Whether it’s fiscal austerity, Benghazi, or opposition to gun control, the Republican Party is remarkably disciplined. Day after day, press conference after press conference, Republican members of Congress speak from the same hymnal. But it’s not a Christian hymnal. While the Republicans claim to be true believers they actually eschew the moral teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
Beginning in the ’50s, Christianity began to infiltrate American politics – in 1954 the phrase “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance. Thirty years later, during the Reagan presidency, Republicans rebranded as the “Christian Party” and labeled Democrats the Party of secular socialism.
The election of George W. Bush heralded a second wave of Republican religiosity. Dubya emphasized his fundamentalist credentials and his decision “to commit my heart to Jesus Christ.” During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush was asked what “political philosopher or thinker” he identified with most and responded, “Christ, because he changed my heart.”
But after 9/11 Bush’s heart hardened. Dubya began to speak of the war on terror as a “crusade.” On June of 2003, in a conversation with Palestinian leaders, the President said, “I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.’ And I did, and then God would tell me, ‘George go and end the tyranny in Iraq,’ and I did.”
Dubya’s messianic slant on Christianity tailored his image as commander-in-chief but had little impact on domestic policy. Evangelical minister Jim Wallis recalled a Feb. 1, 2002, conversation where he told President Bush: “In the State of the Union address a few days before, you said that unless we devote all our energies, our focus, our resources on this war on terrorism, we’re going to lose … Mr. President, if we don’t devote our energy, our focus and our time on also overcoming global poverty and desperation, we will lose not only the war on poverty, but we’ll lose the war on terrorism.” Dubya flashed a bewildered smile and walked away. Wallis observed, “When I was first with Bush in Austin, what I saw was a self-help Methodist, very open, seeking … What I started to see at this point was the man that would emerge over the next year — a messianic American Calvinist.”
Indeed, many describe the Republican political faith as “American Calvinism.” It borrows several notions from the 16th-century French theologian: the Bible is infallible; the “law” is driven by the Ten Commandments, rather than the teachings of Jesus; humans are totally depraved; and God has predestined who will be saved.
Despite its austere nature, Calvinism strongly influenced the original American settlers – many of who were Presbyterians. During the 1980s American Calvinism morphed into a conservative political ideology with the formation of the Christian Right. James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, and others preached on political subjects and touted conservative “Christian” candidates.
In Republican hands, contemporary Calvinism has had two thrusts. It fomented the culture wars and accused Democrats, and non-believers, of advocating “sixties values” that would destroy home and community. The Christian Right was against abortion, same-sex marriage, the teaching of evolution, and the separation of church and state; they were for homeschooling, limited Federal government, and Reaganomics.
The second Calvinist thrust promoted capitalism. In his classic, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” German sociologist Max Weber observed that not only did the protestant work ethic promote capitalism but also worldly success became a measure of the likelihood of one’s salvation. “He who has the most toys, wins.”
Given the strong influence of Calvinism on Republican politics, it’s not surprising the GOP favors the rich, opposes new taxes, and continues to support Reaganomics with its myths of “trickle down economics” and “self-regulating markets.”
Nonetheless, American Calvinism has become so extreme that it no longer deserves to be called Christianity.
Jesus’ first commandment was to love God. But his other teachings are about loving those around us. His second commandment was “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Jesus amplified this in his Sermon on the Mount: blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
Jesus was not a Calvinist or a capitalist. He disdained worldly possessions: “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven … it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Republican policy no longer represents the teachings of Jesus. The GOP favors the rich and ignores the poor, disadvantaged, sick, elderly, long-term unemployed, and other unfortunates. Republicans may be religious, but they’re not Christians.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer and retired Silicon Valley executive. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2013
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