Why The Republican Party Is What It Is

“A reactionary is a person who holds political viewpoints that favor a return to a previous state (the status quo ante) in a society.”


I often use the term “reactionaries” to describe those folks on the right who have a problem living in the 21st century, a problem coming to grips with present reality. I sometimes differentiate between reactionaries and conservatives because conservatism doesn’t necessarily involve reactionary politics, though it often does, especially as we watch conservative behavior today. Most of the conservatives we see dominating the Republican Party these days are—without the slightest doubt—reactionaries.

As most of you know, I was born and raised in Kansas. I lived there until I was about 30 years old. I worked there. I played there. I became a conservative there. I was baptized into an evangelical faith there. The political Kansas I knew was mostly a right-of-center place, with pockets of leftish resistance here and there, and for the most part its politics was not radical or reactionary. Today, though, like a lot of red states Kansas has been radicalized and has turned into one of the most reactionary places in the country.

Nothing could better demonstrate the change from a mild, if not moldy, conservatism into a radical and fiery reactionaryism than what emerged in Kansas recently. Last week, as nearly everyone knows by now, the Kansas House passed a bill that, according to Time,

would permit businesses and government employees to deny service to same-sex couples on the basis of their religious principles. 

That Jim Crowish bill, which has been condemned far and wide by progressives, passed 72-49 and is now being considered by the state senate, which is expected to either water it down significantly or kill it. Apparently there are some Kansas Republicans left who haven’t been completely radicalized by religious zealots in the state. But the fact that such a reactionary piece of legislation passed one side of the legislature in 2014—2014 for God’s sake—says a lot about not only about the Republican Party, but it speaks to why it is that our national government is so profoundly, if not dangerously, divided.

At the heart of this ascendance of a rabid reactionary politics in Kansas and elsewhere—there is an anti-gay bill in Idaho that is even worse than the one in Kansas—is the anxiety that (mostly but not entirely white) evangelical and fundamentalist Christians feel deep in their bones over the loss of cultural dominance they and their Iron Age theology once enjoyed. Most of the theological angst started with the Supreme Court ruling in 1962 (Engel v. Vitale) that government-composed prayers could not be used in public schools, then just after that blow came atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s victorious lawsuit in 1963 (consolidated with Abington School District v. Schempp) in which the Supreme Court put the kibosh on the Lord’s Prayer and Bible reading in government schools.

If I heard it once, I heard it a gazillion times from the conservative church folk I knew back home: “They kicked God out of the schools! Why do you think things are so bad!”

So, it started with those two court rulings, but other rulings followed that were specifically related to Bible-based anxiety over a rapidly changing culture. There was Griswold v. Connecticut (which found that because of the Constitution’s now strangely controversial “right to privacy” states could not prohibit the use of contraceptives by married people; later this freedom was extended to all couples via Eisenstadt. V. Baird; and now we are fighting over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate). Skipping over the landmark 1973 Roe V. Wade case (which isn’t necessarily—even though it has mostly become—a case involving evangelical theology), we come to Lawrence v. Texas, a 2003 case that effectively struck down all sodomy laws in the country and paved the way for the eventual legitimation of same-sex marriage, which is now driving right-wing Christians into convulsions not seen since the Gadarene Demoniac.

Along with—perhaps partly because of—these culturally significant court cases, public opinion has evolved in the direction of progress and against the forces of Bible-inspired conservatism. Holy Book-believing Christians have essentially lost the fight over whether the Bible or a secular Constitution will be the ultimate law of the land. This has led to a backlash, a serious and divisive backlash, among folks who take the Bible seriously and who genuinely—I repeat: genuinely— believe that America is going straight to hell because it has turned its back on God and his Word.

More important, though, than all the talk of cultural anxiety and ancient theology is what these Bible-believing folks have been up to lately. In order to turn their biblical notions and reactionary tendencies into public policies like the one proposed last week in Kansas, they have increasingly and fanatically turned to grassroots politics.

These religious reactionaries have educated themselves and essentially taken over the Republican Party’s organizational structure. One such reactionary lives right here in Southwest Missouri. I used to go to the same evangelical church he did and used to believe a lot of the same things he believes. His name is John Putnam. He’s from Carthage and he is the Chairman of the Jasper County Republican Party.

