“So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.” –Gary NorthThere’s been a lot of talk about “religious liberty” in the last few weeks, so I’m reposting segments of a January article with quotes from Christianity and Civilization, a Christian Reconstructionist journal, also published as part of a multi-volume set of booklets. My original post was part of a series on the Ludwig von Mises Institute and the “Theocratic Libertarianism” promoted by Gary North. In this version of the article I emphasize North’s concept of manipulating the doctrine of religious liberty to advance a theocratic agenda, and the reasons why Theocratic Libertarianism is seductive to corporate interests and think tanks that might not otherwise promote a regressive social agenda or partner with theocrats.
The next article in this series will include other authors from this multi-volume set of 1980s Reconstructionist booklets including Rousas Rushdoony, Pat Robertson, Francis Schaeffer, Joseph Morecraft, Larry Pratt, Paul Weyrich, John W. Whitehead, George Grant, Connie Marshner, Tom Rose, and Peter Lillback. Many of these contributors cannot be dismissed as isolated or fringe.
Throughout the United States, there is a centralized and well-funded “private school choice” movement to divert public tax dollars to private schools . Many of these schools are using A Beka Books and other fundamentalist texts that teach the same brand of biblical capitalism found in Christian Reconstructionism. As students are removed from the public education system and moved to private religious schools, many will be indoctrinated into the biblical economics worldview. This may help explain why hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent promoting “school reform” designed to shift students to private schools.
The corporate interests and right-wing foundations funding this effort may not be interested in stoning homosexuals, but the anti-labor, anti-regulatory, and anti-tax messages that are presented as part of a biblical worldview and education in these schools is obviously appealing. Previous articles at Talk2action.org have included quotes from these textbooks and information on schools in Pennsylvania, Florida, and other states, using tax dollars to fund scholarships for students in schools using these texts.
Christian Reconstructionism is often described as the movement that wants to execute adulterers, blasphemers, and homosexuals, by stoning. Since this is not likely to happen any time soon, the movement is often dismissed as fringe and inconsequential. The preoccupation with the stoning aspect has obscured the fact that many other foundational components of the movement have been mainstreamed in the Religious Right since the time when Gary North wrote the following words.
As you read the following quotes, consider how much of North’s philosophy is now commonplace, not only in the Christian Right but also in this year’s political campaigns. Also note that the current emphasis on the libertarian part of Theocratic Libertarianism has been developed over the decades since this volume was published and is now expressed in a veiled way that has proved to be appealing to many progressives.
One of the most revealing of Gary North’s writings is in the first volume of the journal Christianity and Civilization, published by the Geneva Divinity School in Spring, 1982. The entire issue was dedicated to a symposium on “The Failure of American Baptist Culture.” This would be the first in a series of booklets published on the failures of the early Religious Right and the need to “reconstruct” the church. Subsequent volumes were titled,
#2 The Theology of Christian Resistance
#3 Tactic of Christian Resistance
#4 Reconstruction of the Christian Church
The first and fourth volumes were edited by James B. Jordan and the second and third in the series by Gary North. My next article in this series will describe the subsequent volumes and other authors in more detail. The following quotes are from the first volume.According to Jordan,
“The New Christian Right has indicated time and time again, that it does not know what it is doing, and its program is riddled with contradictions.”
The Calvinist contributors to the journal were coming to the rescue to help the New Christian Right find “sure footing” and argued that the movement would have to abandon its “Baptist individualism” and adopt the Christian Reconstructionist’s brand of “full-orbed Biblical and Reformed Theology” in order to survive.The following quotes are from North’s article in the first volume titled “The Intellectual Schizophrenia of the New Christian Right.” North begins by describing the 1980 Religious Roundtable-sponsored event in Washington, D.C., which drew 15,000 people. The “National Affairs Briefing Conference” featured New Christian Right leaders and was keynoted by Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan. North describes it as “watershed moment for American fundamentalism.”
