Sunday, July 28, 2013

New Report Claims American Religious Right Supporting Homophobia in Belize

Last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released a startling report on more American Religious Right efforts abroad. Dangerous Liaisons: The American Religious Right & the Criminalization of Homosexuality in Belize documents the role of the American Religious Right in defending anti-LGBTQ legislation in Belize. Of special interest is Belize' Section 53, which punishes consensual same-sex "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" with imprisonment. Belize-based LGBTQ rights activists such as Caleb Orozco and United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) have challenged the law, filing suit in Belize's highest national court against Section 53 in 2010. However, anti-LGBTQ voices are calling for the law to remain, such as Church Interested Parties (CIP), an alliance of prominent religious institutions in Belize, including the Roman Catholic Church in Belize, the Belize Church of England,  and the Evangelical Association of Churches.

The report accuses right-wing U.S. groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), of providing legal advice to Section 53's defenders. The CIP has distributed pamphlets painting LGBTQ people as sexual predators who target children, and its court documents demonize homosexuality as morally equivalent to "incest, prostitution, and drug use", according to the report.

SPLC condemned the ADF for its homophobic activism and moral hypocrisy, asking how a group that purports to defend freedom could support a law that imprisons people unjustly.

"The ADF’s legal work in Belize is an odd initiative for an organization committed, by name, to “defending freedom.” Nowhere does the ADF explain how jailing members of the LGBT community furthers its goals of protecting “religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.” Indeed, the ADF so far has refused to answer any questions about its Belize initiative, one that puts it at odds with an increasing number of prominent, mainstream Christian organizations."

The report also accuses Belize Action, led by American missionary Scott Stirm and supported by Extreme Prophetic Ministries, of promoting homophobic sentiment as well. Stirm reportedly called UNIBAM's suit against Section 53 “an orchestrated plan of demonic darkness to dethrone God from our constitution and open massive gateways to demonic influences and destruction that will affect generation after generation to come.”

Belize, of course, is not the first target of the American Religious Right's efforts. The report reminds readers of the role of the U.S. Religious Right in fomenting homophobia in Uganda, where a draconian anti-gay bill is currently under consideration. The report also highlighted the international  machinations of groups such as the World Congress of Families, the American Center for Law and Justice, Family Watch International, and United Families International, which have opposed LGBTQ equality for years.

Promoting homophobia in Belize, where homophobic discrimination and violence are already serious problems, can only create more heartache for the country's LGBTQ community. The anti-LGBTQ efforts of the American Religious Right in Belize could not only keep an unjust law in place, but contribute to an already homophobic atmosphere that is stifling Belize' sexual minorities. The new SPLC report serves as another reminder that Christian Right activism is a global issue. The Christian Right's efforts in Belize, other Latin American countries, Brazil, Uganda, and other nations will not abate unless people of conscience condemn them.


To read the full report, click here. To read an introduction to the report, click here.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Commentary Tidbits

Alternet: America Is a Place Where Doctors Need Bullet Proof Vests to Protect Themselves from Christian Fundamentalists

On Top Magazine: Andy Dean: Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee Conservatism Is Dying

Bartholomew's Notes on Religion: US Christian Zionist Rally Includes Calls To Attack Iran

GLAAD: Extreme Anti-LGBT Activists Now Owning It: They Want 'Supremacy"

Stuff Christian Culture Likes: Daddy-Daughter Dates

Good As You: Another Social Conservative Admits 'Gay Marriage Is Already Won'

Wide Open Ground: How Living Overseas Broke My Modesty Framework

Friendly Atheist: Alabama Public School District Plans ‘Prayer Caravan’ to Bless Schools for the Upcoming Year

RH Reality Check: Texas Crisis Pregnancy Center Expects Influx of New ‘Opportunities for Ministry’

News Tidbits

BBC News: Archbishop Tutu 'would not worship a homophobic God'

Washington Post: For most Americans, gay equality trumps religious objections

Edge Boston: New Orleans Strikes Ban on After-Dark Preaching on Bourbon Street From Solicitation Ordinance

Des Moines Register: Forum to rally evangelicals, pastors

Raw Story: Pastor: ‘In God We Trust’ signs on Tennessee courthouse are part of ‘majority rule’

NBC 10 Philadelphia: Pennsylvania: Group to Protest Same-Sex Marriage in Montgomery County

Comic Relief: Ecstatic Worship Meets Street Fighter II

What happens when you combine exuberant preachers, worshippers being "slain in the spirit", and Street Fighter II? This hysterical video. (Hat tip to 22 Words.)




Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pennsylvania's Religious Right Responds to AG's Refusal to Defend Same-Sex Marriage Ban


Earlier this month, nearly two dozen plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm of Hangley, Aronchick, Segal, Pudlin and Schiller filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban, according to NBC 10 Philadelphia. On Thursday, July 11th, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced that she will not defend Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage against the legal challenge. By refusing to defend the same-sex marriage ban, Kane passes the task to Gov. Tom Corbett, according to ABC 6.

The news was applauded by supporters of the suit but frowned upon by others. Pennsylvania General Counsel James Schultz expressed surprise at Kane's decision, according to Pennlive. "We are surprised that the attorney general, contrary to her constitutional duty under the Commonwealth Attorneys Act, has decided not to defend a Pennsylvania statute lawfully enacted by the General Assembly, merely because of her personal beliefs,” Schultz said.

As you can imagine, Kane's move did not go over well with Pennsylvania's Religious Right, who wasted no time in slamming her decision.

First, the Pennsylvania Family Institute blasted Attorney General Kane's refusal to defend the ban. In a July 15th commentary, PFI complained that Kane allegedly "cannot be trusted to be impartial, and not politically motivated."
"Rather than rightfully fulfilling her responsibilities to enforce and defend duly-enacted laws in Pennsylvania, Attorney General Kane has appointed herself “judge” over our Defense of Marriage Act, stating “Pennsylvania’s DOMA has no legitimate purpose other than to disparage and injure same-sex couples by placing them in a less respected position than others.”

Really?  Promoting an institution (marriage between one man and one woman) where children have both a mother and a father isn’t a legitimate purpose?  The legislature certainly thinks it is – the General Assembly passed the DOMA with fewer than 20 voting no."

The right-wing Pennsylvania Pastors Network was also unhappy with Attorney General Kane's decision. On Tuesday, July 16th, the organization released a statement claiming that Kane's decision "encourages lawlessness" and constitutes a "dereliction of duty". 

“This activist decision by AG Kane is an example of the type of lawless action by government officials encouraged by the Obama administration’s Executive Branch with its unlawful refusal to defend DOMA, and the US Supreme Court’s illegitimate ruling against DOMA and California’s Prop 8. The refusal to fulfill constitutional obligations and duties that comprise the very underpinnings of the constitutional oath of office is the very essence of tyranny and must be opposed by all those who love liberty. When our highest elected governmental officials declare themselves to be above the law they do not just tarnish their own integrity, they actually cultivate the spirit of lawlessness among the citizens. I urge those in office to understand the gravity of their actions and for the sake of liberty, to uphold the law.”

As enlightened Pennsylvania's advocate for same-sex marriage, right-wing voices in the Keystone State will undoubtedly continue to resist LGBTQ equality.

