gift from God that required nothing of the Jews. But Paul misquotes the Bible itself. Maybe he was in prison when he wrote that letter and didn't have access to the Old Testament, where God giving Israel to the Jews is mentioned three times. The first two times God just announces he is giving Israel to the Jews, but the last time he says he is giving Israel to the Jews "because you have obeyed my commands."

"Because" means "the cause of." The cause and effect relationship between our behavior and receiving God's gifts is affirmed, as it is many other places in biblical texts.

The Old Testament also makes clear that God took Israel away from the Jews, several times, because they failed to obey his commands. He tells the Jews he is punishing them because "You are a stiff necked people."

That, incidentally, is where the Bibles leaves things, with the Jews out of Israel. They are not even supposed to be in Israel right now, according to the Bible. But of course Judaism has right wing activist political, power minded rabbis just like Christianity does, and they have made up their own doctrine that permits the Jews to go back to Israel and slaughter all the Palestinians they find there and steal their land and resources.

I'll have to go back and look up the three passages again, where God talks about giving Israel to the Jews, and add them to this, but that's definitely what the Bible says. And what Paul says about it, erroneously, is also what Martin Luther later based his doctrine of transubstantiation on, when, needing protection from the German nobility he said to the German nobility, "I, Martin Luther, can get you into heaven. It don't matter what you done, and you don't need no pope."






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