Saturday, November 27, 2021

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Human Depravity in Democracy

         By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Democracy makes us masters of our political destiny, for good or bad; and it reflects our human nature in those we elect to represent us.  Democracy can either liberate us or oppress us--and Americans have managed to do both.  At our nation’s birth we liberated white people, and at the same time we oppressed black people by ignoring the evil of slavery.

Robert Tracy McKenzie has observed conflicting rationales for democracy: “There are really only two basic reasons to believe in democracy. The first is because you have faith in human nature.  The second is because you don’t.  ...Americans long ago embraced democracy for the wrong reason.  We think too highly of ourselves, and this comforting misperception worsens our dysfunctional governance and magnifies our partisan polarization.” 

McKenzie notes that the Founding Fathers “spoke unapologetic-ally of human depravity, by which they meant not that we are desperately wicked, but rather that we are driven by self-interest, even at the expense of others.” Thomas Jefferson was a deist who considered the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus as ”the sublimest moral code ever designed by man.”

America’s increasingly polarized tribal culture thrives on human depravity, even as the altruistic and universal teachings of Jesus promote reconciliation.  God’s will is to reconcile and redeem, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer.  Sadly, Satan is winning popularity contests in democracies by doing a convincing imitation of God in politics and the church.

McKenzie considers Andrew Jackson the progenitor of America’s populist politics, and Donald Trump is an avatar of Jackson.  Trump’s narcissistic immorality is antithetical to the altruistic morality taught by Jesus; but ironically Trump was elected with the support of 80% of white Christians.  Their hypocrisy exemplifies moral depravity in politics. 


The politics of radical right Republicans continue to trump the common good, while leftist “progressive” Democrats advocate socialist policies that erode freedom and threaten future generations with excessive debt.  American voters are split on party loyalty, and the parties remain polarized.  A politics of reconciliation is needed to promote the common good.

Human depravity is deeply embedded in America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture.  It will  take a moral reformation to restore decency over depravity in American politics.  The church lost its moral compass in the 2016 election.  To restore its legitimacy, the church must give primacy to the universal moral teachings of Jesus over exclusivist Christian doctrines.

Unless the church can promote a politics of reconciliation among America’s competing tribes of race, religion and partisan politics, a moral reformation to counter the corruption of human depravity will have to come from outside the church.  Without a politics of reconciliation and the moral stewardship of democracy, human depravity will continue to corrupt democracy.     


