A Few Choice Paragraphs

From “God and the Don” (CNN):

Two days before his presidential inauguration, Donald Trump greeted a pair of visitors at his office in Trump Tower.

As a swarm of reporters waited in the gilded lobby, the Rev. Patrick O’Connor, the senior pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Queens, and the Rev. Scott Black Johnston, the senior pastor of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, arrived to pray with the next president….

It was clear that Trump was still preoccupied with his November victory, and pleased with his performance with one constituency in particular.

“I did very, very well with evangelicals in the polls,” Trump interjected in the middle of the conversation… 

They gently reminded Trump that neither of them was an evangelical.

“Well, what are you then?” Trump asked.

They explained they were mainline Protestants, the same Christian tradition in which Trump, a self-described Presbyterian, was raised and claims membership. Like many mainline pastors, they told the President-elect, they lead diverse congregations.

Trump nodded along, then posed another question to the two men: “But you’re all Christians?”

“Yes, we’re all Christians.”

From “Why Are Republicans Getting So Little Done? Because Their Agenda Is Deeply Unpopular” (The Washington Post):

Is there anything — anything — on the agenda of the Trump administration and the Republicans in Congress that enjoys the support of the majority of the public?

… The latest Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll finds that an incredible 84 percent of Americans say that it’s important that any replacement of the Affordable Care Act maintains the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid. Even 71 percent of Republicans said so. Which is a problem for the GOP, because rolling back the Medicaid expansion is the centerpiece of the Republican repeal plan….so that they can fund a large tax cut that mostly goes to the wealthy.

The Senate is right now tying itself in knots trying to figure out how to pass something that satisfies the GOP’s conservative principles but that the public won’t despise, and it may be slowly realizing that this is impossible. “I don’t see a comprehensive health-care plan this year,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said yesterday, and he’s probably right.

Let’s move on to taxes. At yesterday’s speech announcing his pullout from the Paris climate agreement, President Trump made this little digression:

“Our tax bill is moving along in Congress, and I believe it’s doing very well. I think a lot of people will be very pleasantly surprised. The Republicans are working very, very hard. We’d love to have support from the Democrats, but we may have to go it alone. But it’s going very well.”

It was certainly interesting to hear that the tax bill is moving along in Congress, because there is no tax bill, neither moving along, standing still or spinning in circles. The administration has produced nothing more than a one-page list of bullet points on taxes, and congressional Republicans haven’t written a bill, either. There have been no hearings, no committee votes, nothing. This is one of those moments when it’s hard to figure out if Trump is lying or genuinely doesn’t realize what’s going on; earlier this week he tweeted:

Yet nothing has been submitted, nothing is moving along and nothing is ahead of schedule.

[Republicans] know that whatever bill they come up with is going to be hammered by Democrats for being an enormous giveaway to the wealthy. They could solve that problem by not making it an enormous giveaway to the wealthy, but then what would be the point?…

Are there other Republican initiatives that the public is behind? If there are, they’re awfully hard to find…. 

The deep unpopularity of this agenda goes a long way toward explaining why Congress has gotten almost nothing done this year… All Republicans feel nervous these days … That’s enough to make a lawmaker skittish about doing anything that might make the voters even more disgusted. So the legislative process gets dragged out for longer and longer.

Congressional Republicans complain that all the drama and scandals in the White House suck the air out of Washington… But the real problem is that the public just doesn’t want to buy what they’re selling.

From “I Can’t Stop Laughing at the Trump Administration. That’s Not a Good Thing” (The Washington Post):

Rex Tillerson has given zero indication that he knows how to run the State Department. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross made clueless comments about Saudi Arabia that left the impression of him as a doddering fool. As secretary of homeland security, John F. Kelly keeps saying things designed to scare the hell out of people rather than make them feel more secure. He seems to have fallen victim to the worst pathologies of the Bush administration….. National security adviser H.R. McMaster and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn seem to be focused far more on pleasing the president than offering cogent advice…. Jared Kushner? Please.

The rest of the White House staff is busy trying to be more absurd propagandists than Kim Jong Un’s flacks. So far, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley are the only foreign policy hands who have managed to retain their dignity, and that’s mostly because what they say contradicts Trump….

