Saturday, January 29, 2022

Musings on the Inadequacy of Religious Moral Standards in American Democracy

           By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

The inadequacy of religious moral standards in democracy transcends Christianity.  Ancient Jewish prophets, Jesus and Muhammad all left timeless moral principles for their followers, but they never addressed the ultimate issue in democracy: the supremacy of popular sovereignty, or the will of the people, over divine sovereignty, or the will of God.

The divine right to rule governed politics until the 17th century, when the Enlightenment asserted that reason and advances in knowledge justified giving the people the freedom to govern themselves with libertarian democracy.  But divesting God of political control raised the issue of defining the moral standards for political legitimacy in democracy.

The closest the prophets came to defining political legitimacy in democracy was with the timeless greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves (see Luke 10;23-37).  It was taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus, and has been accepted by Islamic scholars as a common word of faith. 

In politics the altruistic moral imperative of the greatest commandment is to provide for the common good, but in America’s polarized politics the common good has been defined along more narrow partisan lines.  The altruism taught  by Jesus has been corrupted in politics by the self-centered values that prevail in America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture.

The inadequacy of religious moral standards in America’s democracy was evident in the polarized politics that led to its Civil War.  America was a predominantly Christian nation in both the North and South; but the morality of slavery was not addressed in the Bible, so it remained an ambiguous moral issue to be defined by partisan politics and decided by a terrible war.

Slavery is no longer an issue, but it left a legacy of racism that continues to plague American democracy.  Unless America adopts moral standards to provide for the common good, it’s doomed to dangerous divisions.  Since most of America’s churches remain racially segregated, churches are likely to remain more a part of the racial problem than its solution.

Too often racism is defined as a danger to democracy, but racism is a moral issue.  When 80% of white Christians elected an immoral Donald Trump as President in 2016, it demonstrated that they had subordinated the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus to exclusivist church doctrines that were never taught by Jesus, and that have corrupted the church. 

The inadequacy of religious moral standards to promote the common good in America’s materialistic and hedonistic democracy is obvious: Popularity continues to define morality through the sanctity of majority rule.  Democracy cannot save us from ourselves, and it’s not worth promoting unless it’s based on providing for the common good.  The jury remains out on whether most Americans are committed to promote the common good or partisan politics.


Related commentary on  religion, morality race and politics:

(7/5/15): Reconciliation as a Remedy for Racism and Religious Exclusivism

(7/12/15): Reconciliation in Race and Religion: The Need for Compatibility, not Conformity

(7/19/15): Religion, Heritage and the Confederate Flag

(3/12/16): Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America

(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery

(7/9/16): Back to the Future: Race, Religion, Rights and a Politics of Reconciliation

(10/22/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in a Polarized Democracy

(11/19/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation Based on Shared Values

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

(2/18/17): Gerrymandering, Race and Polarized Partisan Politics

(8/19/17): Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation

(11/11/17): A Politics of Reconciliation that Should Begin in the Church

(12/9/17): Religion, Race and Identity Politics          

(1/6/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy

(10/20/18): Lamentations of an Old White Male Maverick Methodist in a Tribal Culture

(3/9/19): Musings on the Degradation of Democracy in a Post-Christian America

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

(7/20/19): Musings on Diversity in Democracy: Who Are Our Neighbors?

(11/2/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Polarization and Reconciliation

(2/1/20): Musings on the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Altar of Partisan Politics

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

(7/11/20): Musings on America’s Culture War, Racism and Christian Morality in Politics

(8/1/20): Musings on Echoes from 1860 as America Seeks Truth and Reconciliation

(8//8/20): Musings on Religion and Racism: Belief in a White Jesus and White Supremacy

(8/15/20): Musings on Racism, Reparations, Racial Disparities and the Federal Reserve

(9/12/20): Musings on the Demise of American Democracy: Is It Deja Vu All Over Again?

(9/19/20): Musings on Law and Order, Reconciliation and Racial Justice

(11/7/20): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Good and Evil in Religion and Politics

(12/5/20): Musings on the Preference of White Christians for Demagoguery over Democracy

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

(2/15/21): Counterpoint: The Danger of Racial Reparations as a Means of Restorative Justice

4/3/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Overcoming Racism

(6/12/21): From Hammond and Tillman to Trump: A Legacy of Shame for South Carolina

(6/26/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Critical Race Theory and The 1619 Project

(7/3/21): Musings on Slavery and Systemic Racism on Independence Day

(7/10/21): Musings on the Need for Racial Reconciliation in America’s Divisive Democracy

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Musings on Popularity as a Corrupting Influence in Democracy and Christianity

       By Rudy Barnes, Jr.  


