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“A Devil’s Bargain”: Jeb Bush Embraces The Narrative Of Christian Victimhood

While the rest of the Republican presidential candidates were at the South Carolina Freedom Summit this weekend, Jeb Bush traveled to Virginia to give the commencement address at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. While a speech like that will of course be full of praise for God, Bush’s speech went farther than one might have expected, both in its blunt sectarianism and its embrace of a narrative of victimhood that has grown increasingly popular on the religious right.

This may be what the base of the Republican Party wants to hear. But it also shows how appealing to that base could create problems for whichever Republican becomes the presidential nominee next year.

While lots of people remember Jeb Bush’s brother as an evangelical Christian, he actually isn’t — George W. Bush is a Methodist, a non-evangelical denomination (Jeb himself is a convert to Catholicism). And throughout his presidency, despite some occasional (and probably unintentional) slips like referring to the war on terror as a “crusade,” Bush was carefully inclusive when he talked about religion. It would have been surprising to hear him extol the superiority of Christianity as his brother Jeb did on Saturday. “Whatever the need, the affliction, or the injustice, there is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action,” Bush said. And then there was this:

“No place where the message reaches, no heart that it touches, is ever the same again. And across our own civilization, what a radically different story history would tell without it. Consider a whole alternative universe of power without restraint, conflict without reconciliation, oppression without deliverance, corruption without reformation, tragedy without renewal, achievement without grace, and it’s all just a glimpse of human experience without the Christian influence.”

That’s a far cry from what Mitt Romney said eight years ago when he gave his big speech on religion — at least in that case, Romney argued for the essential place of religion broadly, and not just his own. I should note that near the end of the speech, Bush did acknowledge that non-Christians can be good people, too. But if you aren’t a Christian, the idea that without Christianity life on earth would inevitably be a nightmare of oppression and meaninglessness is something you might find absurd, or even offensive.

And you might think Bush would step a little more carefully given the trends in religious affiliation in America. While Christians are of course the majority, that majority that is declining steadily. The groups that are increasing their proportion of the U.S. population include Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and most importantly, the “unaffiliated,” people who don’t consider themselves part of any organized religion. According to the Pew Research Center, the unaffiliated were 16 percent of the population in 2010 and will be 26 percent by 2050; over the same period Christians will decline from 78 percent to 66 percent.

That’s a long-term trend; for the moment, Bush seems to think that the way to the hearts of the conservative Christians who make up such a large part of the Republican primary electorate (particularly in Iowa, where over half of GOP caucus-goers are evangelicals) is to embrace a narrative of victimhood that has become so prevalent on the right:

“Fashionable opinion – which these days can be a religion all by itself – has got a problem with Christians and their right of conscience. That makes it our problem, and the proper response is a forthright defense of the first freedom in our Constitution.

“It can be a touchy subject, and I am asked sometimes whether I would ever allow my decisions in government to be influenced by my Christian faith. Whenever I hear this, I know what they want me to say. The simple and safe reply is, ‘No. Never. Of course not.’ If the game is political correctness, that’s the answer that moves you to the next round. The endpoint is a certain kind of politician we’ve all heard before – the guy whose moral convictions are so private, so deeply personal, that he refuses even to impose them on himself.

“The mistake is to confuse points of theology with moral principles that are knowable to reason as well as by faith. And this confusion is all part of a false narrative that casts religious Americans as intolerant scolds, running around trying to impose their views on everyone. The stories vary, year after year, but the storyline is getting familiar: The progressive political agenda is ready for its next great leap forward, and religious people or churches are getting in the way. Our friends on the Left like to view themselves as the agents of change and reform, and you and I are supposed to just get with the program.

“There are consequences when you don’t genuflect to the latest secular dogmas. And those dogmas can be hard to keep up with. So we find officials in a major city demanding that pastors turn over copies of their sermons. Or federal judges mistaking themselves for elected legislators, and imposing restrictions and rights that do not exist in the Constitution. Or an agency dictating to a Catholic charity, the Little Sisters of the Poor, what has to go in their health plan – and never mind objections of conscience.”

Extra points to Bush for referring to progressives planning a “great leap forward” — so subtle. But this idea of Christianity as an embattled and encircled faith within the United States when it’s still held by three-quarters of the population has become essential to the right’s current identity politics. As Bill O’Reilly says: “If you’re a Christian or a white man in the U.S.A., it’s open season on you.” Indeed, when will white men finally get a fair shake?

