Dr. John Young                                                                                                          5-18-08  

Unitarian Universalist Church of Jacksonville



American Theocracy


            It seldom happens that a person central to starting a revolution ends up becoming its most effective critic. This is true of Kevin Phillips, still a stalwart Republican who as a leading Party strategist wrote The Emerging Republican Majority. In 1982, The Wall Street Journal called Phillips “the leading conservative electoral analyst, the man who invented the Sun Belt, named the New Right and prophesied the Emerging Republic Majority in 1969.” By the 21st century, Phillips had become the pre-eminent critic of what he calls “the erring Republican majority.”


            New UUCJ member, Bob Montalnaro, who is going to coordinate our summer speaker series on Green Sanctuary issues, was impressed by Kevin Phillips 2006 book, American Theocracy, and put it in my hands as a desirable sermon topic. Phillips describes his premise: “that over the last several decades three principal U.S. global vulnerabilities have emerged: radical religion, costly and precarious dependence on oil, and a cult of borrowing money [ballooning public and private debt]. As a scholar, what Phillips then does impressively is to draw historical parallels with the internal self-destruction of former world economic powers, including the Roman Empire [of the 4-5th centuries A.D.], Hapsburg Spain [1490s-17th century], the Dutch [17-18th centuries], and Victorian England [19-20th centuries]. In each, he makes clear that they shared: a popular sense of national economic, moral and patriotic decay, an intensification of religion, conflicts between faith and science, burdens of increasing debt, the decline of industry and rise of finance.


            He asserts that all these past leading world economic powers showed how tendencies toward blind faith and religious excesses contributed to national decline. Using Charles Kimball’s five criteria for the cancerous mutation of religion, plus their shared explosion of public and private debt, Phillips shows how all these past powers shared characteristics now central to the present Republican Party’s dominance. Kimball’s cancerous characteristics of religious excess are: concern over cultural decay, a crusading religious fervor, a commitment to faith as opposed to reason downplaying science, popular anticipation of end-of-the world scenarios, a hubris driven national strategy and military overreach which pursues abstract national missions that it can no longer afford economically or politically, plus exploding private and public debt.


            In 2004, Bill Moyers said that “for the first time in American history ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington…the delusional is no longer marginal, it has come into the Oval Office and the Congress.” In 2006, Ex-Senator Republican John Danforth said that “the Republican Party has become the political arm of conservative Christians. Elements of this transformation included a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, opposition to stem cell research, the extraordinary effort to keep Terri Schiavo hooked up to a feeding tube, and opposition to birth control, sex education, and abortion.”  Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell explained 9/11 as ‘God’s displeasure with secular immorality.’ 60 million Americans read Tim LeHayes Left Behind series, yet clear majorities of Catholics and most mainline Protestant denominations, as well as the liberal and non-religious disagreed with the books’ end-of-the-world premise and its fundamentalist jeremiads.

Many Republican Party state committees endorsed the platforms of the Christian Reconstruction movement: US as a Christian nation, regrets the myth of the separation of church and state, demands the abolition of a large group of federal agencies [like the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency], calls for making the Bible the basis for domestic law, emphasizes religious schools, and women’s subordination to men. Science including global warming, resource depletion, environmental regulation, evolution, and even petroleum geology were attacked by radically religious Republicans. The three regional denominational pillars of this radical religious hold over the Republican Party are Southern Baptists, Mormons, and Missouri Synod Lutherans, but also include the Assembly of God, Pentecostal and other fundamentalist groups. For instance, the discredited Florida Department of Children and Families Director, Jerry Regier, drafted a Reconstructionist manifesto which was used to flesh out the Republicans’ ‘compassionate conservatism’ focused on the Christianization and privatization of social policies like welfare, education, and poverty relief.


The Left Behind series presents a world in turmoil now in the last of seven periods that will end with the rapture of true believers [who are suddenly pulled into the sky to be with Christ]. Next follows a seven year tribulation. The satanic antichrist will arise in Europe and seize world power. At its end Christ and his armies will triumph in a great battle in Har-Megiddo, near Haifa in what is now Israel. From Jerusalem Christ will proclaim the start of a one-thousand-year reign of peace.


In fact, the Bible includes no specific sequence of end-times events, and the few apocalyptic sections in the Bible are probably the most questionable and unlikely as scripture or as appropriate to foundational Jewish or Christian teachings. You have to be highly selective in your biblical literalism, insert non-existent 2000 year gaps, and extravagantly redefine most key theological terms in order to make any sense of these end-of-the world scenarios. As Bill Moyers said the delusional has taken over the Republican Party. Evangelical and fundamentalist Christian support for a militant and imperialistic Israel is an investment in these end-of-the world scenarios. Islamic terrorists almost instantly replaced Soviet Communists as the antichrist and oil rich Islamic countries as the necessary settings for the climatic battles so that the world could end. Liberty and freedom for the world has been re-translated into pre-emptive strikes and oppressive control of oil rich regimes by the United States and unregulated world capitalism. 


