Liberalism: A Fresh Look

[Note: Two additional articles in this blog will add to the reader’s understanding of the issues raised here: Unemployment: Victory or Defeat in a Progressive Society and Christian Reconstructionism: American Taliban.] 

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Politically and religiously oriented conservatives have been traditionally  aggressive, intolerant and determined, while their liberal counterparts were generally laid back, tolerant, live-and-let-live types.   Liberals have assumed that since the relatively liberal society in America has worked so well no one would seriously wish to change it. This naïve, complacent approach is rapidly bringing America and ultimately the world to a danger point.

America and most of the rest of the world have gradually become more liberal in the sense that it has embraced, welcomed, and actively sought to bring about change and progress, accepting new ideas, inventions, lifestyles, laws, and forms of government. These changes involve freedom of religion, freedom from religion, evolution, democracy and concern for the less fortunate. This trend has no doubt given legitimacy, support, and comfort to liberals, lessening their sense of urgency in defending their values.

Society has made progress in living conditions for much of the population; demands for religious conformity by the church and state of earlier times have relaxed; and the Inquisition, harsh laws, and slavery have become mostly extinct. Perhaps because of these improvements in the human condition, liberals have become less concerned with threats to freedom. The Enlightenment should have secured freedom for all from religious and political tyranny. With the problems of the united church and state throughout the world before them, and indeed already implanted in the new world, the supporters of the U.S. Constitution created perhaps the greatest liberal stroke in the history of the political and religious world—separation of church and state. What other action has had such a positive and profound impact on America and, by example, on the rest of the world? Indeed, this act may have been the most liberal action ever committed, coming as it did when the Inquisition was still active even in North America, and when the old church and state patterns of Europe had already settled into the colonies. The separation of church and state was radical, groundbreaking, bold, and courageous. It is amazing that they were able to bring it about. Their success suggests that Americans were ready for religious freedom as well as the political freedom that they had so recently won.

Freedom is the test of true belief and faith. It is when coercion, fear, control, oppression, and domination are absent that one can freely choose his/her belief; without that freedom all is doubt. It has been reported that when the “Christian” Europeans could not convert the Natchez Indians in the Mississippi Territory they tied them to stakes and piled kindling up around them at which time they gave their “heathen” captives a last chance to accept Christianity and go to heaven. The Indians asked if people such as their captors would be there, and upon receiving an affirmative answer they asked that the fire be started. In their freedom these “savages” knew what they believed.

The doctrine of Dominion began with the teachings of Cornelius Van Til, a native of Holland, who moved to Indiana in 1905 at the age of ten.  Van Til graduated from Princeton and taught there for decades.  He influenced Rousas John (R. J.) Rushdoony (1916-2001) who was born in New York to Armenian parents, and who became the father of Christian Reconstructionism.   The doctrine of Dominion was to become a central tenet in Christian Reconstructionism as we will see later.

Goals of Christian Reconstructionists include the following:

*To return Christianity to the practices of the law of Moses; which include  public stoning for disobedience to ones parents, idolatry, apostasy, heresy, blasphemy, witchcraft, adultery, homosexuality and unchaste behavior by women; and which includes execution of all who do not accept the belief system of Christian Reconstructionism,

*reclaim and dominate (gain dominion) the world for Jesus,

*abolish the heresy of democracy,

*reinstitute or legitimize slavery,

*abolish the U.S. Constitution.

The strategy used by Christian Reconstructionists to implement these beliefs is as effective as their beliefs are regressive. They work behind the scenes to influence targeted leaders (primarily conservative Republicans) and to prepare future leaders to implement their program. Methods they use include  home schooling, legal training and conservative think tanks. Legal training is provided by law schools such as Regent University School of law founded by TV evangelist Pat Robertson and Liberty University Law School, founded by the late Jerry Falwell. A large number of lawyers who were graduates of the two schools named above were employed in the Bush White House.

Reconstructionists have the support of the John Birch Society, Vision America, Council for National Policy, Operation Rescue, Providence Foundation and many more. Members of the Christian Reconstructionists group are now actively writing and promoting home schooling literature. And a Christian Reconstructionists controlled group, Dominion Educational Ministries, owns and operates Christian Day Care Centers.

The Christian Reconstructionists achieved a major victory when President G.W. Bush, upon failure of Congress to pass his faith based funding proposal, simply created it to his liking by Executive Order. Billions of dollars have been poured into this unconstitutional program that had virtually no built in accountability. Groups like the Pat Robinson Empire received millions that they could simply pass on to their favorite subgroups for their use. They were free to discriminate in hiring and to serve only those who were of their same belief system—while using federal tax dollars. President Obama, who vowed to stop this Executive Order driven program, has not done so. He is a constitutional scholar who knows this program is unconstitutional. Did he change his mind or was he confronted with unusual power dedicated to letting this gravy train run?

In short, Christian Reconstructionism is opposed to the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court, democracy, public education, religious freedom, pluralism, secular society, secular government and birth control to name a few.

In her excellent book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, Michelle Goldberg, ends with suggestions for a plan of action for those who do not agree with the Christian Reconstructionists or as she refers to them– Christian Nationalists.

She points out that our outdated political structure favors political conservatives. The small rural states tend to be more conservative in politics and religion. The 17 least-populous states have 7 percent of the population, but with each having 2 senators, control more than a third (34%) of the Senate. The smaller states also have the advantage in the archaic Electoral College; thus, the Conservatives have the structural advantage. Goldberg suggests that liberals must begin the long-term work needed to even out these inequities. This means they must work toward abolishing the anti-democratic Electoral College and change the formula for apportionment of senatorial representation.

