Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Need for a Revolution in Religion and Politics

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

What if Moses, Jesus and Muhammad were to meet today?  Would they promote the exclusivist and contentious religions that have evolved in their names, or would they seek reconciliation and find consensus in a common word of faith?

Judaism, Christianity and Islam have already identified a common word of faith in the greatest commandment to love God and to love their neighbors as they love themselves, and their neighbors include those of other races and religions.

The greatest commandment is actually two commandments from the Hebrew Bible.  The first is the Shema, or Jewish confession of faith: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (see Mark 12:29-30, taken from Deuteronomy 6:4-5)  And the second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. (see Mark 12:31, taken from Leviticus 19:18)

That begs the question: Who is your neighbor?  Jesus answered that question with the story of the good Samaritan, in which a Samaritan stopped to help a wounded Jew after several Jews passed him by. (Luke 10:29-37)  Jews detested their neighboring Samaritans, who they considered to be apostates.  It was like a Muslim stopping to help a Jew or a Christian today.
 Islamic scholars have embraced the greatest commandment as a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.  Islam means submission to God, as does the Jewish Shema.  Both Judaism and Islam define love for God as obedience to God’s holy laws as set forth in their ancient scriptures, with God rewarding the obedient and punishing the disobedient.

Judaism and Islam share a deontological orientation that equates loving God with obedience to God’s laws.  The teachings of Jesus have a more teleological orientation that puts love over law.  While Moses and Muhammad were political leaders who used holy law and violence to enforce their leadership, Jesus was a peaceful, if not subversive, Jewish prophet.

Moses, Jesus and Muhammad never addressed issues related to democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law.  Those political concepts were introduced in the Enlightenment and were not relevant to their ancient times.  Even so, they would likely agree that love for others, including those of other races and religions, should be the rule in both religion and politics today.

If Jews, Christians and Muslims were to promote universal love for others as a governing rule of faith in today’s world, it would create a revolution in religion and politics.  But if the past is prelude to the future, institutional and exclusivist religions will likely defeat the revolutionary and inclusive power of universal love and die a slow death.  Their decline is already under way.

Religious fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam is an obstacle to loving those of other races and religions.  Religious fundamentalists are motivated by the fear of change based advances in knowledge and reason.  They counter that fear with exclusivist beliefs in the absolute truth of their ancient scriptures and condemn those who do not share their beliefs. 

Beyond fundamentalism, most forms of Christianity and Islam continue to subordinate the moral imperative to love those of other religions to belief in exclusivist mystical doctrines.  Religious exclusivism opposes God’s will to reconcile and redeem all humanity and promotes Satan’s will to divide and conquer.  And Satan does a convincing imitation of God in the church, mosque, and in politics—as was evident in the election of Donald Trump.

It will take a revolution to reconcile our religions, and the election of Donald Trump may have been the catalyst for such a revolution.  It may motivate enough Jews, Christians and Muslims to challenge their exclusivist religious beliefs and promote a politics of reconciliation to preserve the fabric of democracy.  That would be a revolution in both religion and politics.

Notes and commentary on related topics:

On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith, see

On love over law: a principle at the heart of legitimacy, see

On Jesus meets Muhammad: Is there a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims today? see

On religion, the Pope and politics in the real world, see

On the future of religion: in decline and growing, see

On Jesus meets Muhammad on issues of religion and politics, see

On religious fundamentalism and a politics of reconciliation, see

On religion and a politics of reconciliation based on shared values, see

On irreconcilable differences and the demise of democracy, see

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Gerrymandering, Race and Polarized Partisan Politics

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Is gerrymandering the biggest obstacle to democracy in America?  It has produced polarized partisan politics, a dysfunctional Congress, the two most unpopular presidential candidates in history, and most voters oppose it; and gerrymandering is not likely to end soon since the elected representatives who benefit from it continue to perpetuate it.

