By Rika Christensen | 14 March 2015
The U.S., according to our founding fathers and our supreme law of the land, is not a Christian nation. It’s not a religious nation of any type. Yet, we have this pervasive myth around the religious right that we are – to the point where some say the religious freedom our founding fathers fought for only applies to Christianity. How did we get here? Where does this myth come from? Kevin M. Kruse, professor of history at Princeton, explains what happened in the New York Times.
Kruse says that some of the confusion about our religious status is understandable. It’s written into politics everywhere here, so it’s easy to believe that we’ve always been this way. However, we haven’t, really. It actually caught fire with big business’ fight against F.D.R’s New Deal, believe it or not.
Big business starts fighting the New Deal.
During the Great Depression, with business on the defensive, and reeling from a soiled public image, big business embarked on a campaign that, according to Kruse, “painted capitalism as the handmaiden of Christianity.” These two philosophies had been put together before, but now they stood together against the socialism that was the New Deal.
Kruse says that, starting in the late ’30s, and going into the ’40s, business leaders waged a campaign that combined Christianity with anti-government libertarianism. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the manufacturing lobby both pressed this ideology, funded through generous donations from prominent and not-so-prominent business leaders, like Conrad Hilton, Harvey Firestone, and Fred Maytag.
This is likely where we get today’s ideas that helping the poor and the everyday American, and reining in business and extreme wealth accumulation, are terrible, horrible, no good, very bad evils that will destroy the country. Far from sticking to Christ’s teachings, the religious right very selectively cherry picks the Bible to suit their agenda of greed.
This may also be the root of why so many on the religious right vote against their own interests. Many of them live in poorer states, with fewer economic opportunities and yet they keep voting for these so-called “Christian” politicians that make their situations worse, not better.
That is, of course, speculation on the part of this writer. However, it makes some sense.
Big business finds a major ally among the clergy.
Kruse goes on to explain that business leaders, through the ’40s and into the ’50s, made the clergy into their mouthpieces, because ministers could shape public opinion far better than they themselves could. Kruse highlights Reverend James Fifield, one of the earliest ministers engaged in this practice, who preached to the wealthy elite about “freedom under God,” and began spreading that message through a monthly magazine and weekly radio programs.
The real turnaround, says Kruse, started when Reverend Abraham Vereide, who had spread a similar gospel through prayer breakfasts and a nationwide network of prayer groups, managed to convince Washington to start weekly prayer meetings so that “we may be a God-directed and God-controlled nation.”
Vereide also held dedication services for several Supreme Court justices. Justice Tom C. Clark said, at his ceremony in 1949, “No country or civilization can last unless it is founded on Christian values.” Sadly, that sounds all too familiar in today’s rhetoric from the religious right.
Reverend Billy Graham kicked this into overdrive in the 1950s, according to Kruse. Early in his ministry, he decried government restrictions on business as socialism, and said that the Garden of Eden was a paradise that had no unions and no labor leaders, in addition to no snakes or disease. Graham painted anyone and anything fighting for the common worker as un-Christian, ungodly, and thoroughly un-American in doing that.
The injection of Christianity into national politics.
When Graham appeared in Washington in 1952, he convinced Congress to establish the National Day of Prayer, and he said that if he ran for president entirely on a platform of religion, he’d be elected. Eisenhower actually fulfilled that prediction, but as soon as he was elected, he backed off the marriage between Christianity and big business. He thought that the religious rhetoric on which he’d campaigned was “a fool’s errand,” according to Kruse.
On the other hand, he set the stage for an even bigger revival than Graham’s, welcoming Catholics, Jews and Democrats into the fray. He presided over adding “Under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, and making “In God We Trust” the national motto. And all the while, Kruse says, Washington was telling Americans that we should be a Christian nation, and that we’d always been a Christian nation. The religious right has believed it ever since.
Basically, the idea that we’re a Christian nation, which we hear even from people who consider themselves strict Constitutionalists, is the result of a brilliant, insidious and devastating marketing campaign on behalf of big business. That astounding marketing campaign is also likely why the religious right is on the side of big business, and why they’re so un-Christlike when it comes to business and politics.
It’s no wonder that the religious right can’t remember all the teachings of Christ, and live Christlike lives. They’ve spent 80 years being brainwashed into thinking that greed and selfishness are the embodiment of Christian values.
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