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Sunday, August 21, 2011

From Frankincense to Franchise - the Corporatisation & Politicisation of Christianity

From Frankincense to Franchise - the Corporatisation & Politicisation of Christianity

Modern day Christianity is being over-run with the desire for money and power as a result of "prosperity doctrine" and "dominionism". Christ has been corporatised and politicised. Instead of blessing Christ with frankincense and myrrh, corporate Christianity brings Him franchises and movie rights. Instead of "the truth shall set you free" many fundamentalist churches and televangelists preach that "the tithe shall set you free".  Instead of "go into all the world and preach the gospel", right-wing fundamentalists are forcing their interpretation of biblical law on the world, ignoring the biblical principles of love, forgiveness and grace.

Over the last few decades an  element within the Christian Right has been actively taking steps to establish the United States as a Theocratic Republic which would be subject to the Laws of God detailed in the Old Testament.

This element has become known as Dominionists and their aim is to establish God's Kingdom on Earth through the creation of a Christian state which favours Christians and persecutes those who do not ascribe to their self-righteous expectations of morality and their strict interpretation of biblical law.  Dominionists are politically conservative and fundamentalist Christians who are highly influential in politics, with even former President George W. Bush believing in their creed.

Whilst Dominionism may not be well known to many people, the concept of it is embraced by world-wide Evangelical churches and its insidious message broadcast across the globe by such well known proponents as Pat Robertson, Dr James Dobson and Focus on the Family, Tim LaHaye, Jerry Falwell, Charles Colson, Phyllis Schlafly, Rick Joyner, Promise Keepers and others.  RJ Rushdoony, a "Reconstructionist" (a form of Dominionism) wrote a book called "The Institutes of Biblical Law" in which he calls for a return to Old Testament law, including the death penalty for crimes such as murder, rape, homosexuality and adultery.

The policies of Dominionism include:
  • Anti-abortion
  • Anti-homosexuality
  • Anti-Islam
  • Anti-immigration
  • Anti-multiculturalism
  • Anti equal rights
  • Pro war
  • Pro gun ownership
  • Pro death penalty
  • Military expansion
  • Smaller government
  • Supporting Big Business
  • Lower taxes for the wealthy
  • No social security system 
  • No public education system
  • No public health system
  • American hegemony 
  • Abstinence
Many of these policies are based on exclusion, fear, racism and xenophobia.

Dominionism has transformed God from Omnipotent to Omniphobic.

Dominionism has transformed God from a God of Love to a God of Law.
Dominionism essentially ignores the New Testament laws of "love your God" and "love your neighbour" whilst embracing many of the laws of the Old Testament and ignoring the tenets related to fairness and love.

They have also misused scripture to demand smaller government, labelling attempts at public service delivery as communist.

President George W. Bush, a member of the Christian Right and in accordance with this Dominionist policy of smaller government, privatised or outsourced many core government services, including Defence and Security (most famously outsourcing to Blackwater which operates outside of the same constricts that the US Department of Defense does), Law Enforcement, Education (including the expansion of Charter Schools which allows for private corporations to run public schools and which are not subject to the same governance, rules and regulations that government education departments are), Health, Prisons, Road Construction and Maintenance, Public Transport, Administration, Communication, Air Traffic Control, Municipal Services and Postal Services.

During George W. Bush's administration, privatisation resulted in trillions of dollars being wasted by the USA Government on the fallacy that private companies are more efficient than public ones at delivering services. Yet, private companies are dedicated to earning profits for shareholders, whereas government departments are dedicated to delivering services.

The Republicans gave massive tax cuts to the richest Americans whilst ignoring lower and middle income earners.  Both the Republicans and the Tea Party (many of whose members are Dominionists) call for lower taxes whilst supporting exorbitant military expenditure and cutting social services, education and health which disadvantaged the poor and low income earners.  It was this unrestrained military expenditure and encouragement of corporate and individual greed that led to the Global Financial Crisis, costing thousands of jobs and bankrupting many people.

