I spend a lot of time around here complaining about the state of American Christianity. I am not a Christian, but I still admire it as one of the the great religions of the world. And what I see in America makes me sad. Generally speaking, Christianity here hardly qualifies as a religion. To give you some idea of what I think, all you need to do is read the title of one of my articles, American Christianity as Cultural Signifier. American Christianity is just what all right thinking people believe. This is why it seems more like a prosperity cult than anything Jesus might have intended.
The fact that American Christians seem to be more focused on abortion and homosexuality almost to the exclusion of caring for the poor should be clear enough. As I’ve discussed before, abortion was never an issue for protestants all the way through Roe v Wade. That was something that concerned the Catholics. What changed this was that white protestant churches — primarily in the south — did not want their tax exempt status blocked as a result of them running segregated schools. So they needed to get their congregations politically involved. But they weren’t going to do it based upon the actual issue: segregation; that wasn’t a winning strategy. So the church leaders picked abortion, and the rest is history.
The result of that history is what is found in, What’s the Matter with Kansas? We now have white evangelicals all over the country who vote for the interests of the economic power elite — all in the name of abortion. And what’s especially interesting is that the economic power elite have no interest in abortion at all. In fact, if they could make money off it, they would. Hell, let’s be clear, there are few American corporations that wouldn’t have been putting in bids for the gas chambers and incinerators for the Nazi concentration camps. That’s the thing about the legal definition of a corporation: it is amoral. So it is a supreme irony that American Christianity should be so critical in supporting the power of these amoral institutions.
Over at New Republic a while back, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig wrote a review of two recent books that look into this connection, Gods and Profits. It is subtitled, “How capitalism and Christianity aligned in modern America.” Of particular interest is the book, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America by Kevin Kruse. It looks at the history of American Christianity from the Great Depression onward. And it is sickening.
As you probably know, Christianity hasn’t generally been all that keen on capitalism. And you don’t have to go that far back: just look at William Jennings Bryan. I think that if Christianity hadn’t gone off the rails, today, Mike Huckabee would be a liberal. But instead, he believes in the title of Bruenig’s article: God and Profits. But in the opposite order. According to Kruse’s book, the wealthy were very concerned about economic populism, so they were looking for ways to fight back. And they bought themselves a preacher: James W Fifield Jr:
I will have to get the book. But it is fascinating because those in the Religious Right are the ones most inclined to talk about how America has been co-opted. But what has really been co-opted is American Christianity itself. And they are the ones who allow it, even while they focus on what the founding fathers did or did not really believe. It’s sad for them, but it has been devastating for America.