Saturday, April 29, 2023

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Virtue and Political Legitimacy

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., April 29, 2023

David French spoke at the Barnes Symposium on April 20, and lamented that American democracy lacks virtue.  When freedom and democracy lack the moral virtues needed for political legitimacy, democracy is in trouble; and that’s where America is today.  It’s facing a cultural crisis involving the legal and moral standards of political legitimacy.

Everyday we see more crime, more deaths from gun violence, and even more demands for freedom.  Pervasive greed corrupts our financial institutions, and polarized partisan politics prevent political reform.  America has ignored other democracies like New Zealand that have shown that freedom and democracy can be compatible with reason and justice.

Altruism is a critical virtue in a healthy pluralistic democracy, but in America it has been  corrupted by the lust for wealth and power.  While America has done much good in the world, it reflects a vast disparity of wealth.  A booming stock market represents an economy of the rich, but not for the rest.  America’s crony capitalism reflects greed and political corruption. 

If domestic corruption weren’t bad enough, flawed military interventions overseas have been motivated by misplaced American exceptionalism.  Russia and China now challenge the American ideal of freedom and democracy with an autocratic world order; and a skeptical world no longer puts American freedom and democracy on a moral pedestal above other regimes.

The church has lost its moral compass by failing to promote the moral imperative of reconciliation in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves.  It was taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus, and accepted as a common word of faith by Muslim scholars; but exclusivist church doctrines on salvation have done more to further religious divisiveness than to promote reconciliation.

In America Donald Trump and his GOP have fanned the flames of Christian nationalism to dangerous levels, while Russia’s Orthodox Church supports Putin’s unprovoked aggression in Ukraine.  Fortunately, there is no Chinese orthodox church to promote the return of Taiwan to China; but nationalism can create its own religion, as Hitler illustrated with Nazism.

Russia and China are no longer promoting world communism, but they are great powers endowed with vast natural and human resources and nuclear capabilities that match or exceed those of Western democracies.  The world can expect to see more hybrid forms of autocracy, socialism and capitalism that provide more security, but with less freedom.

The halcyon days of unchallenged American dominance of the world order based on the virtues of libertarian Christian democracy are over.  Russia and China are now major autocratic powers seeking to shape a new world order.  Does America’s polarized partisan democracy and its crony capitalism have the virtue to compete with the rising powers of Russia and China? 


On The Virtues and Vices of Christian Morality, April 28, 2018, see

Donald Trump and President Joe Biden have both announced plans to run in 2024.  NBC news reported that 95% of Americans don’t want a rerun of 2020; 70% don’t want Biden to run for reelection, and 60% dont want Trump to run again.  Trump lacks virtue, while Biden’s burden is mostly his age; if Biden is reelected he would be 86 at the end of his term.

David Brooks has proclaimed that in a contest of virtue, Joe Biden is the winner over Donald Trump, and that all other factors are irrelevant.  If that choice is the best that America’s partisan duopoly can provide its voters in 2024, American democracy is doomed for its lack of virtue.    

On the virtues and vices of capitalism and economic justice in American democracy, see 

(6/4/16): Christianity and Capitalism: Strange Bedfellows in Politics; see also

(2/11/17): The Mega-Merger of Wall Street, Politics and Religion; also

(4/27/19): Musings on the Legitimacy of Crony Capitalism and Progressive Capitalism, also

(5/9/20): Exposing the Corruption of Crony Capitalism

On the corrosive effect of a two-party duopoly on virtue in America’s polarized democracy, see

(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy; also

(9/23/17): Tribalism and the American Civil Religion; also

(11/6/21): Musings on the Need for Political and Religious Reconciliation in America; also

(11/13/21): Musings on Reconciling Conflicting Tribal Loyalties to Promote the Common Good

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Musings on the Threat of Autocracy to Democracy in a New World Order

          By Rudy Barnes, Jr., April 22, 2023


     Putin’s unprovoked aggression in Ukraine and China’s Xi claim that Taiwan must forfeit its independence and return as part of China are a preview of a new autocratic world order.  Ukraine is only the first battle in the global competition of political ideologies that puts at risk the libertarian alternative of freedom and democracy to oppressive autocracy.  