The Texas Republican Party Platform document of 2004 stated "we call for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education and the prohibition of the transfer of any of its functions to any other Federal Agency".

This policy appeals to Dominionists as it matches their aim of replacing the public education system with private Christian education.  Whilst Christian schooling is not overtly sinister, put into the context of the Dominionist desire for supremacy and domination it is particularly concerning.  Gary North, a leading Dominionist, stated "Until the vast majority of Christians pull their children out of public schools, there will be no possibility of creating a theocratic republic".

Pat Robertson, head of the 700 Club has declared that Christians are to take over the government of the United States. They are well on their way to achieving this through the influence that they wield within the Republican Party and the Tea Party.  At the moment we are seeing conservative Christians with Dominionist views, namely Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann, campaigning to be the Republican Party nominee at the next Presidential election.

Dominionists are more interested in benefits for big business than in caring for the poor.  They care for power and prosperity - attested to by their political lobbying for big business, small government, corporate greed through unregulated markets and removal of government social service programs.  Prayer has been exchanged for Political Power.

They have campaigned to remove the minimum wage, which even now provides insufficient income for many workers.  Michelle Bachmann stated "If we took away the minimum wage, if conceivably it was gone, we could potentially virtually wipe out unemployment completely, because we would be able to offer jobs at whatever level."  There might be more jobs under a Bachmann plan, but the "working poor" would become the "destitute poor" and with the Dominionist opposition to social services, public health and public education, the poor would become beggars, would become untouchables and undesirables in their own land.  Taking away the already meagre minimum wage will encourage corruption and crime as workers do what they can to keep their families fed and the bills paid.  Corruption flourishes in countries with inadequate wages.

Dominionism as a concept is finding fertile ground among conservative Christians because many of their influential preachers and evangelists have twisted the Bible message into one of materialism through their "prosperity" doctrine.  Put simply this doctrine claims that God will bless Christians with material wealth.  There are many biblical scriptures which condemn this materialistic attitude.  Hebrews 13:5 says "keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have because God has said 'never will I leave you, never will I forsake you' ". 

"Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God" is being replaced with "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the big screen TV".

It is the materialism of prosperity doctrine which has resulted in many Evangelical and Pentecostal churches embracing Dominionism, even though many don't call it that.

The genuine love that these Christians have for Christ has been exploited and manipulated by influential preachers who have channeled this passion into a heartfelt belief in a Christ vastly removed from the one in the Bible: a materialistic, corporate Christ, not the selfless, loving Christ of the New Testament.

Jesus never said "follow me and I'll make you rich and famous beyond your wildest dreams". 

Coupled with this materialistic dogma, is a predisposition to punish all who don't meet the high moral standards set by these Christians and an intolerance and exclusion of "liberal" Christians and non-Christians including Muslims, atheists, environmentalists, socialists, homosexuals and the list goes on.

The bible tells us that the wages of sin is death.  In Ephesians 2 we are told that whilst we were dead in our sins, God made us alive in Him through his grace.  John 3:16 tells us that "God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall be saved".  The bible is a gospel of grace and inclusion of all.  John 3:17 says "for God did not send His Son into the world to condemn, but that the world through Him might be saved."

Many of these conservative Christians are focused on punishment of crimes with little understanding and no desire to address the causes of crime. For instance, asylum seekers often enter other countries in order to escape persecution and war (ironically these have sometimes been caused by despots and wars sponsored by the USA).  Yet Dominionists call for their imprisonment and deportation, often demonising them as terrorists, contrary to the scriptures in which we are told to love and care for them.  Deuteronomy 10:18-19 says "He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger ....".

Dominionism is more interested in punishment than in correction. The motivation to punish is borne of hatred, anger and revenge coupled with a fear of losing the life they desire and the power they crave. The motivation for correction is borne of love through self-sacrifice, reaching out to others and loving them.

