Blog Against Theocracy Part VII: Culture Is Religion
This is the ﬁnal set of excerpts from With Liberty & Justice for All: Christian Politics Made Simple by Joe Morecraft. Here Morecraft discusses the relationship between religion and culture. He asserts that all culture is, by deﬁnition, religious, but not necessarily “theistic,” i.e. based in God. Since religious neutrality is a “myth,” any attempts by a “secular” state to assert a tolerant attitude towards a diversity of religions are utterly misbegotten. In fact, such a “secularist” state privileges a “pragmatic” and “technalist” philosophy, all in the service of a dangerous non-theistic state religion: “humanism.”
[MORECRAFT, IN A DISCUSSION OF THE DANGERS OF RELIGIOUS NEUTRALITY QUOTES "CHALLENGE AND RESPONSE" BY BERNARD ZYLSTRA]
Neutralism is the view that man can live wholly or partly without taking God’s Word into account. Those who pay homage to the ﬁction of neutrality maintain that many segments of modern culture are merely technical. It is then thought that a corporation, a union, a school, a government can be run by making exclusively factual, technical decisions which have no relation to one’s ultimate perspective on the basic issue… [NOTE: THIS ATTITUDE IS ECHOED SOMEWHAT IN THE MISSION STATEMENT OF "INTELLIGEN DESIGN" CREATIONIST WILLIAM DEMBSKI'S BLOG, Uncommon Descent IN ITS CRITIQUE OF “MATERIALISM.”] This “technalism” is the result of a pragmatic philosophy. The defenders of “technalism” are among the most dangerous guides to a wholly secular world. (pp 110-111.)What do we mean by the word, religion? It is “the binding tendency in every man to dedicate himself with his whole heart to the true God or an idol,” according to F. Nigel Lee [IN HIS BOOK, "THE CENTRAL SIGNIFICANCE OF CULTURE"]. In this sense, all men are religious because no man can escape being a man in the image of God created to worship and serve God, rebellious and unregenerate though he may be…Man is inescapably religious.
What do we mean by the word, culture? It is religion externalized. Culture “is the unavoidable result of man’s necessary efforts to use and to develop the world in which he lives either under the guidance of the Lord or under the inﬂuence of sin…in short, the cultural products of the whole of man’s life stand either in the service of God or in the service of an idol,” writes Lee (pp. 113-114) [IN THE SAME BOOK AS ABOVE.]
All cultures, then, are thoroughly religious and never can be a-religious. (That is not to say that they are all theistic. For instance, humanism, as recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court [Torcaso vs. Watkins [NOTE: THIS IS MOREHEAD'S BRACKETING] ] is a non-theistic religion believing only in man. [NOTE: THIS IS A WILLFUL DISTORTION OF A SLOPPILY WRITTEN FOOTNOTE BY ONE SUPREME COURT JUDGE. IN NO WAY WAS HUMANISM SO DEFINED BY THE SUPREME COURT, LET ALONE “RECOGNIZED” AS A RELIGION. SEE COMPLETE DECISION HERE.]
Every aspect of a nation’s life will reﬂect, and cannot help but reﬂect the religion of the citizenry, whatever that religion may be. Religious neutrality in politics, and in every other facet of a nation’s culture and life, is a myth…There are no neutral cultural activities, as there are no neutral “works;” they are either “good works” or “evil deeds,” done either to the glory of the God of the Bible or to the glory of an idol (non-god). (p.115)
[MORECRAFT QUOTES "THE CALVINISTIC CONCEPT OF CULTURE" BY H. VAN TIL]
…the position of the cultural anthropologist is tha religion is simply a projection of the human spirit, an attempt to manipulate the unseen by magic, or, in any case, that man creates the gods of his own image, thus making it a cultural achievement. This is also the general attitude of the religious liberal, who uses religion for achieving man’s ideal goals such as world peace… The reason religion cannot be subsumed under culture is the fact that whereas man as a religious being transcends all his activities under the sun, culture is but one aspect of the sum total…To divide life into areas of sacred and secular…is to fail to understand the true end of man. (p. 116)**
Morecraft’s book then has a chapter extolling the virtues of far right Georgia Congressman Larry McDonald, who was killed in the crash of Korean Airlines ﬂight 007. Morecraft speculates that in fact the crash may have been deliberately caused by the Soviet Union in order to eliminate an uncompromising and effective opponent of Communism.
The ﬁnal chapter is an extended screed against abortion, consisting of standard far right arguments in favor of banning the practice which, if ever enacted, would have the effect of increasing the number of deaths of poor women seeking coathanger abortions.
