A Little Slice Of American Politico-Religious History

Nationalism“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” – Treaty of Tripoli – Nov 4, 1796 Signed by Pres. John Adams

Atheists in America may enjoy the ability to drive down the road with Flying Spaghetti Monster emblems plastered on our bumpers and anti-religious slogans emblazoned across our chests without too much fear of reprisal, but most of us know it was not always this way. The 1950’s was an era the modern fundamentalists like to call “the good old days,” and it is a period they have been consistently attempting to recreate. The popularity of Rock-and-Roll notwithstanding, the fifties were looked upon as a time of innocence, bobby-sox, pigtails, “good” haircuts and polite teenagers. Television brought programs like “Father Knows Best,” “Leave it to Beaver,” and “The Andy Griffith Show” into our living rooms and we bought it…

Hook, Line and Sinker…

Absent from the land of TV-make-believe were some real issues like back-alley abortions, rampant racism, epic discrimination against homosexuals and atheists, and a whole slew of other problems that were conveniently swept under the rug of ignorance. Of course, there are a significant number of American politicians in office today who would like to see us return to coat-hanger abortions, segregated schools and the virtual disappearance of homosexuals and atheists; a problem that many of us are painfully aware of.  I digress, once again…

But, nevertheless, mainstream America tuned in every week to the land of milk and honey that was broadcast to us on those small, fuzzy boxes and we continued to listen to those long-running religious radio programs. We were in good spirits, there was money available everywhere, we had just dominated the entire planet, we had Jim and Margaret Anderson on TV and Old Time Religion on the radio. As far as most Americans were concerned, we were a nation blessed by the hand of God, himself. In fact, not since the end of the enlightenment was there a greater time to be a Christian in the United States.

While there would come a short-lived decline, an eventual revival would see a complete change in how religion and politics were mixed together by a couple of evangelical and political masterminds. Religion has only recently held such an integral role in American politics, but this is not a political book. However, I will cover the basics as it pertains to how we got to where we are now. As I stated above, the 1950’s were a unique time for us. Just off the heels of our victory in the Second World War, we were enjoying unparalleled prosperity and had a General in the Oval Office. It wasn’t until 1963 that our world fell apart.

Hippy Dippy…

The sixties had us preoccupied with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the sexual revolution, the civil rights revolution and Vietnam, amongst other things. Although Christian fundamentalism began to drop slightly in the mid-sixties, it was slowly starting to increase in the mid-seventies. The economic woes that hit at the start of 1970’s had most of our attention, but things started to get interesting right around the time Ronald Reagan began his campaign, which resulted in his election in 1980. This momentum carried all the way up to the eventual election of the first outwardly fundamental US President in the form of George H.W. Bush, in 1988. I know that there are purists reading this who are wondering why I did not include the very Baptist President Jimmy Carter as the recipient of the title of “first outwardly fundamental US President,” but I feel that it is quite self-explanatory.

Before we get to Bush, let me take you on a journey starting in 1973 with a man named Paul Weyrich. He organized a group called the Heritage Foundation, which he called the “New Right.”  In 1973 he also founded the American Legislative Exchange Council, which had the dubious purpose of coordinating the work of “New Right” state legislators. ALEC served to give businesses help in writing bills for consideration by state assemblies, and they did so by the thousands.

A few familiar names that were part of this new birth of conservatism are still heard in the legislative halls. But it was 1979 before we first heard the term “Moral Majority,” which was coined by Weyrich. One of the two most influential members of the Moral Majority were Tim LaHaye (author of the “Left Behind” book series) and Jerry Falwell, who eventually became their leader.  Things didn’t start to see real momentum until 1980, when speaking in Dallas, Weyrich catapulted the movement by stating, “We are talking about Christianizing America.  We are talking about simply spreading the gospel in a political context.

From that point on, thousands of fundamentalist preachers were attending training seminars designed to integrate them into politics. Powerful lobbies were being formed in addition to the Moral Majority, such as the American Coalition for Traditional Values and the Council for National Policy.  Tim and Beverly LaHaye founded  “Concerned Women of America.” The CWA is very powerful to this day and active in the fight against women’s reproductive rights.  Others who were involved include James Dobson (Focus on the Family) and eventually Pat Robertson.

A Bit About Pat…

Pat Robertson ran for President in 1988, and although he lost, he beat George Bush Sr. in the Iowa Republican caucus.  Suffice to say, members of these fundamentalist groups worked precinct by precinct to take over party leadership until they controlled the entire state party system. But how did he succeed? Robertson was so successful because he had a simple plan, and it was outlined in a memo that was distributed to the Iowa Republican County Caucuses that was titled, “How to Participate in a Political Party.

