19 November 2015

Narratives and Villains in Kruse's: One Nation Under God

I recently finished Kevin Kruse's One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. It was a worthwhile read and I certainly would recommend it. Like all secular writers he does not fully understand the nuances of Christian theology and thinking but in terms of the political narrative and some of the back-story, he does a fine job. Some have argued the book is something of a non-sequitir, that he doesn't really prove that Corporate America invented the Christian Right narrative. Admittedly there are problems with this kind of cut and dry explanation and yet he raises the question within the book itself and admits that there certainly was a 'Christian' identity prior to the 1930's. Yet, he demonstrates a shift occurred in light of the New Deal and the subsequent Cold War that re-cast and re-infused the whole notion of a 'Christian America' and that the movements worked to tie in these somewhat romanticised narratives in with specific economic policies and an expression of civil religion that was not previously seen.

I don't wish to review the whole book but there were a few points that were of particular interest to me.

One was that this work along with Diamond's Roads to Dominion, Sharlet's The Family, and some of Marsden's works among others continue to demonstrate the narrative that Evangelical and Bible Believing Christians went to sleep after the Scopes Trial and only awoke in the late 1970's with the formation of the Moral Majority is completely flawed and dishonest. It serves a theological agenda and it's a narrative meant to provoke a response but it's simply untrue.

Though Kruse does not directly deal with the question I think it would be more proper to say that by the 1970's an opportunity arose, afforded by Nixon's campaign in response to 1960's counter-cultural disruptions and especially the Civil Rights movement, that allowed Christians for the first time since the Civil War, in fact in the whole of American history to be united by one political party. Previous to this Christians were split by region and by other considerations. There was also more diversity in the parties when they operated on a national scale. While I don't doubt that voting numbers were less than impressive prior to the rise of the Moral Majority it does not mean that Christians were asleep or inactive. Some had supported New Deal policies and some were committed to Labour. There were still some Evangelicals in recent years who growing up during the Depression liked FDR but at the same time loathed LBJ and The Great Society. That generation is just about gone.

Today, all Right-wing conservatives hate both the New Deal and Johnson's Great Society. The debate today is over America's imperial path in the Progressive Era and in some cases a re-embracing of the Antebellum South.

Prior to the late 1960's most Evangelicals in the South were committed to the Democratic Party which in the North represented immigrants and Labour. The political spectrum was more diverse. Democratic Populism, the foundation of the Party manifested itself in very different ways depending on whether you were in New York or Mississippi. The events of 1964-68 brought Christians solidly into the Republican Party like never before. These defections continued to escalate throughout the 1970's and 80's and today there are only a handful of Reagan and Blue-Dog Democrats left.

While Falwell and the Moral Majority tried to organize on specifically Christian and reactionary terms people have forgotten (and I believe have tried to forget) the great affection and Christian cast that was given to the Nixon administration. He ultimately disappointed in his economic policies, his turn to China, embrace of D├ętente and the eventual exposure of his criminality.

Of course in my house it was always said that Nixon was no different or more criminal than any of his predecessors. He simply got caught. Why this was somehow a morally acceptable statement or one that Christians would find comfort in is still a mystery to me but I still hear it on occasion. Whether it's true or not is to miss the point. If such persons really cared about the supposed integrity of Washington, then they should rejoice in Nixon's exposure and downfall. But as we are always keen to point out... politics or the struggle for power creates its own ethics and thus rivals if not explicitly rejects Christian imperatives.

Kruse reveals even more of Nixon's sinister and cynical nature. Much of this is not new for those who have read inside accounts of Nixon's White House or transcriptions of the infamous tapes. Yet, Kruse has the Christian Right specifically in mind and focuses on a few salient points in terms of Nixon's utilization of figures like Billy Graham and how he sought to win and influence Christian thinking and leadership, even to the point of trying to manipulate denominational politics through allowing certain potential allies to gain prominence in their proximity to the Nixon White House.

I was glad to see Kruse brought out Nixon's moves in light of Kent State and the massive wave of protests in 1970. After his bizarre and often recounted incident at the Lincoln Memorial, he used Billy Graham and heavily played the Christian America card. Nixon hoped to recruit and empower a voice of popular support and open up a channel of hostility to the protesting youth. The videos of Nixon and Graham are worth viewing.

Billy Graham is revered by many and yet I recall many Fundamentalists were uncomfortable with him at times. Not everyone was such a fan. They loved seeing him on the television... oh, how well do I remember his Crusades being on when I was a kid... and believed he served God in preaching the basic gospel.

But beyond that, many were uncomfortable with his relationships with Jewish and Catholic leaders and how cozy he became with those in power. His relationship with Nixon in particular ended up being a source of great shame as Nixon was revealed as a fraud and hypocrite, someone who was little more than using Graham and his great influence.

Is Graham a stooge or is he a fraud as well? God knows. And yet it's hard to not view him as little more than a court preacher and wholly corrupt. His legacy must be identified as not only one of failure but of great harm and damage. He himself will admit that the vast majority of those who 'came forward'... a wholly unbiblical methodology to be sure... did not persevere and stick with their profession. But he was content with that because many were saved.

Some may have been saved in spite of Graham's watered down gospel and his extra-biblical Finney-esque methods. Yet, how many became mired in confusion and frustration with Christianity? For years I too suffered as a result of that wretched 'Invitation System' and it's doctrine of saving faith that is reduced to little more than assent and absent the need for Biblical repentance.