Commentary Tidbits

O-blog-dee-o-blog-da: U.S. Christian Extremist Sees Russia's New Homophobic Laws as Model

Bartholomew's Notes on Religion: Honduras Government Promotes Large-Scale U.S. Evangelical Mission Event

Think Progress: Liberty Counsel: Supporting Transgender Kids Is Criminally Bad Parenting

Frank Schaeffer: My Journey Out of the Religious Right (Video)

Wide Open Ground: Misfits? I thought there were 7000 Others

Box Turtle Bulletin: Former Exodus Vice President Issues Open Apology to LGBT Community

Truth Wins Out: American Family Association’s New Coffee Company Comes Fresh Roasted With Anti-Gay, Misogynistic Bigotry

The New Civil Rights Movement: AFA’s New Christian Coffee Company Proselytizes In Uganda, Funds Anti-Gay Hate In US

News Tidbits

Washington Post: Pope Francis Tries to Bolster Church in Brazil

CNN: Pope Francis embarks on historic trip to Brazil, where protesters await

Raw Story: Anti-gay Iowa pastor upset gay man told him to go to hell

Salon: Ted Cruz: Gay marriage advocates will try to stop free speech

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

God Discussion Radio Show Looks at Fundamentalist Homeschooling


Listen to internet radio with God Discussion on BlogTalkRadio


I encourage readers to check out a recent edition of God Discussion on Blog Talk Radio entitled "The Good and the Ugly Aspects of Christian Homeschooling". God Discussion's guests explore some of the startling problems in fundamentalist homeschooling, including historical revisionism, child abuse, educational neglect, and indoctrination as a Christian nationalist tool.

The show features interviews with several great bloggers who have addressed problems with the Christian homeschooling movement, including:

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Vision Forum's History of America Mega-Conference: Closing Thoughts

Part VIII in a series on Vision Forum's History of America Mega-Conference
Part I: First Impressions
Part II: Doug Phillips on God in History 
Part III: "Religious Liberalism" and Those Magnificent Mathers
Part IV: Kevin Swanson Is Tired of Losing 
Part V: Messiah States and Mega-Houses
Part VI: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century
Part VII: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon
Part VIII: Closing Thoughts


I've infiltrated several Religious Right events for Republic of Gilead over the years, but none left me as drained as the History of America Mega-Conference. The fundamentalism and revisionist history pervading the conference was difficult to digest, but it offered me a glimpse into an disquieting homeschooling subculture. Woven through the conference presentations were several common themes:


Dominionism / Christian Reconstructionism -- Dominion theology and Christian Reconstructionist thought were everywhere at the History of America Mega-Conference. From presenters who quoted from Gary North and R.J. Rushdoony, to merchants who sold Rushdoony's books, to the banner in the dealer room that read "READ RUSHDOONY", it was difficult to ignore the affection that organizers held for Christian Reconstructionist writers. To boot, speakers such as Doug Phillips and Marshall Foster attributed Christian principles to America's foundations, ignoring evidence to the contrary. 

Patriarchy -- A heavy musk of Christian Patriarchy ideology hung over the conference. All speakers were white men, several spoke harshly of feminism, and some romanticized stereotypical gender roles and family arrangements. Glaringly, most of the historical figures they spoke of were men. The idea that women have played dynamic roles in history, or that female presenters could have brought meaningful content to the conference, was ignored. When the speakers spoke of "men" in history, I don't think they meant humankind, but rather people with Y chromosomes.

Christianity as Monolithic -- It soon became clear that when presenters spoke of Christians, they meant fundamentalist Protestants. In more than one talk, America was celebrated as a "beachhead" for evangelical Christianity throughout history. Anti-Catholic sentiments reared their heads in several talks, suggesting that some speakers did not recognize Catholics as Christians. Moreover, Doug Phillips claimed that the church was silent on political and social issues in the first half of the 20th century, ignoring the rich contributions of Catholic and progressive Protestant Christians during that time.

Sanitization of Christianity in History -- Speakers trumpeted real or imagined boons from the spread of Christianity while ignoring violence and oppression committed in Christianity's name. Whether speakers were ignoring the violence of Iceland's Christianization, the bloodshed of King Sigurd I's Crusade, or the ethnocide of the Native Americans, the conference painted a very sanitized picture of Christianity's role in history.

Distrust of Secular Government -- Several speakers, including Doug Phillips and Geoffrey Botkin, condemned the U.S. government for its alleged "statism". Government programs and social services intended to help the vulnerable were caricatured as the tentacles of a "Messianic" state.

Distrust of the Present and of Mainstream Culture -- Speakers repeatedly slammed the modern era and its imagined boogeymen -- "statism", secularism, abortion, feminism, evolution, and same-sex marriage -- as fallen and evil. Mainstream culture was caricatured as a corrupting influence from which homeschooling must shield children. At times, Vision Forum's history conferences hints at a longing to return to the past, a past imagined as more virtuous and Christian.

Children as Torchbearers -- Presenters understood children to be transmitters of fundamentalist Christianity unto future generations, and thus concepts such as "generational thinking" often came up. The History of America Mega-Conference was a homeschooling conference, after all, and its revisionist ideas were intended for the curricula of homeschooled children. To boot, children are to be steeped in fundamentalist Christian thought and shielded from mainstream culture, according to Kevin Swanson. Presenters refused to consider how such revisionist education might leave children ill-prepared to integrate into American society, and failed to grasp that some children might reject their fundamentalist upbringing altogether.


At the History of America Mega-Conference, I was exposed to a subculture whose worldview is at odds with modern society. As American society slowly embraces religious pluralism, gender equity, LGBTQ equality, and the paradoxes within its own history, fundamentalist subcultures find themselves out of place in their own country. Since these social upheavals show no signs of abating, will fundamentalists subcultures such as this one retreat even further into their own bubbles? Or will they desperately try to reshape society in their own image by molding the minds of the next generation?

As I listened to workshop after workshop on revisionist history, my heart broke for the children being raised in fundamentalist homeschooling households. The vision of the world they were receiving was incomplete and inaccurate, and I worried about how they would integrate into the larger society as young adults. Would they have the curiosity and will to seek out fresh perspectives and new information, or would they be weighed down by the propaganda of their youth?

As people who recognize the problems with fundamentalism, how do we counter the messages of groups such as Vision Forum? By challenging historical revisionism. By remembering that history encompasses many narratives, not just one. By demanding accuracy in homeschool curricula. By reaching out to current and former homeschoolers and making accurate information available to them. And finally, by educating ourselves on the past and recognizing its impact on the present.

To end on a lighter note, after days of listening to History of America Mega-Conference workshops, I think I've earned a beer. Let's toast to a world free of fundamentalism someday!


Vision Forum's History of America Mega-Conference: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon

Part VII in a series on Vision Forum's History of America Mega-Conference
Part I: First Impressions
Part II: Doug Phillips on God in History 
Part III: "Religious Liberalism" and Those Magnificent Mathers
Part IV: Kevin Swanson Is Tired of Losing 
Part V: Messiah States and Mega-Houses
Part VI: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century
Part VII: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon
Part VIII: Closing Thoughts


The History of America Mega-Conference schedule was packed with workshops that sounded interesting (or disturbing), but I could not observe them all, sadly. Fortunately, a kiosk in the Radisson grand ballroom was selling audio recordings of of keynote speeches and workshops, so I purchased CDs of "The Early Explorers: Sea Kings and Vikings" and "The Providence of God in the Age of Exploration". The former painted Norse voyagers as Christians carrying out a Biblical dominion mandate, while the latter imagined the European "discovery" and colonization of the New World as willed by God.

"The Early Explorers: Sea Kings and Vikings" was presented by Col. John Eidsmoe, the same presenter who delivered "The Rise of Religious Liberalism" workshop. Eidsmoe asked aloud "why men climb mountains" -- that is, why they explore. He explained human exploration as a product of two forces: the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28, and the great commission to convert the world of Matthew 28:19-20.

Earth has likely been explored many times over through human history. One example of ancient explorers was the Phoenicians, who were genetically and linguistically related to the Hebrews. However, he quickly reminded listeners that the Phoenicians lived under a "totalitarian" god-king and followed a "religion of paganism and fertility and human sacrifice".