Robert Tracey McKenzie is a history professor at Wheaton College who has  given human depravity a historical context in American democracy.  He begins with the Founding Fathers who acknowledged “We are naturally selfish and self-centered.  The founders believed that human beings are capable of acts of sublime self-sacrifice, but they also spoke unapologetically of human “depravity,” by which they meant not that we are desperately wicked, but rather that we are driven by self-interest, even at the expense of others.  When they gathered in Philadelphia in 1787, the architects of our Constitution took this view of human nature for granted, and they applied it equally both to the government and to the governed. They knew that officeholders would be inclined to abuse their power. They knew that their constituents would be predisposed to seek personal advantage above the common good. And so they took precautions. They designed a Constitution with a  separation of powers and checks and balances   as an extended commentary on human selfishness and the temptations of power. Andrew Jackson was America’s first populist president, and he changed the political tone. “He told voters that they were “uncorrupted and incorruptible,” “enlightened” and “patriotic,” marked by “good sense and practical judgment,” and renowned for their “high tone of moral character.” When Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States during Jackson’s first term, the author of   Democracy in America observed that Americans had “a very high opinion of themselves.” They lived in “perpetual self-adoration,” had an unshakable confidence in their “good sense and wisdom,” and only voted for candidates who praised their many natural virtues. For all the weighty differences that distinguish the politics of the 1830s from our own, when it comes to our understanding of human nature, contemporary American democracy is Jacksonian democracy. What politicians like Andrew Jackson preached two centuries ago about human nature, modern-day Americans wholeheartedly believe. Because our democratic gospel preaches that we are naturally good, we deny that the line separating good and evil passes through our hearts but instead runs outside of us, and our comforting democratic assumption is that it neatly separates “We the People” from all who would threaten our liberty or imperil our prosperity. In times of war (hot or cold), we draw the line between the United States and foreign foes. At other times, we distinguish between “We the People” and a host of domestic “enemies.” Americans on the left have often pointed to Wall Street financiers, white nationalists and Christian fundamentalists on the right have regularly targeted socialists, Hollywood liberals and the mainstream media, among others. Traditionally, we have conceived of these sinister groups as small in number and confined to the poles of the political continuum. We’ve assured ourselves that the rest of the country, the “real America” worthy of the title “We the People,” comprised a vast middle ground in which loyal citizens disagreed over details while remaining unified in their most fundamental commitments. But no longer. A 2016 survey by the Pew Research Center found that nearly half of Democrats and Republicans viewed the other party as “a threat to the nation’s well-being.” On the eve of the 2020 election, a survey by the same organization revealed that four-fifths of voters believed that party differences went beyond policies to “core American values and goals.” Almost nine-tenths agreed that their party’s defeat would bring “lasting harm” to the nation. What has not changed is our characteristic conviction that those who agree with us are righteous; and our overoptimistic appraisal of our own righteousness contributes substantially to the white-hot partisanship that now paralyzes Congress and poisons national elections. When the line that separates good and evil is the boundary between the major parties, the bipartisan cooperation needed to break the gridlock in Washington becomes a form of moral compromise, even of moral cowardice. To the degree that we frame our elections in such stark dichotomies, we imply that the other side is not merely misguided; it’s malevolent. We flirt with the position that the other party isn’t merely to be defeated but rather dismantled, that its views are not merely unintelligent but fundamentally illegitimate. Such a position is incompatible with an open, pluralistic society. No one-party state has ever been truly free.” Even so, “American democracy’s cardinal political dictum is that “We the People” are basically good, and our collective decisions bear moral authority. We must either jettison our democratic faith or find evidence of illegalities that prevented the voice of the “true” majority from being heard. All things equal, a people confident in the righteousness of “We the People” will be disinclined to accept the legitimacy of electoral defeat at the hand of those they view as “enemies.” The irony is that, in acting to save democracy, they may undermine popular faith in the democratic process.” According to the World Values Survey, roughly three of four Americans born prior to World War II find it “essential” to live under a democratic form of government, but that proportion falls for every subsequent generational cohort. Among “millennials” born after 1980, fewer than 3 in 10 feel that strongly. Thanks to their healthy awareness of human selfishness, our Founding Fathers insisted that power is always a threat to liberty, regardless of who wields it, regardless of how we justify it, regardless of who benefits in the short run. Their writings reverberate with warnings about “the love of power,” the “thirst for power,” the “natural lust for power so inherent in man.” Too much power may be dangerous in the hands of the people’s enemies, but we’re confident that we — as well as our designated champion — can be trusted. And because we are naturally selfish and don’t realize it, we’re also naturally short-sighted. We prefer immediate gratification to self-denial, and that makes us susceptible to foolish bargains. When we expect to benefit in the short run, by a temporary increase in security or prosperity or comfort, we can be persuaded to jeopardize our liberty in the long run. This is why Alexis de Tocqueville could write in Democracy in America about “the burden of liberty.” The task of sustaining liberty is hard, and it never ends, not only because we live in a fallen world, but because each of us is fallen as well. The founders understood this, but it’s a truth that we’ve largely forgotten or rejected, and that makes our task even harder. See

George Will has deplored the depraved but “progressive” politics of San Francisco, citing observations of depravity by Michael Shellenberger, who “has a history of progressive preoccupations.”  See

While President Biden’s personal morality is a vast improvement over that of Trump, the “workaround” morality of his policies have been said to “damage the machinery of democracy.” See