Christianity and democracy have a common flaw.  In both, popularity is the measure of success.  That’s obvious in a democracy where popular support is essential for political power; but the church was never a democracy, and the teachings of Jesus on sacrificial love were never popular.  With its popularity declining, why does the church continue to seek it? 

The early church recognized that its power as a religious institution depended on it attracting converts.  That required subordinating the rigorous teachings of Jesus on discipleship to less onerous--but exclusivist--Christian beliefs.  Paul’s atonement doctrine achieved that objective; but it was never taught by Jesus, whose altruistic moral teachings were universal.

The doctrine of atonement asserted that the crucifixion of Jesus was God’s blood sacrifice to atone for the sins of all believers (see Romans 5:6-21).  When combined with the condemnation of non-believers to eternal hellfire and damnation, that proved to be enough to make Christianity the most popular and powerful religion in the world--at least until recently.

With today’s increasing diversity of religions, there’s no place for such exclusivist beliefs.  They conflict with the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves.  It’s a common word of faith that confirms that God is bigger than any one religion, and that God’s love can reconcile Jews, Christians and Muslims.

The 18th century Enlightenment brought democracy to the Western world and shaped America’s Constitution.  The Civil War was a temporary disruption of American democracy that left a residue of racism that continues to plague American politics; and the civil strife of racial and partisan polarization that preceded America’s civil war has once again reared its ugly head.

Christian morality has long been the primary source of America’s political legitimacy, but It has been transformed into a volatile mix of religion and politics by the radical right politics of most white Christians.  The altruistic values taught by Jesus have been lost in the partisan fight for popularity along partisan and racial lines, corrupting both Christianity and democracy.

If Americans become so divided and polarized that there is no consensus to provide for the common good, American democracy will once again be vulnerable to political extremism and the tyranny of racist demagoguery.  The insurrection of January 6, 2021 was clear and convincing evidence of that existential danger to libertarian democracy.

The moderate religious moral mainstream that once preserved American democracy from extremism has dissipated, and the church has failed to provide the moral compass needed to restore a modicum of political legitimacy.  America is about to learn that even the Constitution cannot protect its democracy from the devious power of popularity when it’s corrupted.



Michelle Boorstein sees an evolution from religion to secularism.  She notes that “Americans are getting less religious.  They do fewer traditionally religious things, such as belonging to a denomination, attending worship services, or feeling certain that God exists.”  As religion declines, Boorstein says that American secularism is growing--and growing more complicated.  Boorstein cites Secular Surge, a 2021 book by a trio of prominent political scientists that says that “secular core values include freethinking, logic and reason …human experience and the laws of nature.  Secularism, notably is not defined by opposition to religious identity or practices.  By this definition, a quarter of  Americans now have a secular worldview, and events like the pandemic could speed along the birth of a secular political left, not unlike the early days of the religious right.  The authors of Secular Surge say the existence of a now-huge group of Americans who share secular values is potentially one of the biggest political forces of the near-future.”  Boorstein quotes Jacques Berlinerblau (Secularism: The  Basics) in an interview: “The U.S. is way behind in developing a secularism for the current era.  There  has been no innovation in secular thought in 50 years, few new policy ideas.  There’s no coherence, no leadership, no central movement [like the institutional church].  They can’t articulate what they want  to do.”  Boorstein notes that Ryan P. Burge, author of The Nones: Where they Came from, Who They Are, and Where They’re Going, thinks that Berlinerblau overstates the possibility of secularism being a backstop to religious fundamentalism.  Burge “focuses on the significant differences in belief and attitudes between Nones who are anti-religious and those who are ambivalent.  The majority of Nones are in the  latter camp, and the same dynamic applies to secular Americans.  The majority are in the middle.  “Now we’re seeing religious polarization and political polarization lay on top of one another.  Religious polarization is just as real, but we don’t talk about it as much because no one has articulated it in a way that makes sense.” See

Related commentary on the relevance of Christian and Secular moral standards to politics:  

(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion

(3/2/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Post-Christian America

(7/18/20): Musings on Atheism and Religion and Living Life to the Full

(3/27/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Civil Religion in a Divided America

