Archive for the ‘American Superstitions’ Category


Why Is Christian America Supporting Donald Trump?

John Fea teaches American history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. He is the author of the new book, Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (Eerdmans Publishing, June 2018).

 

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A week ago Sunday, June 24, 2018, First Baptist Church of Dallas held its annual “Freedom Sunday.” The church website described the special service this way: “Celebrate our freedom as Americans and our freedom in Christ with patriotic worship and a special message from Dr. Robert Jeffress, “America is a Christian Nation.”

Not everyone in Dallas was happy about it. Robert Wilonsky, an opinion writer at the Dallas Morning News, wrote that Jeffress and the First Baptist Church were “divisive” for claiming that America was a Christian nation. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings agreed. Atheists protested. Eventually, the billboard company contracting with the church removed signs advertising Freedom Sunday.

This, of course, did not stop the service from going forward. The people of First Baptist Church spent the morning of the 24th waving American flags, wearing red, white, and blue shirts, singing the Star-Spangled Banner, and celebrating the United States military. Vice-president Mike Pence sent a letter of encouragement.

Was this a religious service or a celebration of nationalism? What was the object of the congregation’s worship?

Jeffress has been preaching his “America is a Christian Nation” sermon for a long time. On Sunday he stuck with his usual script. He indicted the “secularists, atheists, and infidels” for “perverting” the Constitution. He chided the federal government’s failure to acknowledge God in the public square. He told his congregation that academics, historians, and teachers have been lying to them about the religious roots of the United States.

Jeffress made one problematic historical reference after another. He made the wildly exaggerated claim that fifty-two of the original fifty-five signers of the Constitution were “orthodox conservative Christians.” He peddled the false notion that the disestablishment clause in the First Amendment was meant to apply solely to Protestant denominations.

Near the end of the sermon, Jeffress suggested that spikes in violence, illegitimate births, divorce, and low SAT scores in America are the direct product of the Supreme Court’s decision to remove prayer and Bible-reading from public schools.

Jeffress concluded the service with an altar call. He asked people to come to the front of the church and profess their faith in Jesus Christ. I am sure Jeffress was sincere in his desire to lead people to Jesus, but after his message it was unclear whether he was inviting them to accept Jesus Christ as Savior or embrace the idea that the United States was founded, and continues to be, a Christian nation. Maybe both.

***

Robert Jeffress is best known as a Fox News religion commentator and one of the first evangelical leaders to support Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. He has called Trump “the most faith-friendly president in history.”

Within two weeks following the announcement of his candidacy, several polls had Trump leading among white evangelical GOP voters. In November 2016, 81% of these evangelicals cast their vote for Donald Trump for President of the United States. The reasons for this are complex, and we probably need to wait a generation or two before historians can begin to make sense of them, but three young sociologists have published a scholarly essay that suggests the most plausible explanation.

Andrew Whitehead of Clemson University, Sam Perry of the University of Oklahoma, and Joseph O. Baker of East Tennessee State University argue that “the more someone believed the United States is—and should be—a Christian nation, the more likely they were to vote for Trump.” They conclude that “no other religious factor influenced support for or against Trump.”

These sociologists found that the average Trump voter believes the federal government should: declare the United States a Christian nation, advocate for Christian values, oppose the “strict separation of church and state,” allow the “display of religious symbols in public spaces,” and return prayer to public schools. Likewise, Trump voters believe that whatever success the United States has had over the years is “part of God’s plan.”

This essay is revealing, and it confirms much of what I have written about since the 2011 release of my Was American Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction. But it does not address why and how Americans have come to believe these things. The answer to that question invites us to think historically.

Ever since the founding of the republic, a significant number of Americans have supposed that the United States is exceptional because it has a special place in God’s unfolding plan for the world. Since the early 17th century founding of the Massachusetts Bay colony by Puritans, evangelicals have relished in their perceived status as God’s new Israel—His chosen people. America, they argued, is in a covenant relationship with God. The defenders of this idea like to apply Chronicles 7:14 to the United States: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Though dissenters have always been present, the Christian culture of the United States remained intact well into the 20th century. But since World War II, the moorings of this culture have loosened, and evangelicals have responded with fear that their Christian nation is about to collapse. Robert Jeffress is correct about this.