Gerrymandering is rooted in racism.  It began in the South with the demand of black voters for minority representation.  The creation of single member districts in which black voters were a clear majority created even more districts in which black voters were ignored.  The result has been to institutionalize racism in partisan politics.  The Democrat Party is now the party of blacks and other minority groups, while the GOP is the party of the white majority.   

Redistricting is required every ten years with the decennial census, and it has been the responsibility of legislators elected in the districts being redrawn.  The proverbial fox has been left in charge of the electoral henhouse, with the result that racial polarization along party lines has remained endemic in U.S. politics. 

Redistricting after the 2020 census should be by courts or by an independent political entity.  But even if there is no change in the method of redistricting, increasing demographic diversity will transform gerrymandering in the long term, with more Hispanic and Asian voters diluting the traditional black-white racial dichotomy in the electorate with more racial pluralism.

Gerrymandering will continue to polarize politics along racial lines through the 2020 census unless the public interest is placed above partisan interests.  A third party could do that, but 2016 election results indicated that voters are not ready to elect third party candidates to challenge the existing Republican and Democrat political duopoly.

Religion is a wild card in U.S. politics.  The vast majority of voters consider themselves Christians, but there is much political diversity among them.  Evangelical Christians emphasize an exclusivist religion that seeks to preserve traditions, and they traditionally support Republican candidates.  By way of contrast, black Christians traditionally support Democrat candidates.

Most white Americans identify with mainline Christian denominations that avoid mixing their religion and politics.  And while most vote for Republicans, unlike evangelical Christians, they believe that the altruistic teachings of Jesus are God’s truth.  With pastoral leadership they could relate those moral imperatives of faith to their politics and end gerrymandering.

Politicians remain accountable to the voters, even in gerrymandered districts.  Church leaders—both white and black—should promote racially neutral districts as part of the Christian stewardship of democracy.  That could break up the political logjam of gerrymandering and its racially polarized politics.

Gerrymandering is a major obstacle to racial justice in America.  While its original purpose was to provide black representation, its continuation has institutionalized racism in partisan politics.  Gerrymandering will not end without black voters feeling that they have been denied representation—but it will end.

The end of gerrymandering will come with increased demographic diversity in the U.S.  Already non-white births outnumber white births, so that the days of a white majority in the U.S. are numbered.  The racial dichotomy between blacks and whites is being subsumed by more racial and ethnic diversity.  That will end gerrymandering and allow a politics of reconciliation.

I have personal experience with gerrymandering.  As a member of Columbia City Council from 1978-1986 I supported single member districts that allowed black representation on city council; and as a candidate for Congress in the Fifth Congressional District in 2016, I experienced the partisan polarization that is a lasting legacy of congressional gerrymandering.

America has had a black president and Columbia now has a black mayor.  There is no justification to continue gerrymandering, and the efforts of the Trump administration to preserve a white majority by curtailing immigration are doomed to fail.  American democracy will survive the age of gerrymandering; even so, it has caused lasting damage to our democracy.    


Brian Klaas has asserted that gerrymandering is the biggest obstacle to genuine democracy in the United States.  So why is no one protesting?  See

On religion, race and the deterioration of democracy in America, see

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Mega-Merger of Wall Street, Politics and Religion

   Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            President Trump, backed by his cabinet of billionaires, Republican minions in Congress and evangelical Christian supporters, has pledged to roll back regulations on the mega-banks and businesses of Wall Street.  That paves the way for the Executive and Legislative Branches of the U.S. government to cede power to Wall Street.  It is a merger that will lack public accountability and increase the wealth and power of the super-rich at the expense of the middle class. 

Bigger is better on Wall Street, but not on Main Street.  Over the years mega-mergers of big banks and businesses on Wall Street have reduced competition and eliminated jobs on Main Street, shifting wealth from the middle class to the super-rich.  This has created disparities in wealth and power that have severely eroded the middle class and undermined economic freedom and social justice.  That has set the stage for the mother of all mega-mergers.