The Phoenicians, Eidsmoe explained, carried out sea expeditions along Africa's eastern coast, Britain, and possibly North America. To lend plausibility to the latter, Eidsmoe cited the "Mechanicsburg stones" (also known as the Phoenician Stones or Susquehanna Stones) found in Pennsylvania's Susquehanna Valley, allegedly with Phoenician writing upon it.

Eidsmoe shared stories of northern Europeans who set sail, reminding listeners that such stories might be fanciful concoctions or actual historical events that were later embellished. He spoke of the legend of St. Brendan the Navigator (St. Bréanainn), an Irish monastic who embarked on an sea journey with fourteen monks in the 6th century. According to Irish legends, he recounted, St. Brendan and his traveling companions found the island of Paradise, discovered an island of monks with magic loaves that prevented aging, faced a volcanic island with demons, and came face to face with Judas Iscariot.

Another northern European traveler that Eidsmoe discussed was Prince Madog, a Welsh "sea king" who allegedly came to the New World. During the Elizabethan era, when England and Spain competed for the New World, English writers used the Madog legend to justify England's claim to the Americas, Eidsmoe added. Legends also claims that Scottish nobleman Henry Sinclair explored North America in the late 14th century, nearly one hundred years before Christopher Columbus' arrival.

Many of these examples were fanciful legends -- something Eidsmoe admitted -- rather than solid historical fact supported by evidence. I wondered why Eidsmoe was citing legends about men who may or may not have come to the Americas, rather than exploring known history.

Eidsmoe noted that Chinese and Muslim civilizations may have also visited the Americas centuries ago. Eidsmoe claimed that Nihad Awad, founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), alleged that Muslim expeditions from Morocco and Iberia may have visited North America centuries ago. However, Eidsmoe quickly dismissed this claim as being based in "political correctness" rather than historical evidence.

The Vikings, Eidsmoe explained, were the first pre-Colombian explorers whose visits to North America had "solid" basis in fact. Before delving into Norse expeditions to the New World, Eidsmoe briefly discussed the Christian conversion efforts of King Olafr and Thangbrandr, neglecting to mention the violence and threats that reportedly accompanied the Christianization of the Norse. (Doug Phillips sanitized Norse Christianization in a similar manner in his July 2nd opening speech.) He quoted Shane Leslie's writings, which spoke glowingly of Christianity overcoming traditional Norse and Celtic religions.

Eidsmoe celebrated other Christian Norse leaders, including Norweigan King Sigurd I the Jorsalafari ("Jerusalem-farer"), who vowed to lead an army of 10,000 warriors on a Crusade. After sailing around Europe's coast and battling Moors, King Sigurd I received hospitality from King Baldwin I of Jerusalem upon reaching the Holy Land. During his stay with Baldwin, Sigurd I reportedly vowed to take any Muslim city. After Baldwin encouraged him to conquer Sidon, Sigurd I's forces took control of the city. Siggurd I's greatest regret, Eidsmoe claimed, was that he never had the opportunity to directly engage the Turkish fleet in a sea battle.

Eidsmoe depicted the Norweigan Crusade as a swashbuckling adventure, failing to mention the looting and massacres of non-Christians that it entailed. The fig leaf of faith cannot hide the realities of war, slaughter, and looting.

Eidsmoe delved into accounts of Erik the Red and his son, Lief Erikson, who converted to Christianity during a visit with King Olaf. After sharing stories of Norse expeditions to Greenland and New England, as well as violent encounters between Norse voyagers and skraelings (indigenous North Americans), Eidsmoe offered speculation as to why no permanent Norse colonies succeeded.
"Why were these Viking colonies unsuccessful? I'm going to suggest to you why. Because even though they were Christian, they showed no interest in sharing Christ with the natives. They spoke derogatorily about them with a term of derision, skraelings. Sometimes when they came upon Eskimos in Greenland, they simply called them 'trolls'. In other words, they followed the dominion mandate, but they ignored the great commission." 
I found this theory darkly amusing. First, it ignores the fact that the Norse were intruders on Native American soil, which might explain the lack of interfaith dialogue. Second, it disregards other possible roots of Norse colony failures -- disease, difficulties adapting to a new land and climate, lack of critical mass, ongoing hostilities between Norse colonists and Native Americans -- in favor of a dominionist Christian narrative. Finally, Eidsmoe's comment could be interpreted to mean that later European colonists succeeded because they proselytized to the Native Americans, regardless of the conquest and ethnocide it entailed.

Toward the end of his talk, Eidsmoe spoke of the Kensington stone in Minnesota and the Newport Tower in Rhode Island, arguing that these could be remnants of Norse visits to North America. While he did mention that evidence is not fully conclusive, he argued as to why these could plausibly be Norse artifacts from pre-Columbian Nordic visits to North America. He dismissed claims that the Kensington stone is a hoax, apparently eager to show that Norse explorers had an extensive presence in North America.

Eidsmoe's history of early European travelers wove together history and legends into a decidedly Christian narrative about ancient voyagers and evangelists. In doing so, I feel that he downplayed the violence inherent in that narrative, sugar-coating conquests and crusades as Christian "dominion". Eidsmoe's talk, like many others at the History of America Mega-Conference, serves as a reminder of the problems inherent in a narrow view of history.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"The Providence of God in the Age of Exploration" was presented by Marshall Foster, founder of the World History Institute (formerly the Mayflower Institute). Foster began the workshop with a statement about God's intent for human exploration.

"God, from the beginning of time, has made us adventurers. He has made us explorers, and there really is no age of exploration, there is simply unbelief and belief in the power of God to explore. Depending on the time, depending on the age, there has been an ebb and flow of an understanding of God;s purpose for mankind, and during specific times -- that's why we call it the age of exploration -- there was an explosion of exploration and settlement of places around the world. and it took place in the 15th and 16th century, coming out of Europe." 
Exploration and settlement by whom? I thought. Plenty of those places were already explored and settled before Europeans came along. These were stories of European conquest. 

A series of events over the centuries brought forth America as we know it, Foster explained. To understand this history, we must go to the root of history, he said. Everything must be seen in context of who God is, who we are, and what our purpose is in relationship to God. Everything one needs to know about God and oneself is written in the Bible, he argued, and to the extent that people understand their purpose, they will become "mighty warriors for God" who transform nations.

God created man in his image, and created man and woman together so as to subdue the Earth, Foster said. He assigned Adam the task of naming the plants and animals in the Garden of Eden, thereby structuring the garden with the expectation that Adam would take the "wilderness" and transform it into a "city on the hill". God designated humans as his "sub-regent of the universe", making the dominion mandate a godly task. This command was established through families in the Old Testament, he argued, citing Adam and Eve, Noah and his descendants, and Abraham and his descendants. Foster stressed that the Biblical God devised a predestined plan for humanity, not the "god of the Muslims" or the "11,000 gods of the Hindus". Foster seemed to have ignored the fact that the Quran clearly establishes Allah as the god of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.

When we understand this mandate, Foster argued, we can understand the great explorers. He lamented that humans quickly took the dominion mandate too far, with conquerors exercising dominion over other men. Ancient civilizations were plagued by five grave sins: tyranny, human sacrifice, enslavement of both one's own people and foreigners (empire), the establishment of laws independent of God (autonomy), and persecution of believers.