Mr. Putnam has essentially written his own bible on how to take over and transform the Republican Party from the ground up. He notes that there are some “183,000 precincts in the 50 states” and he outlines how the system works:

putnam's patriotsThe voters of each precinct, according to their state’s laws, can elect or appoint one man and one woman to represent the people of that precinct in their political party’s organizational structure (sometimes called the party “machine”).  The precinct chairs/executives become members of their county committee and elect their county committee’s Chair and Vice-Chair who, in turn, help elect their Party’s State Committee; plus, they largely influence which candidates will run (and most likely be elected) in their party’s primary election and who, subsequently, will carry their party’s banner in the November General Elections. 

All of this represents the nuts and bolts of party organization. It is how a political party can be commandeered by a zealous minority and how such zealotry can come to represent the face of the party. It it why the Republican Party is so schizophrenic. It is why its national leaders are so afraid to actually lead. It is why Washington is suffering from legislative paralysis. You think I am exaggerating? Putnam goes on to point out that,

Nationwide, half of these positions sit empty and most voters no longer even know they exist.  If Constitutional conservatives will fulfill the precinct leader’s role and elect Constitutional conservative chairs and vice-chairs to their county committees, we can cleanse our representative form of government in very short order.  This is assuming the men and women who fill the precinct position have the wisdom of  Cleon Skousen gleaned from The Five Thousand Year Leap and the virtue of George Washington (see Glenn Beck’s Being George Washington).

If that stuff about cleansing doesn’t scare you, then you don’t know who Cleon Skousen and Glenn Beck are. Perhaps now you can see why the Republican Party looks the way it does. This kind of tactical action is going on, has been going on, all over the country. Mr. Putnam provides local zealots everywhere, those who have a biblical ax to grind, with essential knowledge of how to go about that grinding. Become “party officials” at the local level, he says. Why? Because:

…party officials have a strong influence on who wins the Primary because of their influence in recruiting and endorsing candidates. They also influence whether the Party stays philosophically true to its platform. There is no reason why YOU cannot become a Precinct Patriot and be one who influences these decisions. 

If you ever wondered why a disturbed and disturbing man named Todd Akin became the Missouri GOP’s U.S. Senate candidate in 2012, now you know why. Even after Akin was disgraced, even after his horrific views on women and rape were revealed, even after the Republican establishment abandoned him, John Putnam came to his defense and supported him. And even with that robust defense of a man clearly out of touch with reality, perhaps because of that robust defense, John Putnam remains in charge—in charge!—of the Jasper County Republican Party.

That tells you all you need to know about what is wrong with the GOP. At the ground level, where it often matters most, the reactionaries are running the asylum.



  1. Makes sense. Memory being a selective thing, it has always been a powerful meme of human society to think of the old days as the good old days. Our old friend, Archie Bunker, was the archetype of that:

    Boy the way Glenn Miller Played
    Songs that made the Hit Parade
    Guys like us we had it made
    Those were the days.

    Didn’t need no Welfare states
    Everybody pulled his weight
    gee our old LaSalle ran great
    Those were the days

    And you knew who you were then
    Girls were girls and men were men
    Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again

    People seemd to be content
    $50 payed the rent
    Freaks were in a circus tent
    Those were the days

    Take a little sunday spin
    Tonight I’ll watch the Dogers win
    Have yourself a dandy day that cost you under a fin

    Hair was short and skirts were long
    Kate Smith really sung the song
    I don’t know just what went wrong


    Reactionaries are also selective in their bible-reading. They see no problem with the sharpest income-inequality divide since the Gilded Age. They believe that a dollar earned though financial manipulation is morally equal to one earned fixing plumbing, despite Jesus’s clear injunction in Luke that one cannot serve both God and money. Yet, corporate finance is where America’s brightest talent is going these days. I saw on the noon news that Goldman Sachs has decided to do an experiment and reduce the minimum working hours of their analysts (no doubt mostly Republicans) from 100 hours per week to only 75. What have we become?

    i could mention that some, in the Old South, no doubt long for the antebellum good old days down there as well. I wouldn’t have said that before the rollback of the Voting Rights Act, but now I can’t help but think it.


    • You are right about the South and voting rights. Some day, hopefully some day soon, people will look back on these times, when Republicans are trying to do all they can to keep people from voting, and forever condemn such actions.

      That Goldman Sachs story is something else. I heard someone on TV yesterday talking about how the character of Wall Street is changing due to the new rules and to the values that younger people are bringing to the culture there. I hope that is right.