Then there’s the president himself. Just a glance at the decision-making process he used on withdrawing from the Paris climate change accord makes it clear how manifestly unfit he is to do his job….he’s getting played left and right….It’s hard to overstate just how badly Trump has navigated the global stage. The Chinese and Saudis have figured out how to buy him off with a couple billion dollars and some flattery. There is zero evidence of any appreciable policy gains. U.S. leadership is being constantly questioned…. Outside of the Persian Gulf, Trump’s approach has done nothing but alienate allies and bolster potential rivals….

Heck, I could be on Twitter all day and only pay partial attention to briefings and still do a better job than the current clown show.

Finally, from “Trump’s Pathological Obsession with Being Laughed At” (The Week):

If you’ve been paying any attention at all over the last couple of years, you know this is a topic he returns to again and again. Search Trump’s Twitter feed and you’ll find that who’s laughing at whom is an obsession for him, with the United States usually the target of the laughter. “The world is laughing at us.” China is “laughing at USA!” Iran is “laughing at Kerry & Obama!” “ISIS & all others laughing!” “Mexican leadership has been laughing at us for many years.” “Everybody is laughing at Jeb Bush.” “Putin is laughing at Obama.” “OPEC is laughing at how stupid we are.” “Dopey, nobody is laughing at me!” I could go on (and on, and on), but I’ll spare you.

This is nothing new for Trump; he’s been talking about us being laughed at for his entire career in public life. In his first major foray into politics in 1987, he spent nearly $100,000 to buy full-page ads … lamenting the fact that America helped defend countries like Japan without getting enough in return (sound familiar?). The last line of the ad was, “Let’s not let our great country be laughed at anymore.” 

It is Trump’s gift to future biographers that he makes so little attempt to hide his psychological issues, but the desire to avoid being laughed at truly stands out. Perhaps there was some childhood trauma that led to this obsession, a schoolyard incident in which a bully pulled down Donny’s short pants to the guffaws of the other tots (particularly the girls!). It would be only fitting if Trump, the world’s foremost avatar of anxious masculinity, lived in terror of women’s laughter, but he seems concerned with everyone’s laughter, whether it comes from people or governments. As much as he cares about winning and getting the better of someone, defeat is marked by the ultimate humiliation of being laughed at.

Yet ironically, no president in history has ever been laughed at as much as Trump….

Religion and I (Continued Again)

Did a powerful being create the universe? If so, does that being know absolutely everything about its creation? And could that being change the way its creation works with no difficulty at all? Damned if I know.

Of course, many of us claim to know. I never have. When I was little, I was impressed by the miracle stories. Later on, I learned that stories about miracles are much more common than miracles themselves. 

Eventually, I concluded that I was an agnostic. It seemed like the only reasonable position to hold. Take the proposition that God exists. The possible responses are: 

  1. I know that God exists;
  2. I don’t know if God exist;
  3. I know that God doesn’t exist.

Choosing (2) means you’re an agnostic. (You could also say (4) “I don’t know what ‘God exists’ means”, but let’s put that aside as overly argumentative.)

But consider a proposition like “The Easter Bunny exists”. If we replace “God” with “the Easter Bunny” in those three sentences, it feels easier to choose (3): “I know that the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist”. Why? Well, because I know there’s no Easter Bunny.

Seriously, only little children believe in the Easter Bunny; there is no worldwide religion devoted to believing in the Easter Bunny; no philosophers or theologians have argued for the existence of the Easter Bunny (well, some have in a way, but not many). Under pressure, I might agree that it’s not completely impossible that the Easter Bunny exists, but I’m much closer to believing (3) “it doesn’t” than (2) “I don’t know”.

As I was thinking about writing these posts, I came across something called the Dawkins Scale. It’s from a book by the biologist Richard Dawkins. It’s also known as the Spectrum of Theistic Probability. In theory, each of us belongs somewhere on this scale:

dawkins_scale

Although I usually think of myself as an agnostic, Dawkins would say I’m an atheist, i.e. (6) “De-Facto Atheist: I cannot know for certain, but I think God is very improbable”. Not everyone agrees with the way Dawkins defines the word “atheist”; some of his critics think that to be an atheist, you have to be completely sure that God doesn’t exist.

I’d forgotten, however, that ten years ago, when I stood in front of the congregation at the Unitarian Church, reading my “theology” or “credo”, this is what I said:

This leaves me as either an atheist or an agnostic, depending on how those words are defined. Using language from the biologist Richard Dawkins, my position is that I cannot know for certain, but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that God is not there.