            Today the mega-banks and businesses of Wall Street are a greater threat to our freedom than big government.  While government regulation of small businesses should be minimized to promote the economy, regulation is needed to protect consumers from big banks and financial institutions that have little competition, and to ensure that they do not become too big to fail and require taxpayer bailouts as they did in the financial crisis of 2008.
            It is a great irony that evangelical Christians have given moral sanction to this immoral merger of political and economic power.  They elected Donald Trump, a vain and vulgar billionaire and caricature of Wall Street, as their President, despite the moral teachings of Jesus that warned against the danger of riches.  Money is power and power corrupts.  Voters can hold elected officials accountable, but there is no accountability for the super-rich of Wall Street.

Most Americans claim to be Christians, and most seem to have put worldly success above social justice as the ultimate objective of their faith.  Popular evangelists like Joel Osteen, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Paula White and Robert Jeffress promote the prosperity gospel, which represents the merger of Ayn Rand’s objectivism, the religion of Wall Street, with Christianity.  Objectivism sanctifies selfishness and making a profit above all else. 

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale was a progenitor of the prosperity gospel.  He was once Trump’s pastor and was much admired by him.  Dr. Peale’s mantra was the power of positive thinking, and its doctrine was, Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.  

The self-centered creed of the prosperity gospel conflicts with the altruistic teachings of Jesus that emphasize social justice, especially for the least of those among us.  Robin Meyers has stated the challenge for Christians in the title of his book: Saving Jesus from the Church; but the first priority of all Americans should be saving American politics from the corrupting power of Wall Street.  That is essential to protect individual freedom and provide for the common good.

Banks and financial institutions have a fiduciary responsibility to those whose money they hold and manage.  Banks were once held to that fiduciary duty by the Glass-Steagall Act; but it was eliminated in the 1990s to promote the economy.  That lack of regulation contributed to the 2008 economic crisis, and Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act to prevent a recurrence of that crisis.  Now the Trump administration has pledged to gut the Dodd-Frank Act.

            Donald Trump has reneged on his campaign promises to reign in the powers of Wall Street, not only by deregulating mega-banks, but also by failing to control exorbitant price increases by the pharmaceutical industry.  Controlling health care costs is essential to affordable health care.  President Obama also broke his campaign promise in 2008 to control such costs before making healthcare a right rather than a privilege with the Affordable Care Act.

            An alliance between politics, religion and Wall Street has maintained the illusion that the regulation of big business is bad for freedom and the economy, but the opposite is true.  Economic freedom depends upon curbing the avarice of big banks and businesses.  Trump’s intended conversion of American democracy into a Wall Street oligarchy would cede political and economic power to the super-rich of Wall Street at the expense of the middle class.

            The mother of all mega-mergers is not a done deal.  Most of the voters who made Donald Trump their president claim to be Christians, but they threw Jesus under the bus.  They can restore legitimacy to their religion and politics in the 2018 elections by following the teachings of Jesus summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and all their neighbors as they love themselves.  That merger of faith and politics could restore American the Beautiful.  


On changes in the top leadership of the Federal Reserve as bank deregulation looms, see
On U.S. stocks hitting record highs based on Trump’s promise of a “phenomenal” tax plan, Quincy Krosby, a market strategist for Prudential Financial, said “ The market is saying, ‘Thank you for coming back to the very core of the reasons we have accepted your agenda.’”  See
On Trump’s reneging on his campaign promise to control pharmaceutical price increases, see

Commentary on related topics:

On The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith, see

On Wealth, Politics, Religion and Economic Justice, see

On Christianity and Capitalism: Strange Bedfellows in Politics, see

On the need for A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics and make America the Beautiful again, see

On The Federal Reserve, Wall Street and Congress on Monetary Policy, see

On Discipleship in a Democracy, A Test of Faith, Legitimacy and Politics, see


Saturday, February 4, 2017

When Confrontation Trumps Reconciliation in Politics and Religion

  Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            A politics of reconciliation is needed to remedy the polarization of America’s partisan politics.  But political reconciliation must be based on shared moral values, and the election of Donald Trump indicates they are lacking.  Unless and until Americans can find shared moral values, confrontation trumps reconciliation.