(4/24/21): How a Fading Church Could Help Reconcile America’s Polarized Politics

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

(7/17/21): Christianity and Politics: Separated by Irreconcilable Differences

(8/14/21): Musings on Conflicting Concepts of God’s Truth in Christianity

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America's Morally Muddled Mainstream

            By Rudy Barnes, Jr., January 15, 2022


Over 160 years ago a morally muddled mainstream in America produced a Civil War.  The divisive issue of slavery split America’s mainstream into irreconcilable political factions in the north and south.  Today’s racism is an echo of slavery that has once again polarized the nation’s mainstream.  The January 6, 2021 insurrection could portend another civil war.

Secession is not likely today.  Our divisions are not geographical but are based on who should govern our nation.  America’s mainstream is divided and polarized by a radical right Republican Party and a radical left Democratic Party, and the church has once again lost its moral compass by failing to promote the common good needed to restore political legitimacy.

Churches once moderated partisan extremes with the altruistic morality taught by Jesus.  It’s summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.  But churches remain racially segregated, with most Blacks voting Democratic and most Whites voting Republican.  

The American political mainstream has shifted from moderates who were once prevalent in both political parties to partisan extremists who control both parties and reject moderates, who have been left with no voice in Congress.  Partisan differences have become polarized, with the violence of civil strife now the norm in America’s morally muddled mainstream.      

Most white churches either support or ignore the partisan walls that divide America rather than promoting the dialogue needed to build bridges of reconciliation between those of different races and religions.  America’s fractured mainstream today looks a lot like it did in 1860.  Are America’s churches once again ignoring a great evil in its midst?


Christianity became the world’s most popular religion after church doctrines supplanted discipleship (following Jesus as the word of God) with worshiping Jesus Christ as a Trinitarian God.  The church has been the mainstream religion of America since its birth, but it failed to prevent the Civil War and lost its legitimacy in 2016 when most white Christians supported Donald Trump, a narcissist demagogue who instigated the abortive insurgency of January 2021.

Jesus was crucified as an insurgent, but he wasn’t one.  Jewish insurgents of his day were known as Zealots, and in 66 CE they succeeded in overthrowing Roman rule in Jerusalem; but their success was short-lived.  Romans recaptured Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in 70  CE, sending Jews fleeing to the four corners of the ancient world.

For the church to restore its lost legitimacy and provide moral direction for America’s muddled mainstream, it should abandon the cheap grace and big lie of exclusivist Christian doctrines and emphasize the teachings of Jesus as moral imperatives of faith.  That would likely cost Christianity its popularity as America’s mainstream religion, but it would be worth the cost.


According to extensive research by Professor Robert Pape at the University of Chicago, “the people who participated in the Capitol riot [of January 6, 2021] and the beliefs they hold are not on the fringe but are decidedly ‘mainstream.’ Pape believes that faith leaders have a vital role in reaching these Americans who are increasingly comfortable with the use of political violence. We’re so used to thinking of extremists as being on the fringe—being part of fringe militia groups or fringe religious sects. What’s striking about those who broke into the Capitol—and also what’s striking about the insurrectionist sentiments in the country today in the general population is that they are mainstream. This comes through in our research in multiple ways. 

The number one finding is their economic profile: Over half of the nearly 700 who were arrested for breaking into the Capitol are business owners or from white collar occupations—doctors, lawyers, architects. Only about 13 percent are members of militia groups like the Oathkeepers or the Proud Boys. At least 25 percent of the insurrectionists have college degrees. When we look at military service, about 15 percent of the insurrectionists have military service. That’s a little higher than the 10 percent in the general population, but actually quite close to the general population. Seven percent of those insurrections who broke into the Capitol on Jan. 6 were unemployed—nearly the national average at the time. They’re not 100 percent the same as the general population. They’re more white; 93 percent of those who were arrested for breaking into the Capitol are white. They are also more male—about 85 percent. The average age is 42.  Overwhelmingly what we’re seeing is the mainstream.”  In that mainstream, Pape found “that a large number of Americans—21 million—hold two radical views. One, they believe that the use of force to restore Donald Trump to the presidency is justified. Number two, they believe that Joe Biden is an illegitimate president. Those are the two key insurrectionist beliefs we saw on Jan. 6.”  Pape says ”the primary beliefs of the movement are not mainly religious.  We see an idea on the right that used to be just a fringe idea, which is now moving into the mainstream, called ‘the great replacement.’ This idea is that whites are being replaced by non-whites; it’s either happening through birth or, in the right-wing extremist conspiracy theory, liberal Democrats are making it happen by opening the borders so that they can change the electorate. The number one characteristic of the counties that the individuals came from is the decline of white population in their counties.”  While Pape said that the primary beliefs are not religious, he went on to say that “Faith leaders in the church are powerful voices in a community’s mainstream. And at a point in time when our politicians are so polarized, we need places where we can have real dialogue. Church leaders are a powerful venue for ameliorating what we have in front of us today. Having church leaders see the details of what I’m describing really come to grips with this information and absorb what we’re describing, that’s the next step. See