"Mankind went out and took dominion. The only problem is that men took dominion and they went over what God said. God did not say take dominion over other men, he said take dominion over the plants and the animals. What men figured out through Cain and Abel, and then through the great tyrannies of the ancient world, from the Egyptians to the Babylonians to the Greeks to the Romans, was that you just simply needed to take dominion over other men and then you could make them your slaves. Come up with a false religion, guilt them into obedience to you, and have them build your pyramids, have them build your great tombs called the Seven Wonders of the World. And what you've got now is civilization structured on a perverted view of the cultural mandate." 
In making this argument, Foster ignored divinely-sanctioned slavery, patriarchy, conquest, and genocide in the Old Testament, reluctant to admit that the Israelites exercised a "perverted view of the cultural mandate" too.

Foster argued for the supremacy of the Christian faith in history. Rome was an unjust empire, but it now lies in ruins, whereas Christianity has risen from the catacombs to become a major world religion. As proof of its supremacy, Foster claimed that Christianity is the only truly world religion, having spread to multiple continents.

Um, Marshall? Islam and Buddhism would like to have a word with you, I thought.

Christianity allegedly exerted a "civilizing influence" over the ancient world, persuading people to give up their "pagan ways". He likened ancient Christian evangelists to explorers, spreading Christianity far and wide. In the 15th and 16th centuries, "God put all the pieces together" following the Christianization of Europe, he claimed. Europe had lost its missionary zeal, much like modern America, he argued, and "God was going to shake up the troops". This alleged shake-up took the form of the "Muslim hordes", first unleashed in the 7th century, then later surging as the Ottoman Turks. After the Byzantine empire, the "greatest culture of the world", fell to the Ottomans, many Europeans thought they were facing a "countdown to Armageddon", he claimed. By frightening Christian Europe and forcing it out of its comfort zone, God was allegedly disciplining Europe and setting the stage for later exploration.

Foster cited Psalm 107, calling it a psalm of exploration that inspired Christopher Columbus. "God is in control of the wave of history," Foster proclaimed, assuring listeners that God had supremacy over Satan in the world. If one walks with God, God will bless one's culture, as history demonstrates, Foster asserted.

The travels of Christopher Columbus and other explorers led to the creation of America, Foster reminded the audience. He narrated a history of Columbus' early life that included a vision to take Christianity abroad.
"[Columbus] goes on to have a vision of what God wants him to do, begins to read the scripture, and his vision is to go to the west and find the Indies, not only to find treasure, but to find a way to reach Jerusalem and take the gospel to the nations."
Foster shared the story of Columbus' commission, 1492 voyage, and eventual arrival in the Caribbean. Foster called Columbus a "good man" and a "godly man" while briefly acknowledging that he was a poor governor and witnessed evil take place under his management.

That's an understatement, I thought. Kidnapping, exploitation, and colonization aren't exactly the legacy of a "good" man.

However, Foster was quick to demonize the indigenous people that Columbus ruled over as cannibals, likening their alleged cannibalism to modern-day abortion. I wondered if this was intended to soften Columbus' sins in the eyes of the audience by depicting the colonized Native Americans as monsters.
"The natives were not exactly super-friendly. In their second and third voyage they found the Carib Indians, who created children so that they could string them up, abort them, and eat them for bacon, and so ... they were cannibals ... This is not unnatural, and I'm not looking down on those Native Americans, because this was a way of life for the Romans, for the Greeks, for most civilizations throughout the world, for the Aztecs, for the Incas, and so when people are found in pagan cultures, they almost always are involved in human sacrifice, and then as Christian cultures become more pagan, what do they do? They go back to that human sacrifice, and there are 58 million babies dead today in America because we have forgotten our vision as a Christian nation."
Baby bacon? Has Hannibal Lecter heard about this? I thought.

Foster briefly recounted the travels of explorers such as Amerigo Vespucci, Balboa, Vasco de Gama, Magellan, and Ponce de Leon. Foster wove these voyages and their subsequent cultural upheavals into a Christian narrative, arguing that God arranged these events to create a Christian nation.
"Now, those who had a vision for the world, the great commission, the cultural commission had a whole other continent, a wilderness to turn from a wilderness to a city on a hill. And isn't it interesting that it took five thousand years for the civilized world to discover these continents? You think that maybe providence has set aside for such a time as this for the past four hundred years, the development of the world's first [inaudible] republic since ancient Israel? Do you think it might be providence that set aside America to be the fountainhead of evangelical Christianity, that creates even to this day 80% of the money that goes for missions in the world? Do you think that even to this day that America is set aside as a land that still can and has represented Christian law to the nations by the fact that our constitution still rises from its base every morning and can be seen and should be understood? Could it be that God has us, at this very moment, as explorers for our day? It's quite obvious."
Foster left out many disquieting historical facts from the European colonization of the Americas. First, the Native Americans were erased in Foster's narrative. The New World was discovered and "civilized" by Europeans, in Foster's narrative, instead of having been already discovered and settled by the ancestors of the Native Americans. Even more egregiously, Foster ignored the ugly realities of European conquest, colonization, genocide, and ethnocide in favor of a glorious Eurocentric, Christocentric vision. Finally, he shoehorned divine providence into the European colonization of the New World and misrepresented America as a Protestant Christian nation with a "Biblical structure of government". In doing so, Foster refused to acknowledge that the United States was founded as a secular democratic nation, informed by Enlightenment ideas, and shaped by a religiously diverse populace past and present.

In Foster's eyes, the European colonization of the New World proved that an "army of compassion" could conquer a land by faith instead of by the sword, ignoring the use of both faith and sword to subjugate indigenous populations. Furthermore, he argued that the history of the Americas showed that a nation could be built on Biblical principles and sola scriptura, ignoring the absence of both concepts in the United States' founding documents. The fingerprints of God, he argued, are all over the history of the New World. 
"God planned the location of the continents, the direction of the sea breezes, the theology of the explorers, all in such a way that America, the America we know, the United States of America, could be developed a few hundred years later."

In conclusion, Marshall Foster's account of history was one in which Christian proselytization, exploration, and colonization were all part of a divine plan. By holding up a Eurocentric, Christocentric narrative as the only valid one, Foster effectively erased Native Americans, non-Christians, and non-Protestants from the history of the New World. Foster's version of history does not force us to wrestle with atrocities of the past, or face the effects of colonization and ethnocide that still linger today. In short, Foster's history is a shame-free history that absolves us from having to learn from the mistakes of our predecessors.


Stay tuned for closing thoughts on the History of America Mega-Conference.

Other Eyes on Vision Forum's History of America Mega-Conference

It looks like I wasn't the only blogger observing Vision Forum's History of America Mega-Conference. Shawn Mathis at the Examiner has penned a series of articles on the conference, which are worth reading. Mathis is a pastor and commentator based out of Denver, Colorado.


Doug Phillips at U.S. History Conference: "We are legacy-builders"

Vision Forum's History of Mathers Gives Good Lessons, Misses Other Lessons

Botkin's Talk at Vision Forum Conference: Less History, More Sectarian Ideology

Vision Forum's Conference Ends with Panel about U.S. Legacy, Future of Freedom

Monday, July 15, 2013

Commentary Tidbits

Rock Beyond Belief: Military Discrimination Against Christians??