A recent Washington Post /ABC poll indicates that Americans remain deeply divided on issues and party preferences: “The Post-ABC poll finds that 63 percent of Americans support Washington spending $1 trillion “on roads, bridges and other infrastructure,” while 58 percent support spending roughly $2 trillion to “address climate change and to create or expand preschool, health care and other social programs.” But even with that overall support for the president’s spending initiatives, nearly 6 in 10 Americans also say they are either very or at least somewhat concerned that Biden will do too much to increase the size and role of government in U.S. society. Clear partisan divisions exist on concerns about the government’s size and scope, with nearly 9 in 10 Republicans saying they are concerned about this, while 7 in 10 Democrats say they are not. But 3 in 10 Democrats register some level of concern, and more than 6 in 10 independents say they are worried. Neither party is seen by most as being in touch with the concerns of most people: A third of adults say that Democrats are in touch with people’s concerns, while 62 percent say they are not. Similarly, 37 percent say Republicans are in touch, and 58 percent say they are out of touch. Disgruntlement with the opposition party is strong, but partisans also are not uniformly happy with their own side. One-quarter of Democrats say their party is out of touch, and the same portion of Republicans say the GOP is out of touch. Clear majorities of independents see both parties as being out of touch. The Post-ABC poll finds that 27 percent of adults identify as Democrats, while 26 percent identify as Republicans, narrower than the six-point advantage that Democrats have averaged in Post-ABC polls since last fall. The long-term stability of party identification suggests Republicans’ current parity may be temporary, although patterns will become clearer in the coming months.” If the poll is accurate, it indicates that 53% of Americans are about evenly divided in party preferences leaving 47% as independent voters. That would  indicate that partisan polarization is not as pervasive as once thought.  See

The “Rittenhouse acquittal magnified divisions [and human depravity] in a polarized America. “  See 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religion as a Threat to Freedom

      By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Michael Flynn, a retired Army major general and former national security director for Donald Trump, recently told a receptive audience of conservative Christians that “If we are one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion.”  Flynn was advocating the end of religious freedom, protected in the Constitution he was sworn to support and defend. 

Flynn echoed Emperor Constantine, undoubtedly a favorite of Trump, who made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century.  It took 14 centuries and a revolution to end Christianity as a state supported religion in America; but there are those today like Flynn who would like to reestablish Christianity as America’s only religion.

What’s especially troubling is that the same “Christians” who favor ending religious freedom in America talk openly about using their guns to defeat what they call tyranny.  They are echoing Trump when he encouraged the January 6 assault on Capitol Hill.  Americans are living in dangerous times; and they have created their own danger to freedom and democracy.

Religion is especially dangerous to liberty when believers advocate their religion as the one true faith.  Jesus was a Jew who never taught that God favored one religion over others.  The idea that Christianity is the only way to salvation and that those of other religions are condemned to hell has been promoted by a church committed to the power of popularity.

Christianity is not the only religion that claims to be the one true faith and denies the freedom of religion.  So does Islam, as evidenced by the prevalence of apostacy and blasphemy laws in Islamic nations; and American Christians also once had blasphemy and apostasy laws.  Ironically, religion has been the biggest obstacle to the freedoms of religion and speech.

Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers made the freedoms of religion and speech first among those in our Bill of Rights.  Today militant Christians are challenging the concepts of freedom in the Constitution with a distorted interpretation of the First and Second Amendments that provides unlimited rights to bear arms to enforce their nihilistic libertarian views of freedom.

Muslims have similar religious and political conflicts.  While radical Islamists continue to kill and terrorize those who do not share their radical beliefs, most Muslims, like most Jews and Christians, respect those of other religions.  They share the greatest commandment to love God and their neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as they love themselves.

In pluralistic democracies, religions must promote both religious freedom and religious reconciliation.  Religions that fail to do so will lose their legitimacy and wither and die; and if they are a majority in a democracy, it will also wither and die.  That will happen in America if its Christians don’t reject the distorted forms of Christianity that elected Donald Trump.  American democracy cannot survive another election debacle like that of 2016.    


