Saturday, July 29, 2023

Musings on Why America Needs a Civil Religion Based on the Teachings of Jesus

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., July 29, 2023

Religions are about morality and mysticism, and unlike church doctrine, the American civil religion emphasizes morality over mystical religious beliefs.  In a democracy, elections reflect a nation’s morality, and the church has failed to be a moral steward of our democracy.  The church is shrinking, but it will likely continue to reflect America’s polarized partisan politics as its largest social institution.

Jesus was a universalist Jew who challenged Mosaic Law as God’s standard of righteousness with the primacy of love over lawThe greatest commandment made our love for God dependent on the moral imperative to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Jesus never claimed to be divine. He called his disciples to follow him, not to worship him.

Since the 1st century the early church has subordinated the moral imperatives taught by Jesus to exclusivist beliefs in the divinity of Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation.  A Christian Universalist Church once emphasized following the teachings of Jesus, but in 1961 it merged with Unitarian Universalists, leaving the church without a proponent for a universalist faith.

 A recent Gallup Poll indicated that American church membership has fallen from 70% in 2010 to less than 50%.  In 2016 the church lost its moral compass when most white Christians voted for the narcissist Donald Trump.  While Trump’s immorality is the antithesis of that taught by Jesus, the church has not yet disavowed Trump’s corrupt morality.

Partisan politics shapes morality more than Christianity shapes politics.  America needs a civil religion that defines moral standards for its pluralistic democracy.  If the church cannot reform itself and give primacy to the universal and altruistic teachings of Jesus over its exclusivist doctrines, then a new Enlightenment is needed to promote a universal civil religion.

A civil religion would acknowledge that God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity based on the teachings of Jesus, and to oppose evil in the cosmic spiritual battle between the  forces of good and evil.  That Gnostic principle was taught by Mani, Marcion and Jesus; but the moral duality of good versus evil in the world has been denied by Christian and Jewish theodicy.

God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity while Satan’s will to divide and conquer.  Jesus acknowledged a spiritual duality in which the light of God’s redemptive love is needed to dispel the darkness of Satan’s evil; but Satan does a convincing imitation of God in politics and the church.  America needs a civil religion that promotes God's reconciling power of good over evil.

As a retired United Methodist pastor, I crossed the boundaries of Christian doctrine after learning that Thomas Jefferson considered “the teachings of Jesus the most sublime moral code ever designed by man.”   America needs a civil religion based on the moral teachings of Jesus; but since it would likely shrink the church, it will have to come from outside the church.          


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

On Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy, see

On U.S. Church Membership Falling Below Majority for First Time, see Jeffrey M. Jones, Gallup, March 29, 2021, at

Thomas Jefferson considered the teachings of Jesus the most sublime moral code ever designed by man, but he had nothing but contempt for church doctrines and dogma.  Alexis DeTocqueville considered the many variations of Christianity essential to American democracy.  On Thomas Jefferson and Alexis deTocqueville and their views on the moral values of religion in American politics, see Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy (July 1, 2017) at

Gnosticism is a collection of religious ideas and systems that coalesced in the late 1st century AD among Jewish and early Christian sects and emphasized personal spiritual knowledge above the proto-orthodox teachings, traditions, and authority of religious institutions. See

Manichaeism was founded in the 3rd century by the Parthian prophet Mani.  It teaches an elaborate dualistic cosmology describing the struggle between a good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness.[8] Manichaeism reveres Mani as the final prophet after Zoroaster, the Gautama Buddha and the Jesus Christ.It thrived between the third and seventh centuries, and at its height was one of the most widespread religions in the world.  On Mani and Manichaesm, see https://en.wikipedia.o\g/wiki/Manichaeism.