Hence, ten years later, still number 6 on the Dawkins Scale.

Even so, I recently began watching a Public Broadcasting program called “From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians”. Most of the program was familiar from books I read years ago, and it was a little annoying how often they stopped the narrative for ethereal singing and beautiful video of the sun and clouds. But listening to how the New Testament was written and cobbled together decades after Jesus lived, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to read the “books” of the New Testament in chronological order.

I don’t mean “chronological” in the sense of “as the events supposedly occurred or will occur”. That would mean starting with the birth of Jesus and continuing on to the Apocalypse. I mean reading the parts of the New Testament in the order in which they were written. (There is at least one version of the New Testament, called Evolution of the Word, arranged that way. The book’s description says it “reveals how spiritually and politically radical the early Jesus movement began and how it slowly became domesticated”.)  

Scholars believe the first book of the New Testament was written by Paul the Apostle roughly 20 years after Jesus died. That’s 1 Thessalonians, written around the year 50. That was followed by six or seven other letters written by Paul. The first gospel, Mark, wasn’t written until the year 70 or so. The first gospel that appears in the New Testament, Matthew, was written around 20 years after that (60 years after Jesus died).

Maybe reading the New Testament in the order it was written will show something important about how Christianity began. So far, I’ve read three of Paul’s letters. He comes across as a true proselytizer, someone saying whatever he can to turn his audience into followers of Jesus. I’m not sure I’d have trusted him, since he seems like such a self-promoter, although it would have been a relief to hear him say it wasn’t necessary to follow the Jewish dietary laws or be circumcised in order to become a Christian.

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul blames his fellow Jews for killing Jesus. I assumed that was an accusation from later times created in order to foster anti-Semitism. In Galatians, he calls the world “evil”. Paul emphasizes that faith in Jesus is the one true path to salvation. When Jesus returns, the faithful will be lifted up into the clouds, after which they’ll live with the Lord forever.  

I don’t know if I’ll keep reading, or if I’ll share what I read. One thing I’m pretty sure of is that I won’t be moving higher or lower on the Dawkins Scale.   

Religion and I

My parents were Protestants, but rarely attended church. I never went to Sunday School, but always said a prayer before going to bed. When I was young, it was always the well-known (but morbid) prayer from the 18th century:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Amen.

At some point, I graduated to the Lord’s Prayer. As best I can remember, it was the long Protestant one with “debts” and “debtors”, instead of “trespass” and “trespasses”, and the extra praise at the end:

Our Father who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy name;
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts
As we forgive our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom
And the power
And the glory,
Forever.

Amen.

By the way, did you know that “amen” is roughly translated as “so be it” and that it came from Hebrew, or maybe Aramaic, through Greek and Latin and then to us? In other words, just like the rest of the Bible.

Then one night when I was 13 or so, in the grip of burgeoning skepticism or adolescent rebelliousness, I decided not to recite my nightly prayer. It felt like a major step. I’d never felt religious, except maybe around Christmas. But I wondered whether going straight to sleep would mean I’d end up in Hell. (Obviously, the jury is still out.) I think I’d concluded that God probably doesn’t exist. For roughly ten years, I’d simply been talking to myself, rather like Peter O’Toole in The Ruling Class:

Lady Claire Gurney: “How do you know you’re God?”

Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney, 14th Earl of Gurney: “Simple. When I pray to Him, I find I am talking to myself.”

Within a few years, I was studying philosophy and my skepticism increased. Philosophers are trained to question assumptions and offer evidence. Citing tradition or faith as justification for one’s views isn’t enough. Plus, the philosophical arguments for the existence of God are uniformly weak. As a rule, therefore, philosophy is hard on religion. So much for religion, for the next twenty years.

Then, however, I began thinking about religion again – not because I wanted to become religious, but because I wanted to understand its popularity. Where did religion come from? Why do so many people take it so seriously? Why, for example, have religious authorities been so concerned about sex?

I began reading about the history of Christianity in particular. I read William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, and about the “historical” Jesus, and the Council of Nicea, and several books by the historian of religion, Elaine Pagels. I read about the idea of Satan, and the Gnostics, and Paul’s conflict with Jesus’s brother James.