Graham truly crossed sea and land to make proselytes but instead made untold millions the children of Hell. They are responsible. They have Moses and the prophets but Graham is responsible as well and all the more so when he stood on stages with Catholics, Jews and other non-Christians and sent 'converts' to these false and idolatrous temples. Sadly his Dispensationalism allows him to see Judaism as valid and a way to maintain a relationship with God. This is wholly contrary to Scripture and a rejection of Christ's claims and exclusivity. His ecumenicalism and love of pomp and power allowed him to make peace with Rome and send converts back to the priests to be fed the lies of the sacramental and sacerdotal system which rejects Christ's work, His grace and His authority.

Though Kruse doesn't mention it, Graham's statements to Robert Schuller in 1997 leave one wondering if the man is a genuine believer in Jesus Christ. They are stunning and represent a sad harvest of one who lost his way.

Billy Graham though still alive was a man of the Twentieth Century and undoubtedly must rank as perhaps the greatest and most destructive heretic of that epoch. He was a Cold War court preacher for the American Empire. America was his religion not the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Kruse's book exposes how he was used and how corrupted and syncretistic his own thinking was with regard to America and the Kingdom of God. Graham is an idolater and rejects the ethics of Scripture. He's a mammon worshipper and for those who don't know it now, it will be made clear on that Day.

Another figure that is briefly mentioned but his name jumps from the page due to his associations with Nixon is that of Charles Colson. Kruse does not focus on Colson but his mentions of him are quite interesting. Colson was a willing participant in using and manipulating Christians to serve the purposes of the administration and Kruse gives some examples.

Why is this interesting? Because supposedly on the one hand Colson was repentant about his past and the way power corrupted him. And yet certainly during the 1990's and 2000's I repeatedly heard him boast of his 'service' during the Nixon administration. The narrative seemed to change. According to Colson, Nixon was right and his policies were right. Colson wasn't repentant of his association with a criminal administration. He only seemed troubled by a few aspects of it. Otherwise he was quite proud to have been a part of it and willingly demonstrated it when people praised and thanked him for 'serving' the United States during that time. He was unrepentant about Nixon's deceptions of which he played a crucial part. Instead he seemed to relish in Left-bashing and promoting if not rehabilitating the image of the administration.

In the end Colson's repentance must be labeled as fraudulent. He was proud of his evil manipulations and the fruit of his power struggles. When you consider the fact that he was manipulating Christians and ecclesiastical denominations for the political posturing and gain of the Nixon administration, you would think he would be deeply ashamed. As I've mentioned before his response to the revelation that Mark Felt was Deep Throat was also telling. He wasn't glad that Nixon's corruption was halted and that an administration involved in wanton criminality was exposed. No, he was still bitter even after thirty years.

Colson, Graham and Nixon...  wolves in sheep's clothing. These were evil men making merchandise of God's people. Merchandise doesn't always have to translate into actual coin in the hand.

Oddly enough as an Anti-Sacralist I can find some sympathy with the secular forces at work to counter the Christo-American heresy. This also is not new. Huguenots benefitted from the French Revolution and the fall of the House of Bourbon. Many Protestant minorities benefitted from Enlightenment tolerance. Christian Sacralism is the greatest threat to Biblical Christianity and it has always been so. Better a Turk than a Habsburg.

The Secularists rejected 'In God We Trust' by appealing to America's intellectual history and philosophical pedigree represented by the ideas within the Constitution... a document that is patently 'not' Christian to say the least. The Declaration's 'Creator' is at best a Deistic deity and Kruse doesn't even touch on the patent contradiction in the document that claims Creator-given inalienable rights and yet also presents a social contract expressed by the consent of the governed. The Constitution further confuses this issue by allowing the consenting governed to create inalienable rights.

Not a few Christians have realized the problem inherent in the US construction and that's why many Christians worked (albeit wrongly) to make the Constitution explicitly 'Christian'.

The Libertarian wing which is presently ascendant does not understand the issues behind the Declaration... it was hardly a call for less government! Nor do they grasp the basic requirements for the Capitalist system to flourish... a nation state with strong institutions, courts and a police force to enforce its dictates. The eradication of the state would in the end be their undoing. Part of me wants them to learn this lesson, but the process would be so ugly another part of me hopes they fail and the movement dies. This isn't likely.

One needs to only revisit the early oil days of the mid 19th century Pennsylvania or much of the Old West to find out what a truly Libertarian Anarcho-Capitalist society looks like. It's violent, destructive and ugly. I was also reminded of this recently with the massive biker shootout that took place in Waco Texas. Apparently the gun libertarians don't seem to realize that's the end result. If everyone is carrying firearms then you're going to end up with endless replays of that incident. Most Americans think we've moved past the Wild West but I suppose when it's been romanticised the lessons won't be learned. They would do well to watch Ken Burn's documentary on The West. It provides an excellent summary. He's hardly unsympathetic to America and its narratives but he tells enough of the truth to dispel the common mythology of John Wayne's America... one that I used to love passionately. I still enjoy his movies on occasion but I definitely see them through different eyes.

Secularists war for historical truth and ideas but ultimately for the wrong reasons.

We oppose Civil and Ceremonial Deism because it's a lie. We find no comfort in the name of a god on currency and monuments or in idolatrous ceremonial utterances. The 'god' of Christian America is not the God of Scripture. The 'god' in the Pledge and the 'god' on the currency are not the God that reveals Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. We hope to see all such references removed. We would hope then that Christians would recover their identity as strangers and pilgrims.

Instead they will wail and weep for their lost Tammuz and seek the resurrection of their false mammon-god.