Marcionism was an early Christian dualistic belief system that originated with the teachings of Marcion of Sinope in Rome in the 3rd century around the year 144.  Marcion was an important figure in early Christianity who preached that the benevolent God of the Gospel who sent Jesus Christ into the world as the savior was the true Supreme Being, different and opposed to the malevolent Demiurge or creator god, identified with the Hebrew God of the Old Testament.[2][3][5] On Marcion and Marcionism, see

On the Old Testament god (or demiurge), Robert Myers has asked, Is God Still relevant?  “Perhaps the time has come to abandon literal and anthropomorphic images and understandings of God altogether and return to ancient understandings of God as Spirit, as Pure Relationship, as a holy and transcendent Mystery, or as Marcus Borg put it  The Something More?  See Progressing Spirit, July 13, 2023.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has explained that “Dualism entered Judaism and Christianity when it became easier to attribute the sufferings of the world to an evil force rather than to the work of God.”  For Sacks, God is the source of the bad as well as the good, judgment as well as forgiveness, and justice as well as love, so there is no room for Satan in Sacks’ monotheism.  Sacks explains that “…the bad God does is a response [punishment] to the bad we do.” See Dualism: Satan’s Evil Versus God’s Goodness at

Theodicy seeks to resolve the problem of evil that arises when omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and omniscience are all simultaneously ascribed to God. See

On the need for altruistic morality as a priority of America’s civil religion, see the Evolution of Christianity into the American Civil Religion, see Rudy Barnes, Jr., July 29, 2023

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Musings on the Need for Altruism in Christianity and the American Civil Religion

By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Recent polling reveals startling trends in American morality and values that are reshaping the standards of political legitimacy and the American civil religion. Conflicting values are expected in America's diverse democracy , but increasing conflicts in the values of America's polarized politics, with no indication of any reconciliation, should be a cause of concern.      

Moral standards provide the norms of political legitimacy in America, and conflicting moral standards threaten the stability of our democracy.  In the past, the church has been the steward of America’s moral standards; but popularity is the measure of success in the church,  so most churches avoid addressing morality in politics to avoid conflict in the church.  

The altruistic teachings of Jesus provide the moral standards for Christians.  Thomas Jefferson once asserted, “the teachings of Jesus are the most sublime moral code ever designed by man,” and those altruistic teachings are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves.

Altruism means providing for the common good; but most churches have subordinated the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus to exclusivist beliefs never taught by Jesus.  Trump’s Republicans have corrupted the white church in America, while Putin has corrupted the Russian Orthodox Church.  In both nations the church has sacrificed Jesus to political expediency.

Russia is a putative Christian democracy.  The first step in restoring the moral legitimacy of the church in both America and Russia is to promote the moral relevance of the altruistic teachings of Jesus in the church.  In 1831 Alexis DeTocquevile observed that those moral imperatives were essential to America’s churches and its democracy.

During America’s Civil War Abraham Lincoln cited the teachings of Jesus when he said “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  Slavery is not an issue today, but lingering racism continues to divide us.  Unless the church assumes its responsibility as a steward of American democracy, it’s likely that the fabric of American democracy will again come apart at its seams.

Some have claimed erroneously that the First Amendment requires that religion and politics are kept separate.  While the Constitution prohibits government from meddling with religion, it doesn’t prevent religions from promoting altruistic moral principles in politics; and any religion that doesn’t apply its moral principles to politics is an empty and sterile religion.

The Constitution is the bedrock of the American civil religion.  Jefferson was right to assert that the moral teachings of Jesus are a sublime moral code; and Tocqueville was right that democracy cannot exist without morality, and that morality cannot exist without religion.  The church has failed to be a moral steward for America's civil religion; and unless the church restores the altruistic moral values taught by Jesus as Christian standards of morality, both the church and American democracy are doomed to fail.