The conclusion I reached is that the history of Christianity is much more complex than most people realize. What got into the Bible and what is promulgated in church could have turned out very differently if other people had translated or copied the texts or won the arguments about church doctrine. People will say it’s all been decided and documented according to God’s hidden plan. I think it’s much more likely to have been a messy, contingent, unpredictable process, like all other major human endeavors, and there’s nothing supernatural about it.

Probably next time: I found a label for what I believe, and have begun reading the New Testament in a way I never thought of before.

Trump, the Christian

Peter Wehner had various jobs in the last three Republican administrations. Now he works at a conservative think tank called the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t pay much attention to what he has to say about anything, but his thoughts on “The Theology of Donald Trump” are worth reading. 

After Mr. Trump met with hundreds of evangelical Christians a couple of weeks ago, James Dobson, who is among the most influential leaders in the evangelical world and serves on Mr. Trump’s evangelical executive advisory board, declared that “Trump appears to be tender to things of the Spirit,” by which Dr. Dobson meant the Holy Spirit.

Of all the descriptions of Mr. Trump we’ve heard this election season, this may be the most farcical. As described by St. Paul, the “fruit of the Spirit” includes forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, hardly qualities one associates with Mr. Trump. It shows you the lengths Mr. Trump’s supporters will go to in order to rationalize their enthusiastic support of him….

The calling of Christians is to be “salt and light” to the world, to model a philosophy that defends human dignity, and to welcome the stranger in our midst. It is to stand for justice, dispense grace and be agents of reconciliation in a broken world. And it is to take seriously the words of the prophet Micah, “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?”

Evangelical Christians who are enthusiastically supporting Donald Trump are signaling, even if unintentionally, that this calling has no place in politics and that Christians bring nothing distinctive to it — that their past moral proclamations were all for show and that power is the name of the game.

Trump’s success demonstrates beyond any doubt that millions of Republicans are morally bankrupt, despite their claims to cherish rock-solid moral values. The support Trump is receiving from “Christian” leaders demonstrates that they are morally bankrupt too, no matter how much they claim to foster Christian values.

Too Ironic to Resist: An “Establishment” Republican on Trump

It’s a good thing I don’t write this blog in order to make my four readers happy. If I wanted to make you happy, I wouldn’t write the word “Trump” ever again.

So, here in this vale of tears, someone named Peter Wehner published a nicely-written article in the New York Times pointing out that he and his fellow evangelical Christians shouldn’t support Trump. It’s hard to disagree:

This … man humiliated his first wife by conducting a very public affair, chronically bullies and demeans people, and says he has never asked God for forgiveness. His name is emblazoned on a casino that features a strip club; he has discussed anal sex on the air with Howard Stern…He is a narcissist appealing to people whose faith declares that pride goes before a fall.

Mr. Trump’s character is antithetical to many of the qualities evangelicals should prize in a political leader: integrity, compassion and reasoned convictions, wisdom and prudence, trustworthiness, a commitment to the moral good.

When Bill Clinton was president, evangelicals ranked moral probity high on their list of leadership qualities. Supporters of Mr. Trump, a moral degenerate, justify their support by saying we’re electing a president rather than a pastor. Why a significant number of evangelicals are rallying round a man who exposes them as hypocrites is difficult to fathom.

Part of the explanation is that many evangelicals feel increasingly powerless, beaten down, aggrieved and under attack. A sense of ressentiment, or a “narrative of injury,” is leading them to look for scapegoats to explain their growing impotence. People filled with anger and grievances are easily exploited….

Enter Donald Trump, alpha male.

Mr. Trump’s evangelical supporters don’t care about his agenda; they are utterly captivated by his persona. They view him as the strongest, most dominant, most assertive political figure they have ever seen. In an odd bow to Nietzschean ethics, they respect and applaud his Will to Power. And so the man who openly admires tyrants like Vladimir V. Putin and praised the Chinese crackdown in Tiananmen Square because it showed “strength” has become the repository of their hopes.

Set aside the fact that Mr. Trump is a compulsive and unrepentant liar. Set aside, too, that he has demonstrated no ability for statecraft or the actual administration of government and has demonstrated much incompetence at business to boot.

Bracket for now the fact that Mr. Trump has been more erratic, unprincipled and proudly ignorant when it comes to public policy than perhaps any major presidential candidate in American history.

