Tuesday, May 12, 2015

One Nation Under God: Sellers of Indulgences

Corporate America didn't like Franklin Delano Roosevelt or his successor, Harry Truman, and it hated the New Deal. In the years after World War II, a set of circumstances arose in which Big Business united with organized Christian groups (which tended to be headed by corporate bigwigs) to fight godless socialism (i.e., the policies espoused by Roosevelt and Truman) and communism and to make the United States a Christian nation under God.

Such is the subject of a book I've been reading for the past few weeks: One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Created Christian America, written by Princeton history professor Kevin M. Kruse. The basic premise of the book is that Corporate America, aligned with and aided and abetted by a handful of preachers, created the civil religion (of which I'll write more in a subsequent post) that we find in contemporary America.

I'm only about one-third of the way through the book, but what I've read has been fascinating and enlightening. I didn't realize how much the baby boom generation (and therefore those generations that followed) took for granted aspects of American society and government that didn't exist before Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidency. Inaugurated in his two terms in office were things like the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, the insertion of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, a pronounced mingling of politics and religion, and the adoption of the motto "In God We Trust," which of course is on all our money.

Grandpa during the Depression
As I read about the first true mingling of politics, government and religion in the late 40's and early 50's, I couldn't help but think that my Grandfather Broom - who didn't like Roosevelt and was a life-long Republican and Methodist churchgoer - and his ilk would have told their respective preachers and ministers to keep their damned nose out of politics. I also couldn't imagine any president before Eisenhower targeting "Christians" as a voting group. The whole concept would have seemed nonsensical.

What these men - these preachers, these presidents of large companies, and a growing number of politicians - did was to create a new "Other," which I would identify as those who did not and do not embrace the concept of a "civil religion" and the mingling of politics, government and Christianity. This Other came to be derisively termed "Secularists" by the preachers and, as the culture wars began to heat up in the 70's it was given new names and descriptions, such as "godless elements who want to drown our nation in immorality."

This new Other was created, then fear was whipped up among the "Rest of America" that this Other must be feared; we must protect ourselves from it. If there is no Other, then there is no object of fear, and if there is no object of fear, there is no way to empower those who seek to create fear.

What these fear-mongers know is that fear and the management and manipulation of it, are what leads to power and riches; for most people - or at least a substantial number of them - will give up something in order to feel special, protected, righteous and safe. These people - people like Ted Cruz - are in effect sellers of indulgences: Give me your money (and your mind) and I will protect you from the Other. I will lead the charge to save America from the Other.

I personally feel that these fear-mongers, these sellers of indulgences, are one of the greatest threats our society and our nation face today, and it's growing worse with each new Sarah Palin, each new Ted Cruz, each new Rush Limbaugh, and a certain news channel that lives and breathes off of fear. This fear divides America. It destroys and is never positive. It tears down rather than build up. 

It is high time that Americans remember and implement the words of President Franklin Roosevelt spoken 83 years ago at a time of great fear in this nation:

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

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