      And by the way, what a wonderfully written, well-acted show “All in the Family” was. Brings back a lot of memories of my youth, watching that show with my family. The lyric, “Freaks were in a circus tent,” says a lot about politics these days, no?



  2. King Beauregard

     /  February 19, 2014

    “folks who take the Bible seriously”

    However seriously they claim to take the Bible, however sincere their faith, it is still the half-formed faith of a child whose religious instruction came from Jack Chck tracts found at a laundromat. Here you have a Bible, you have 2000 years of thoughtful deliberation on the material within, and if you think the main points of the Bible are that homosexuality is wrong and the earth is only 6000 years old, you’re completely failing to live your life the way Jesus wanted you to.

    Who are your enemies? Are they the poor? Are they Muslims? Are they immigrants? If you’re not showing them love — if you’re not making a sincere effort to love them despite not being able to stand them — then you’ve failed the Jesus test. Jesus knows love when he sees it, and he knows if you’re faking.

    I have read that the pick-and-choose approach to the Bible has its roots in people trying to justify slavery. If you understand even one-tenth of the BIble, you know slavery is wrong, and any system that oppresses a huge chunk of the population is hateful in the Lord’s eyes. To combat this — to combat Christ’s message — people developed a way of looking at the Bible where you dwell entirely on the unimportant stuff (like Creationism) so you don’t have to think about the important parts (like showing compassion to all people everywhere, no matter what country they’re from).

    I would feel sorry for the hell-bound “faithful”, except there is no shortage of clues that they are on the wrong track. If you listen to even a fraction of what Jesus said — if you have as much as heard of the Good Samaritan — you can figure out what is expected of you.

    Here is a theologian trying to explain it to a hell-bound sucker who just doesn’t want to hear it:


    • If it does nothing else, the O’Reilly clip highlights the fundamental (ahem) problem with the Bible, that being its inconsistencies. That’s most obvious between the NT and the OT of course, but even within the NT, as here on the subject of wealth. It is hard for me to fault someone for cherry-picking his verses when the book itself makes it impossible to do otherwise.

      Aside from the issue of wealth here, I must note another in your comment, King B, that being your mention of “hell”. The Biblical references to hell are rather obscure but are prominent in the public consciousness because authors like Dante highlighted them and churches like the Roman Catholic and the Puritans wielded the concept to great effect. How strange that nobody seemed to question the disconnect in the logic, that the penalty for failing to love your neighbors and even your enemies is eternal torment in the equivalent of a North Korean torture chamber.


      • King Beauregard

         /  February 20, 2014

        Jesus is pretty clear here and there in Matthew that there is an unpleasant afterlife surprise if you treat any human being poorly — ANY human being. That includes the people you think deserve to be treated poorly.

        There are a hundred theological concerns about the entire doctrine of hell, but they’re beyond the scope of the sort of person who thinks God hates fags.


    • King Beau,

      Geeze. You had to force me to watch Bill O’Reilly hawk his book, didn’t you! If there is a hell, a video loop of Bill O’Reilly talking about how brilliant he is (even though he didn’t know what “anachronistic” meant in the segment) will be endlessly playing as the unfortunate and forsaken souls are forced to watch without so much as a drop of booze to comfort them.

      I do enjoy theological discussions, my friend. And in this one I am afraid I have to take issue with a couple of things you said, although I agree with what you wrote about “showing compassion to all people everywhere, no matter what country they’re from” as being an example of the “important parts” of the Bible, as opposed to things like creationism.

      You wrote,

      If you understand even one-tenth of the BIble, you know slavery is wrong, and any system that oppresses a huge chunk of the population is hateful in the Lord’s eyes.

      The Bible itself explicitly condones slavery (Leviticus 25:44-46, for example), so long as the slaves are outside the tribe, and in other places it implicitly accepts slavery as a way of life without so much as a peep of opposition to it. And there is plenty of nasty oppression, sanctioned by God in the Old Testament (Numbers 31, for an incomprehensibly cruel and bloody instance) and plenty of it to come (if you believe the Book of Revelation or prophetic sayings of Jesus in the Gospels).

      That having been said, I think what you may be getting at is that “2000 years of thoughtful deliberation on the material within” the Bible has mitigated the hard parts of the book. In other words, higher biblical criticism, beginning, I think, somewhere in the 19th century, has done much to de-literalize and de-mythologize the thing to such a point that those who desire to take it literally (at least in some convenient ways; not too many people take, for instance, the Sermon on the Mount literally in all its parts, do they?) are cast as ignorant fools. (That, by the way, is what contemporary Islam sorely needs.)