The victimhood narrative has found its most recent expression in the plight of the nation’s legions of fundamentalist bakers who don’t want to sell cakes to gay weddings, and through the Hobby Lobby case, where a poor innocent corporation was supposedly forced by the heavy hand of government to defile its health insurance plan with contraception coverage.

But it’s been building for years, not only as gay rights have advanced but also as a result of the steady diversification of American society. If you grew up with your religious beliefs being the default setting for society at large — when it’s your prayers being said in public schools, when only people who share your religion are elected president, when your holidays are everyone’s holidays — then a growing inclusiveness can feel like an attack on you. It seems like you’ve lost something, even if you can’t admit that it was something only you and people like you were privileged to possess.

I don’t doubt that there are Christians who are sincerely affronted when they walk into a department store in December and see a sign reading “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” even if I might find their taking offense unjustified. It’s the people who find in “Happy Holidays” the evidence of their oppression that Bush is reaching out to, saying that he’s every bit with them as are the likes of Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum.

And just as on immigration and many other issues, saying to the Republican primary electorate that the candidate is one of you and thinks like you do sends precisely the opposite message to lots of the voters whom he’ll need when the general election comes. It’s a devil’s bargain, but one that Jeb Bush and many of his competitors, with their eyes on the nomination, seem only too eager to make.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 11, 2015

May 13, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Jeb Bush, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fundamentalist Constitutionalism”: Punctuation Marks, Antonin Scalia, And The Farce Of “Originalism”

I have no idea whether Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is heading to the beach this summer now that he has made America safe for religious employers to discriminate against their female employees. Nor do I have any idea whether Danielle Allen’s new book “Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality” is on his beach-reading list. But it should be.

You have probably heard about the book and its assertion that there is a significant typo smack in the middle of the Declaration’s most famous part. We read the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” with a “.” at the end. It’s not there in the original, according to Prof. Allen. It was added in later versions, as a mistake or perhaps even as a small spot of errant ink. The result, Allen asserts, is a dramatically different meaning to the entire document.

Historians will debate the conclusions Allen has drawn from her detective work, but those conclusions aren’t the reason Scalia ought to read the book. Rather, it is that starting premise about the punctuation that should give him pause (I know, it won’t) because it succinctly puts the lie to the entire enterprise of Constitutional “originalism” upon which Scalia has built his career.

Originalism, briefly put, is a jurisprudence resting on the following wobbly assumptions: the Constitution only has one meaning; that meaning can be known without ambiguity (by those smart enough to read it); all laws ought to be judged against that singular, unchanging meaning. Not too long ago originalism resided on the lunatic fringe of legal thinking, sort of like Ayn Randian economics. Over the last generation it has entered the mainstream, sort of like Ayn Randian economics, and no one has been more responsible for that than Antonin Scalia.

Opponents of originalism have often argued instead that the Constitution needs to be a “living” document, adaptable to a changing society. That view became prominent a century ago as legal thinkers, among them Woodrow Wilson and Oliver Wendell Holmes, tried to reckon with a rapidly changing industrial society. And to these Scalia and his comrades have said that the Constitution is resolutely dead and should be read historically, not in light of contemporary society.

But as the business of the pesky punctuation in the Declaration of Independence reminds us, words can mean different things and can be read in different ways. and even small changes in a sentence can yield different ideas. We know what Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy says, but any high school junior can tell you that it might have any of several meanings. Or all of them. Or none of them.

Pretending that reading a document like the Constitution is a simple, transparent and an entirely objective and neutral task is naïve at best, intellectually dishonest at worst. All acts of reading are necessarily acts of interpretation, and as a consequence there are no objective truths nor single meanings. The most we can do is achieve a best consensus, recognizing that it might change in the future.

Scalia knows all of this, I suspect. I don’t think even in his extraordinary arrogance and self-regard he believes he can know exactly and perfectly what was in the minds of all the delegates who wrote the Constitution. And indeed, whatever one thinks of Scalia as a jurist, his track-record as a historian is shoddy, filled with cherry-picked examples, incomplete understandings and downright risible conclusions. The history Scalia presented as part of his majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller wouldn’t pass muster in my undergraduate seminar.

Scalia’s real goal in promoting “originalism” is to remove Constitutional issues from the realm of political debate altogether and treat them instead as theological dogma.

