American Theocracy, the Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century
Viking Press, New York, 2006
(Note: Funny – the author says Al Gore, the infamous environmentalist, has connections to Big Oil (1). His father, Al Gore, Sr., became chairman of Island Creek Coal, an Occidental Petroleum subsidiary, appointed by the latter's chair, Armand Hammer. This connection stonewalled an investigation by the FBI into a possible link between Hammer and the Soviet Union. Al Gore, Jr., also became involved, receiving more than $300,000, in the early 1990s about the time he ran for vice president, from a land deal between his father and Hammer that was made in 1973. Of course this was nothing compared to the Bush family dynasty's involvements, and might have been 100 percent honest. But it is interesting information.)
The first part of the Phillips book is about the history of oil, and does not appear to have anything directly to do with the government's dealings with the church. But it is of interest as background material, especially seeing as how our current evangelical president is of a family oil dynasty and that government's collusion with oil over the decades has steered our decidedly unfree market towards dependence on oil.
The U.S. oil policy has been 100 percent mercantilist from Day One. Please remember my comments on and citation of Murray Rothbard's description of it in Three Enemies. My biggest regret is that most people, bereft of any knowledge of economics, believe that the policy has been capitalist, even laissez-faire capitalist. Not even close!
As if that strains credulity (oil being tightly controlled by government to the point of near-socialism), apparently as fundamentalist and evangelical Christians were getting into the act, it was a beer company that was financing their organization (2)!
Why did author Phillips spend the first 100 pages of American Theocracy on oil? I was going to skip that part and go to the meaty part (meaty as far as this project is concerned) but thought the better of it. Oil is of overarching importance here. For one thing, there is an enormous amount of oil under the Middle East, including especially Iraq (which I think is the most likely reason the war is being escalated now as I write this in January, 2007). Nixon wanted to simply take it away from the people living there. This was "nixed" by his fellow establishmentarians. Now, in his footsteps, Bush wants to do the same thing, but it is being done more shrewdly: He has used the "terror threat," alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction, and the "spread of democracy" to justify war there. This will, he hopes, not only supply oil to the U.S. oil companies but will further U.S. imperialism. The author points out that in many cases our troops are being used to guard oil fields (3). Not only that, he has about a third of the American people completely fooled, another third partly fooled and many of the rest being fooled by the left. In other words, the vast majority believe government is the answer to our energy woes. This leaves small-government, pro-freedom types such as libertarians like myself, militia-types and assorted others who are ignored by the lapdog media. Consequently, without a few talk-show hosts and the Internet, it would be really difficult to see solutions other than government.
We who are not fooled know the real reasons for this war are oil and political power. This is so transparent that the biggest mystery here is that so many people are being fooled. And, many of them are evangelical/fundamentalist Christians. Some of these believe that such things as theocracy must come about before the Second Coming of Christ. Not all think that.
However, this essay is really about how the country is self-destructing by getting the church involved with government, and how this is greatly harming the church as well. A large percentage of serious Christians want to codify morality into the civil law. They have always done so to a degree with laws against prostitution, gambling and drugs, and with a downright screwball regulation of tobacco and alcohol. While there are numerous federal laws, most of this is on the state and local level. The crazy-quilt of rules is so inconsistent that what is mandatory in one state may be forbidden in the next one. In fact I remember from way back in the 1960's in New York the kind of liquor license a club could get depended on how many strings there were on the guitars played there. Now, that is a bit more off-the-wall than most but it shows what kind of garbage we have to obey. An enlightened populace would laugh these laws off the books.
But now, an ignorant populace is allowing the installation of a complete federal theocracy (this is why they have so much faith in the latter-day King George) that is trying to get us to believe that this is what the Founders had in mind.
We have already seen that this was far from the minds of the Founders; in fact this is exactly the sort of thing the Founders were trying to avoid.
After a lot of narrative about Christian denominations, statistics on how many belonged to which denomination, and the north-south scism, the author points out (4) that even before the Civil War people were proclaiming that America was God's vehicle for salvation around the world, as though it were another Israel, a chosen people.
Sometime around the 1970's, after the Southern Baptist Convention, as the denomination called itself, gained ascendancy in the South and other places, they became active in politics, rather than sticking to what the Bible says is the job of the Christian church which is to share the Good News. This is, according to the author, the southern fundamentalist denomination that has fought against integration, the teaching of evolution, etc.