The Registered Runaway: The Accidental Oppressors

I Am Phoenix: Religion Makes Abuse Easy

Religion Clause: Outsourcing of Alternative School to Christian Institution Violates Establishment Clause

Rolling Stone: Rogue State: How Far-Right Fanatics Hijacked Kansas

Wall of Separation: What’s The Matter With Springboro?: Ohio City Grapples With Religious Right-Dominated School Board

Sarah Over the Moon: "You Are Not Your Own" Series

Homeschoolers Anonymous: Homeschool Confidential: A Series

The Guardian: Creationism in UK education – why the fight must go on

Religion Dispatches: In Russia It Is Now a Crime to Insult Someone's Religious Feelings

Love, Joy, Feminism: Teenage Daughters and Their Fathers

Friendly Atheist: Christian Fundies Find Another Thing to Get Upset About: Uncovered Female Heads

Friendly Atheist: The Atheist Daughter of a Notable Christian Apologist Shares Her Story

Buzzfeed: 21 Things Atheist Girls Love

News Tidbits

Washington Post: Tentative settlement reached in suit over Jesus portrait displayed for decades in Ohio school

Huffington Post: Fuller Theological Seminary's Acceptance Of LGBT Group, OneTable, Creates Ripples

WKRC 12: Ark Encounter Project Delayed by Money Woes

Christian Post: South African Pastor Calls Prosperity Gospel Damaging, Asks 'Where Are We Heading To?'

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Powerful E-mail from One of My Readers

I've received several e-mails from readers about my series-in-progress on Vision Forum's History of America Mega-Conference. One reader, speaking from personal experience, reminded me how difficult it can be to escape from a fundamentalist subculture. I was so struck by her e-mail that I asked for permission to share it, which she granted.
Thank you for covering the VF conference. I almost considered going but didn't think I could stomach that much propaganda. You haven't heard any radical ideas yet, everything you've written is very mainstream.

In reference to raising children in a closed information system, yes, it's done. I was one. We grow and sometimes escape (I did) but it's incredibly difficult to function as an adult in a society from which one has been isolated from, misinformed about, and  totally unprepared for.


Personally, it has been extremely difficult to leave the patriarchy as a woman because not only are the escapees cut off from family and familiar social supports, there is culture shock and a STEEP learning curve to learn how to manage life. Being raised to be a baby maker/man servant/ daddy's puppet is terrible preparation for self-sufficient adulthood, and financial freedom is difficult to achieve.  Additionally, it takes great effort to fight years of brainwashing that was literally beaten into you. Homeschoolers Anonymous is quickly filling with escapee stories.

So thank you for exposing the real and dangerous things said behind closed doors.
This is why we need to scrutinize and challenge Christian fundamentalism. Fundamentalist subcultures do a grave disservice to young people, especially girls, and we need to call them out on it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Vision Forum's History of America Mega-Conference: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century

Part VI in a series on Vision Forum's History of America Mega-Conference
Part I: First Impressions
Part II: Doug Phillips on God in History 
Part III: "Religious Liberalism" and Those Magnificent Mathers
Part IV: Kevin Swanson Is Tired of Losing 
Part V: Messiah States and Mega-Houses   
Part VI: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century 
Part VII: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon
Part VIII: Closing Thoughts


On the evening of Friday, July 5th, attendees gathered in the Radisson's grand ballroom for prayer, music, and videos. The evening began with a Puritan call-and-response song lead by Doug Phillips, followed by a benediction. Next, the ballroom screens showed short videos on Vision Forum's latest projects. I distinctly remember the Hazardous Journeys Society, an all-male organization that seeks to explore the world through the lens of conservative Christianity. Hazardous Journeys Society presented itself as an alternative to National Geographic, which has allegedly interpreted the world through the lens of evolution.

After Danny Craig sang "America, America", several young women performed haunting renditions of traditional American songs on violins and harps. After a mixed sex Civil War Choir performed in historical garb, Doug Phillips delivered a talk entitled "The Meaning of the 20th Century: A Providential and Theological Overview".

The 20th century ushered in a new era, Phillips began, and to fully understand the 21st century, we need to understand the 20th. On the ballroom screens appeared a collage of 20th century images: Che, Einstein, Ayatollah Khomeini, a mushroom cloud, Earth from space, and many others.

Phillips recounted his time as a writer for the George Bush administration and a private driver for Billy Graham. While chauffeuring Billy Graham around Washington D.C., Phillips learned about history as Graham pointed out places where he met dignitaries and took part in events. Phillips used this story to explain that the best way to understand history is to study primary documents and meet the people who shaped it.

Phillips shared his version of early 20th century history, beginning with the revivalism of preachers such as Billie Sunday. However, the century would prove to be one of "God-hating nihilism" and genocide", he said. For the first fifty years of the 20th century, he claimed, the church was silent and withdrawn from public debate.

Huh? I thought. That's not what I remember from my college history classes.

Phillips had apparently forgotten Reinhold Neibuhr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Adam Clayton Powell Sr., Dorothy Day, the Catholic worker movement, the social gospel movement, Quadragesimo Anno, American preachers' condemnation of Nazism, regional church roles in Europe's anti-Nazi resistance movements, and countless other voices among the world's Christians. If by "the church", Phillips meant the global body of Christians, then "the church" was anything but silent in the early 20th century.

Phillips claimed that the 20th century church wasn't prepared to deal with genocide and the Holocaust. For this reason, abortion and birth control have now spread through Christendom, he lamented. One third of the people who could have been at the conference that night were "killed by their parents" thanks to abortion, he fumed.

In effect, the 20th century forgot God and turned against him, Phillips told listeners. He depicted the 20th century as an era that saw the rise of "rationalism" and the rejection of God as a higher authority. Enlightenment thinking had given rise to 19th century movements such as Marxism, feminism, socialism, and evolutionism. Then, despite the "restraining" influences of the British Empire and the Christian Queen Victoria, the 19th century's "compromises" produced the 20th century, he argued.

Phillips held considerable scorn for Sigmund Freud and Margaret Sanger. Freud introduced people to psychology, and today, every single branch of psychology is saturated with "anti-God" ideas and "evolutionary scientism", he claimed. Like many other anti-abortion activists, he blasted Margaret Sanger as possibly the most dangerous person of the 20th century, more dangerous than Stalin, Hitler, or Mao. Satan seeks to foment racist extermination efforts, convince people to see babies as dangers to be eliminated, and make parents hate their children, he claimed, seeking to literally and figuratively demonize Sanger. Phillips accused Sanger of embracing eugenics, branding her "the killer angel" who spawned the modern abortion movement and allegedly fueled the ideology of Hitler and Stalin. "The death count is in the billions!" he grieved.

Belief in the state-as-God gave rise to 20th century totalitarian leaders and their genocides, Phillips claimed, pointing to the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, and Japanese atrocities during World War II. A century of supposed enlightenment produced barbarism, thus showing the failure of societies that reject Christ. (Phillips conveniently forgot that Germany was solidly Christian during the Third Reich, that some Nazis wove Christianity into Nazi ideology, and that earlier Christian anti-Semitism set the stage for Nazi racial policy.)

However, Phillips assured the audience that God uses such horrors as part of a larger plan. One of those who fled the Armenial genocide was Christian Reconstructionist author R. J. Rushdoony, for example. Amidst the events of World War II, the hand of God was upon Winston Churchill, he claimed, who was used for a "godly" purpose. Phillips described Churchill as an "indefatigable" and "indomitable" man who stood up against evil.

Tell that to Dresden. And Poland, I thought. Wasn't Churchill allied with Stalin, that tyrant you condemned a few minutes ago? The problem with seeing the "hand of God" on political leaders is that it makes it difficult to acknowledge their morally ambiguous choices. I realize that Churchill fought the Nazi regime -- a noble and necessary task -- and had a net positive impact on the world. However, I also believe that lionizing political leaders as "godly" is highly problematic.

Phillips blasted 20th century "statism", condemning Roosevelt's New Deal as a means of making government a "parent" and overriding the family and church. He similarly slammed Johnson's Great Society programs as "leftist propaganda" that funded abortion and feminist movements.