The Axios article referred to above is Americans are down on morality, family and country.  See

On Musings on the Evolution of Christianity into the American Civil Religion, see

Thomas Jefferson considered the teachings of Jesus the most sublime moral code ever designed by man, but he had nothing but contempt for church doctrines and dogma.  Alexis DeTocqueville considered the many variations of Christianity essential to American democracy.  On Thomas Jefferson and Alexis deTocqueville and their views on the moral values of religion in American politics, see Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy (July 1, 2017) at

Seth David Radwell has addressed the role of religion in early American politics in American Schism (Greenleaf Group Press, 2021, in chapter 7), describing the conflict between Jefferson and Hamilton that gave birth to America’s populism and polarized partisan politics. The juxtaposition between democratic movements and popular religious revivals that both arose bottom-up and the weaponization of these trends by political leaders seeking public support were political dynamics in the fierce battle of the two parties led by Jefferson and Hamilton.  The Second Great Awakening was a broad Protestant revival beginning in Kentucky and Tennessee that spread rapidly and brought a comforting blanket of spiritual faith to huge swaths of people and counteracted a high level of socio-political uncertainty experienced in the previous decades.  It attracted many converts,  especially Methodists and Baptists, that grew relative to denominations that were dominant in the colonial period such as Anglicans, Presbyterians and Congregationalists.  The Federalists sensed a large and growing part of the population were adopting more pious views and employed Noah Webster, with his grounding in Calvinism [Webster was an 18th century Billy Graham], to advocate that Chrisitianity become more central to American life, blaming the violence of the French Revolution on a move from religion.  Webster helped shift public opinion from Jefferson’s “blasphemous” Republicans toward Hamilton’s Federalists. (p 137).  Radwell has noted that “shrewd political actors succeeded in co-opting populist movements that reflect the yearnings, fears and sentiments of common people.”  Radwell criticizes “the concept of imposing the strict dogma of one centralized religious institution.” (p 151)  That would include exclusivist religious doctrines on salvation and any religious discrimination that violates the freedom of religion.  Radwell cited the balance between faith and reason as essential to assess the political ramifications of the Counter-Enlightenment.” (p 152)  See An 18th Century Preview of America's Political and Religious Schisms at

On Sovereignty and Conflicting Loyalties to God and Country (July 13, 2019), see

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Musings on the Changing Roles of Masculinity and Femininity in America

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., July 15, 2023

David French and Senator Josh Hawley have contrasting views on masculinity.  French takes issue with a recent study by the American Psychological Association that finds “stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression are harmful.”  French agrees that “dominance” can be harmful, but believes that the other attributes of masculinity “have important roles to play.”

Senator Hawley asserts that “men have lost their way, with toxic masculinity, the feminization of America, the epidemic of fatherlessness and the crisis of boys portending the end of man.”  He goes on to warn that “no menace is greater to this nation than the collapse of manhood” which Hawley blames on a “woke” religion and politics.

French noted that traditional male roles are no longer limited to men, but are now shared by women who choose to compete with men in civilian and military careers.  And while the roles of women in America have advanced dramatically over the past 50 years, “men are falling behind women in higher education and suffering higher rates of drug abuse and suicide.”

It’s inevitable that the concept of equal rights in America’s libertarian democracy will continue to support changes in the roles of men and women that generate political controversy; but the traditional social and cultural dominance of men in America should neither stifle the social advances of women, nor sustain traditional male dominance.

Advances in the leadership roles of women in the military have been even more dramatic than in civilian roles.  As a 1964 graduate of The Citadel and a retired Army officer, I remember the trauma of admitting the first women at The Citadel in the 1990s.  Nancy Mace was one of them, and as a congresswoman she exemplifies the advances of women in leadership roles.

America is already divided on issues of race along partisan lines.  We should know from our experience with racism that political differences based on a person’s race or sex cannot be resolved in polarized partisan politics.   We must provide for the common good by promoting men and women as individuals with equal rights under the law.

If males are falling behind females in higher education and are suffering from a higher incidence of drug abuse and suicide, it’s not caused by less male dominance any more than more Black poverty is caused by less white supremacy.  Justice is not a zero sum game.  Civil rights laws can and should rectify inequities caused by racial or sexual discrimination.

Male dominance and white supremacy were never rights--only traditional anomalies that provided undeserved benefits to men over women, and of whites over blacks.  The radical right has wrongly opposed equal rights based on race and sex as “woke” politics, and all Americans should support the advances of women in civilian and military leadership positions.