“Originalists” like Scalia read the Constitution in much the same way that fundamentalist Christians read the Bible. In the world of those conservative Christians, the Bible says what it says, there is no room for any interpretation of it, and the Bible is inerrant. In fact, we might coin a new term, “fundamentalist Constitutionalists,” since there is now a small but growing number of people convinced that the Constitution, like the Bible, may have been written by men but was actually inspired by God.

While this kind of reading may be intellectually indefensible – or downright silly – it does have the advantage of bestowing extraordinary power on those who can claim to possess The Truth, whether huckstering evangelical, tyrannical bishop, or snarky Supreme Court justice.

Ironically, of course, we will look back on “originalism,” or “fundamentalist Constitutionalism,” as being entirely of its political and cultural moment. One hundred years from now, we will see it as engineered by revanchists like Scalia who recoiled at the dramatic social changes of the recent past – civil rights, feminism, gay rights, and more – and thought they could use the Constitution to retreat into a past largely of their own invention. Future scholars might even debate what, exactly, Antonin Scalia meant as they parse his body of writing, and might find that his very words could be subject to multiple readings. That would be the final, most delicious and fitting irony for “originalism.”


By: Steven Conn, Author/Professor, Ohio State; The Huffington Post Blog, July 7, 2014



July 8, 2014 Posted by | Antonin Scalia, Constitution, Declaration Of Independence | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Where Beliefs Diverge”: The Issue That Turns Republicans Against Israel

America’s right believes that Israel can do no wrong when it’s building settlements in the occupied territories or trying to prevent a nuclear deal with Iran. But when it comes to social policies, fundamentalists ignore that Israel is far more progressive than the United States.

A new governmental panel is suggesting that the Jewish state pay for all abortions for women aged 20-33. Currently, abortions for medical reasons and for girls under the age of 18 are subsidized by the government.

“Unlike in the United States, abortion has never figured in the country’s political campaigns,” The Times of Israel’s Lamar Berman notes. “In fact, Israel does not even have an active anti-abortion movement.”

The Hyde Amendment makes it illegal for Medicaid to fund any abortions, except in the cases of rape, incest or a threat to the life of the mother. Several Republican state legislatures have passed laws that will require women to purchase an additional waiver to cover abortion.

Israel has a single-payer health care system, which helps keep costs low, as Mitt Romney noted during his visit to the country in 2012.

Christians like to play up their connection to the religious traditions of the Holy Land. But abortion is an issue where beliefs diverge.

“That Jewish law does not consider the fetus to be a legal person goes to the heart of why so-called ‘personhood’ amendments—laws that would declare a fertilized egg to be a person with rights—and other attempts by lawmakers and activists to afford fetuses equal protection rights have a constitutional problem,” Sarah Posner notes. “They reflect a particular religious view, one that is not, as Christian-right activists like to say about their beliefs on reproduction, a ‘Judeo-Christian’ one.”

As the far right has moved even further to the right on abortion — passing more restrictions in the last three years than in the decade before — it also has intensified its embrace of the Jewish state. Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev pointed out in 2011 that if President Obama treated Israel the way Ronald Reagan — who placed an embargo on arms sales to the state — did, he would be impeached.

The growing influence of the Christian Coalition following Pat Robertson’s galvanizing 1988 presidential campaign has shifted power to the evangelicals of the Republican Party and given rise to policies based on Christian Dispensationalism, which argues the Jews must return to Israel for the second coming of Jesus Christ to occur. Some Christians go further and argue that the conversion of the “chosen people” is necessary to bring about the rapture. George W. Bush recently raised funds for a group that is actively engaged in converting Jews.

The drastic dissonance between American fundamentalists and Israeli health experts — who would prefer to fund all abortions for all women but didn’t propose this for budgetary reasons — suggests that the right is willing to ignore differences of opinion on reproductive rights… when they’re focused on bringing about the end of the world.


By: Jason Sattler, Featured Post, The National Memo, January 2, 2014

January 4, 2014 Posted by | Abortion, Reproductive Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Cancer Komen Must Cure Is Right Wing Extremism

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 and took possession of a troubled land that was more geographic expression than country (as  Metternich once said of Italy), I remember thinking at the time that we were far less likely to export democracy to Iraqis than Iraqis were to teach us a lesson about how fragile are the cultural foundations upon which democracy rests.