CNN reported that Michael Flynn’s call for “one religion” in the U..S. garnered swift condemnation, especially from military leaders.  LTG Mark Hertliong (Ret) said, “His words are disgusting.”  See

Michael Gerson’s opined that Trump supporters’ logic of political violence should alarm us all, noting that “since the morally murky days of the Revolution, the American story has been marked by political violence at regular intervals; ...Americans have often been tempted to express their anger and achieve their goals outside the boundaries of the constitutional order. The peaceful conduct of politics is not a natural state; it is a social achievement.  Maintaining it requires positive moral effort.” See          

Wikipedia provides historical background on Constantine the Great and Christianity. See

or a related commentary on The Freedoms of Religion and Speech: Where Human Rights Begin, see


Saturday, November 13, 2021

Musings on Reconciling Conflicting Tribal Loyalties to Promote the Common Good

       By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

The Virginia gubernatorial election disappointed Democrats, but it raised the hopes of non-partisan independent voters (like me) looking for evidence of less partisan polarization.  Responses to my commentary last week from my Democratic friends reminded me that I’m as much a maverick in my independent politics as I am in my universalist religious beliefs.

Conflicting loyalties to political, religious and racial tribes in America are obstacles to the common good.  Partisan politics have transmogrified American culture in their competition for the support of our racial and religious tribes.  The idea of one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all has become a pipe dream.  Reconciliation is needed to save America from itself. 

Biden was elected with the support of independent voters who expected him to provide centrist leadership following the Trump fiasco.  Instead, Biden has advocated a leftist social agenda asserting that Americans want bold and bigger social programs, even though polls and the Virginia election indicate most Americans oppose such an expensive leftist agenda. 

The ultimate objective in politics should be to provide for a common good that’s beyond partisan objectives.  Biden’s costly Build Back Better (BBB) social programs ignore a massive national debt to appease Democratic constituents.  Promoting the common good requires balancing the cost of social benefits with their cost, and the cost of BBB is not yet clear.

After the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) provides its report on the cost and revenues of BBB on top of the existing $28 trillion national debt, then Congress can consider the political pros and cons of the proposal.  The magnitude of the 2,000 page BBB bill requires a thorough cost/benefit analysis and public debate, not a hurried political process.

If partisan politics rush BBB and prevent voters from fully understanding its political and economic implications, it will denigrate democracy by subordinating the common good to partisan objectives.  Not long ago members of both parties crossed the aisle to promote the common good.  America’s partisan tribes need to restore the art of compromise in Congress.

It will take a moral reformation to reconcile America’s conflicting political, religious and racial tribes.  It should begin with the universal greatest commandment to love our neighbors, including those of other races, religions and politics, as we love ourselves.  That may seem like a pipe dream, but it’s necessary to restore our traditional ideals of liberty and justice for all.     

Since 2016 party loyalty has trumped political reconciliation, and both parties ignore the need for reconciliation.  The common good in a democracy is defined by all the people, not just those in a party with a slim majority.  For America to restore its traditional democratic values, it must reconcile the conflicting loyalties of its competing tribes with promoting the common good.        




When the Infrastructure bill passed the House on November 5, 13 Republicans voted for it, and 6 Leftist “Progressive” Democrats voted against it.  That’s a positive indicator that bipartisan politics may be beginning to reconcile partisan tribalism.  See

The GOP erupted over its (13) House members bailing out Biden’s Infrastructure bill.  That’s an indicator of continuing partisan tribalism.  See

An NBC/ABC poll reported by NBC on October 31, showed that President Biden’s support had sunk to 42% (a decline of 7% since August). See

In a USA TODAY/Suffolk poll reported on November 8, President Biden’s support had slipped to 38%, and the top 2 responses to the question, What is the single thing that’s most important  for Biden to do in the next year? were: #1 was: Resignation/retire/quit (20%), and #2 was. Economy/jobs (11%); #10 was Bipartinsanship (3%). “Those who mentioned social programs totaled 7%.” See

