Wednesday, January 18, 2012

One Nation, Under Money

Kevin Kruse, of the Princeton history department, reminds us that people have found it useful to conflate Christianity, free enterprise and personal wealth, while discrediting government, before:

...Throughout the 1930s and ’40s, Mr. Fifield and his allies advanced a new blend of conservative religion, economics and politics that one observer aptly anointed “Christian libertarianism.” Mr. Fifield distilled his ideology into a simple but powerful phrase — “freedom under God.” With ample support from corporate patrons and business lobbies like the United States Chamber of Commerce, his gospel of godly capitalism soon spread across the country through personal lectures, weekly radio broadcasts and a monthly magazine.

In 1951, the campaign culminated in a huge Fourth of July celebration of the theme. Former President Herbert C. Hoover and Gen. Douglas MacArthur headlined an organizing committee of conservative all-stars, including celebrities like Walt Disney and Ronald Reagan, but largely comprising business titans like Conrad Hilton, J. C. Penney, Harvey Firestone Jr. and J. Howard Pew.

In an extensive public relations campaign, they encouraged communities to commemorate Independence Day with “freedom under God” ceremonies, using full-page newspaper ads trumpeting the connection between faith and free enterprise. They also held a nationwide sermon contest on the theme, with clergymen competing for cash. Countless local events were promoted by a national “Freedom Under God” radio program, produced with the help of the filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille, hosted by Jimmy Stewart and broadcast on CBS..

For the past couple of thousand years, Christianity has been large, diverse and unsettled enough so that its adherents, in Christ's name, have enlisted the Bible and God in service of empire, war, slavery, genocide, imperialism, power, freedom, love, generosity, courage, caring, and, in fact, just about anything human. Still true. And there have always been, are, and always will be those who rescue Christ from some of the Christians, finding depth there unacknowledged in a facile interpretation in service of human interests. Me, I find it hard to construe financial success as a goal or result of Christian teachings. Some ministers concentrate more on Revelation than on 1 Corinthians 13. But they're both in there. I think it important, at a time when atheism is being promoted in the public sphere amongst, most often, the left, to participate in the formation of a Christian narrative more inclusive, decent and perceptive than one which rationalizes the inequalities of wealth and poverty which pose and result from urgent social problems. Christ has been monopolized before. Wasn't pretty, then or now. Wouldn't mind it, as even a gentle agnostic, were the God our nation is under that of, say, Kierkegaard, Pope John XXIII, Oscar Romero, ML King, Dorothy Day and many others...

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