Welcome to the new Church-State of America
America's retrograde society has repealed the First Amendment in favor of the new church-state.
Forgive the weird hour of this post. I started it this morning before church at 7:30am. Then came a full day, lunch, a nap, a walk with my youngest son, and a baking spree. We baked banana nut bread for a neighbor across the street (and a smaller loaf for us, of course). We were mixing a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies for another neighbor when they showed up at our door bearing Hamentaschen and what my wife calls “World Peace Cake”—Babka. (We love our neighbors!)
By the time I got started with this again, I had forgotten what I really wanted to say, which is probably good, because it was likely hot garbage. But really, there’s a couple of topics bothering me today, which is always fodder for the muse. One, is the dueling stories about the bill in the Florida legislature that would seek to relax the “actual malice” standard for libel suits against journalists. Even if it passes, it has the same chance of surviving legal review as a Republican running for mayor of Chicago. Yet the New York Times editorial board believes it’s a reason to oppose Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who hasn’t even announced a presidential campaign yet.
Next, the Senate narrowly passed a measure that would prevent retirement plan administrators and fund advisors from considering ESG (environmental, social, and governance) investing in their investment decisions. The Boston Globe headline blared “Republicans try to scare Americans about the impact” of the coming Department of Labor rule permitting the practice, especially among public retirement fund runners. Fund fiduciaries are supposed to protect the interests of the fund participants; they have no specific role in playing Captain Planet or Morality Police. And funds like CALPERS (California Public Employees), and various other state and federal retirement funds control hundreds of billions of dollars which can be shifted to punish firms the current political cadre decides to punish, or reward those who ply the oceans of political favor (like FTX) based not on sound financial analysis, but on squishy social issues.
And finally, one of the Duggar kids walked away from her strict homeschool, barefoot and pregnant “19 Kids” past and wrote a book about it. The New York Times Ruth Graham piece wanted to couch this in the “Christian kid deconstructs” category. I’m not buying it, but neither do I buy some of the extreme beliefs the Duggars think represent orthodox Biblical Christianity.
All these stories have some threads that link them. The loom that weaves our society has gone mad and grabbed threads that were never intended to be woven together and produced tight-fitting garments that we’re all struggling to wear.
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Politics and religion, properly understood, are separate vocations. Of course, at the individual level, we all (should) inform our political decisions on some kind of religious, or world view belief, set of values. This might be a faith based on the Christian Bible, or it could be a whole raft of religions with similar moral precepts. Some faiths operate best when their religious systems run the government (try keeping Kosher in rural Georgia, versus anywhere in Israel; or try keeping Sharia Law in Washington State).
We’ve broken our own “separation of church and state” by redefining the state into a church consisting of its own congregation, priesthood, and demons. It’s all done through the slight-of-hand of words that gather armies to fight for causes that work against the very people who join those armies.
Political scientists, pundits, sociologists and the like have all kinds of words and acronyms to describe things. When organizations become one-sided, self-dealing cliques, they use the word “capture.” When government doesn’t work for the people, but for its own narrow self-preservation, they call it “bureaucratic sclerosis.” When people vote for candidates who look like them in a broad sense, but show up to protest when those candidates, in office, actually do the things they voted for, they call it “NIMBY.”
Andrew Fletcher is credited with saying “Give me the making of a people's songs, and I care not who makes its laws.” The poets, bards, and singers of a culture capture the heart, and the technicality of words to describe the feelings are just window-dressing. By the time these ideals make it to the halls of some kind of democratic government, they’ve been watered down to the point of having no flavor at all, having been filtered through all the pork barrels, text-and-email-campaigns, think tanks, green rooms and party apparatchik.
We have to have words to describe things, like “socialist,” “progressive,” “woke,” and “fascist.” But none of those words mean anything near to the context where you see them today. They are almost exclusively used to describe “the enemy” for political and religious operatives invested in their own careers and fortunes. Our culture today has largely fused, rather than substituted religion and politics. No culture where that happens is healthy.
The class of people who use words, some carefully, and some with precision designed to gather to themselves an army, have been called various things. I think Sting nailed it in a song with a nonsense title:
Poets, priests, and politicians
Have words to thank for their positions
Words that scream for your submission
And no one's jamming their transmission
When the poets, priests and politicians of the new fused American church-state have set personal goals for us as individuals, based on their personal charisma, appeal, access to news organizations, or fear of people who aren’t like us, we found ourselves unmoored, and troubled. We have lost the ability to think critically about the world around us, about what our neighbors need.