I draw the following conclusions from reading Morecraft’s book:
1. Christianism is a poltical movement. It is a serious mistake to consider it religious expression. It must be confronted in the arena of politics. This political movement is an imminent threat that has already seriously eroded Church/State separation.
2. It is important to understand that while christianists share a particular worldview, there are major differences between them that must be understood in order to ﬁght them effectively. To assume that all christianists are the same, and therefore their views needn’t be understood in any real detail, is a foolish mistake. It will make it that much easier for a theocrat like Tim LaHaye to deﬂect opposition to his activism by highlighting unsuspected differences between his views and, say, Morecraft’s.
3. Most followers of the christianists surely have little idea of the movement’s real goals. There are few genuine theocrats, but they have created many bamboozled followers. It is hard to imagine that many Americans truly desire, as Morecraft does, a U.S. government without the consent of the governed. But like a frog that boils to death in a slowly heating pot, many followers - especially in the more “moderate” christianist groups - are gradually inured to a totalitarian mindset via bald-faced lies and distortions, that America was founded as a Christian nation, for example.
4. If one’s goal is simply to beat back the theocratic assault by the American far right, then the immediate ﬁght is best characterized not as a culture war but as a political struggle against a dangerous, well-funded, anti-democratic foe. Such a characterization isolates the theocrats and enables broad coalition-building that can include both the non-religious and formerly mainstream religious groups who historically have been opposed to theocracy.
This ﬁnal point is somewhat controversial. Some infer that advocating a large coalition of religious and non-religious people against the theocrats is tantamount to demanding that atheists and other “secular humanists” compromise their message. Not necessarily. Or rather, I, at least, do not advocate such a sellout. I believe that a broad coalition opposed to theocracy requires no compromise from any of the myriad groups opposed to their will to power.
As I see it, opposition to theocracy and advocacy of a non-theistic worldview are two separate goals. When theocrats succeed in advancing their agenda, all moderate religious denominations are as endangered as the non-religious. There are good reasons for Catholic-Americans to work with Jewish Americans to oppose efforts to erode Church/State separation despite profound theological and philosophical differences. Furthermore, both groups are equally as endangered as the non-religious and the religiously non-observant. We have seen theocrats assault the religious practice of anyone who fails to adhere to their idiosyncratic pseudo-theology. The Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter is not really a Christian, ditto the Catholic Kerry, the Protestant Dean, and the Mormon Romney.
In fashioning an effective coalition to defeat christianism, there is no reason for Catholics to stop praying the Rosary, and there is no reason for Jews to start! Likewise, there is no reason for atheists to pretend they really believe in God. All have a common goal: to push back to the margins of political discourse the anti-American, totalitarian thugs who are, right now, tearing down the wall of separation of Chruch and State.
In short, the here and now danger is James Dobson and Howard Ahmanson, not an Episcopal minister soliciting donations for a homeless shelter from her congregation. It is sheer foolishness to lump them together. When we fail to recognize the difference, we inadvertently provide theocrats cover to pursue their voracious will to power. In addition, it permits christianists the opportunity to falsely claim solidarity with all religious people - ie, the vast majority - in opposition to "atheistic secularists” when, in fact hardly anyone in the US agrees with the christianist political agenda once it is accurately described.
In conclusion, I’d like to stress how poor our understanding is of the relationship between American religious belief and its interaction with attitudes towards science and society. We read that some 49% of all Americans believe Genesis over evolution when it comes to the origins of human beings. While I have no doubt that that is an accurate, and deeply troubling, statistic, it should only serve as the beginning, not the end, of an investigation of how religious belief intersects with science. Where were those questions asked? Does the proportion change if the population surveyed has recently attended church? Or gone to a natural history museum? How do the proportions skew for age? Precisely how were the questions framed? I strongly suspect that American religion/science attitudes are far more complex than have been reported. Understanding that complexity won’t make the 49% statistic any less disturbing. But it will make it possible to create genuinely effective strategies to lower that ﬁgure.
To paraphrase Gary Larson, we know the theocrats are nuts. But to ﬁght them, we need to know exactly how they're nuts. At present we don’t know very much. Hopefully, by discussing one theocrat in depth, Joe Morecraft, I’ve helped provide some insight into the precise nuttiness that many christianists share. It’s by no means a complete picture, and christianists differ, but maybe, for those Americans who’ve never thought too much about what these people actually believe, it’s a start.