During the 1960s, the Supreme Court removed prayer and Bible reading from public schools, the federal government cut federal funding to Christian academies and colleges that practiced segregation, the country grew more diverse through immigration, and the sexual revolution threatened evangelical patriarchy and gave women the right to choose to have an abortion.

The fear that America’s Christian civilization was falling apart translated into political action. In the late 1970s, conservative evangelicals such as Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye (the author of the popular Left Behind novels), and a group of politicians who had been closely affiliated with the 1964 Barry Goldwater presidential campaign, developed a political playbook to win back the culture from the forces of secularization. Most of the 81% of American evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 understood, and continue to understand, the relationship between their faith and their politics through this playbook.

This playbook, which would eventual become the culture-war battle plan of the “Religious Right,” was tweaked occasionally over the years to address whatever moral issues seemed most important at the time, but it never lost its focus on “restoring,” “renewing,” and “reclaiming” America for Christ through the pursuit of political power.

When executed properly, the playbook teaches evangelicals to elect the right President and members of Congress who will pass laws privileging evangelical Christian views of the world. These elected officials will then appoint and confirm conservative Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, defend life in the womb, and uphold religious liberty for those who believe in traditional views of marriage.

The playbook rests firmly on the Religious Right’s understanding of American identity as rooted in its view of the American past. If America was not founded as a Christian nation, the Religious Right’s political agenda collapses or, at the very least, is weakened severely.

To indoctrinate its followers in the dubious claim that America was founded as a Christian nation, the Religious Right has turned to political activists, many of whom claim to be historians, to propagate the idea that the founding fathers of the United States were in the business of building a Christian nation.

The most prominent of these Christian nationalist purveyors of the past is David Barton, the founder of Wallbuilders, an organization in Aledo, Texas that claims to be “dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built—a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined.” Barton and Wallbuilders were the source of most of the historical information Jeffress presented in his Freedom Sunday sermon on June 24th.

For the past thirty years, Barton has provided pastors and conservative politicians with inaccurate or misinterpreted facts used to fuel the Religious Right’s nostalgic longings for an American Christian golden age. American historians, including those who teach at the most conservative Christian colleges, have debunked Barton’s use of the past, but he continues to maintain a large following in the evangelical community.

David Barton peddles fake news about the American past. Yet, if Andrew Whitehead, Sam Perry, and Joseph Baker are correct, his work is essential to the success of the Trump presidency in a way that I imagine even Donald Trump and his staff do not fully understand or appreciate.

Trump does not talk very much about America’s supposedly Christian origins. His grasp of history is not very strong. But his evangelical supporters see him as a gift of God—a divinely appointed figure who has emerged on the scene for such a time as this. He is in the White House to preserve God’s covenant with America, to make America Christian again.

The support for the President is a sign of intellectual laziness in the evangelical community. Rather than thinking creatively about how to move forward in hope, Trump evangelicals prefer to respond to cultural change by trying to reclaim a Christian world that is rapidly disappearing, has little chance of ever coming back, and may never have existed in the first place.

The American founding fathers lived in a world that was very different from our own. In the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century, America was a nation of Christians—mostly Protestants—who put their stamp on the culture.

Yet, amid this Christian culture, the founders differed about the relationship between Christianity and their new nation. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison defended the separation of church and state. John Adams and George Washington also opposed mixing church and state, while at the same time suggesting that Christians, because Christianity taught an ethic of selflessness, could be useful in the creation of a virtuous republic in which citizens sacrificed self-interest for the common good.

The founding fathers believed in God, but most of them did not believe that God inspired the Old and New Testaments or sent His son to die and rise from the dead as the ultimate payment for human sin. The God of the Declaration of Independence is a providential deity who created the world and the people in it, but there is nothing in this important American document that defines this God in terms of the Incarnation or the Trinity.

The United States Constitution never mentions God or Christianity but does forbid religious tests for office. The First Amendment rejects a state-sponsored church and celebrates the free-exercise of religion. This is hardly the kind of stuff by which Christian nations are made. Yet Barton and Jeffress invoke these founders and these documents to defend the idea that the United States was founded as a distinctly Christian nation.