The author of Kingdom Coming decries the tendency of liberals to accept the conservative assigned label of elitism. She recommends that they learn the facts and start speaking up for their values. For example the “wholesome” heartland being obsessed with moral values has the highest divorce and teen pregnancy rates. The conservative South has the highest murder rate and liberal Northeast has the lowest. States with the highest rated schools were blue and the lowest were red. It is time, she says, for liberals to develop a sense of pride in the results of their values.

Goldberg points to the difference between the operations of a political party and a movement. The party attempts to bring about change by starting where the people are, by compromise and addressing the beliefs people hold. A movement tries to bring about change by changing their thinking. The movement shapes the culture before a political candidate can successfully reflect its values. She says that one way to start doing both is to become involved in grassroots local politics. This is what the extreme right Christian Coalition did. They organized small neighborhood groups, held workshops, identified friendly voters and passed out literature. Later they got elected to local offices and passed ordinances and laws that worked to their advantage.

By doing something like this Liberals could work toward exposing discrimination in hiring among those who get faith-based funds such as the Salvation Army, local church schools, church sponsored social service programs. It could, by shining light on such activities, force the Christian Reconstructionists to explain why they should be allowed to discriminate using public funds. There should be national groups (Think Tanks) for liberals. And there should be local support groups for liberals confronted with challenges such as those to schools contemplating or being pressured to introduce creationism in the science classrooms. Today there are the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, both national organizations doing a good job, but more is needed at the local and national levels. An area ripe for intervention in some communities is the refusal of some druggists to fill birth control or so-called “morning after” prescriptions. There are many possibilities here such as identifying such druggists for economic consequences, creating an awareness of the issue for public debate and passing local ordinances and local or state laws for notification to the public when one has a policy that puts clients at jeopardy.

Crisis theory posits that people are more open to new ideas, ameliorative action or change when there is a crisis. Such was the case on 9/11/2001 when we had a leader who was prone to make the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons—a man who had been influenced by Christian Reconstructionists and who some said was God’s choice for President. And most importantly, who saw himself as God’s choice to avenge the nation. In a very short time we moved backward toward the Law of Moses, away from the constitution, away from the liberal values we had worked for 500 years to develop, and away from separation of church and state. We moved toward the idea that we Americans were given divine sanction to kill, conquer and convert those who were the enemy of Christianity. We could thereby gain dominion over our enemies. This was completely apart from punishing the perpetrators of the 9/11 atrocity. The resulting war (the president initially called it a Crusade) between fundamentalist America and fundamentalist Iraq and Afghanistan, was and continues to be, a war between fundamentalist religious groups. Will American liberalism have a chance to bring a reasonable balance leading to a peaceful resolution to the current conflict and prepare us for making a reasonable response if future attacks occur?

We need a vibrant two party system. The current gridlock deprives us of that. If the Christian Reconstructionists have their way we will eventually have a Dictator, King, Imam, Pope or TV Evangelist as our leader and no party to decide who that will be. Democracy will have vanished and we will have a religious ruler as in the days of old.

As Goldberg has so clearly enunciated, it is the task of a movement to lay the ground work, to create an environment in which ideas can take hold and grow and it is the task of the leader to interpret that movement’s message and transform it into action. Therein lies the root of the problem President Obama faces. The Christian Reconstruction movement has been making strides for decades and Liberals have barely started their own counter movement. It is time.

There are at least three major problems looming in our future, all of which are likely to ring the bell of  Hard Right Conservatives.

•Population experts believe that the world population is already several billions more than earth can support long-term and it is growing exponentially.

•Those experts predict that by the year 2045 the white population in America will be in the minority.

•We do not now and never will again need the entire workforce in America or worldwide. The percentage of the workforce needed will continue to shrink as automation matures and the population grows.

The issues surrounding these looming developments will keep liberals occupied for decades. Failure to create an environment in which these issues can be discussed in public debate would be disastrous.

At a minimum it seems that Liberal Democracy should have a statement proclaiming its creed, principles or philosophy. The nearest thing I have seen that could serve as a model for such a beginning statement is the “Statement of Principles” developed by Paul Kurtz and published in Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer. These journals are published by the Council for Secular Humanism and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry respectively.

Here are a few items from their Statement of Principles:

*We are committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems.

*We believe in the cultivation and excellence of moral excellence.

*We are committed to the principle of the separation of church and state.

*We believe in an open and pluralistic society and that democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.

*We believe in the common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness and responsibility….

Can Liberals organize to gather facts and promote such a statement in support of their cause? One complaint from religionists is that the non-religionists offer nothing to replace their dogma. Is something like this Statement of Principles or a Liberal Manifesto the answer?

In a pluralistic society the extremist Political/Religious Right has the right to attempt to restructure American culture, society and government in its own image, but given the history of liberalism in America and the courage and decency of its members, they should expect vigorous opposition.

The success of the Hard Right has been largely due to its strategy of stealth. Liberals are just now beginning to understand how the Hard Right operates and what its goals and strategies are. With this understanding comes the responsibility to take action. Liberals could study the strategies of the Hard Right and adopt those that are acceptable to them. High on the list of acceptable strategies would likely be the formation of local groups that would identify friends, distribute information, seek local offices, pass laws and ordinances that bring advantage to liberalism.

One strategy of the Christian Reconstructionists that likely would not be appropriate or acceptable is stealth; it is not acceptable because the issues must be confronted in public debate. A group that has been operating in darkness and shadows may be very uncomfortable in the sunlight.

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