“The rally was a political rally; more precisely, it was a rally for politics as such, and for Christian involvement in politics. It was a break from almost six decades of political inaction on the part of American fundamentalist religious leaders.[p. 2]
“Bible principles” is a euphemism for Old Testament law. The leaders of the fundamentalist movement are generally premillennial dispensationalists. Some are believers in a pretribulation “rapture,” meaning that Christians will be secretly “called into the heavens” before the great tribulation of the nation of Israel. Others, a growing minority, are post-tribulationists, who think that Christians will go through the tribulation period before Christ comes to transform Christian believers into sinless, death-free people who will rule the world under Christ’s personal administration for a thousand years. All premillennialists believe that the world will become worse before Christ returns in person to set up his thousand-year reign, so that they have tended in the past to take a dim view of those who preached the moral necessity of social and political action. The campaign of 1980 changed this outlook. Now they are talking about restoring morality to politics by imposing “Bible principles” on the nation. Not Old Testament law exactly, yet “principles” based on Old Testament law. [p. 8]
North explains that the majority of American fundamentalists rejected Old Testament Law as valid because of their Dispensational theology and shunned political participation. He also explains how this began to change after the election of President Jimmy Carter, when the Christian Right was “stung” by the “self-proclaimed born again” Baptist who North described as “handpicked by David Rockefeller and the Trilateral Commission.”North credits Rousas Rushdoony, the founder of Christian Reconstructionism, as laying the foundation for political activism by the New Christian Right.
It was only with the publications written by R.J. Rushdoony, beginning in the early 1960’s, that any theologian began to make a serious, systematic, exegetical attempt to link the Bible to principles of limited civil government and free-market economics. [p. 11]
North then describes a “black-out” of Rushdoony’s work during the 60s and 70s, when he was not able to get his books reviewed in the Westminster Theological Journal with the exception of his Institutes of Biblical Law.
Thus, the fundamentalists have had no intellectual leadership throughout the twentieth century. Only with the revival of interest in creationism, which was made possible by Rushdoony’s support and Presbyterian and Reformed initial investment for The Genesis Flood, did the fundamentalist movement begin to get involved in arguments outside theology narrowly defined. [p. 11]
The 1960 book referred to by North, The Genesis Flood, was authored by Henry Morris and John Whitcomb, and is credited as triggering the modern revival of creationism.
In the speakers’ room at the National Affairs Briefing Conference, I spoke with Robert Billings, who had worked with Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority organization. (He was subsequently appointed to a high position in the Department of Education.) We were speaking of the conference, and what a remarkable event it was. We agreed that it was unfortunate that Rushdoony was not speaking. He said, If it weren’t for his books, none of us would be here.” I replied, “Nobody in the audience understands that.” His response: “True, but we do.” [p. 12]
The fundamentalist have picked up the phrase “secular humanism.” They do not know where they found it. It comes from Rushdoony’s writings throughout the 1960s. Rushdoony influenced lawyer John Whitehead, who helped popularize it in a new widely quoted article by Whitehead and former Congressman John Conlan. [p. 14]
Under the heading “State-Financed Education,” North writes,
Fundamentalists are still trying to win their battle for the public schools. Not all of them, perhaps, but enough of them, especially those who lead the creation science movement. In 1982, they were still trying to get the public schools of the state of Arkansas to adopt creationist materials to be taught as part of the schools’ curricula in science. They had already given away the case by arguing only that creationism is a legitimate theory and explanation of the origins of the universe and man, to be taught alongside of evolution. [p. 18]
The government schools are established as a humanist religion aimed at stamping out Christianity. This is what Rushdoony said in his pathbreaking scholarly study, The Messianic Character of American Education (1963) The creationists are still schizophrenic. They do not recognize the mythical nature of the objectivity hypothesis, and therefore they have chosen to do battle in terms of that mythical framework. They therefore have to grant the evolutionists, in advance, equal rights with God’s own revelation of Himself. If they refused to do this, they would have no legal case to get their materials into the public schools. Yet the public schools are a fraud; they are humanist schools that have had as their goal, since the days of Horace Mann, the express goal of wiping out Christianity. [p. 19]
Note that Gary North uses the term “government schools” in place of “public schools,” almost two decades before Dick DeVos recommended using the change as a way to promote school vouchers in his 2002 speechat the Heritage Foundation. Also note that Gary North is a signer of the Alliance for Separation of School and State mandate for the eradication of public schools. Other signers include Rep. Ron Paul and numerous Religious Right and free market think tank leaders, including Ed Crane, co-founder of the Koch-funded Cato Institute. Another little discussed component of the plutocratic and theocratic partnership is the role that Young Earth Creationism is playing politically. For example, if the earth is only a few thousand years old, then energy such as oil, gas, and coal, was formed rapidly and could be described as a renewable resource.North:
What is the proper argument? Simple: there is no neutrality, and since there is no neutrality, the present legal foundation of government-financed education is a fraud. Conclusion: close every government-financed school, tomorrow.Refund the taxes to the taxpayers. Let the taxpayers seek out their own schools for their children at their expense (or from privately financed scholarships or other donations).But the fundamentalist instinctively shy away from such a view. Why? Because they see where it necessarily leads: to a theocracy in which no public funds can be appropriated for anti-Christian activities, or to anarch, where there are no public funds to appropriate. It must lead to God’s civil government or no civil government. In short, it leads to either Rushdoony or Rothbard. Most fundamentalists have never heard of either man, but they instinctively recognize where the abandonment of the myth of neutrality could lead them. [p. 20]
Rothbard in the above quote is Murray Rothbard (1926 – 1995), the Austrian School economist who promoted “anarcho-capitalism.” He was a founder of the Cato Institute, one of several libertarian think tanks funded by Charles Koch. At LewRockwell.com, Rothbard is described as the dean of the Austrian School of economics, the founder of libertarianism, and an exemplar of the Old Right. Another LewRockwell.com articledescribes how Rothbard parted ways with the Cato Institute.North:
The Christians are caught in an intellectual bind. They use the doctrine of religious freedom to defend themselves, yet this involves, necessarily, the right of all other religious groups, including the satanic cults, to set up schools for their children and other people’s children. It means, in short, that Christians windy up giving “equal time” in society to the devil. [pp. 22-23]
In the next section, titled “The Christian School Movement,” North states that it is legitimate as a short term tactic for the movement to use the “doctrine of religious freedom” in order to buy some time. He argued previously that “religious liberty” is a trap because it allows rights to all religions and forms of belief. However, in the short term, it could be used strategically. This is where North makes the statement about religious liberty that I quoted in the beginning of this article, a quote worth repeating.