***

If the Christian Right, and by extension the 81% of evangelical voters who use its political playbook, are operating on such a weak historical foundation, why doesn’t someone correct their faulty views and dubious claims?

We do.

We have.

But countering bad history with good history is not as easy as it sounds. David Barton and his fellow Christian nationalist purveyors of the past are well-funded by Christian conservatives who know that the views of the past they are peddling serve their political agenda. Barton has demonized Christian intellectuals and historians as sheep in wolves’ clothing. They may call themselves Christians on Sunday morning, but, according to Barton, their “world view” has been shaped by the secular universities where they earned their Ph.Ds. Thanks to Barton, many conservative evangelicals do not trust academic and professional historians—even academic and professional historians with whom they share a pew on Sunday mornings.

I know this first-hand from some of the negative emails and course evaluation forms I received after teaching a Sunday School course on the history of religion and politics at the Evangelical Free Church congregation where my family worship every Sunday. Because I was a college history professor—even a college history professor at a Christian college with strong evangelical roots—I could not be trusted.

What David Barton does not understand is that there are hundreds of evangelical historians who see their work as part of their Christian identity and vocation. These historians are women and men who pursue truth about the past wherever it leads. This pursuit of truth is a deeply Christian pursuit, as is the case with all efforts to distinguish truth from error.

When people like David Barton cherry-pick from the past to promote political agendas, they do a disservice to the past, fail to treat it with integrity, and ultimately harm their Christian witness in the world. They make evangelicals look foolish. This is not what Paul described in 1 Corinthians 1:18 as the “foolishness of the cross,” it is just good old-fashioned foolishness. It is a product of what evangelical historian Mark Noll has described as the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.”

Many of us engaged in trying to bring good history to the evangelical church need the support of Christians who are concerned about the direction Donald Trump, the Christian Right, and the pseudo-historians who prop-up their political agenda are trying to take the country and the church. Good history is complex. It is nuanced. And it is an essential part of truly worshipping God with our minds (Luke 10:27). Unfortunately, complexity, nuance, and intellectual discipleship are not the kinds of subjects that inspire Christians to dig into their pocketbooks.

What would it take to fund evangelical historians to travel to receptive churches around the country and spend some concentrated time teaching American religious history, and American history more broadly, to lay men and women? Perhaps such visits could also include times of worship and prayer?

It is unlikely that such an effort would reach the Robert Jeffress’ of the world. but there are many evangelicals who are open and willing to listen and learn. This was another lesson I took away from my Sunday School class. In fact, the criticism I received paled in comparison with the positive comments I got from those who had never heard a fellow evangelical offer a different, more accurate, view of American history.

American evangelical political engagement is built on a very weak historical foundation. It is time that Christian philanthropists, motivated by an entrepreneurial spirit informed by the pursuit of truth and a concern for the testimony of the Gospel in the world, take the long view and invest in responsible Christian thinking about the American past. The American republic, and more importantly, the witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, depends on it.

 

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Obama, Assassination, and the Antichrist Conspiracy
Chip Berlet on the connections
Randall Gross Nov 19, 2011

[Link: http://www.talk2action.org/story/2011/11/19/153758/35/Front_Page/Obama_Assassination_and_the_Antichrist_Conspiracy]

Even if the shooter is a thorough crackpot his delusions did not form in a vacuum. Hate sites like Prison Planet, Atlas Shrugs, and Farrah’s World Net Daily all do most of the heavy lifting for these conspiracy theories and delusions. Oprah is not a hate site, but she does her share of aiding and abetting delusion with promotion of pseudoscience and magical thinking disguised as pop pscyh self help, so it’s really not a contradiction that he addressed a video to her, even though many on the right will grasp at that and say aha!

The alleged shooter charged with attempting to assassinate President Obama, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, apparently thinks our Commander in Chief is an agent of Satan in an End Times war. Sarah Posner has explained the basics in an article “‘Obama the Antichrist’ and end-times doctrine.” I warned about the possibility of the demonization of Obama leading to more violence in a book chapter published in 2010 “The Roots of Anti-Obama Rhetoric.” Here is a slightly revised version of what I wrote:

Many Americans believe Obama is a Muslim. Others are convinced he was not born in Hawaii and is thus not eligible to be President. Some say Obama is the Antichrist of Biblical prophecy.