But, something very interesting that I was not aware of was also pointed out. Liberal Democrats President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore were both of the Southern Baptist Convention (along with some other top officials). But unlike President Bush, they did not work towards the use of government to achieve "Christian" ends.
I am not sure what to make of that. Possibly Clinton knew better than to try to un-separate church and state (at least "state" at the federal level). Possibly he knew something that most people do not seem to know any more, that the Founders said that the First Amendment does mandate a separation of church and state, and he wanted to follow the law. Or, possibly, Bill Clinton is such a liberal Christian that he is uncaring about the issue. His sexual behavior implies that he is either very liberal or else he does not care. But, that is between Bill Clinton and God, and nobody else is privy.
President George W. Bush, on the other hand, is possibly a true conservative Christian whose interpretation of the Bible is such that he believes that it is the role of the federal government to force, or at least guide, people in the direction he believes the Bible says is right. Look at what he and his followers say should be done with people who buy, sell, grow or even simply use marijuana (even for medical purposes after compelling evidence shows its effectiveness), or what should be done to small, poor or not-so-rich countries which are predominately Muslim and have extensive oil fields.
This sort of activity is the kind that Pres. Bush will claim is his mandate from God. He might even believe it. He has certainly snookered throngs of Southern Baptist Convention members, and other fundamentalist Christians into thinking that it is his God-given responsibility to preside over the "democratization" of Iraq and other mid-eastern countries while straightening out the American people. The internet is alive with warnings to anyone who dares to disagree. It is a good thing that my mother was right when she often said I was born without fear (5).
On the other hand, maybe the Bush camp is engineering all this for the purpose of gaining the growing fundamentalist/evangelist vote. It is not hard to imagine with what we know about Karl Rove and what we have been told by David Kuo. Nixon, too, did that (6).
Again, Bush's beliefs are between him and God, and we are not privy. Either way, a major dis-service to both the Constitution and the Bible is being done.
The author seems to think that G.W. Bush's philosophy is reminiscent of Barry Goldwater's (7). Last winter (2006) I wrote on Goldwater for this blog, and I find this difficult to believe. Of course, Bush can talk the talk of freedom. In fact it infuriates me to no end that he can even talk like a libertarian, saying things like God gave freedom to individuals. Even Goldwater was only partially libertarian. Bush's actions prove that he is quite the opposite of a libertarian, and very different from Barry Goldwater. Possibly the author is listening to what Bush is saying, and what Bush supporters are saying, but not observing what the Bush administration is doing. For example, see what laws Congress has passed (often without reading) at the behest of the administration and that Bush has signed. Or, perhaps the author has not read Goldwater thoroughly, as Phillips points out (8) that authoritarian Bush is not just doing, but saying many things that resemble the talk of authoritarian Osama bin Laden! This is evidenced in the friend-or-foe "if you're not with us you're against us!"
On January 3, 2007, Pat Robertson predicted some sort of major attack on our shores in September, 2007. He said this is word directly from God. He has predicted before, and sometimes he is at least partially right. I, too, can make predictions. I predict a heat wave in July and August and a cooling trend in September in the northern hemisphere. We know that at some point there will be a national disaster and that there is a good chance of another major attack. We do not know if (for sure), when or by whom. The real reason for Robertson's prediction, in my opinion...and this is only an opinion...is that he is really working for Bush, and Bush wants us scared to death so we will turn to the government for protection and do what we are told (9). This is a good example of how the mixture of ice cream and dung is ruining the ice cream. The Christian church is being weakened by the skewing of Biblical tenets even as our country is being trashed.
In discussing theocracy itself (10), as the author defines as rule by religion, some things he predicts will happen. Being apparently on the left, he sees all these as bad. As a conservative Christian (conservative this time meaning voluntarily embracing Christian moral values) and a decentralist, I see some of these as good, such as the reversal of Roe v. Wade (allowing states to decide on abortion) and the withdrawal of the U.S . from the United Nations. I also endorse student-initiated prayer and religious clubs in public schools on the same basis as all other speech and association (11).
The worst thing about theocracy, and this is what is bound to undo the influence of the church, is the enforcement of what the powers-that-be interpret as Christian morality. This is already being done to a great extent here. Government at some level has controlled marriage through licensure and regulation since the mid-nineteenth century at least. For many decades it has strictly regulated gambling, drugs, alcohol and tobacco which most Christians believe are harmful. Prostitution, which I think all Christians regard as sinful, has always been very strictly prohibited, and extra-marital (even marital) sex has been very restricted by civil government. Only fools believe that these activities would be pandemic in the streets if allowed. Traditional gender roles, regarded by Christian conservatives as "instinctive" (trust me, they are not) used to be codified into the law. The compulsory covering of certain body areas shows that we are different from the most traditional Muslims only in what areas must be covered.