So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God. Murder, abortion, and pornography will be illegal. God’s law will be enforced. It will take time. A minority religion cannot do this. Theocracy must flow from the heart of a majority of citizens, just as compulsory education came only after most people had their children in schools of some sort. [p.25]
Rushdoony and North wrote extensively about changing the tax structure to align with biblical law. For instance, inheritance taxes would not be allowed. North writes in this article about taxes not exceeding the tithe.
The idea that the state has the right to get inside one’s mind or attempt to do so, is humanistic. It makes the state a pseudo-God. It also drains the resources of the state, which means that the state must collect taxes far above the tithe, yet the state’s taking a tithe was considered an affront to God…. A civil tax of 10% or more of one’s annual increase is satanic. [p.26]
North closes with advice to the New Christian Right on how to get out of the intellectual bind of the “doctrine of religious freedom” by pursuing their own definition of “religious liberty.”
In order to survive the onslaught of the humanists, Christians must oppose the humanists’ version of religious freedom, which is officially grounded in the myth of neutrality, and which is really being used to construct a temple of man, with tax revenues. We must argue that true religious liberty is exclusively for people to obey the social laws of the Bible. [p. 32]
We have to face up to the choice that must be made between God’s law or man’s law. We have to acknowledge the inescapable decision: God’s covenant or natural law? [pp. 37 -38]
North then spells out “The Tactics of Victory” for the New Christian Right.
The taste of political victory is sweet. The New Christian Right has had some victories. They have developed satellite television networks. They have created newsletter and mailing networks. In short, they have the means of achieving victory. What they lack is: 1) eschatological dynamism, 2) a program of social reconstruction, and 3) the willingness to abandon all traces of the myth of neutrality. When the taste of victory finally overcomes a century of pietistic retreat, the humanists will see their civilization salted over; a new society will replace the collapsing social order of today. If the New Christian Right abandons its schizophrenia – eschatological pessimism in the face of victories, antinomianism in the face of the power of biblical law, an outmoded “common ground” philosophy (neutrality doctrine) in the face of a consistent presuppositional biblical philosophy – then the humanists will at last have a real fight on their hands. [39 – 40]
In closing, I would argue that North’s advice has been taken very seriously over the last 30 years by much of the Christian Right, and that Christian Reconstructionism has been at least partially successful in redefining the meaning of “freedom” and “liberty” in a way that has escaped the notice of much of the American public.
For more information on the success of Gary North and other Dominionists in drawing large numbers of Charismatics and Pentecostals away from pre-Tribulation eschatology and into Dominionist belief, see Frederick Clarkson series on Theocratic Dominionism including Part Three, No Longer Without Sheep and my previous article The Rise of Charismatic Dominionism. Also see the following articles at Talk2action.org on “Biblical Capitalism” and the role it has played in the current war on unions and federal regulatory policy including:
- Catholic Bishops: ‘Religious Liberty’ Includes Right To Discriminate Against Gay People, Impose Values (thinkprogress.org)
- My Take: Catholics bishops against the common good (religion.blogs.cnn.com)
- Blowback against Specific acts of Religious Intolerance seeking legal status is not a War against Religion (skydancingblog.com)
- Inside NOM’s Strategy: Use ‘Religious Liberty’ As A Catalyzing Red Herring (thinkprogress.org)