A September 2009 poll in New Jersey found that 14% of Republicans believed that President Obama was the Antichrist—Satan’s agent in the End Times according to one reading of the Bible’s Book of Revelation. Another 15% thought it might be possible.

The results across political allegiances, however, were also troubling; with 8% of respondents statewide saying they thought Obama was the Antichrist and 13% stating they “aren’t sure”. The poll also found that “21% of respondents, including 33% of Republicans, express the belief that Obama was not born in the United States”.

According to the pollster, these are “eye popping numbers” (“Extremism in New Jersey”, 2009). The mobilization of apocalyptic expectation among Christian Evangelicals in the United States has been shown to be an effective mobilization strategy by the Christian Right and allies in the Republican Party (Boyer, 1992; Fuller 1995). This is especially true among fundamentalists (Barron, 1992; Mason, 2002; Berlet, 2008). This millenarian mood is spread from religious into secular communities, often through conspiracy theories (Brasher, 2000).


10 Signs God Is Furious With the Right
Whatever disaster strikes, there’s always an upside in
religious rightland, always somebody to point the finger at with glee. Let’s
turn the tables.
September 16, 2011  |
Editor’s note: the following is satire… for the most part.

Why is it that whenever disaster strikes, right-wing religious nuts seem to
have all the fun? Some might say it’s just because they’re sadists, but they
always seem to find the silver lining. 9/11? God’s calling on America to repent!
(No, not for it’s foreign policy, you dummy!) Hurricane Katrina? It was that
darned homosexual parade the organizers forgot to tell anyone about!

Whatever disaster strikes, there’s always an up-side in religious rightland,
always somebody to point the finger at with glee. How come they get all the
fun?

So when the East Coast got a one-two punch last month, earthquake-hurricane
within a few days of one another, it got me thinking. When another hurricane
followed up afterward, it was more than I could bear. And so, I offer you a list
of God’s Top 10 Targets from a
not-so-right-but-possibly-more-righteous point of view.

There are at least three different ways to approach this subject, and we have
examples of all three. First is to identify specific target groups for repeated
offenses—sinners who just won’t mend their ways. Second is to identify
geographic targets for specific offenses—sin city or state, as the case may be.
Third is to identify specific individuals.

1. Republicans, for bearing false witness.

It’s not just one of the Ten Commandments — the Bible has repeated warnings
against slander, false testimony and plain old lying. But Republicans apparently
think that God was talking to somebody else—the exact opposite of their usual
assumption—especially since Barack Obama arrived on the scene. Obama was born in
Kenya, he is a Muslim, he’s a socialist, a Marxist, a fascist, he hates white
people (like his mom and his grandparents), he hangs out with terrorists. It
goes on and on and on.

God has repeatedly told them not to act like this—yet they pay Him no mind.
It’s not just Obama, either. When it comes to science, things get just as bad,
be it evolution, global warming, reproductive health, or gender orientation;
when the science isn’t on their side, the lying and slander take up the slack.
It’s not just that the science is against them, you see. Scientists are
fraudsters; they are always conspiring against God and his people, according to
some of the more whacked out types—like GOP senators, for example. God may have
a great deal of patience, but when folks start trying to drag Him into the mix,
that’s when the earthquakes and hurricanes begin.

2. The Religious Right, for ignoring Jesus on the separation of
church and state.

More than 1,600 years before John Locke and 1,700 years before Thomas
Jefferson weighed in on the subject, Jesus said, “Render therefore unto Caesar
that which is Caesar’s and unto God those things which are God’s.” (What’s more,
he said that, in part, as a way of opting out of a tax revolt!) But the
Religious Right defiantly continues to oppose Him. God’s been extremely patient
with them over the years, but that patience has finally run out, as the most
anti-separationist elements of the Religious Right—known as dominionists—have come increasingly to the fore.

Some might say they’re embarrassing Him personally. Others will say it’s starting to get
really dangerous. Whatever the reason, God’s had enough.

3. The nativist right and the GOP, for a rash of anti-immigrant
laws.

“Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in
the land of Egypt.” Exodus 22:21 could not be clearer—unless, of course, we
switched from the King James Bible to the New International Version: “Do not
mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.”