Brian Broome has described the desire to be right as a motivating force behind the polarization of mainstream America into partisan factions.  He has said, “I like being right..but some of the power in being right rests in its ability to make us feel superior and, more insidiously, from the way it makes our worlds appear solid and unassailable. The only feeling that might be more intoxicating than being right is the feeling of superiority that comes from being right while someone else is wrong. I have wasted many hours fighting with strangers online about politics or gender or culture. In most cases, of course, I thought I was right. Often the arguments got ugly and soon the most important thing became proving that I was right and my opponent was wrong. The specifics fall away and the stakes become clear: If I am wrong, my world becomes threatening and unsafe. I imagine the same is true for them.” Broome concludes, There must be a way to set aside the hollow satisfaction of right-thinking and to find out why other people believe what they believe. If the United States should fail, I doubt it will be because of some foreign power. America’s destruction will take place inside its own borders because we conflate being wrong with failing or losing. Our destruction will come from those of us who are so damned right all the time. The ones who refuse to listen, who will never even bother to consider other people’s viewpoints and who will protect their worldview with their lives. We must find a 

better path to safety.”  Dialogue can counter our insistence on being “damn right all the time.”

The term “insurrection” has different connotations, some positive and some negative.  When liberty from oppression (De oppresso liber) is the objective (see Luke 4: 18-19 and Isaiah 61:1-2), as it was in the American Revolution and slave liberation, an insurrection can have postive biblical connotations.  But a violent insurrection by radical right nihilists like those who participated in the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol is not only negative but also a crime.

Hawa Allen has noted that the term “insurrection” under the Insurrection Act of 1807 primarily refers to Black insurrections: “Defining the mostly white crowd that stormed the Capitol on January 6 as ‘insurrectionists’ does more than set a narrative mood, it represents a major narrative shift—expanding the traditional role of the insurrectionist beyond the Black actor to the white one. This is not the first time the shift has happened: When Ulysses S. Grant invoked the Insurrection Act in March 1871 to deploy federal troops in South Carolina to help put down the paramilitary Ku Klux Klan, it was abundantly clear that violent Klan members were the “insurrectionists.” But such use of the term has been rare. And for those who resist the word “insurrection” to describe the events of Jan. 6, this history may only underline that it may be a troubling harbinger of future state action that then-president elect Joe Biden was among the first people to use it.” See What the history of the word insurrection says about Jan 6 at      

On the topic of de oppresso liber, See De Oppresso Liber: Where Religion and Politics Intersect at

See also Liberation from Economic Oppression: A Human Right or Obligation of Faith? at

Carl Krieg has asserted a “big lie” in Christianity: “For over 2,000 years the masses of Christian believers have held that Jesus died for their sins even though the original disciples had no such idea.  They were encountered by a person of love who changed their lives.”  That “big lie” of Christian doctrine has supplanted the altruistic teachings of Jesus as God’s word, and it “exemplifies the power of falsehood to get a grip on the imagination of the masses and grow exponentially under its own power,” just as Trump’s big lie that he won the 2020 election continues to motivate his supporters, including most white Christians, despite there being no credible evidence to support his claim.  “This is one dimension of human nature of which all fascists seem to be aware.” See

Martin Thielen is a former UMC pastor who has lost faith in the relevance of the institutional church to real world issues.  He says “we cannot deny a stark and depressing reality.  Legions of people are disgusted with the sorry state of institutional religion in 21st century America--for many good reasons.  For example, our country is currently struggling with massive challenges including climate crisis, a pandemic, poverty, hunger, racism, injustice, polarization and serious threats to democracy.” See  https//