American Religion Went Hog Wild

We have made ourselves the New Jerusalem, the shining light on the hill, the hope for humanity, incapable of doing evil, our thoughtless cruelties irrelevant, our selfish immaturities unnoticed, our war dead cleansed of sin and escorted into the presence of the Almighty, our history written in whitewash, our God dressed in red, white and blue.

DA Fletcher, 2007

Haven’t Americans Noticed?

Haven’t Americans noticed that a revamped fundamentalist Christianity has run amok in their country, occupying parcels of power that have traditionally been vetoed to sectarian religion? Political America, with its underlying ideology and institutions, was conceived by the founders to be rigorously separate from religion. Their concept of religious freedom, expressed in the very first amendment to the US Constitution, guaranteed freedom for all religions, except for the freedom to govern. Both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison felt that state support for any religion was improper. They argued that compelling citizens to support through taxation a faith they did not follow violated their natural right to religious liberty.

Just as Jefferson and Madison, the principal authors of the Declaration of Inedpendence and the US Constitution, respectively, considered religion a personal matter, not one to be imposed upon the citizenry as a whole. Religion has no legitimate role in the executive nor the legislative, nor the judicial branches of government. Adding religious components to American democracy runs the risk of converting the country into an Iranian-style theocracy. In fact, the first steps in that direction have already been taken, both with President Obama’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership and President Trump’s White House’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative.

You Have to See It to Believe It

The most extravagant writer of fiction could not have invented the grotesque metamorphosis that Americans have imposed on their religion. Not all of them, mind you, but enough of them to assure that the humble, humane Christian gospel will never be the same again in America. And the intrusion of this hyped-up-and-dumbed-down religious movement is having an equally damaging effect on the American government and the country as a whole. This intrusion of semi-literate televangelists into the government at its highest levels may or may not be in accordance with the Constitution, but it certainly merits some serious debate, and that debate isn’t happening.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the Americans have metamorphosed Christianity, to their own use, but the direction and extent of that Americanization is alarming. One of the immediate results should preoccupy Christian congregations. The behavior of a large segment of American Christians reflects the same dangerous characteristics they love to blame on fanatical versions of other religions around the world: integrist fundamentalism, homicidal bellicosity and God-is-on-our-side militancy, among other perversions. Meanwhile, traditional Christians from abroad look at the sideshow cavortings of their American co-religionaries and can’t believe what they see.

Dwight Eisenhower and Billy Graham Got Their Heads Together

President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s relationship with evangelist, Billy Graham, who went on to become “spirtual counsel” to a dozen presidents, probably should have been questioned on day one. But it was the 1950s, a decade of extraordinary religious revival, and both Eisenhower and Graham played important roles in encouraging this movement. Eisenhower was a war hero and popular president and his partnership with Graham set the stage for decades of mutually beneficial collaboration between politicians and religious leaders.

This cozy relationship that has prospered over the years represents one of history’s most successful symbiotic unions between religious influence peddling and political opportunism. It was the influence of the American Evangelical Christians that inspired President Trump to authorize the transfer of the Israeli capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, ostensibly in order to fulfill the biblical prophesies regarding the end times. The born-again folks are convinced that such maneuvers will help rapture them into heaven sooner. That’s not a wholly illegitimate aspiration, unless one of them happens to be responsible for American foreign policy. P.S. What empowers an American president to “authorize” the displacement of the capital of a sovereign country from one place within that country to another?

US sui generis Christians took Jesus Christ and pressed him into the American mold. They hyped him up, turning a simple shepherd of souls into an arch ally of semi-literate televangelists preaching the “prosperity gospel” to a gullible–and massive–American congregation. “Prosperity gospel”=”Send me money and I’ll tell God to make you rich.” They know the formula works, at least for them. Most of them live in millionaire’s mansions and fly around in private jets. Some of them have already graduated to a second, bigger one.

There Have Been Some Changes Made

The American remake of traditional Christianity made it more imminent: “The end times are upon us…” American religions hucksters resolve the problem of “closing the deal” quite elegantly: “The end of the world is coming.” The American remake is more ubiquitous: It takes advantage of the mass media to be constantly in America’s face. It’s clearly more profitable. And it’s more accessible. Anybody can play, especially if they’ve got money.

This variety of American Christianity reached the turning point when southern politicians discovered the polling power of hillbilly Christianity of the Southern Baptist Convention persuasion (with 47,530 [2019 data] congregations in its fold). It was a partnership made in heaven. Both enterprises benefitted. Fundamentalist Evangelical and Pentecostal religion (the difference between the two, in layman’s terms, seems to be that the latter are blessed with the ability to speak in tongues) started moving into north and western parts of the country and southern politicians began to acquire new-found power in the US Congress. Trump’s election was the cherry on top.

A New Element in the Mix–The Bug’s Ear

After simmering on a slow burner for a few decades this curious stew gave America, among other marvels, Paula White, another big-house, hot-jet televangelist and President Donald Trump’s personal spiritual advisor. White is undeniably coarse and intellectually limited but she connects with millions of like-minded American Christians–and voters–and brings a new quality to high-flying, low-brow American religious discourse: sex appeal. She’s as cute as a bug’s ear. This novelty further increments her gross.

DA Fletcher is gravely concerned about this kind of shenanigans in what he and many others feel should to be serious and solemn territory. He writes in his 2007 book, One Nation Over God, The Americanization of Christianity, this white-hot denunciation of the American way of religion:

Throughout American history, from the earliest moments until the present, American Christians have been more American than they have been Christian… Not only have the basic tenets of the Christian faith been compromised and violated, in the interest of protecting our right to practice our faith along with our basic American freedoms, we have been guilty of denying the rights and freedoms of any who is seen to oppose. The conceit that being American warps being Christian is at the center of American Exceptionalism, Manifest Destiny, the Revolutionary War, the Indian wars, the endless debate over immigration, racism and slavery, poverty and homelessness, consumerism and materialism, and ultimately the way Christianity gets defined and lived out.

DA Fletcher, One Nation Over God, The Americanization of Christianity
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