The second element of Kevin Phillips’ critique of present Republican policies after radical religion is costly and precarious dependence on oil. He argues that America’s present military mission is increasingly becoming the defense of oil producing regions. He points out that half of the top 16 US companies in 1948 were oil firms and that by 1982 half of the 30 richest American family fortunes were built on oil. It is transparent to all of us now that the present Republican Administration was built out of oil men. Recent Republican thinker and biographer of GW Bush, David Frum, wrote: “the war on terror was designed to bring new stability to the most vicious and violent quadrant of the Earth and new prosperity to us all, by securing the world’s largest pool of oil.” [83]

It makes me wonder whether beer will go up as much in price if there is another Republican administration as oil has gone up under this Administration. Brewer Joseph Coors was central to funding four of the GOP’s business-religious axis: the Heritage Foundation, Mountain States Legal Foundation, Council for National Policy, co-founded by Left Behind’s Tim LeHaye, and the Coalition on Revival [a bridge between the rapture believers and the Christian Reconstructionists]. No leading economic power has ever maintained itself on the cutting edge of innovation and development with a political coalition that panders to biblical inerrancy.


Phillips argues that oil end-games: with oil past its peak, their future mostly in foreign hands not particularly friendly to the US, OPEC and other oil producers moving away from using dollars, and global climate change significantly because of oil and gas. Then, he adds the end-time Christians’ domination of the Republican Party to the other two pillars of the present Republican Coalition, energy producers and the most conspicuous energy consumers. He feels that 80% of these three groups at present rule a Republican Party that has become a Southern and Southwest dependent minority coalition.


The other element of his original thesis is the explosion of debt. Reagan’s morning in America was built upon cutting taxes on the rich and giving everything to the military-industrial-energy establishment that they wanted. The result was an explosion of both government and private debt. Under the successive Bush Administrations both government debt and private debt again exploded. The conservatism of a John Adams or a Theodore Roosevelt, cognizant of the effects of greed and the need to constrain it with government regulation, has been replaced by the Republicans of the last generation who seek unlimited freedom for the rich with ever lower taxes and less and less regulation and control for the wealthy as the Republican goal. The latest round is the explosion of arcane ways of selling mortgages. As Phillips sums it up, “risk eloped with avarice.” [296]


Phillips goes on to point out that America’s technology sector is withering because of decreased research and development, inadequate workforce education, and our nation’s increasing inability to implement, test, and support an innovative manufacturing milieu. [315] While Asians are saving 30-50% of their GNP, and closely controlling the invisible hand of unbridled capitalism, Americans now have negative savings, they are spending their savings. As recently as 1998, the American savings rate was 6.5%. For the first time in world history, a leading economic power is the pre-eminent debtor and the biggest borrower. Our leaders are obsessed with protecting our largest financial institutions which have taken frantic risks in order to get profane short term rewards.


Warren Buffet puts it this way: “Hyperactive equity markets subvert rational capital allocation and act as pie shrinkers. Adam Smith felt that all non-collusive acts in a free market were guided by an invisible hand that led an economy to maximum progress; my view is that casino-type markets and hair-trigger investment management act as an invisible foot that trips up and slows down a forward-moving economy. The proliferation of derivatives and other insane financial instruments are financial weapons of mass destruction.” [329] The present American economic political alliance leaves the primary decisions for our economy not to an unseen hand but to the highly visible hands of lobbyists and foreign policymakers. [363]


In summary, Phillips, an architect of the Republican majority, believes that the last generation’s erring Republican majority has drifted toward apple pie authoritarianism and a Taliban-like philosophy promoting unworkable social planning abstractions like ever lower taxes for the rich, an abstinence only sexuality system, and unwillingness to participate internationally unless we can tell everybody else what to do. Theological correctness is the Republicans’ Achilles’ heel. History clearly shows that an obsession with religious radicalism, exploding debt and unrealistic armed overreach destroys major economic powers.


This congregation contains a good number of dedicated Republicans, economic and political moderates, and other independents who, along with the rest of us, will make their own political decisions, but it is fascinating after a generation of worship at the shrines of American theocracy to be facing its probable disintegration. The panaceas of this ideological minority have not made most of us better off, more secure, or less threatened by either nature or the human world. It is time for a significantly different paradigm to guide America’s future if America is either going to live up to our promise or to remain a leader among this amazing global village.