Instead of showing love, Dominionists show contempt and condemnation. They focus on abortionists and homosexuals, actively campaigning against them, declaring that these people are condemned to Hell and that God hates them - contrary to the message in John 3:17.  They condone and preach animosity and fear of those who practice other religions or other ways of life.

Instead of reaching out to those who are different, who are poor and downtrodden, Dominionists join with Uber-Capitalists to subjugate them, to dehumanise them, to further disenfranchise them, to deny workers their rights.  All men are equal in God's eyes, but not in the eyes of the extreme Religious Right.

Dominionists are the new Sadducees, the new Pharisees; with potential to be a type of Christian Taliban.  Their legalism and harsh interpretation of the bible may well result in a Totalitarian regime where they fully implement their antiquated and prejudicial laws.  Isaiah 10:1-2 states "woe to them who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless".

Like the money-changers that Jesus ejected from the temples, the Dominionists and many others in the Christian Right have turned churches into ongoing business concerns at the expense of the poor and the weak. They prey on superstitious fears that cause some to tithe in order to avoid God's wrath, exhorting an image of God as a Mafia Godfather who will strike people down unless He is paid "protection money".  To sweeten the tithe, they often preach Capitalism rather than Christianity, exhorting people to tithe through the promise of reward with the assurance that God will return to them tenfold or hundredfold what they give.

These should not be the reasons for tithing.  Tithing, and for that matter any giving, should be out of love, not because of fear, greed or personal benefit.  Of course churches need money to survive and to run their programs, but they should not be obtaining this money through messages of fear in what amounts to extortion or in exploiting people's greed through exorbitant promises of untold wealth.

We now see the rise of the "mega-church" with churches taking over other churches through a mergers and acquisitions program that would make any corporate raider proud, with the result that many of these mega-churches have essentially franchised themselves nationally and in some cases, internationally.  Before sowing into these mega-churches, Christians should remember that it is a fine line between Kingdom Building and Empire Building.

Jesus didn't ask us to build huge churches, drawing people into buildings; instead He commissioned us to go out into all the world, to mix with people of all nations and all types in order to preach the gospel.  Some of us have become idolatrous of these mega-churches, wearing their t-shirts and collecting memorabilia in the same way that people worship their favourite rock star or football team.  Yet, where is God in all this? Religious fervour is easy to exploit, and very profitable.

Modern Christianity has been hijacked with cleverly marketed messages aimed at manipulating the congregation's love of God and fear of rebellion in order to gain support for the Dominionist goal of power through a theocratic state.  People who dare criticise this Religious Propaganda Machine are condemned as "bleeding heart liberals", as having sold out to the world.  Yet it is the extreme Religious Right who has swapped the Truth of God's Love for the worldly Lie of Prosperity and Political Power.

Christians in particular should be standing up against this perversion of the Gospel and all people should be opposing any attempts at Totalitarianism and Fascism whether it be in the form of malevolent dictatorships of any religious or political persuasion, or in the name of Democracy or Christianity.

There are enough problems in the world without Christians adding to them.  Issues such as poverty, terrorism, war, famine, illiteracy and poor health should be the priority of Governments, Churches and individuals working together.  To solve these problems the world needs love; it needs people to love and respect each other and to acknowledge and embrace the differences between individuals and communities.

Doctrines of hate and intolerance whether masquerading as religion, politics or personal opinion only fuel the problems facing the world and do not solve them.

The world needs less fear, less greed and more grace, more love.

Before embracing the heresy of Dominionism, we need to remember the message of Mark 8:36 -

"what shall it profit a man, if he should gain the whole world, and lose his soul

Sunday, August 14, 2011

National Debt: the Child of Capitalism and Prosperity Religion

The United States economy is struggling under a crippling debt and has recently been downgraded from AAA to AA+ by the economic ratings agency, Standards & Poor (S&P).  Whilst the USA is not the only country to be downgraded recently, they are certainly the largest and most influential on world markets.