But for some in the GOP, them’s fightin’ words. All they can think about is
disobeying God. They are positively possessed with the Satanic spirit of
disobedience. It began with Arizona’s SB-1070 last year. And while a number of
states followed Arizona’s lead with anti-immigrant laws of their own, the most
notorious was Alabama, which faced “a
historic outbreak of severe weather” in April.

The same day the law was signed, Alabama’s Episcopal, Methodist and Roman
Catholic churches filed a separate lawsuit, claiming the law unconstitutionally
interferes with their right of religious freedom. Church leaders said the law
“will make it a crime to follow God’s command.” Among other things, the suit
said, “The bishops have reason to fear that administering of religious
sacraments, which are central to the Christian faith, to known undocumented
persons may be criminalized under this law.”  If criminalizing Christian
sacraments isn’t inviting divine retribution, what is?

4. The predatory lending industry and all who enable
them.

There are numerous Bible passages condemning usury. Typical of these is
Exodus 22:25: “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do
not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest.” Naturally, the whole of
modern capitalism is built on ignoring a broad reading of this. But predatory
lending is a particularly egregious form of defiance. It’s proved rather costly
to our country as well.

A Wall Street Journal article on December 31, 2007 reported that Ameriquest Mortgage
and Countrywide Financial, two of the largest U.S. mortgage lenders, spent $20.5
million and $8.7 million respectively in political donations, campaign
contributions, and lobbying activities between 2002 and 2006 in order to defeat
anti-predatory lending legislation. Such practices contributed significantly to
the financial crisis that plunged us into the Great Recession. But it seems that
wasn’t a clear enough lesson, especially since those who lobbied most intensely
benefited most from the bailouts as well, according to an IMF
study
. So earthquakes and hurricanes are an old school, Old Testament way
for God to make his point.

5. The GOP, for its contempt for the poor.

For more than half a century, the GOP has attacked Democrats and liberals for
their concern for the poor. At least since the 1980s, the neo-liberal wing of
the Democratic Party has tried to distance themselves from the poor, and
reposition the party as defenders of the middle class, instead. The GOP has
responded with policies to impoverish the middle class as well, so that they can
be safely demonized, too.

But the GOP’s venom for all but the wealthy has reached new heights during
the Great Recession. Not only should those who caused the crisis be taken care
of while all others suffer—far too many national Democratic politicians seem to
agree on that one—but a renewed rhetoric of contempt for the poor has emerged,
in direct contradiction to what Jesus said, in Luke 6:20: “Blessed are you who
are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

Increasingly, it seems, Republicans don’t think poor people are even
human. In January 2010, South Carolina Lt. Governor Andre Baurer (R) compared poor people to stray animals: He told an audience
that his grandmother told him “as a small child to quit feeding stray animals.
You know why? Because they breed.” He compared this to government assistance,
which he said is “facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person
ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too
much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail
that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.” Then, in early August,
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, the frontrunner for the GOP senate
nomination, compared poor people to scavenging racoons. Talk like that is
what causes earthquakes and hurricanes.

6. Privatized public utilities, for the worship of
Mammon.

Public utilities are natural monopolies, totally unsuited to private
enterprise, since there is no competitive marketplace. This, of course, makes
them perfect targets for monopoly capitalists—Mammon’s greatest worshipers.

Against them, God struck a mighty blow. In Mansfield, Massachusetts, which
has had its own municipal power service since 1903, electrical service was
restored for most customers within 24 hours after Irene hit, even though 4,000
out of 9,500 households had lost power—quite unlike what happened to nearby
communities served by a commercial outfit. According to a local report, the storm “uprooted old trees and knocked down
utility lines all over town.”

“Unlike homes and businesses in Easton, Norton and Foxboro, however, local
customers did not have to wait for National Grid to respond with crews or listen
to a recording on the telephone…. [M]uch of Easton waited three days for power
to return and areas of communities such as Foxboro are still in the dark.”
According to another report, about Foxborough, “The outrage expressed… is
similar to the movie Network in the scene where people flung open their windows
and said, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.’”