It gave the following instructions:

  • Rule the world for God
  • Give the impression that you are there to work for the party, not push an ideology
  • Hide your strength
  • Don’t Flaunt your Christianity

They used underhanded tactics, such as to tie up meetings for hours on end. They took this long so that people would get tired and just leave.  Once alone, they appointed themselves leaders and proceeded to make important decisions.  They repeated this process until they controlled the entire state. Their goal was to see as much of the Republican Party controlled by fundamentalists as possible. Pat Robertson then formed the Christian Coalition, which had over 100,00 churches as members and was headed up by Ralph Reed, Robertson’s main minion, and a political genius.  They distributed Christian propaganda at astonishing rates, including voter guides that reached saturation with over 40 million distributed copies. Not to mention telemarketing campaigns. The stage was set, and when the World Trade Center got bombed in 1993, it was the perfect catalyst that the religious right needed.

George the Elder made it apparent to the nation that  that the relative silence of the fundamentalists through the sixties and early seventies did not mean they had given up.  The fundamentalists were quietly strategizing how they were going to rule the world, or at least the United States. Their plan started with getting a fundamentalist in the White House, and George Bush was more than willing to take the job.

The Last Twenty Years…

The last twenty years of United States history has seen a steady increase in grass-roots fundamental activism, and their primary target has been atheists. They decided right out of the gate that they were not going to be friendly about it, either.  While the Religious Right began its long and illustrious history of smear campaigns with the Reagan contest, it was the Bush / Dukakis campaign that marked the advent of the real mudslinging. Dukakis never had a chance.

The GOP blindsided him starting with the insinuation that he had undergone psychiatric treatment, then the release of private information about his wife’s personal struggles. Added to this attack was brutal questioning he had undergone about his stance against capital punishment in response to answers he gave about whether or not his disdain for the death penalty would change with the rhetorical rape of his wife. Add to that the whole Willie Horton fiasco and it was just about guaranteed that this son of Greek immigrants would not be occupying the Oval Office.

Enter our 41st President, the aforementioned fundamentalist puppet, George Herbert Walker Bush. Bush was notably hostile to atheists, and he thought nothing wrong with making statements such as,

No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”

This type of smear campaigning had been so successful that the religious right has been using it ever since, and at every possible turn and to eschew any politician who does not fit the mold of God’s Own Party. While the President of the United States is not supposed to be a religious leader like those in Islamic nations, one would have to be living in a proverbial cave not to realize the effects of strong religious leaders such as Billy Graham having the ear of the Oval Office. By the time George the Younger occupied the Oval Office, he was making speeches touting the “Wonder-Working Power” that spoke to him in matters of war and national security in general.

GodsArmy4While the law is constitutionally on the side of secularists in these United States, the fundamental literalists have taken to the court of popular opinion in the adaptation of very similar tactics as those used by extremist Islamic Nations. The proliferation of shameless evangelism within American Military is a prime example. It has remained a stronghold of Christian pride even through eras of American history where religious influence was particularly anemic. The strength and prowess of the United States Armed Forces was, and still is often touted as the blessing of the Christian god.

The successes of the United States military in the global theater is epic, and the credit given to God is often compared to going into battle carrying the Ark of the Covenant. The record approval ratings of George W. Bush (Little George) right after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 is clear evidence of this. As was the widespread support of our “Shock and Awe” campaign in Iraq. These and other examples are an obvious testament as to what can happen when an overtly religious President salts patriotic speeches with religious rhetoric.

Christian Nationalism…

The last twenty years has seen the melding of Christian fundamentalism and National pride. Fundamentalist Christians see themselves as Patriots, protectors of what they erroneously call a Christian Nation, against the traitorous liberal, socialist Democrats. Within this group lie their sworn enemies; the godless, heathen, devil-worshiping, baby-eating atheists. The fact that atheism is not a political party and atheists come from a wide variety of world views is totally lost on these people. What fundamentalists have managed to accomplish is twofold.

On the one hand, they have cost and continue to cost the taxpayers of the United States millions of dollars in legal fees defending frivolous lawsuits designed to bring back the aforementioned coat-hanger abortions and the re-closeting of our LGBT community. On the other hand, they have made no secret of their belief that the entire planet is under the authority of their Jesus Christ and anyone who does not follow him is destined to be cast into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

All that litigation means higher taxes, which is a waste of money. But the real trouble began as the result of the United States mixing fundamental Christianity with our foreign policy. Churching up our military, teaching our politicians to preach a fundamental version of Christianity as the only “true religion” and broadcasting to the entire planet about being a nation blessed by God was all detrimental to how foreign nations began to look upon us.  Our own Christian arrogance blinded us to the fact that Islamic extremists were just as determined in their chase for world dominion, and would not play by the rules to achieve it.