Such regulations could change abruptly when new people who have different beliefs take office, which would underscore the arbitrariness of the rules.
These regulations are likely to be expanded upon as theocracy grows, driving thinking people further away from the church. Thinking people of all faiths know that there is not much point to obeying God if someone is pointing a gun to force obedience. Salvation is 100% voluntary, and the individual must make the first move. This is abundantly clear. Not only that, but salvation does not depend on rule-following. Even the left, with all its advocacy of equally insane economic regulations understands this.
This is not even to mention a "holy war" in the mid-east (12) to battle Islam, promote Israel, get oil and promote U.S. imperialism.
To say that Bush is working closely with church leaders is a major understatement. He actually conferred with the Pope on getting Bishops to mobilize Catholics for Bush goals.
The author correctly points out the Bush merger of church and state in the area of faith-based programs. The Kuo book showed us how the churches and charities are being undermined by being promised federal funding and then being further undermined by these funds not materializing.
Phillips is saying, from his leftward viewpoint, that the Bush administration wants to turn the welfare system over to churches. I personally think that in a free market this will be the job of the churches with the offering plates full and the numbers of poor low. We do not have a free market and taxes preclude tithing for most, and the vast majority of people do not want to close down the government welfare system, so this situation will occur for quite some time. Any lip service on the part of Bush to privatizing welfare certainly means a government takeover of any charities or church charity work that would get involved.
The author points out how students in the U.S. are lagging behind those in other countries and he seems to believe that it is because the theocrats in power are creating barriers to scientific inquiry (13). Possibly they are, but actually the main problem has been here for quite some time and that is that government schools train students to obey and be a part of a group rather than think for themselves as individuals.
While I personally doubt both evolution and creationism as I simply do not know enough to form an opinion, and I believe that killing human embryos and fetuses is taking human life, I fear that fundamentalist Christian influence in government is likely to retard scientific knowledge. Scientific inquiry must be limited only by individual rights, and government, especially the federal government due to Constitutional restraints (remember that the federal government is only allowed to do what the Constitution says it may do, and nothing else), must not have any role.
Author Phillips then draws our attention to the fact that the country is debt-ridden. This is one of the things that worries me the most. Individuals and families, on average, are thousands of dollars in debt, and many are living from paycheck to paycheck. Of course, this is all in addition to President Bush's robo-spending which has accrued a tremendous national debt. Individual debt, while individuals are, of course, responsible for their spending habits, is due largely to the Federal Reserve's low-interest policies earlier this decade which encouraged lending and borrowing.
In the event of a severe recession and the loss of many jobs, these people will be in serious trouble. Right now, as I am writing this in late March, 2007, we are seeing serious problems for people whose homes are mortgaged as mortgage payments are rising, even doubling as one news report has said.
With the deficit spending of the federal government, our U.S. dollar is becoming weaker. I personally have been observing this since I spend a great deal of time in Canada. Five years ago, two U.S. dollars would buy me three Canadian dollars, and now we are nearly at par: I just got back from there on March 21, and two U.S. dollars would only buy me about $2.20 Canadian. I also observed that the price of gasoline up there has risen maybe 10% in the last year while here in the U.S. it has risen about 20 to 30% (14).
And now, I understand that in the eyes of many overseas, the Euro is preferable to the U.S. dollar.
While our Federal Reserve is cranking out more dollars, which are backed up by nothing at all but faith, each dollar is worth less. Meanwhile, OPEC nations, as Phillips points out (15), are reducing dollar holdings, pumping these dollars back into the U.S. economy, further diminishing each dollar's worth. This causes a tendency for nominal prices to rise, and diminishes savings (what alarmingly little there is in savings).
That is overly simplified, but basically that is what is happening. If we see accelerating inflation while the country and the people are in debt, we will see a real disaster. Part of the disaster is the war, of course. One reason (not the main reason, but a compelling reason) to outlaw government debt is that war often cannot be fought without debt.
President Bush's spending habits are enough to give a drunken sailor on shore leave pause, while so-called "conservatives" have adopted the bogus, left-wing economics of John Maynard Keynes. The danger of this cannot be over-estimated. In fact, the first most important reason I pray fervently for an unlikely Libertarian sweep is that this will bring about economic policies based on the likes of Murray Rothbard and Ludwig von Mises (16).