Then there are a couple of geographically specific targets:

7. Virginia.

Virginia was the site of the earthquake’s epicenter and the second state
where Irene made landfall, so the state is a target-rich environment.

There’s House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. On God’s bulls-eye scale, the
epicenter near Mineral, Virginia is in Cantor’s district—a direct hit. And in
budget negotiations this year, Cantor’s contempt for the poor came through loud
and clear. He’s been the most aggressive congressional leader when it comes to
budget-cutting and pushing the economy as hard as possible over the cliff. Then,
after the earthquake hit, Cantor said any federal relief would have to be offset
with spending cuts, and quipped, “Obviously, the problem is that people in
Virginia don’t have earthquake insurance.” He reiterated his demand for offsetting cuts when Hurricane Irene hit shortly
afterward—even though he voted against such a provision after Tropical Storm Gaston hit
the Richmond area in 2004.

Then there’s Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. No way he escapes
God’s wrath. Cuccinelli’s widely criticized witch-hunt against eminent climate scientist Michael Mann
represents the most extreme right-wing attack on the mythical “climate-gate”
scandal, which consisted primarily of scientists making snide remarks about
ignoramuses like Cuccinelli. He’s all wrapped up in sin of bearing false
witness. Which is where Hurricane Irene comes in—although it surely doesn’t help
that Cuccinelli is suing to keep people sick, and has told Virginia’s colleges
and universities that they can’t ban anti-gay discrimination.

And, of course, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has tried to have it both
ways with God, as well as with the people of Virginia. On the one hand, all the
way back in 1989, he wrote a Christian Reconstructionist M.A. thesis, “The
Republican Party’s Vision for the Family: The Compelling Issue of the Decade” at
the College of Law at Pat Robertson’s Regent University. McDonnell’s authorship
of the thesis came to light during his 2009 campaign for governor, but because
the establishment is in deep denial about Dominionism in general, and Christian Reconstructionism in
particular, the full weight of his thesis never really sunk in. On the other
hand, McDonnell has tried very assiduously to walk away from that past, given
that almost no one wants to admit to such extreme views. He’s wobbled back and forth on a number of issues, but generally
tried to strike a reasonable demeanor—in sharp contrast to Cuccinelli. But God
doesn’t like folks who run hot and cold, which is why McDonnell’s a target,
too.

Finally, just to be a wee bit bipartisan about it, we need to include
Virginia’s Democratic Senator Mark Warner in our list—though with a bit of
twist. On the day of the earthquake, Warner was scheduled to speak at the
Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpepper,
Virginia. He arrived about 10 minutes after the quake, according to the local Star Exponent, which reported:

The building had been emptied of its staff and the approximate 75 people who
came to hear Warner so the former governor talked from under a tree atop Mount
Pony.

“I was not going to mention the fact that one of the last times I was in
Culpeper there was a tornado,” he said of an appearance years ago at
CulpeperFest marked by wild weather. “If you don’t want me to come back, there’s
an easier way to do this. If we start seeing frogs, it may be a sign of things
to come,” he said.

So it’s not that God is angry with Warner, exactly. He just targets Warner
for amusement, to see what he’ll say next. And, of course, because he, too,
represents Virginia, truly a state of sin.

8. North Carolina.

Hurricane Irene could have barreled directly into South Carolina, but it
delivered a stiff upper-cut to North Carolina instead. And why not? Governor Bev
Perdue tried her darnedest to protect the state. She vetoed its draconian budget
bill, only to see her veto over-ridden. It too was an attack on the poor — the bill
didn’t just fail to balance spending cuts with tax increases, it actually let a
temporary one-cent sales tax expire, along with some income taxes on high
earners, while cutting $124 million in local education funding on top of $305
million cut in previous years. Perdue also vetoed a highly restrictive abortion
law—one that, among other things, has a 24-hour waiting period, and force-feeds
anti-abortion propaganda to women seeking an abortion—call it the “Bearing False
Witness By Doctors Act.” But that veto was over-ridden as well—by a single vote in the
state senate. So, really, God’s hand was forced on this one. He had no choice
but to strike North Carolina, and strike it hard.