Chris Cilizza of CNN has cited Rep Abigail Spanberger (D Va), who in an interview with NYTimes said, “Nobody elected [Biden] to be FDR.  They elected him to be normal and stop the chaos.” According to Cilizza, “ What Spanberger is suggesting is that Biden tried to govern like FDR -- massive government spending on huge social programs -- without FDR majorities or an FDR mandate from the public. Her belief is that Biden was NOT, in fact, elected to fundamentally reshape the country and the relationship its average citizen has (or wants) with the government. That he was actually elected to be a steady hand on the tiller -- in the wake of the Trump chaos -- and to steer the country, from a public health and economic perspective, back to some semblance of normal.” See

Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post opined that “Democrats should thank the moderates in their party who demanded that Biden’s BBB social bill “receive an acceptable ‘score’ from the Congressional Budget Office.“  Tumulty said, “A political imperative for speed is not an excuse for carelessness. Americans have a right to expect that their leaders have taken every foreseeable contingency into account before they undertake major new initiatives. And they should be wary of any effort to bypass the referees.” See

On What is the CBO, and how could its score derail Democrats’ spending bills?  See

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Musings on the Need for Political and Religious Reconciliation in America

         By Rudy Barnes, Jr., November 6, 2021

The gubernatorial election in Virginia provides some hope that political and religious reconciliation can heal the divisions that plague American democracy.  There was an absence of rabid Trump supporters and evangelical charlatans who have dominated and corrupted past elections.  Maybe America can begin to reconcile its toxic political and religious divisions.

The election affirmed recent polls that over 70% of Americans think the country is going in the wrong direction, and that the economy is the biggest issue.  It rejected leftist Democratic spending policies that would increase America’s massive national debt, reversing Biden’s 2020 commitment to centrist independents to promote political reconciliation.

Centrist politics can defuse the polarized partisan politics that stymie compromise in  Congress.  Since a third party is not a feasible alternative in America’s two party duopoly, one or both parties must restore the capability to compromise on important issues.  Partisan loyalty that prevents bipartisan compromise is a threat to democracy. 


Religion played a more subdued role in Virginia’s election than in the past.  Christianity remained a dominant political force, but it was not as partisan and divisive as in past elections.  Even though the church continues to emphasize its exclusivist beliefs as the only means of salvation, it seems that Christians are becoming more open to religious diversity.

A toxic mix of religion and politics in the white church elected Donald Trump in 2016 and has since caused disillusionment and noticeable declines in church membership.  There have been trends in opposite directions--some toward more progressive forms of Christianity and others toward more conservative forms.  The future of the church as a political force is in doubt.

It may be back to the future for America’s religion.  Thomas Jefferson was a deist who favored universalism and considered the moral teachings of Jesus as “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man.”  Christian universalism originated in the late 18th century with the Universalist Church of America.   In 1961 it merged with the American Unitarian Association to create Unitarian Universalism.  It could be a prototype of American religion in the future.   

Robin Meyers and Martin Thielin are among an increasing number of progressive Christian pastors who share a universalist faith based on the teachings of Jesus as God’s truth.   Alan Wolfe would describe their universalist forms of faith as secular religion; and there are many in other religions, as well as agnostics and atheists, who also have a secular faith.

Polarized partisan politics and claims of exclusivist religions In a culture of increasing political and religious diversity can doom democracy.  Those of differing politics and religion in America’s dangerously divided culture should transcend their differences and promote political and religious reconciliation to preserve the fragile fabric of American democracy.  