American society has been fracturing for some time. This is due to many factors: growing anxiety over jobs in a global economy; changing  demographics as the nation becomes less white and Christian; the rise of identity politics, specifically more politically aggressive religious groups; and communications technologies that allow individuals to self-segregate  by ideology with dual citizenship to places like Fox “Nation” or Hannity’s “America.”

What may have once been an academic curiosity has now metastasized into a genuine concern: Intensifying political polarization  is threatening the ability of our community to hold together as both our politics and our government become increasingly dysfunctional.

To better understand one’s country and its own internal dynamics it is often advantageous to step away and see what lessons might be learned by studying the experience of other countries.

And for America this is especially true of the Middle East, where the more intimately America becomes entangled with that troubled region the more our own domestic politics absorb through osmosis the Middle East’s distinctive tribal pathologies and torments as well.

Christian fundamentalists, for example, are not merely obsessed with Israel because daydreaming about the Jewish State’s eventual  destruction by the armies of the Anti-Christ at the Battle of Armageddon  lets them act out their rapture fantasies from the Book of Revelation. The Religious Right also draws inspiration from Israel for what the Right might be able to accomplish here as they watch ultra-Orthodox groups transform Israel’s democracy into a Jewish theocracy.

In an article titled “The Troubling Rise of Israel’s Far Right,” New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier cites reports in the New York Times showing that the list of controversies – and confrontations — between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews is growing weekly.

Organizers of a conference on women’s health, for example, barred women from speaking from the podium.

Ultra-Orthodox men spit on an eight-year-old girl “whom they deemed immodestly dressed.”

The chief rabbi of the Israeli Air Force resigned because the  army would not excuse ultra-Orthodox soldiers from attending events  where female singers perform.

Jerusalem’s police commander was depicted as Hitler on posters because he allowed public buses with mixed-sex seating to drive through  ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in violation of that sect’s religious  dogmas — an intolerance the American Catholic bishops might want to think about as they use words like “totalitarian” to describe their dispute with President Obama over coverage for  contraception in health care plans.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews even went so far as to prohibit a distinguished woman scholar whose book on pediatrics was being honored  by Israel’s Ministry of Health from sitting with her husband at the ceremony or accepting her prize in person since  women were forbidden from stepping on stage.

The New York Times article, said Wieseltier “provoked widespread revulsion” in the US, as it ought.

The origin of the problem, both there and here, is the infusion of fundamentalism into politics.

Fundamentalism is less religious than psychological — an aspect of personality that abhors ambiguity and demands certainty, and thus authority, in every aspect of their lives, whether political or religious. Fundamentalism is fundamentally incompatible with liberalism and with the emphasis in liberal societies on the autonomy of the individual and individual free will.

“Like all liberal societies, says Wieseltier, “Israeli society  contains anti-liberal elements, and these anti-liberal elements, both  religious and secular, have become increasingly prominent, and  increasingly wanton, and increasingly sickening.”

Of chief concern is the treatment of women in Israeli society.

The “odious misogyny of the ultra-Orthodox” is not yet typical of Israeli life in general since the ultra-Orthodox have seceded from it, says Wieseltier. But gender discrimination is typical of traditional  Judaism where “there is no equality between men and women in theory and  in practice.”

Whatever freedom women enjoy in Jewish religious life, he says, “has been accomplished by movements and institutions that have broken with the inherited understandings.”

There are many rabbis, even among the more orthodox, “who have  shown glimmers of compassion for women and tried to mitigate their  doctrinal contempt for secular Jews,” says Wieseltier.

But more typical  is the rabbi who said that: “Only one who believes in the God of Israel  and in the Torah of Israel is entitled to be called by the name ‘Jew.'”

Using that standard, said Wieseltier, one of the more extreme Jewish sects declared that the total Jewish population in the world amounts to only about one million.

“Our worst enemies never eliminated so many of us,” said Wieseltier.

As the radicalization of Israeli Judaism continues apace,  Wieseltier said the bigger problem is that “Israeli politics is open to  these closers.” That is especially true given the outsized influence  Israel’s parliamentary democracy gives to small parties.

If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is disgusted by the tightening grip of orthodoxy in his country he doesn’t seem to be doing  much to stop it, says Wieseltier. “Nobody ever suffered political damage by pandering to obscurantism and folk religion,” he says. “And that is  how gender segregation came to some of the public sphere of a secular  state.”