Much attention has been given to the recent dispute over increasing the debt ceiling, which was required for the US government to pay the interest on its debt.  The Republicans who control Congress refused to pass the bill by the Democrats, who control the Senate.  The Republicans blamed the Democrats for poor fiscal management.  However, it is the Republicans who have accumulated the most debt over the last 30 years.

The recent request to increase the debt ceiling is nothing new, in fact, the Republicans have increased the debt ceiling more times than the Democrats ever did in order to pay for their massive budget blow-outs.  President Ronald Reagan raised the debt ceiling 18 times, whilst President George W. Bush raised it 7 times.

During the Global Financial Crisis then President George W. Bush decided to stimulate the economy through tax cuts to the wealthy and a trillion dollar buy-out of banks whilst continuing to spend billions in Iraq and Afghanistan as lower income earners lost their houses, their jobs, their incomes.

Under George W. Bush spending on essential government services such as health and education was cut in favour of boosting the Defence budget and funding the "War on Terror" through invading Afghanistan and Iraq.  Additionally, he privatised core public services, costing the USA government trillions of dollars as contracts were awarded to companies whose boards included senior politicians such as Rumsfeld and Cheney.  Republicans, the Tea Party and those conservatives who believe in small government seem to not understand that government is dedicated to delivering a service. It is the service that is the priority for government, whereas profit is the priority of private industry.  It is a fallacy to assume that private industry is always less expensive, more efficient or more capable of delivering government services than the government is.

Privatisation, essentially the surrogacy of government service and responsibility, was not done to better society but to pander to the extreme capitalism of multi-national business. All manner of service has been privatised including security and defence, law enforcement, education, health, prisons, road construction, public transport, administration, communication, air traffic control, municipal services and postal services.  Often privatisation produces no cost savings to either the government or to the consumer, and rarely does it result in better service.

The USA is not any safer, healthier, better educated or more efficient because of the divestment of government responsibility to the private sector.  Under the Republican government of George W. Bush, the private sector was rarely held accountable for service delivery or compliance with national and international legislation.

The religious right has also encouraged this extreme capitalism and campaigned for downsizing of government, arguing that churches are best placed to care for people in terms of charity, health and education.  Of course, these churches will charge either the government or the consumer (or both) for these services so it is in their financial interest for these services to divested to them.  The religious organisations interested in providing these services are effectively commercialising and politicising the gospel for money and political power.  Very little love or tolerance is preached in their religious messages whilst embracing a "prosperity" teaching which is at odds with the austerity and anti-materialist message of Jesus.

The religious right has gained an incredible amount of influence in the USA government.  Rather than use this power to hold government accountable for its treatment of its citizens and the lies and excesses of the War on Terror, the religious right encouraged anti-muslim sentiment to justify the War and demanded privatisation of government services; contributing to the massive debt increases under the Republicans.

The Republicans have shown themselves to be more interested in boosting big business than in caring and providing for their own citizens, other nations they involve themselves in, or in improving conditions for workers, the poor, the disadvantaged.   Even small business operators struggled in this extreme capitalism as globalisation saw the influence and power of big business undercut, undermine and take over or wipe out many small businesses, costing livelihoods and jobs.

The USA government, particularly under Republicans, has been funding and encouraging the greed of unfettered capitalism at the expense of its citizens, making the rich richer and the poor poorer. This greed has resulted in massive increases in the USA national debt, company debt and personal debt as companies and people chase the dream of a capitalist utopia, ostensibly through the myth of wealth creation using "other people's money".

The USA government needs to get back to basics in order to address the poverty, health and education issues facing its society and to reduce its public debt.  Government should be concerned with governing.  This includes delivering essential, core services required for the improvement of society through an efficient and dedicated public service not through an unfettered and unaccountable market-place.  Government should not be abdicating its social, political and fiscal responsibilities to private industry or to religious organisations. The massive United States national debt is the product of this abdication.

For the sake of the United States and world economies, the US Government needs to be returned to the people for the benefit of the people, not to big business for the benefit of big business.