“A recent NBC/ABC poll shows that Biden's job rating has sunk to 42 percent. Just nine months into his presidency, 71 percent of Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction ”.  See

“The Democrats’ problem is not focusing on the issues most vital to independents, according to two prominent pollsters.  Neal Newhouse said, ‘The conversation in Washington doesn’t match the conversation that’s happening around the country.” Joel Benenson gives Biden huge credit for winning independents by a net gain of 12 percentage points more than Hillary Clinton in 2016. Now they are turning away from Biden and his agenda: 70 percent of independent voters said the country was headed in the wrong direction, according to the seven-page memo the pollsters wrote for Center Forward.  In their survey of more than 2,600 likely voters, the pollsters asked respondents to cite their three most important issues. Democratic voters chose climate change, pandemic recovery and “raising taxes on the rich” as their most important issues, closely followed by “health insurance coverage/costs.” See

Chris Cilliza of CNN cited Abigail Spanberger (D Va) after the Virginia gubernatorial race saying ”Nobody elected Biden to be FDR, they elected hm to be normal and stop the chaos.” Biden said in his inaugural address, "Few periods in our nation's history have been more challenging or difficult than the one we're in now," adding: "This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward."  What Spanberger is suggesting is that Biden has tried to govern like FDR -- massive government spending on huge social programs -- without FDR majorities or an FDR mandate from the public. Her belief is that Biden was NOT, in fact, elected to fundamentally reshape the country and the relationship its average citizen has (or wants) with the government. That he was actually elected to be a steady hand on the tiller -- in the wake of the Trump chaos -- and to steer the country, from a public health and economic perspective, back to some semblance of normal. See

The Washington Post Editorial Board chided Democrats for failing to raise taxes on the rich to pay for their social programs.   “The Democrats’ bill is supposed to make the nation fairer and more competitive,” but instead ”it includes a massive new payoff to the wealthy” that’s a “cynical, wasteful policy.”  See


Thomas Jefferson fabricated The Jefferson Bible as his personal collection of the moral teachings of Jesus, leaving out many of the mystical matters in the gospel accounts.  Jefferson understood that political legitimacy depended upon moral standards, not mystical beliefs, and that the moral standards of political legitimacy in America were derived from the Christian religion.  Jefferson held the teachings of Jesus in high regard but he detested church doctrines.  In 1804 he wrote: “I consider the doctrines of Jesus as delivered by himself to contain the outlines of the sublimest morality that has ever been taught; but I hold in utmost profound detestation and execration, the corruptions of it which have been invested by priestcraft and kingcraft, constituting a conspiracy of church and state against the civil and religious liberties of man.”  Robin Meyers has echoed Jefferson’s criticism of the church in Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus,  Even so, the church has continued to promote exclusivist church beliefs that emphasize worshiping Jesus as God rather than following him as God’s word. See Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards in Religion and Politics (March 17, 2018) at

The altruistic teachings of Jesus on salvation were universal and not limited to those of any exclusivist religious beliefs.  He taught that all who did God’s will were his spiritual brothers and sisters in the family of God. (see Mark 3:35)     

In a world of increasingly pluralistic religions non-orthodox truth seekers will likely determine the future of religion and the moral standards of legitimacy that shape political legitimacy. See


James Wood has reviewed Martin Hagglund’s book, This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom (Pantheon Books, New York, 2019) and summarized it as “the idea [that] eternity destroys meaning and value” by “subordinating the finite (the knowledge that life will end) to the eternal (‘the sure and certain hope that we will be released from pain and suffering and mortality into the peace of everlasting life).  Wood notes that Hagglund “is quiet about Judaism, whose practices are sensibly grounded in the here and now, and which lacks the intense emphasis on the afterlife characteristics of Islam and Christianity.”  Hagglund defines religious faith as “any form of belief in an eternal being or an eternity beyond being, either in a timeless repose (such as nirvana) a transcendent God, or an imminent, divine Nature.”  Hagglund explains that “the problem with eternity is not that it doesn’t exist but that it is undesirable and incoherent; it kills meaning and collapses value.”  Wood notes that Hagglund doesn’t try to disprove religion, “so that [his secular faith] incorporates many of the elements traditionally thought of as religious.”  Citing Hegel (as Hagglund reads him), “a religious institution is just a community that has come together to ennoble ‘a governing set of norms--a shared understanding of what counts as good and just.  The object of devotion is just the community itself.  ‘God’ is just the name we give the self-legislated communal norms (the principles to which the congregation holds itself), and ‘Christ’ the name we give to the beloved agent who animates these norms.”  See The Time of Your Life at