The more we ramped up our “in-your-face” preaching about Jesus being “the way,” the more Islamic extremists got busy building terrorist training camps and honing their skills in making bombs. Over the past twenty years they have become more and more emboldened to strike out at us and at our allies. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the rise in American Christian Nationalism also parallels the rise in terrorism. I have been criticized for insinuating that we “asked for it,” regarding the 911 attacks, but this is not so.  Nobody deserved that.

However, we do bear responsibility for our words, our rhetoric and our arrogance.  It is horrifically unfortunate that so many lost their lives, and whether it could have been avoided or not is a moot point.  We should have learned from it, but it appears we have not, as American Christian Nationalism only seems to be increasing.  So are the terrorists activities. It’s not rocket science.

Final Thoughts…

The fundamentalists would have been just fine to have left everything as it was in the 1950’s, but us pesky atheists and scientists had to go and ruin everything, what with all that reason, discovery and insight, and insisting that the Constitution be obeyed. That whole unfortunate “civil rights” thing really threw a monkey wrench into the mix.

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  7 comments for “A Little Slice Of American Politico-Religious History

  1. August 1, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    Suggested reading:

    The Family: Jeff Sharlet
    C Street: Jeff Sharlet
    Conservatives Without Conscience: John Dean
    The Wrecking Crew How Conservatives Rule: Thomas Frank

    Sharlet’s books are a must read, but it’s particularly damning how the same names keep popping up in Dean’s and Frank’s books as well.

    The current Fundy/Conservative “war” against secularism and the poor and middle classes was started in 1935 by Abraham Vereide. The organization (“the Family” AKA “the Fellowship”) he started went “stealth” in the ’60s under its current leader, Doug Coe.

    To make things a little scarier, the influence of Doug Coe’s “Fellowship” is bipartisan.

    Constitution? What Constitution?

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106115324

  2. busterggi
    August 2, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    “Television brought programs like “Father Knows Best,” “Leave it to Beaver,” and “The Andy Griffith Show” into our living rooms and we bought it…”

    Let’s be a bit more charitable on ourselves (those of us like myself who grew up then) shall we.

    We bought it… but nothing else was for sale. If you were lucky you had a television to begin with – my family didn’t get ine until I was five in 1959 so for those formative years all I had was radio and blurry books (bad vision). If you did have a television and you were in a good area you might get as many as five channels in good weather, normally we did with three (two if it was raining). And that was limited largely to locally produced shows that by default were simplistic what with network broadcasts limited mostly to around eight hours a day (yes, eight hours sounds like a lot but compare it to the 24/7 we now have) and even then if you were up before 6:00AM or after midnight all you could watch was a fuzzy test pattern.

    Yet simplistic and preachy as those early days were they weren’t obnoxiously theocratic as the fundies we now have – in fact if you really study them they seem downright secular compared to the crap the Religious Reich spouts today.

    It was truly a different era and its amazing we’ve made as much progress on social issues as we have, more in the last fifty years than in the previous fifty centuries I’d hazard to guess.

    The challenge is to not allow the regressive theocrats to take us back to the Dark Ages when a poorly glowing black & white television would have been revolutionary.

  3. JJ7212
    August 2, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    As far as religion being pushed in the military, I can’t say that I have personally experienced much of it. I served in the Marines from 94′-07′ and Jesus really had no influence on how I ran my platoon. The only time religion was mentioned at work was during the Chaplain’s comments at the begining of ceremonies. Yes, we had to bow our heads, but most of us just did it so Chaplain Charlie could get his magic show over with and out of the way. I didn’t like it, but it was such a minute thing that none of us really talked about it for more than two or three minutes. Oh, and we had to hide our ‘fuck books’ whenever the Chaplain came to visit us in the field. But that was about it.

    Any other service members here who haven’t seen religion as a problem during working hours? Maybe I was just lucky. Or maybe it’s the fact that if you’ve ever hung out with Marines in the field, you’d think they were a hopeless cause when it comes to being saved by Jesus! lol

    • JJ7212
      August 2, 2012 at 10:45 pm

      But you’re right, Al. I know stupid Jesus proselytizing on base is a big problem. It’s gotta be hard to be on active duty and complain about it without having your promotion being chances being affected. But I ain’t active duty any more so I fully support in public Justin Griffith and his Rock Beyond Belief blog/events. And I still vote too…

  4. grumpyoldfart
    August 4, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    After the Christians got the ear of Emperor Constantine it took about 150 years for them to gain complete control of the Empire, with a death penalty for heresy.
    `

    After the English Protestants got the ear of Queen Elizabeth I it took about 150 years for the recusancy laws to go from a 1/- fine for not attending church, all the way up to recusants being barred from office and the professions, and also barred from purchasing or inheriting land.
    `

    After the fundies got the ear of President Bush it took about 150 years for them to … ???

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