What stuns me is how my fellow evangelicals can rally behind a man whose words and actions are so at odds with the central teachings of our faith. They overlook, rationalize and even delight in Mr. Trump’s obsessive name-calling and Twitter attacks, his threats and acts of intimidation, his vindictiveness and casual cruelty (including mocking the disabled and P.O.W.s), all of which masquerade as strength and toughness. For some evangelicals, Christianity is no longer shaping their politics; with Mr. Trump in view, their faith lies subordinate.

Aside from his misreading of Nietzschean ethics (Nieztsche would presumably regard Trump as a dangerous buffoon, not an Übermensch) and his misguided attack on Planned Parenthood (which I deleted), Mr. Wehner makes a pretty good case. Trump is more antichrist than Christian. 

But getting back to Mr. Wehner. According to the Times, Mr. Wehner, the professed Christian, “served in the last three Republican administrations”.

The last three Republican administrations? That would include Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush! Talk about three men who lackedintegrity, compassion and reasoned convictions, wisdom and prudence, trustworthiness [and] a commitment to the moral good”! Who exposed evangelicals as hypocrites and exploited people’s feelings of anger and fear! Who demonstrated a lack of interest and competence! Oh, brother.

Wehner rightly refers to the following as “Trumpism”:

[It’s] a purposeful effort, led by a demagogue, to incite ugly passions, stoke resentments and divisions, and create fear of those who are not like “us”…

Yet it’s the modern Republican Party, which stopped being the Party of Lincoln decades ago, that has succeeded in poisoning our politics with a strategy built on inciting ugly passions, stoking resentments and creating fear. The top Republicans are masters of demagogy and division.

Looking back on his long career serving Republican Presidents, Wehner should know all about making his faith subordinate to his politics. In embracing the Republican Party, he and other professed Christians “are doing incalculable damage to their witness”. Trumpism is Republicanism writ huge.

(While you’re here, check out John Oliver’s campaign to make Trump “Drumpf” again: drumpfinator.com might make you happy.)

Update:  Or if happiness is out of the question, read “Trump Might Not Be a Fascist, But He’s Merrily Leading Us Down That Path”, originally posted here. It’s long, but important, especially the second half or so.

Wow! Could This Be the Beginning of a Movement?

Shepard Smith works for Fox News but sometimes doesn’t sound like it.

It was still quite a surprise to see what he said about Pope Francis and President Obama today:

I don’t know — I think we are in a weird place in the world when the following things are considered political. Five things, I’m going to tick them off. These are the five things that were on his and our president’s agenda. Caring for the marginalized and the poor — that’s now political. Advancing economic opportunity for all. Political? Serving as good stewards of the environment. Protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom globally. Welcoming [and] integrating immigrants and refugees globally. And that’s political? I mean, I don’t know what we expect to hear from an organization’s leader like the Pope of the Catholic Church, other than protect those who need help, bring in refuges who have no place because of war and violence and terrorism. These seem like universal truths that we should be good to others who have less than we do, that we should give shelter to those who don’t have it. I think these were the teachings in the Bible of Jesus. They’re the words of the pope, they’re the feelings of the president. And people who find themselves on the other side of that message should consult a mirror, it seems like. Because I think that’s what we’re supposed to do as a people, whatever your religion. I mean, it seems to me and I think to probably, as Bill O’Reilly would put it, most clear-thinking Americans — that that’s how we’re supposed to roll.

Yes, that’s how we’re supposed to roll! 

The remarkable video in which Mr. Smith states the obvious (at around 0:36) is available here.

Evangelical Christians for Sanders, the Left-Winger?

Two articles about Christianity and American politics caught my eye this week.

The first was a New York Magazine interview with someone named Jim, an alumnus of Liberty University, who now works as a pastor and therapist. Liberty University is the Southern Baptist school in Virginia founded by Jerry Falwell, the well-known televangelist and right-wing troublemaker. Jim posted some anonymous remarks on Reddit in response to Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’s recent speech at Liberty. Here’s the part New York Magazine quoted:

As I heard Bernie Sanders crying out to the religious leaders at Liberty University, in his hoarse voice, with his wild hair — this Jew — and he proclaimed justice over us, he called us to account, for being complicit with those who are wealthy and those who are powerful, and for abandoning the poor, the least of these, who Jesus said he had come to bring good news to.