Finally, there are two individual targets to consider:

9. Rick Perry.

While the one-two punch of the Virginia earthquake and Hurricane Irene were
far removed from Texas Governor Rick Perry’s stomping grounds, God had not
forgotten Perry, but was merely preparing to toy with him. Perry, after all, had
responded to a terrible drought in Texas not by implementing any long-term
policy measures (which might make Texas better able to deal with the prospects
of more severe droughts to come as global warming impacts increase), but by
calling on Texans to pray.

Back in April, Perry proclaimed the “three-day period from Friday, April 22,
2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of
Texas.” Since then, however, things have only gotten worse, as Timothy Egan noted in the NY Times “Opinionator”
blog, “[A] rainless spring was followed by a rainless summer. July was the
hottest month in recorded Texas history….Nearly all of Texas  is now in
‘extreme or exceptional’ drought, as classified by federal meteorologists, the
worst in Texas history. Lakes have disappeared. Creeks are phantoms, the caked
bottoms littered with rotting, dead fish.”

Somehow, though, it seemed like most folks outside of Texas had no idea of
Perry’s failed prayer initiative. That’s where God came in, following up Irene
with the tantalizing prospect of a Gulf of Mexico storm that would finally bring
relief to the Longhorn state. But alas no. First Tropical Storm Jose petered out
entirely, then Tropical Storm Lee turned to Louisiana instead. If you pray with
Perry, you obviously take the Lord’s name in vain. As one frustrated Texan wrote on Reddit, “Perry’s prayer has been answered. The answer
was ‘No’.” God is making things perfectly clear, as Richard Nixon would say: If
you want someone praying for America in the White House, Rick Perry is not your
guy.

10 God.

Yes, it’s true, God Himself was one of the main targets of God’s wrath,
particularly during the earthquake, which did remarkably little damage to the
living. But, as Rob Kerby noted at BeliefNet, churches took some pretty hard hits:

“Churches seemed to bear the brunt of Tuesday’s 5.8 earthquake on the East
Coast.

“Significant damage was reported to Washington, D.C.’s National Cathedral and
St. Peter’s Catholic Church, historic St. Patrick’s Church near Baltimore, and
two churches in Culpepper, Va., close to the epicenter — St. Stephen Episcopal
Church and Culpepper Christian Assembly.”

Okay, so maybe God’s not self-flagellating. Maybe it’s the tenants who are
being targeted. But who’s to say, really? And if the God’s wrath biz is all
about appropriating authority to cast blame around, then why not think really
big, and proclaim God Himself to be the target? Pat Robertson & company have
monopolized this gig for far too long. If the rest of us are to have any hope of
catching up, we’re got to make ourselves a splash. And what better way to make a
splash than proclaiming that God is the target?


When Religious Pandering Goes Too Far?

by Hemant Mehta

I’m used to politicians pandering to religious Americans.

There’s more of them, so there are more votes to be gained by speaking their “language.” That coupled with the fact that President Obama is a Christian just meant we could expect a lot of religious references in his speech in Tucson, Arizona yesterday.

I wasn’t disappointed:

There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts. But know this: the hopes of a nation are here tonight. We mourn with you for the fallen. We join you in your grief. And we add our faith to yours that Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other living victims of this tragedy pull through.

As Scripture tells us:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall;

God will help her at break of day.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, “when I looked for light, then came darkness.” Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.

May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in restful and eternal peace. May He love and watch over the survivors. And may He bless the United States of America.

I’m sure a lot of you feel it’s too much. He shouldn’t have made any religious references at all and this was overkill.

But somehow, none of those passages fazed me. They went in one ear and out the other. I’m so used to hearing them by now, I feel almost immune to them.

Until I heard the President talk about Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl who died in the shooting. Obama spoke about her in some detail early in his speech, and then at the end of it, he said this:

If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today.

Ugh…

No. There are no rain puddles in heaven. Christina is not jumping in them. Hell, there’s not even a heaven in the first place.

I hate this idea that we have to create imaginary memories for people who die young, as if we couldn’t find anything happier to remember them by during their lifetimes. For all the joy Christina surely provided her family with during her life, Obama chose instead to invoke this fake scenario that I feel cheapens her memory.

I realize I’m probably overreacting. This was one line in a very long (and honestly beautiful) speech.

It just rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t know if I’m alone in this.