            America is a religious nation, and Jews, Christians and Muslims share a unifying moral principle of faith.  It is the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves.  It is derived from Mosaic Law, it was taught by Jesus as the greatest of all commandments, and Muslim scholars consider it a common word of faith. 

            Who are our neighbors?  Jesus answered that question in the story of the good Samaritan.  In it a Samaritan was depicted as a good neighbor to a wounded Jew.  What made the story remarkable is that Samaritans were detested by Jews of that day.  Today the good neighbor would be a Muslim helping a Christian or a Jew.  That is not the norm in our xenophobic times. 

            Globalization has caused increased religious pluralism which has been exacerbated by Islamist terrorism and the resulting refugee crisis.  Public fears and anger have been exploited by unprincipled populist demagogues and religious charlatans who have threatened the moral underpinnings of libertarian democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law.

            Donald Trump used an unholy alliance with evangelical Christians to exploit public fears and win the presidency.  He achieved a measure of success in big business as a rude, crude and narcissistic bully, and as president he has extended those personal characteristics to his administration, undermining past policies that allowed the U.S. to be a respected world leader.

            Trump’s nativist and oppressive policies represent an end to the libertarian values of the Enlightenment that shaped our nation’s democracy, human rights and secular rule of law.  The domestic and foreign policies of the Trump administration lack a moral basis for reconciliation.  They demand confrontation in the realms of both politics and religion. 

            Religion is inextricably woven into our politics.  And while religion has been a cause of our political problems, it must also be part of the solution.  It was a decadent form of Christianity that gave Trump his political power.  The restoration of political legitimacy in America requires a revived Christianity based on the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus as shared national values.

            Political legitimacy begins with the freedoms of religion and speech.  They were given political primacy in the U.S. Bill of Rights, but were not mentioned in Jewish, Christian or Islamic religious texts.  Human rights were a product of the natural law of the Enlightenment, not religion, but in libertarian democracies religions have conformed their doctrines to human rights.

            That did not happen in Islamic cultures, where apostasy and blasphemy laws continue to preclude the freedoms of religion and speech.  They are a part of ancient Islamic laws known as shari’a, which have created an unjustified fear that Muslims will use shari’a to undermine secular law.  President Trump has exploited that fear in his discriminatory policies toward Muslims.

            While Islamists have used shari’a to deny the freedoms of religion and speech in Islamic nations, fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. have gone to the other extreme.  In addition to discriminating against Muslims, they have asserted the right to exercise their religious freedom to discriminate against homosexuals as sinners, denying them the equal protection of the law.

            Such contentious religious and political issues defy easy reconciliation and produce confrontation and division.  God’s will is for humankind to be reconciled and redeemed, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer.  That means we should be building bridges rather than walls between people; but division often comes when walls are confronted.

Jesus told his disciples: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on earth, but a sword.”  He knew that his teachings would be considered radically subversive by Jewish leaders of his day and would divide families (Matthew 10:34-36).  And Jesus confronted and condemned sanctimonious and hypocritical Jewish leaders as a brood of vipers (Matthew 23).

Confrontation and division are unavoidable with today’s contentious religious and political issues.  Unless and until Americans can love their neighbors of other races and religions as they love themselves, libertarian democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law will be at risk, and confrontation will continue to trump reconciliation.   

Notes and related commentary:

On how the “unalienable” natural human rights in the Declaration of Independence relate to the Constitution in considering Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court justice, see

On how Trump would corrupt the pulpit and religious freedom by allowing churches to endorse candidates and political parties, see

On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims, see

On whether the greatest commandment is truly a common word of faith for Muslims, see

On the freedoms of religion and speech: essentials of liberty in law, see

On the evolution of religion and politics from oppression to freedom, see

On religion and a politics of reconciliation based on shared values, see