So, how does this tie into the destruction of the country and the undermining of the church? Simply this: Any system that calls for the theft of taxation and inflation, the trespass of regulation, the murder of war, and the bearing false witness of officials' lies is not very Christian. And, to snooker Christians into believing it is far worse, and the bogus "Christian" teaching of unconditional submission to governmental authority is the worst of all.
Kevin Phillips points out something that has already made me blow my stack more than once (17) and that is that President Bush (like his father before him) urged Americans to lavishly spend in response to 9-11. This would show the terrorists a thing or three, he seemed to think, besides which the interest rates were nearly zero.
This also jives with these "prosperity gospel" preachers who put the Good News on the back burner to emphasize that God wants people to prosper (18). Certainly, God wants us to "live long and prosper," even to an extent, "don't worry be happy." However, this is not the main thing in life. A long, happy life should be fallout from obedience to God and a healthy sense of personal autonomy. This adds up to responsibility.
Prosperity is also not the main function of the church. Sharing the Good News is. If the "prosperity gospel" were the proper purpose of the church, which it isn't, it seems to me that they would be preaching fiscal responsibility, urging people to pay down their debts and spend less on non-necessities, and lambasting the Bush administration's robo-drunken-sailor imitation. But they're not. And, this is just another part of what I am trying to demonstrate here: the tearing down of our country and the extensive damage to the church.
Deficit spending on the part of consumers does make the economy appear to be good. This is why the politicians urge such spending. However it is a mirage, as eventually all this spending has to be paid for. Credit card debt piles up, crowding out saving and investment. The lack of savings in the economy literally keeps me awake at night, as when the chickens come home to roost, my own position will be seriously undermined, even though I personally have no credit and do not owe a dime to anyone.
Interest rates have come up somewhat (as of the beginning of 2007) thank goodness, and, while this is causing some hurt, it is preventing more hurt later. It is too little too late. A major recession will happen. We do not know when it will happen, but we know that it will happen. This is what Murray Rothbard and other free marketers have taught. He is the one, I believe, who demonstrated along with Ludwig von Mises that it was the expansion of credit that caused the Great Depression (19).
In Phillips' Chapter 8, at the beginning of Part III that discusses debt-related subjects, the author discusses the financial sector of the economy that has, over the twentieth century, overtaken manufacturing. Of course, financial services do not produce anything tangible such as food, shelter and clothing. But they are necessary to an extent in any economy, no matter how free. We need as much as we now do in the way of financial advisors, accountants, lawyers and other such professionals primarily due to the mountains of complicated tax law and economic regulations that have us snowed under. In a free market we would only need a fraction of that, and almost no tax preparation help or compliance officers at all. Many of these professionals' abilities could be turned toward raising our standard of living instead. During the last few decades, the author points out, there has been an increasingly great disparity between the salaries of executives and those of regular workers. Recently, we have been told that these executives are receiving huge severance packages, sometimes in the millions of dollars. We have also seen that the middle class is shrinking leaving the very rich few and the poor many. I contend that increasing government regulation is at fault, along with, particularly in the Bush II era, war and very poor fiscal and monetary policy.
Of course, Phillips points out (20) the Bush family has supported and has been supported by the financial sector, so it all figures. But, he calls this "laissez-faire" and "deregulation" (21) which is something I cannot understand, although there has been a measure of regulatory relief. Of course, I have often heard leftists describe mercantilism or the skewing of regulation to favor business as free-market. I can only shake my head at the abysmal ignorance of what freedom is.
The author uses the word "conceit" in a discussion (22) of how America views itself. That is a good term. We are conceited. The country, actually the government rather than the people, I hope, behaves like a man who thinks he is too good for me. He reminds me of a short-tempered cat who needs a good swat on the behind. "It's all mine!" he seems to say. Such a man is not worth the paper he is printed on, and I throw him back like a fish that is too small to keep. But an imperialist country that behaves that way? God help America.
And if the administration trots out Christianity as an excuse, or is doing what the Bush administration is doing and citing Jesus Christ, I am not just sad, I am angry! Really angry!!!
The intermingling of Christian beliefs with government policy is harmful in another way as was pointed out by the author (23), although as a libertarian I have been frustrated by this for a long time.