Jim grew up supporting right-wing politicians, as so many evangelical Christians are taught to do. But he eventually realized that his politics conflicted with the Bible. He says that Bible study convinced him:

that the gospel of Christ is what he says it is in the Book of Luke. He says the messenger comes to bring good news to the poor, to heal the sick, and to set the captives free. If our gospel is not good news to the poor, to the captives, to the indebted and the broken, then it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ…

The Bible talks about God destroying those who destroy the Earth and standing for the weak and the penniless. That same God was being displayed on our flags and in our songs as this warrior king who doesn’t like the Muslims and who doesn’t like the poor and who wants us to have free-market capitalism and no regulations. I thought that was inconsistent. This is the same God who designed … his theocratic government in Israel so that the poor were cared for. This is the same God that designs into the concept of ministry a tithe of 10 percent to care for others…

Jim is remaining semi-anonymous for the time being. He says he doesn’t want his patients or congregants caught up in controversy. Nevertheless, he’s going to continue explaining why it makes sense for an evangelical Christian to support Senator Sanders:

I’m calling my fellow Evangelicals to raise their eyes and to pay attention, to read their Bibles carefully, as I was taught to do in an Evangelical school. So many get their faith points from [right-wing TV personalities] Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity, but if they would get their faith from Jesus, they would be surprised at how he does not fit into any box and flips the tables of the money-changers and stands with the adulterers and prevents the death penalty…

Bernie at Liberty, for me, struck such a nerve because he treated us like grown-ups. He presented the message thoughtfully, politely. He was warmhearted, he was jovial, he didn’t play any political games. He didn’t tell us what we wanted to hear. He was just plain, and it reminded me of John the Baptist.

But why does someone like Jim seem like such an outlier? Aren’t evangelical Christians the natural ally of right-wing politicians and Big Business?

No, not according to One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, a book by Kevin Kruse, Professor of History at Princeton. As explained in a review at the website of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Kruse argues that there was an organized effort in the 1950s to link religion and corporate capitalism. For example, a group called:

Spiritual Mobilization sought to rally clergymen to fight liberalism, arguing that the only political position compatible with Christianity was laissez-faire. They aimed to counter the ideas—summed up as the Social Gospel—that good Christians might have obligations to help the poor, that there was something spiritually problematic about the love of money, and that working to create a better and more egalitarian social order might be necessary to live a righteous life. In his first inaugural address, Roosevelt had celebrated the expulsion of the money changers from the “temple of our civilization,” and called for replacing the “mad chase of evanescent profits” with a return to more noble social values. Spiritual Mobilization begged to differ, insisting instead that profit could be the cornerstone of a moral vision.

Spiritual Mobilization was funded by conservative businessmen and a number of corporations, including General Motors and Gulf Oil. Its leader “embraced his identity as a man who preached to the rich: “I have smiled when critics of mine have called me the Thirteenth Apostle of Big Business or the St. Paul of the Prosperous.”

Kruse says that:

 … long before the 1970s, religious leaders … and the businessmen who backed them sought to politicize the country’s churches, seeing them as a natural and sympathetic base. Their concern was not social or sexual politics, but rather economics—they wanted to advance a libertarian agenda to undermine the economic program that became ascendant during the New Deal. This top-down Christianity in turn provided an image of the United States as an explicitly religious nation, creating a rhetoric that inspired the populist Christian conservatives of a later generation. When the men who built the religious right in the 1970s—such as Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority—issued their jeremiads about the United States as a fallen nation, they made the implicit case that the country had hewed more closely to faith before the 1960s. But in fact, Kruse suggests, the pumped-up image of America as a Christian nation had gained popularity only a decade before.

Before Jerry Falwell, there was the evangelist Billy Graham:  

… one of his major concerns [was] the encroachment of the liberal state… Graham opposed the Marshall Plan and the welfare state, and attacked the Truman Administration for spending too much on each…  [In 1951] Graham warned the audience at a North Carolina crusade that the country was no longer “devoted to the individualism that made America great,” and that it needed to return to the “rugged individualism that Christ brought” to humankind.

America has been a Christian nation for a long time in the sense that most Americans have thought of themselves as Christians and still do. The question is: what role should Christianity play in a our democracy? The Constitution requires separation of church and state, but people have the right to support politicians who share their religious ideals. This makes me wonder what America would be like if there were more Christians like Jim.