On David French and How The Right Is All Wrong About Masculinity,  see

On Josh Hawley’s Thoughts About How Men Have Lost Their Way, and How to Save Them.  See

“Nowhere is the traditional model of male leadership held in higher esteem than at The Citadel, the

Military College of South Carolina. Since 1842 it has made leadership its hallmark, with the Citadel Man exemplifying the ideal citizen-soldier--that is, until 1993, when the first female applied for admission to the all-male corps of cadets. In defending its single-gender tradition in the litigation that followed, The Citadel recommended a separate but equal leadership program for women in a Women's Leadership Institute (WLI).  Columbia College was one of two women's colleges in South Carolina named to co-sponsor WLI; but the dean of the Leadership Institute at Columbia College resisted participation in WLI, asserting that a traditional military model of leadership is incompatible with the model taught at her college: "The central tenets of military leadership conform to clear directives from an officer, imitating the actions of a superior, standardization and regimentation, a "win-lose" operating mentality and unquestioned allegiance to the chain of command. Leadership education at Columbia College has a different philosophical base. It is not hierarchical, nor does it focus on regimentation or repetitive drill. Hallmarks of this model of leadership are entrenched in the operating principles of collaboration, shared governance, commitment to seek "win-win" solutions and decisions based on solid ethical premises." A retired Army general took exception to that description of military leadership: "After reading Dr. Mary Frame's explanation of military leadership, I was not sure what Army I served in for many years. She has a correct description of the old Soviet military leadership methods--always considered a weakness by Western military analysts." The Army War College teaches a situational approach to leadership that includes both the directive style of leadership needed in combat as well as more supportive styles required for operations other than war. Successful leadership in diverse operational environments requires a mix of both styles; there is no one best style of leadership for war and peace.  The Army, unlike The Citadel and Columbia College, is not a single-gender institution with one-dimensional leadership. Its leaders must be flexible, equally at home in civilian and military environments and capable of employing both directive and supportive styles of leadership, depending on the situation. The Army's model of leadership is based on the concept of professionalism, the values of duty, loyalty, integrity, and selfless service, and the need to maintain good civil-military relations. The new paradigm of the political soldier has its focus on the Constitution and incorporates the supportive traits required in operations other than war, such as negotiation and diplomacy. Most of all, it encourages interaction between the military and the civilian society it serves to ensure healthy civil-military relations. Samuel Huntington described the new strategic environment as one of clashing cultures, making his own traditional style of military leadership an anachronism, except in warfighting. For the military to be an effective instrument of national power in operations other than war it must have leaders whose concept of professionalism--their understanding of duty and loyalty—makes good civil-military relations a mission priority.“ See Rudolph C. Barnes, Jr. on Two schools of thought on leadership, in Military Legitimacy: Might and Right  in the  New Millennium, Frank Cass, 1996, at pp 114-115 in chapter 5. (posted in Military Legitimacy in Resources,, at pp 94-95).

On leadership roles in the military, see The Diplomat-Warrior: A Military Capability for Reconciliation and Peace at (9/3/16); also  The Legitimacy of an Authoritarian Military in a Libertarian Democracy, see; also 

Musings on a New World Order Based on Reconciliation, not Conflict; also; also 

Musings on Military Legitimacy in a Post-American Era at

Saturday, July 8, 2023

The Constitution as America's Legal and Political Bible

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., July 8, 2023

Americans can think of the Constitution as a legal and political Bible, just as Jews think of their Hebrew Bible with its Mosaic Law as God’s law; and Muslims think of their Quran with its Sharia law in the same way.  They are all ancient documents that provide forms of authority in a changing world, but only the Constitution can be amended to keep up with the times.

The Bible and Quran are divine and inviolate, while the Constitution is interpreted by a Supreme Court and can be amended by the people.  They reflect different concepts of political sovereignty.  God is the sovereign power in the Bible and the Quran, while the people are the sovereign power in the Constitution. It is of the  people, by the people and for the people.