Predictably, Phillips seethed at the thought of feminism, which began with Eve and exploded in the 20th century, he claimed. He was particularly livid at the thought of women working outside the home. For six thousand years, he insisted, children were raised in the home by mothers, but 20th century women working outside the home changed that. (Actually, women have been working outside the home for centuries. Slaves of both sexes were hired out to work outside the home in Roman times. Plenty of women worked in factories and textile mills in the 19th century. This is not a new phenomenon.)

Decade by decade, the U.S. plummeted into confusion, he explained. He tried unsuccessfully to bring up an image on the ballroom screens, then told listeners that the picture was of the size of babies who never made it into the world. When we reflect on Hitler, we should also reflect on the "abortuary" down the street, he instructed the audience. Phillips lamented the current state of the church, disgusted that even Christian women were having abortions.

Phillips did not want to end on an ominous note, however. He celebrated Christian publishing, apologetics, teachers who have inspired "men of action", and preaching that creates "warriors for God". He also held warm sentiments for the Christian homeschool movement, which sprang from the 20th century's apologetics and activism, he said. The 20th and 21st centuries are times of antithesis, Phillips preached, a time of abortion, evolution, and totalitarianism versus YOU, versus people who want Christ to be king in their home. The task before Christians, thus, is to choose between death or life, Phillips concluded.

Phillips talk was laden with the usual Religious Right chestnuts: abortion and the Holocaust as morally equivalent, disdain for feminism, and historically inaccurate caricatures of prominent figures. Behind the chestnuts, however, was a glimpse at how the Religious Right views the present. For right-wing Christians such as Phillips, the present is a time of barbarism and delusion, which Christians must struggle against. This distrust of the present era and refusal to recognize complexity and nuance in the 20th and 21st centuries reveals a great deal about the Religious Right mind.


More to come soon on Vision Forum's History of America Mega-Conference. Stay tuned!

Commentary Tidbits

Truthout: The Spiritual and Political Warfare of the New Religious Right

CNN: The Top 10: Facebook 'vomit' button for gays and other Pat Robertson quotes

Slaktivist: Charisma magazine’s spirit of hate and lies

Salon: US law enforcement blatantly ignores right-wing extremists

Mother Jones: Foiled in the United States, Anti-Gay Evangelicals Spread Hate in Africa

Friendly Atheist: Christian Pastor: ‘I Believe That the Government Should Use the Death Penalty’ on Homosexuals

The Advocate: But What About the Children?!

Think Progress: Focus On The Family Cheers Ongoing Ex-Gay Therapy Efforts

Truth Wins Out: Transcript: Greg Quinlan Unplugged and Unhinged

Right Wing Watch: Ex-Gay Pride Month to Push for Congressional Resolution, Organizing Music Video Contest

News Tidbits

The Hollywood Gossip: Michelle Duggar: Abortion is "Baby Holocaust"

Huffington Post: Boy Scouts Opponents To Launch Christian Alternative After BSA's Decision To Accept Gay Scouts

Baton Rouge Advocate: Fleming and Perkins claim religious threats in military

CNN: Santorum to jump into Texas abortion ban battle

Washington Post: Kentucky pastor’s wife criticizes Southern Baptists in column, church wants him to resign

BBC News: UN questions Vatican over child abuse cases

BBC News: UK: Exeter church in 'gay couple worship ban'

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Vision Forum's History of America Mega-Conference: Messiah States and Mega-Houses

Part V in a series on Vision Forum's History of America Mega-Conference
Part I: First Impressions
Part II: Doug Phillips on God in History 
Part III: "Religious Liberalism" and Those Magnificent Mathers
Part IV: Kevin Swanson Is Tired of Losing  
Part V: Messiah States and Mega-Houses
Part VI: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century
Part VII: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon
Part VIII: Closing Thoughts  


On Friday, July 5th, I observed an afternoon workshop entitled "The Rise of the Messiah State: From Wilson to Johnson". Geoffrey Botkin of the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences delivered a talk on the supposed ills of social safety nets and the evolution of the so-called "Messiah state". Botkin, a long-time ally of Vision Forum, has a controversial history with Great Commission Ministries, according to commentaries at Under Much Grace (see here and here).

At the start of his workshop, Botkin explained to his audience that a major challenge is to communicate how society should be organized to a culture unused to thinking theologically. "All history is theological," he insisted, echoing the sentiments of other speakers at the conference.

Botkin complained that the U.S. is comfortable with a "Messianic state" now. Quoting Christian Reconstructionist thinker Gary North, he claimed that the "welfare state" died when the Roman Empire fell in 400 AD, but reemerged in the 20th century. From 1913 to 1973 -- from the Wilson administration to the Johnson administration -- America's social order changed theologically to a "welfare-warfare state with fiscal and moral deficits of crushing ... consequences," Botkin claimed.

Botkin understood the state, church, and family to be God-created institutions, each with their own sphere of influence. However, the modern American state is so divorced from God's will that its power to do good has decreased, he said. Over the span of a few decades, "the power of the state to do evil" allegedly grew.

Botkin shared quotes from Christian Reconstructionist authors on the alleged evils of an overbearing state. One quote from Gary North claimed that the "welfare state" is defended as a network of social safety nets, in which business profits are seen as a tax base for the welfare state. Another quote from R. J. Rushdoony caricatured humanists as revering the state as their lord and savior. Revealingly, Botkin's presentation shared another quote from Rushdoony which accused society of succumbing to the "heresy of democracy". In Botkin's eyes, "statists" cannot revere God because they revere the state instead.

"Messianic statism", as Botkin defined it, is an organization of men who provide answers to all of humanity's problems through reorganization of society under the scientific/secular/socialist state, rather than Christ. The state, in effect, replaced God in people's minds, he explained. Changing, man-made laws result in society's "moral dissipation", he claimed, making the state a "maternalistic necessity". As a result of Messianic statism, men become "emasculated", unable to take responsibility in their lives, Botkins claimed. A cycle of dependency emerges, where the more men descend into moral dissipation, the more they need a "nanny" or "mommy" state to care for them.

Emasculation? "Maternalistic necessity"? Mommy states? Someone has masculinity issues, I thought.

Tastelessly, Botkins used natural disasters as an example of dependency on the state. When a hurricane causes devastation, everyone whines "Where is my Messianic state!?", he sneered. His utter callousness to the suffering of disaster victims and disdain for any safety net to help them recover startled me.

Botkins proceeded to caricature the policies of U.S. presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Lyndon B. Johnson. He reserved special animosity for income taxes, Social Security, the New Deal, Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, and public education, which he derided as "free babysitting".

His diatribe was peppered with fundamentalist commentary and disgust for real or perceived immorality. For instance, he described Woodrow Wilson as an agent of "totalitarian experimentation" who did not trust the authority of scripture. He defended Warren G. Harding as a president striving for normalcy in a country destabilized by jazz music, movies, and prostitution. He spoke approvingly of the Hays Code, claiming that it prevented entertainment from undermining society, as it allegedly does now. Tellingly, he painted women's organizations lobbying for pensions for mothers and widows during the Coolidge administration as "less productive" people seeking to exploit the system by looking for handouts.

In his conclusion, Botkin likened the Messianic state to ancient god-kings and notions of divine kingship. He shared a quote from R. J. Rushdoony likening state worship to Moloch worship, calling both examples of "political religion". Like the ancient god Moloch, the Messianic state demands total sacrifice from its subjects, he warned the audience.

I don't think Botkin grasps the purpose of social services or a social safety net. Such measures are not the sinister tentacles of a "Messianic state", but a means by which governments and communities help people in need. The mark of a civilized society is its willingness to help its most vulnerable members gain self-sufficiency. Frankly, I do not want to return to a society where the downtrodden are without recourse. A country without a social safety net, with charities in the place of fair programs, would have a devastating impact on the populace, as S. E. Smith recently observed. The callousness with which Botkin demonized the U.S. social safety net struck me as cold-hearted.