Ross Douthat and Thomas Friedman have opined on the efforts of Russia and China to promote a new world order.  Democracy has been the Western preference over autocracy since the Enlightenment, with Christianity its preferred religion; but those global preferences are now being challenged by the national power and influence of autocracy in Russia and China.

American democracy has never been a political panacea, as evidenced by the Civil War; and materialism and hedonism have since negated any notion of democratic idealism.  Winston Churchill once observed that democracy is the worst form of government--except for all the others; and history has affirmed the absence of any benevolent despots as alternatives.

Religion has provided the moral standards of political legitimacy in a democracy; but the American church has lost its moral  compass, corrupted by polarized politics and Christian nationalism.  Germany was the most Christian nation in Europe until Hitler used Nazi nationalism to support his aggression in WWII; and Putin has used Hitler’s playbook in Ukraine.

America is fertile ground for Christian nationalism, and Donald Trump and his GOP have fanned the flames of nationalism in America’s churches.  Since Vietnam American military interventions have been motivated by nationalism in the form of American exceptionalism; but assisting Ukraine defend its democracy is a global rather than a nationalist strategy. 

As in WWII, assisting other nations preserve their freedom and democracy can require the use of force.  Putin’s aggression in Ukraine again requires a collective defense--as would any Chinese aggression in Taiwan.  Jesus never addressed the need to use force to protect freedom and democracy, but love for our international neighbors requires us to do just that.

Russia claims to be a Christian democracy, but the support of the Russian Orthodox Church and most Russians for Putin’s aggression in Ukraine defies the altruistic teachings of Jesus summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves; and next year’s election in Russia will test its claim to be a democracy.

Russia and China represent a clear and present danger to global freedom and democracy.  Despite the efforts of America and NATO to defend Ukraine, Russia’s aggression continues.  As the global ideal for freedom and democracy in a Christian culture, America’s influence is diminished by greed, materialism, hedonism, political corruption, gun violence and rampant crime.  In its competition with autocracy, American democracy has an image problem.  



Ross Douthat has cited a study that indicates that the world could move toward Russia and China.  “Last fall, after eight months into the new world disorder created by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the University of Cambridge’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy produced a long report on trends in global public opinion before and after the outbreak of the war.  Russia did become less popular in 2022, but overall, developing-world public opinion after the invasion was still slightly warmer to Russia than to the United States, and (for the first time) warmer to China than to America, too. To the extent that the Ukraine conflict betokened a new geopolitical struggle between an American-led “maritime alliance of democracies,” as the report put it, and an alliance of authoritarian regimes anchored in Eurasia, the authoritarian alliance seemed to have surprisingly deep reservoirs of potential popular support. This reading of the geopolitical landscape has found vindication in the months since. Outside the Anglosphere and Europe, the attempts to quarantine the Russian economy have found little sustained support, and the attempts at diplomatic isolation likewise.”  On the global stage, democracy is slipping. 


Thomas L. Friedman has reported on “what I just saw in China and Taiwan,” confirming and elaborating on Ross Douthat’s assessment of China as a threat to democracies in the Western World.  “China’s failure to come clean on what it knew about the origins of Covid-19, its crackdown on democratic freedoms in Hong Kong and on the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang, its aggressive moves to lay claim to the South China Sea, its increasing saber rattling toward Taiwan, its cozying up to Vladimir Putin (despite his savaging of Ukraine), Xi’s moves toward making himself president for life, his kneecapping of China’s own tech entrepreneurs, his tighter restrictions on speech and the occasional abduction of a leading Chinese businessman — all of these added up to one very big thing: Whatever trust that China had built up with the West since the late 1970s evaporated at the exact moment in history when trust, and shared values, became more important than ever in a world of deep, dual-use products driven by software, connectivity and microchips. Xi told President Biden at their summit in Bali in November, in essence: I will not be the president of China who loses Taiwan. If you force my hand, there will be war. You don’t understand how important this is to the Chinese people. You’re playing with fire.” 