Alan Wolfe, like Hagglund, is a self-proclaimed atheist and scholar; but unlike Hagglund Wolfe has acknowledged the relevance of religion to politics and has been optimistic that secular forces of progress and modernity were leading religions toward reconciliation. Secularism is not the opposite of belief; nonbelief is. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal once famously showed that it would be irrational to bet against the existence of God. It would be equally foolish, in the long run, to bet against the power of the Enlightenment. The answer to the question of which religion will dominate the future, at least politically, may well be: None of the above.

...Until relatively recently, most social theorists, from Marx to Freud to Weber, believed that as societies became more modern, religion would lose its capacity to inspire. ...However one defined modernity, it always seemed likely to involve societies focused on this world rather than on some other.  But intellectual fashions are fickle, and the idea of inevitable secularization has fallen out of favor with many scholars and journalists. Still, its most basic tenet—that material progress will slowly erode religious fervor—appears unassailable. ...A hundred years ago, in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber quoted the great evangelical John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church: ‘I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.’

...It appears safe to conclude that Americans are not living in the world envisioned by Marx or Freud.  But one shouldn’t go overboard in describing American religiosity. For one thing, it is as shallow as it is broad: Americans know relatively little about the histories, the theological controversies, or even the sacred texts of their chosen faiths. Recent decades have seen the rise of the Christian right in the United States, but they have also witnessed the seemingly inexorable advance of secular ideals, such as personal choice and pluralism, that blossomed in the 1960s. Nonbelief, meanwhile, is increasing: not only are atheist manifestos selling in large numbers, but the percentage of those who express no religious preference to pollsters doubled between 1990 and 2001, to 15 percent.

The key precondition for the marketplace of religion is the presence of rudimentary secular values. This may sound odd, since the secular has long been thought the opposite of the religious; but secularism is not the opposite of belief; nonbelief is. Indeed, secularism has religious, specifically Christian, roots; it renders unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, while leaving to God what properly belongs in his realm. 

Does the pattern hold outside America? Various versions of the prosperity movement are attracting followers in developing countries, as well as in poorer areas of the United States, precisely because they value success in this world as much as holiness in another. ...Their goal is not to question the modern world’s riches but to bring them within the reach of more people. And once this dynamic is set in motion, it tends to gather momentum. As Eliza Griswold points out, the success of the Pentecostal Gospel of Prosperity in Nigeria has prompted the creation of a new Islamic organization focused on economic empowerment, which already has 1.2 million members in Nigeria alone.. ..Those who worry about religious revivals in the world today usually pose an either/or choice between religion and secularism. In reality, the two can work together.

Religious peace will be the single most important consequence of the secular underpinning of today’s religious growth. All religions tend to be protective of their traditions and rituals, but all religions also change depending upon the cultural practices of the societies in which they are based. Protestantism and secularism have always had close ties: as noted, Locke was drawing on a specifically Protestant sensibility when he wrote in defense of secular ideals.”  See

On Christian universalism:

(1/28/17): Saving America from the Church

(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World

(6/17/17): Religious Exclusivity: Does It Matter?

(7/22/17): Hell No!

(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism

(9/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism

(10/13/18): Musings on a Common Word of Faith and Politics for Christians and Muslims

(3/16/19): Musings on the Evolution of Christian Exclusivism to Universalism

(5/11/19): Musings on the Relevance of Jefferson’s Jesus in the 21st Century

(6/22/19): The Universal Family of God: Where Inclusivity Trumps Exclusivity

(2/22/20): Musings on Why All Politics and Religion Are Local (and not Universal)

(1/16/21): Truth and Reconciliation in Politics and Religion in a Maze of Conflicting Realities

(5/22/21): Musings on Morality and Politics and the Need for a Civil Religion in America

(10/9/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Relevance of Jesus Today