I also found Botkins' workshop highly ironic. A man trumpeting Christ and scripture while ignoring Jesus' teachings on compassion left me shaking my head. Whatever happened to "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me"? Whatever happened to "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me"? Matthew 25:31-46 is lost on such people.


*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Later that afternoon, Vision Forum director Doug Phillips and Weir Capital Management founder Erik Weir spoke at a workshop entitled "How Architecture Helped to Shape the Character of the American Family". Phillips posited that a symbiotic relationship exists between architecture and the family, influencing each other in countless ways. This relationship isn't a function of income level, he insisted, but of vision, making it applicable for tents and palaces alike. Phillips listed three foundations -- aesthetics, design, and architecture -- for designing homes.

Phillips argued that modern-day architecture is diverging from the past, elevating form over function, often abandoning aesthetic principles, and neglecting to consider the family. He looked askance at the deconstructivist school of architecture, contrasting photos of eye-catching deconstructivist buildings with a photo of Monticello.

C'mon Doug. A little architectural experimentation is perfectly fine, I thought.

Phillips stressed the importance of bringing every aspect of the home into obedience to Christ. He asked aloud if a home is to be designed to unite families in common spaces, or to cocoon them in separate bedrooms. Colonial and frontier homes, he observed, were organized around a central hearth where the family interacted, for example.

Monticello held special appeal for Phillips, who praised it as a reflection of Thomas Jefferson's worldview. Monticello functioned as a place to entertain guests, a site of industry and production, a personal study, and a setting in which the new American spirit would be modeled. I noticed that Phillips conspicuously left out Monticello's underground slave areas, where unseen slaves produced food and sundries for Jefferson's guests. This, too, was a reflection of Jefferson's worldview (specifically, his acceptance of slavery), a stain that Phillips left out.

Phillips also praised Montpelier, the historic plantation of James Madison. He described Montpelier's central core, in which children were educated, parties hosted, heads of state entertained, and the family business operated. Montpelier, like other estates of the era, was built with the assumption that future generations would live there an exert an ongoing influence on the area.

Phillips contrasted the communal homes of the past with the homes of the present, which he likened to "flophouses". In the past, it was common for three or more generations to live under the same roof, either out of custom or necessity, he said. He contrasted such multigenerational homes to the dwellings of the "selfish generation" which segregates its elders. Today, families are getting smaller while houses are getting bigger, so families tend to share less space. By living and working near each other, families experienced less infidelity, closer ties existed between parents and children, and more economic incentives to perpetuate family life.

I chuckled to myself at Phillip's assumption about infidelity, as the reality was far less pleasant. Less infidelity? Hardly. Slave owners sexually abused slaves in that time period. Plenty of men patronized brothels in that time period. There was plenty of infidelity.

Phillips stressed the importance of generational thinking regarding architecture and the home. For example, he encouraged listeners to avoid faddishness and cheap quality in home decorations and furnishings in favor of long-term, durable furnishings that will last for many years. In choosing and designing homes, Phillips encouraged listeners to consider multiple considerations: geography, climate, space use, flow, and many others.

It occurred to me through the talk that Phillips' home advice, while well thought-out, would only be applicable for well-to-do families. If families are struggling economically, they won't be able to afford the durable, long-term furnishings. If families are limited in what kind of housing they can afford, they may not be at liberty to base home or apartment choices on a wide range of considerations. In an ideal world, everyone could consider furnishings, geography, and flow in their home choices, but we do not live in an idea world.

This realization grew stronger as I listened to Weir's part of the workshop. Weir's wealth was evident as he described his home, Magnolia Hall Plantation, inspired by the Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana. His family chose a large property that would allow space for future growth, including a row of oak or magnolia trees and on-site housing for his children, he explained. Sharing photos of his home, he proudly pointed out the "manly" Doric columns they chose instead of "flutey" Corinthian columns. As photos from the inside of the home flashed on the screen, Weir explained that he wanted to create an inviting interior. (The foyer, while sleek and pristine, struck me as cold and a little too perfect, however.) Weir and his wife chose fine wood for their floors so that guests with children wouldn't have to worry about sullying a carpet with spills.

This is great, but ... how does this apply to middle and working class families? I thought. Most of the people in the audience probably can't afford to make these choices.

In short, the workshop on architecture was a paradox, an example of intricate thought and little thought. On one hand, Phillips and Weir clearly spent time reflecting on aesthetic values and home functionality, demonstrating a level of forethought that I respected. On the other hand, they seemed oblivious to the fact that only well-off people could meaningfully apply these principles. Weir's home, while lovely and well-planned, is the home of a wealthy man. How relevant would Weir's description of his home be to a couple struggling to feed and clothe multiple children? After taking in Botkin, Phillips, and Weir that afternoon, I wondered how often they reflect on the middle and working class.


Stay tuned for more on the History of America Mega-Conference!

Vision Forum's History of America Mega-Conference: Kevin Swanson Is Tired of Losing

Part IV in a series on Vision Forum's History of America Mega-Conference
Part I: First Impressions
Part II: Doug Phillips on God in History 
Part III: "Religious Liberalism" and Those Magnificent Mathers
Part IV: Kevin Swanson Is Tired of Losing
Part V: Messiah States and Mega-Houses 
Part VI: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century
Part VII: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon
Part VIII: Closing Thoughts 



After celebrating July 4th, I returned to the History of America Mega-Conference on July 5th to observe more workshops. On Friday morning Kevin Swanson presented a workshop entitled "Why 19th Century Literature Was at War with God". Swanson, host of Generations Radio, has a long history of eccentric comments documented by Right Wing Watch, and he was no different in person. I'm not sure what troubled me more: Swanson's acidic tone, or the hyperbolic content of his talk. His seething hatred for The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and other 19th century writers was both irrational and unsettling.

Swanson began his talk by lamenting that America is not the Christian nation it supposedly once was and is not doing as well as it had in the past. The United States is breaking down, he claimed, because the Western world is slowly "apostatizing" as families and civilizations disintegrate.

Swanson reserved special rancor for liberal professors. Citing Ken Ham's 2011 book Already Compromised, he told listeners that liberal arts professors in Christian colleges are highly likely to believe in evolution because of their liberal leanings. Apostasy always begins in the liberal arts departments of Christian colleges, Swanson insisted, adding that many liberal arts colleges are "corruptible" because of their very foundations. Harvard and Princeton have already been "compromised", and many professors at Wheaton College voted for Obama, Swanson said with regret.

Swanson further caricatured liberal arts studies with bombastic words. He sneered at liberal arts departments for their admiration of Karl Marx, whom he called a "Satanist" and "atheist" with an wrong-headed epistemology and a flawed view of history. Swanson also looked askance at liberal professors for their love of Harry Potter books and the gay Dumbledore character. Society is locked in a battle between worldviews, one with battle lines laid out in liberal arts departments where the next generation is receiving its education, he said.

"I am tired of losing!" Swanson shouted. "Is anyone else tired of losing?" The audience applauded.

Swanson proceeded to rant disjointedly against Catholics, LGBTQ persons, and other people he blamed for "apostasy". The Roman Catholic church represents so much "apostasy" from the Christian faith is because of its liberal arts heritage, starting with Thomas Aquinas, he claimed. He wondered aloud how America went from the Christian primers of its early history to children's books such as Heather Has Two Mommies.

Swanson seemed baffled that America has allegedly come to lead the "Neronic* agenda", his term for the LGBTQ equality movement. Even "pagan" leaders in Africa were disgusted by the "hatred toward God" expressed by President Obama's support for same-sex marriage.