I am very frustrated by the way beliefs seem to be bundled together in an inconsistent way. A belief that is anti-individualist such as male supremacy (the idea that the husband is ipso facto the natural leader of the wife is male supremacy, make no mistake about that) is believed to go together with an unrelated belief that is pro-individualist, such as an opposition to the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol would pile heaps of additional regulations on the economy to reverse global warming, which would serve only to stifle individual liberties and most likely not affect global warming at all, or not for several decades at least. (This is assuming global warming is for real, and many reputable scientists are very skeptical.) It really does not take a lot of thinking, assuming one knows some sound Austrian school economic theory (24) to realize how inconsistent these bundles of opinions are. But, as I was saying, unless one gets one's news on the internet from a variety of sources (including libertarian ones like lewrockwell.com and antiwar. com) it is very difficult to sift through the pro-government slanted "news."
I would go so far as to say that big government is a religion!!! The big government that Bush supporters advocate is a religion, or at least a bogus Christianity as a backlash against the left. The secular big government the left advocates is a pagan religion in itself, what with the left's backlash against the religious right. When it comes to many issues, particularly victimless crime issues, only the libertarians seem able to comprehend the idea of no government involvement at all. And, when it comes to things like scientific advancement, being "for" it almost always means advocating federal tax dollars.
Not only do most people rely on the mainstream lapdog news, but the author also believes (25) that many evangelical or fundamental Christians rely principally up their church's communications for their information.
This book was very good, well worthwhile. It could be long and tedious, and I did spend about three weeks on it, a long time even for dyslexic me. Like so many who do not "me-too" Bush, Kevin Phillips' orientation seemed to be predominately left-wing, but I must give him credit for understanding economics better than most non-libertarians. He understands the seriousness of debt, although he does not predict the total catastrophes that I, as a libertarian, do. I do agree that Washington talks the free-market talk to an extent, but they do not walk the walk at all.
As I stated, he does seem to think our present-day economy is close to laissez-faire capitalism, while I believe it is way over-taxed and over-regulated, bordering on socialist. I guess it depends on one's point of view.
If you want to understand what laissez-faire capitalism really is, please go to http://www.mises.org/ and take advantage of their free book downloads. You could e-mail for suggestions on where to begin depending on your level of knowledge. They are not trying to sell as much as they are trying to educate. This is regardless of your religious orientation, as economics is a science as much as it is a humanity.
(1) Phillips, Kevin: American Theocracy, the Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, Viking Press, New York, 2006
(2) Ibid. P. 65.
(3) Ibid. P. 86.
(4) Ibid. P. 143.
(5) Not quite. I am afraid of heights, dead bodies, and bears on the hiking trails.
(6) Phillips, P. 184.
(7) Ibid. P. 201.
(8) Ibid. P. 206.
(9) Also see http://www.lewrockwell.com/barnwell/barnwell73.html Barnwell, Bill, "TV Evangelist John Hagee Wants War with Iran, and hHe Wants it Now!" The same could apply to Hagee. This article shows where the fundamentalists and evangelicals (many of them) stand on the war issue. They believe that Christ cannot come back until certain things happen, and so they are trying to make these things happen as soon as possible.
(10) Phillips, P. 208 and on.
(11) I personally believe in private, competitive, free-market education, as this is not properly a function of government.
(12) Phillips, P. 209.
(13) Ibid. P. 248.
(14) This is ballpark, based solely on my personal observations and is far from scientific. But one cannot miss the plummet of the U.S. dollar.
(15) Phillips, P. 350.
(16) At this point I intend to make a thorough study of the works of Murray Rothbard and report it on this blog next winter, but that could change. I am a very decisive person, but a lot can change in one year. I will be satisfied to be alive and healthy next winter.
(17) Phillips, P. 280-281.
(18) http://www.chuckbaldwinlive.com/c2006/cbarchive_20070104.html. Baldwin, Chuck: "Prostitutes in the Pulpit," 1-4-07. Describes the worst sin of the church as when church leaders are bought by, intimidated by, or influenced by purveyors of wealth and power. This is not only pandering to the state, but also fluff sermons on the "prosperity gospel" are turning attention away from the Good News, the spread of which is really the church's main purpose. All of this, Baldwin says, is destroying the church.
(19) Please see the Roosevelt segment of my Three Enemies essay at http://alicelillieandher.blogspot.com/2005_05_01_alicelillieandher_archive.html.
(20) Phillips, P. 283-284.
(21) Ibid. P. 288.
(22) Ibid. P. 298-299.
(23) Ibid. P. 370.
(25) Phillips, P. 285.