Friedman has said, “I believe that we are doomed to compete with each other, doomed to cooperate with each other and doomed to find some way to balance the two. Otherwise we are both going to have a very bad 21st century.  Friedman cited one of Geotge Shultz’s cardinal rules of diplomacy and life: ‘Trust is the coin of the realm.’  Never has that been truer than today, and never has China been more in need of embracing that truth.” See

On Musings on a New World Order Based on Reconciliation, not Conflict (3/5/2022), see

On Christian nationalism in America and Russia (3/26/2022), see

On Musings on Defending Democracy from the Tyranny of a Nuclear Autocracy (3/12/2022), see

On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith (4/1/2023), see; also

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Church and the Greatest Commandment (6/25/2022) at

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christian Nationalism and Democracy

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., April 15, 2023

Religious nationalism has ancient roots that go back 4,000 years to the birth of Judaism.  Christianity evolved from Judaism in the 1st century, and in the 4th century Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire.  Islam completed the trio of Abrahamic religions in the 7th century, and introduced Jihad as holy war to promote Islamic nationalism.

It would be the 16th century before Hugo Grotius challenged the divine right to rule with secular nationalism.  Religion and politics remained inseparable until the 18th century when the  Enlightenment made religious freedom a fundamental right of democracy.  Even today, in many Islamic nations apostasy and blasphemy laws continue to prevent the freedom of religion.

Democracy has exacerbated the problem of Christian nationalism since popularity is the measure of success in both democratic politics and the church.  Americans have difficulty distinguishing their obligations to God and country since the teachings of Jesus were never popular, and Trump’s GOP has corrupted the church and democracy with radical right politics.

America is not alone.  Russia claims to be a Christian democracy, but the Patriarch of  the Russian Orthodox church and most Russians support Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, while Netanyahu and conservative Jews are undermining Israel’s democracy.  Religious nationalism seems to be eclipsing democracy, with loyalty to religion becoming more popular than freedom.

Two centuries ago, America initiated a hopeful experiment in freedom and democracy that would make people masters of their political destiny; and 50 years ago it was a popular global ideal.  Since then national power and greed have distorted those libertarian ideals.  Since democracy requires a popular majority to support its altruistic ideals, its future is uncertain.

Religion and culture play pivotal roles in the battle for political legitimacy.  The American church has ignored partisan politics like Trump’s MAGA that promote nationalist politics.  In Russia a nationalistic Orthodox Church and an authoritarian culture stifle freedom and promote Putin’s aggression.  In China economic freedom is allowed, while political freedom is denied. 

Russia and China support a new global hegemony that promotes authoritarianism over democracy, and Israel illustrates how a corrosive coalition of radical right politics and religion can undermine an existing democracy.  The survival of freedom and democracy depends on the will of democracies around the world to defend freedom--a will that seems increasingly in doubt.

It will likely take a 21st century Enlightenment to revitalize a healthy balance between freedom and religion and enforce international humanitarian laws that prohibit unlawful aggression like that of Hitler in WWII and Putin in Ukraine.  Nationalism is the enemy of freedom and democracy, and it must be countered by a global alliance of NATO and Asian democracies.


David French will be speaking on Christian Nationalism and the New Right at the Barnes Symposium at USC on April 20. See Barnes Symposium French_Flyer 2.pdf David French served as a military lawyer in Iraq (see My Decision to Serve: A Veterans Day Reflection, The Atlantic, November 11, 2022, at  I’m a retired JAGC officer who served in Special Action Force Asia in the 1960s, and have written on the importance of law and as a standard of legitimacy in military operations. See Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium.  A copy of the manuscript and other writings on military legitimacy are provided in Resources at

On Christian nationalism in America and Russia (3/26/2022), see

Other commentary on Christian nationalism and military legitimacy:

(3/29/15): God and Country: Resolving Conflicting Concepts of Sovereignty

(5/6/17): Loyalty and Duty in Politics, the Military and Religion

(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy?