The root of the present situation, Swanson posited, is that powerful intellectual men, "many of whom were possessed by the Devil himself", introduced dubious ideas into universities. Swanson called these men nephilim (a reference to human-angel hybrids in Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33) because they led to the destruction of the world through the Great Flood in the Bible, just as they are destroying society today.

Feverishly, Swanson launched a polemic against Thomas Aquinas. In Summa Theologica, Swanson explained, Aquinas separated sacred and philosophical knowledge, with philosophical knowledge based on human reason. This division of knowledge gives man the ability to "think autonomously" apart from God, which Swanson blasted as Aquinas' greatest error. Over a span of 400 years, thinkers such as Locke and Descartes celebrated philosophical knowledge and the supremacy of the human mind, which Swanson branded as toxic to faith.

In the 1700s and 1800s, tension between the Bible and classical writings -- the beginnings of "apostasy" -- could be found in the writings of the Founders, Swanson asserted. By the turn of the 19th century, most Americans rejected the idea that God holds authority over human actions, Swanson claimed. Such was the idea undergirding 19th century "cults" that rejected the idea of the Trinity and embraced Arianism, he insisted.

Swanson was furious that in today's world, science says that the universe is billions of years old, parents are discouraged from spanking children, and the Bible is being rejected because it doesn't jive with humanism. Ethics, philosophy, and science have been divorced from the Bible, he lamented.

Swanson pointed to Emersonian Transcendentalism as a powerful influence on 19th century American religion. Emerson's aunt raised Emerson in the Hindu religion, Swanson claimed, describing Emerson as a pacifist who encouraged others to follow their hearts and make it up as they go along. Swanson further caricatured Transcendentalism as a system in which man allegedly defines his own ethics as he goes along and creates his own reality.

Swanson was especially livid over the popularity of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter in high school and college literature classes. He accused Hawthorne of hating his Christian heritage and dying a nihilist who allegedly saw no purpose in life. He further blasted Hawthorne for allegedly attending seances, marrying into one of the worst "progressive" families of his era, and having ties to Horace Mann, a supporter of public schools. Hawthorne allegedly mocked Christianity in his writings, referring to Cotton Mather as a devil. Finally, Swanson accused Hawthorne of allegedly doing enormous damage to America's Christian heritage with his writings. Events such as the History of America Mega-Conference have such small attendance because people have read Hawthorne and become corrupted.

And here's where things get ... weird.

Swanson believed that Hawthorne's sister was "demon possessed" and sought to see Hawthorne's children possessed as well. He claimed that an unearthly force moved Hawthorne's hand as he wrote The Scarlet Letter, a story "forged in Hell". Outrageously, he claimed that both Hawthorne and Herman Melville admitted to being demon possessed (!?).

Swanson shuddered at the alleged power of The Scarlet Letter, warning listeners not to underestimate the ways that its "Satanic effects" can change nations. Attacking the novel as "stupid" and a "farce", Swanson claimed that The Scarlet Letter represents two gospels. The gospel of Dimmesdale, he claimed, preaches repentance without faith in Christ, as Dimmesdale finds self-atonement rather than substitutional atonement for his adultery. The gospel of Hester, on the other hand, is one of love divorced from law, thus rendering love meaningless, he said.

Swanson's wrath toward the fictional Hester was brutal. He called Hester a "prophetess" of adultery in a later age, when high divorce rates, premarital sex, and out-of-wedlock births would surge. Swanson also accused Hester of being the predecessor of Margaret Sanger, Margaret Mead, Gloria Steinem, and other feminists with "unyielding and rebellious hearts". Hester, in short, was the harbinger of a "feminist world" in which the family is crumbling.

As the workshop churned on, Swanson's gave voice to more visceral hatred of The Scarlet Letter. The moral of the novel, he insisted, was that witchcraft, homosexuality, incest, and feminism are better than Christianity. The Bible commands the death penalty for adultery, but Hawthorne and today's average Christians loathe the death penalty.

Wait a minute. Did I just hear Swanson defend capital punishment for adultery? I thought. The audience sat rapt, apparently unfazed by Swanson's rant. Are you people okay with this? Hello!?

Swanson observed that many Christians are embarrassed by what the Bible commands regarding adultery, homosexuality, and witchcraft. Such Christians love Jesus but hate his law, he said, and thus American religion is solidly anti-Biblical law.

Swanson lobbed similarly hateful accusations at Mark Twain, stunned that so many homeschooling families have Twain's books in their homes. According to Swanson, Twain was an "apostate", communist, atheist man who hated the Biblical God and was possibly possessed by Satan (!?). As proof of this, Swanson said that Twain allegedly acknowledged he was writing letters from Satan himself when he composed Letters from the Earth. Twain also encouraged women to commit adultery, Swanson asserted with no small amount of disgust.

Predictably, Swanson blasted Huckleberry Finn, criticizing the eponymous main character for not fearing God and mocking the notion of divine judgment. The novel, he explained, was about slavery, with Huckleberry Finn choosing to help his enslaved friend at the risk of his eternal soul. Rather than praise Finn's moral courage, Swanson launched into a diatribe about vast numbers of Americans being "enslaved to the welfare state" today. He branded "Muslim" slavery, in which people are kidnapped and sold, as evil, but said that he wished he had time to discuss a Biblical view of slavery. 

Huh? I thought. Slavery is wrong, no matter who practices it. Full stop. I don't care if there's a "Biblical" form of slavery. It's wicked. What is wrong with this man?

"Do not read the heathen stories to your children," Swanson warned the audience. He urged listeners to teach their children the Bible first, instead of giving them a "Greek" education. "Give them the Bible! Let them know the book of Deuteronomy better than they know The Scarlet Letter," he demanded, to which the room erupted in applause.

Deuteronomy? I fumed. You mean the Deuteronomy brimming with bloodshed and genocide? The Deuteronomy with guidelines for owning slaves? The Deuteronomy that allows warriors to take conquered women as sexual booty? The Deuteronomy that instructs communities to stone rape victims and women who don't bleed on their wedding nights? No, Kev, I'm NOT teaching THAT to a child.

Swanson concluded by encouraging listeners to give their children a "war of the worldviews", to give them Biblical context for supposedly ungodly classics they might read. A 14 year-old is not ready for Plato and Aristotle, he claimed; rather, parents should give their children Christian ideas and writers first, then expose them to "heathen" works in their late teens. That way, children will understand how evil such "heathen" ideas are.

In short, Swanson was advocating a closed information system for homeschooled children, in which parents shield their offspring from non-Christian ideas until they approach adulthood. In my opinion, this approach could only produce children who are utterly disconnected from their cultural heritage, from mainstream America. When such isolated children reach adulthood and leave their bubble, how will they navigate American culture if so many important ideas have been either demonized in their eyes or left out of their education altogether?

Then again, maybe I should be more optimistic. In an age of book stores, libraries, and the internet, young people are likely to encounter ideas outside of their upbringing and read books such as The Scarlet Letter.  Swanson and his ilk may find that creating a closed information system for children will be harder than they imagined.

Later, as I recuperated from the workshop in a nearby pub, I tried to digest what I'd just heard. Demon possessed authors? Capital punishment for adultery? Biblical slavery? A closed information system meant to stifle the minds of children? This is sick, I thought. This. Is. Madness.

Swanson's feverish words, and the audience's approval, impressed upon me a disturbing truth: Christian Reconstructionism and superstitious hysteria are alive and well in small corners of our culture. People like Swanson earnestly embrace a fundamentalist worldview, and have every intention of inflicting it on the next generation of homeschooled children.


Stay tuned for more talks from Vision Forum's History of America Mega-Conference!

* A reference to the Roman emperor Nero.