I see little difference between Jinger Duggar Vuolo’s decision to “disentangle” herself from Bill Gothard’s teachings, now embracing John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church, the hypocrisy of journalists at the NYT who would love to trounce the First Amendment to silence Fox News as a fount of disinformation calling out Gov. DeSantis for helping their own cause, and President Biden’s embrace of executive orders to create sweeping political machines to punish enemies of the Democratic Party while financially rewarding its friends.
Bill Gothard is a strange bird—if he wasn’t 80 years old, the man who said he’s never as much as kissed a woman would be called an “incel.” Yet his ministry favors very large families brooded over by a king father and a suppliant wife keeping their kids in a religious bubble that prepares them only to raise more families based on Gothard’s teachings. The way the Duggars dealt with their oldest son Josh’s sexual proclivities was to cover it up to keep their family’s reputation clean, right up until Josh ended up in prison. I am somewhat ashamed to say I was with Josh Duggar a few weeks before the story broke; I had no idea, but the Duggars knew.
People can have as many kids as they want, or can reasonably afford, in my classical liberal view of the world. But the Bible doesn’t allow for covering up scandal when children are involved. Read about the life of King David to find out what happens when it’s tried.
John McArthur isn’t much better than Bill Gothard. Another old man who became a big name preacher put his own ministry above the safety of his congregants, staffers, and justice for those who were harmed. Read the story of John Tucker and the coverup by Grace Community Church. It seems Mrs. Vuolo may have run from one frying pan into another fire, both led by the hard-line teachings of old men whose religious fervor is only exceeded by the narrowness of their minds. But Ruth Graham at the NYT calls that “deconstructing” her faith, because in the house run by New York secular liberals, discernment of Christian doctrine is about as deep as the 2022 San Francisco Giants bench.
Joe Biden is no better than either MacArthur or Gothard when it comes to protecting their own aristocracy. The federal government is the nation’s largest constituency, followed by state and local government workers, contractors, and suppliers. The government decides which car-makers can offer $7,500 credits on electric vehicles, and which ones who previously could, no longer can; whose batteries we use; whose oil we buy; whose clothes we ear; whose news we anoint as “truth.” Political policy, economic and industrial planning, ESG, and the standards for libel lawsuits against journalists and news organizations are all tied up in this new fused church-state, seemingly run by the same kind of old folks whose sole purpose is to define terms and conditions to protect their own legacy.
Not to defend, in any way, former President Donald Trump, but as villains go, Trump openly declared himself above the law. (“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”) None of the old leaders of our new fused church-state would dare say that, yet their actions indicate they believe it in their hearts.
I originally was going to title this post “Welcome to the Badlands.” If you are a fan of The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, you know these lyrics.
Poor man wanna be rich
Rich man wanna be king
And a king ain't satisfied
'Til he rules everything
I wanna go out tonight
I wanna find out what I got
Well, I believe in the love that you gave me
I believe in the faith that can save me
I believe in the hope and I pray
That someday it may raise me
Badlands, you gotta live it everyday
Let the broken hearts stand
As the price you've gotta pay
Keep pushin' 'til it's understood
And these badlands start treating us good
We are living in a society, a country filled with kings who want to rule everything. I believe God is sovereign, and God knows the hearts of the faithful, and those who love their own position more than their humility before divinity. And some of those who don’t believe there is anything called divinity still can muster more faith in love between humans than some who claim the right to rule over a congregation, a faith, a nation.
I believe in the power of humility. I believe in the power of faith, and that guidance of the Bible for Christians will lead to a place where the badlands start treating us good. But to get there we’ll have to do some serious “deconstructing” or at least “disentangling” of this monster we’ve created, the Church-State of America.
"Yet the New York Times editorial board believes it’s a reason to oppose Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who hasn’t even announced a presidential campaign yet."
When the current libel standard ("New York Times v. Sullivan") is named after you, you may have a stake in the argument to relax it.
That's a lot of good points to make on one Sunday afternoon. Some of those kings you mention appear to have exceeded their constitutional authority so many times that we cannot find court time for all the lawsuits needed to correct the situation.