(6/23/18): Musings on the Separation of Church and State and Christian Morality in Politics

(4/12/19): Musings on Religion, Nationalism and Libertarian Democracy

(7/13/19): Musings on Sovereignty and Conflicting Loyalties to God and Country  

(8/10/19): Musings on Christian Nationalism: A Plague on the Church and Democracy

(8/31/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Politics of Christian Zionism

(1/9/21): A Reckoning and Repentance Following the Storming of the Nation’s Capitol

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

(4/30/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Obsolescence of Christianity in Politics

(6/25/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Church and the Greatest Commandment

(11/5/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Jesus, the Church and Christian Nationalism

(11/12/22): Musings on the Need for a Civil Religion in America’s Dysfunctional Democracy

(12/10/22): Musings on the Evolution of  Christianity into the American Civil Religion

(3/11/23): Musings of a Maverick  Methodist on the Future of Christianity and Democracy

(Mar 2013) Back to the Future: Human Rights and Legitimacy in the Training and Advisory Mission, in

Special Warfare, posted in Resources at

(12/29/14): Religion, Violence and Military Legitimacy

(5/24/15): De Oppresso Liber: Where Religion and Politics Intersect

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Easter and the Coming Kingdom of God

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., April 8, 2023

Jesus began his ministry by announcing the coming kingdom of God, and three years later he entered Jerusalem on Passover with crowds welcoming him as their long-awaited messiah.  They  would be disappointed.  Jesus was not the zealot and worldly leader they expected to overthrow Roman rule, but a maverick rabbi who exemplified sacrificial love.

Today the Christian religion continues to represent Jesus as God’s blood sacrifice sent to save believers from sin, rather than to be followed as God’s Truth.  While Christianity has grown to be the world’s largest religion, the world continues to live in sin.  To save the world from itself, the church should focus on promoting the teachings of Jesus on love and reconciliation.

As Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter, they should ponder the meaning of the resurrection.  The church continues to emphasize beliefs based on cheap grace rather than the cost of discipleship; but after 2,000 years the meaning of the resurrection should be conformed to the teachings of Jesus rather than on church doctrines never taught by Jesus.

The teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.  It defines the moral imperative of God’s reconciling love, but exclusivist church doctrines and dogmas never taught by Jesus have done more to divide people than to reconcile them.

Christian beliefs are based on Paul’s atonement doctrine.  It limits salvation to those who believe that the crucifixion of Jesus was God’s blood sacrifice for the atonement of sin, and that the bodily resurrection of Jesus confirmed him as a Trinitarian form of God.  Such a belief is blasphemy for Jews and Muslims and an obstacle to reconciling the Abrahamic religions.

The true meaning of the resurrection is in the mind of God and beyond church doctrines and dogmas.  Christians often cite John 14:6 as proof that Jesus Christ was the way, the  truth and the life; but the Gospel of John is mystical and symbolic.  It presents Jesus as the Logos, or the Word of God, not as the one and only human manifestation of God.

Easter is a time to ponder the meaning of the resurrection, and it can be understood in different ways.  Jesus announced the coming kingdom of God, with salvation based on following God’s Word of love and reconciliation, rather than on belief in Jesus as the alter ego of God.  All who believe that Jesus was a great prophet can share Easter as a resurrection of God’s living Word.

The greatest commandment is taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus, and is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims.  Reconciliation doesn’t require conforming all beliefs to one true religion, only belief in a common word of faith that’s the way, the truth and the life.  The Word of God was resurrected at Easter.  God’s reconciling love is universal and supersedes all religions, and can bring God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.


Jesus called his disciples to follow him as the Word of God, not to worship him as God. See; also,

On Jesus as the Logos and the universal Word of God, see Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Irony of the Logos in John's Gospel at; also

On Seeing the Resurrection in a New Light, see

The root words for at/one/ment relate to being reconciled at one with God and our neighbors, as in the greatest commandment and a common word of faith.  Forgiveness is one way to be reconciled, but in its  Christian application, making salvation dependent on exclusivist beliefs is more divisive than reconciling.

On Paul’s exclusivist doctrine of atonement in Christianity, see

On The greatest commandment as a common word of faith, see Musings on a Common Word of Faith and Politics as a Means of Reconciliation at, and at

On The Kingdom of God, Politics and the Church, see