All these developments are unique in their own way, “but the pattern is hard not to see,” says Wieseltier. “There are fevers on the  right, anti-democratic fevers. These are the excrescences of Benjamin  Netanyahu’s base. The outrage is not that these forces have gone too far, but that they have gone anywhere at all.”

The pattern is also hard not to see here in America.

An Israeli-style, orthodox-fueled fracturing  of the American community took place just last week in the  otherwise inexplicable schism that at least temporarily existed between Planned Parenthood  and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation.

That two organizations so committed to the same vital mission of fighting for  women’s health would be at bitter loggerheads is a stunning  reminder of the destructive nature of fundamentalist mindsets that let nothing stand in their way of achieving their ideological obsessions.

“We’re talking about breast cancer here!” said one exasperated  women’s health advocate when she first heard the news that Komen was pulling funding from Planned Parenthood.

As Daily Beast’s Michelle Goldberg reports, in the first 24  hours after Komen announced its decision to pull $700,000 in funding,  Planned Parenthood raised about $400,000 from outraged supporters  online. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg chipped in $250,000 and the Amy  and Lee Fikes Foundation also donated another $250,000.

Within the Komen organization itself, the Connecticut affiliate publicly rebuked the parent agency over the new policy, says Goldberg,  writing on its Facebook wall: “Susan G. Komen for the Cure Connecticut  enjoys a great partnership with Planned Parenthood, and is currently funding Planned Parenthood of Southern New England. We understand, and share, in the frustration around this situation.”

The Denver Komen affiliate said it too planned to continue grants to Planned Parenthood no matter what the organization’s top executives  might have to say about it.

And so it begins: the unraveling, fracturing and eventual disintegration of any organization, institution or communitiy invaded by the cancer of  right wing fundamentalism which fails to find a cure.


By: Ted Frier, Open Salon, February 5, 2012

February 6, 2012 Posted by | Religion, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tea Party Tailspin: Anger And Shifting Momentums

The Tea Party is synonymous with anger. Anger defined it. Anger fueled it. Anger marred it. Anger became its face and its heart. But anger is too exhausting an emotion to sustain.

A poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center found that anger at the government among Tea Party supporters fell by 40 percent from September 2010 to this month. Furthermore, anger among Republicans fell by more than half, and anger among whites, the elderly and independents fell by 40 percent or more.

On the other hand, the percentage of Tea Party supporters who said that they trusted the government always or most of the time doubled from last March to this March, and the percentage of Republicans saying so nearly doubled. In fact, the percent of both Republicans and independents saying so is now higher than it has been since January 2007.

Less anger? More trust? What happened? The midterms happened, that’s what.

Elections have a way of cooling passions, especially when voters get what they want. (Remember how lethargic many Democrats became after November 2008?) Electoral success not only satisfies, it pacifies. The enormous gains by Republicans during the midterms assuaged much of the country’s grief. The pressure began to subside. The novelty dimmed. The urgency evaporated.

Yet Tea Party leaders are still sniping from the sidelines, holding politicians to overreaching promises made when the electorate was still stewing. Judson Phillips, founder of the Tea Party Nation, wrote a post on its Web site this week saying the House speaker, John Boehner, looks “like a fool” and should face a primary challenge in 2012 for not pursuing enough spending cuts this year.

For these Tea Partiers, any concession is a crime worthy of expulsion.

A September Pew Poll found that only 22 percent of those who identify with the Tea Party admire political leaders who make compromises. This is not the way the rest of the country feels. Fifty-five percent of Democrats and 36 percent of Republicans said that they admired politicians who compromise.

Staunch Tea Partiers seem to be guided by the worst kind of fundamentalist political extremism — immutable positions derived from a near-religious adherence to self-proclaimed inviolable principles. This could well be their undoing.

During the right’s season of anger, passion and convictions galvanized Tea Party supporters into an army of activism. But the vehicle is outliving its fuel. The movement is losing momentum. In fact, Tea Party-backed governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin could be providing the rallying cry on the left to pick up the mantle of anger and send the momentum back the other way.

If Tea Party leaders continue to operate as if anger is still a major part of their arsenal and Republican politicians continue to feel pressured into untenable positions, Democrats could enjoy their very own Charlie Sheen-ism come 2012: “Winning!”

By: Charles Blow, Op-Ed columnist; Original article published in The New York Times, March 4, 2011

March 5, 2011 Posted by | GOP, Tea Party | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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