The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) recently interpreted provisions of the Constitution that changed previous interpretations; but SCOTUS did not change the Constitution itself--only the people can do that.  It’s much more complex to amend the Constitution under Article 5 than for Congress to pass legislation, but there have been 26 amendments to the Constitution.

Jill Lepore has argued that amending the Constitution is effectively impossible, but the 26 Constitutional amendments refute her argument.  Like many unsuccessful advocates for change, Lepore equates the difficulty of amending the Constitution with the impossibility to change it; but change is possible as a matter of public will in accordance with Article V.

Recent decisions of SCOTUS on affirmative action, gay rights and the forgiveness of student debt illustrate how shifting majorities on SCOTUS can defy partisan expectations.  Lepore and others have argued that Constitutional processes that give the states rights in the Senate and in the electoral college should be changed to reflect one person one vote.

There was a reason why the Constitution created America as a democratic republic, not a pure democracy.  It gives small states like South Carolina powers in the Senate and electoral college that prevent them from being dominated by states with much larger populations like California and New York.  The states continue to play a major role in American politics.

The amendment process in Article 5 of  the Constitution is far more complex than that for legislation in Congress.  As the foundation of American democracy, the Constitution should be difficult to change; but with enough public support and less partisan polarization, there can be amendments on critical issues like the Second Amendment and abortion.

The Constitution is the ultimate authority on legal and political issues in America.  The main difference in the Constitution and the Bible is that the Constitution is interpreted by the Supreme Court and can be amended by the American people, while the Bible is inviolate and beyond any change.  The popular sovereignty of the Constitution makes Americans masters of their own political destiny.  That means that Americans cannot blame God for their politics.


In her article on How to Stave Off Constitutional Extinction, Jill Lapore asserted that “when Congress sent the Equal Rights to the states for ratification in 1972, its derailment rendered the Constitution effectively unamendable.  …While Americans can no longer, for all practical purposes, revise the Constitution, they can still change it, as long as they can convince five Supreme Court justices to read it differently. But how well has that worked out? That’s what happened, beginning in the early 1970s, with abortion and guns, the north and south poles of America’s life-or-death politics, in which either abortion is freedom and guns are murder or guns are freedom and abortion is murder. Chances are that if you like the current court, you like this method of constitutional change and if you don’t like the current court, you don’t like this method. But either way, it’s not a great boon to democracy.”  See

Lapore ignores the fact that all 26 Constitutional amendments through 1971 depended upon broad public support that the Equal Rights Amendment did not have.  As a nation polarized by partisan politics, achieving the consensus needed for Constitutional amendments will be increasingly difficult, but the problem is not with the amendment process but with America’s polarized democracy.  The extinction of the Constitution is not an existential political issue in America; but our democracy will fail if we don’t find ways to achieve consensus on major issues.    

Recent SCOTUS decisions on affirmative action, gay rights, and the forgiveness of student debt reveal a Supreme Court that is not as polarized as many have feared.  Along with conservative triumphs, there are signs of new caution at the Supreme Court.  “The court remains deeply conservative but is more in tune with the fitfully incremental approach of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who is attentive to his court’s legitimacy, than with the take-no-prisoners approach of Justice Clarence Thomas. The chief justice’s strategy — and votes — produced a fair number of liberal victories.”  ...Looking across the entire docket the data show a shift from the most conservative and aggressive court in modern history to one that has moderated,” said Lee Epstein, a law professor and political scientist at the University of Southern California. “Perhaps the justices — especially Roberts, Barrett and Kavanaugh — have faced up to the public’s waning confidence and decided to self-adjust. ” …Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh, who represent the court’s ideological middle, tended to agree more with the liberal justices and less with their fellow conservatives than they did last term. Note: Justice Jackson agreed with Justice Kavanaugh 62 percent of the time, and with Justice Roberts 59 percent of the time. Roman Martinez, a Supreme Court specialist with Latham & Watkins, said that “members of the conservative bloc — and especially the chief justice and Justice Kavanaugh — found common cause with the more liberal justices on a surprising range of issues.”  For more specifics on how the Justices voted, See