      I think a better parable to explain what it is that we wish (or believe) the Bible and Jesus really stood for is the story of the prodigal son. It has always been my favorite passage of scripture and it gives me chills even now thinking about it. Would to God it were the character of the whole enterprise of Christianity, of the Bible, of God. In terms of theological effectiveness, a more beautiful and alluring story could not be told as far as I’m concerned.

      The trouble is that there is so much other stuff in the Bible that runs counter to that hopeful story. So much that I can’t list it all. When you write that “you can figure out what is expected of you,” I think I agree with that view relative to some parts of the Bible. But when you look at other parts of the Bible, like the OT laws and the sanctioning of genocide, you wonder just what is expected of people who want to live godly lives. There are people, for instance, who think that the New Testament forbids instruments in church, for God’s sake. You and I might look at that interpretation and find it obviously silly. But I knew people who took it quite seriously. And you might say that such folks were missing the larger point, which they are, but an even bigger point is that in their bones they think they are the ones following Christ more closely.

      In response to Jim you wrote,

      There are a hundred theological concerns about the entire doctrine of hell, but they’re beyond the scope of the sort of person who thinks God hates fags.

      You know why people think God hates homosexuals? Because God, through “his” book, explicitly said he hates homosexuality! If someone were to tell me, a heterosexual, that God hates heterosexuality, I would be right in thinking that since being a heterosexual is part of who I happen to be, that God hates who I happen to be. It is a logical conclusion. You might want to dismiss what the Bible says about homosexuality, but it is there very clearly and it is carried over into those awful NT passages in Romans Chapter 1. And you might want to say that people who literally believe God has a problem with homosexuals are using the “half-formed faith of a child” to believe such things. But they are actually using the kind of faith that the Bible explicitly endorses in Hebrews 11.

      Let me finish by saying this: The problem with the Bible isn’t that folks don’t understand what it means, or that they only half understand what it means, but that they do understand what a lot of it means and pay it the (undeserved) respect of taking it seriously. The mistake, as far as I’m concerned, is taking seriously a book that was written in times when men and women were mostly ignorant of the mysteries around them. They thought epilepsy was demon possession, for instance. Just how, in any form including the form you expressed, are we supposed to take such folks seriously about such important matters as how to live our life and what happens to us after we die?



      • King Beauregard

         /  February 21, 2014

        I don’t want to turn this into a long drawn-out battle, but I do notice that your counterarguments are pretty light on the Christ part of things, and heavy on the parts before and after. The bracelet says “What Would Jesus Do” for a reason.

        Also, there are only six passages of the Bible that condemn homosexuality, and even then, we aren’t even entirely sure what exactly they’re condemning. In Leviticus the condemnation is thrown in with all the other “don’t mix unlike things” proscriptions, and with that in mind, a justifiable reading of the original language is that men shouldn’t lie with men if it’s done in women’s beds. And in the New Testament, the proscriptions against (allegedly) homosexuality involve words we don’t quite know the meanings of, so we’re left to guess what the specific actions are, but the context suggests the problem with those mystery actions is coercion.

        As far as slavery goes, I present this analysis of Paul’s letter to Philemon:


        I won’t deny that a lot of terrible things are championed by God on high in the Old Testament, usually involving some real estate deal or other he’s trying to close. But it also seems to me that the new material generally supersedes the old, and if your religion is called “Christianity”, the “Christ” part of things should supersede almost anything else. But if you (the rhetorical “you”) want to focus only on the Old Testament stuff because Christ’s expectations are too burdensome, it’s time to explore Judaism. Just don’t be disappointed to learn they practice an even higher degree of scholarship.


        • And just what is wrong with a long drawn-out battle conversation between friends? (Just kidding; I know what you mean. Beyond this long reply, I won’t belabor the points, even though I enjoy it.)

          First, I did mention the “Christ part of things” when I mentioned “the Book of Revelation” and the “prophetic sayings of Jesus in the Gospel,” both of which are full of nasty things to come for non-believers. I know there are some (not necessarily you, by the way) who don’t like to see Jesus in the light of the future torture awaiting those who fail the test of faith, but it is there for all to see and should be seen and acknowledged as part of who the biblical Jesus is.

          Second, let me respond by saying that the two interpretations you offer, on homosexuality and slavery, are not traditional ones. That doesn’t mean they are wrong, of course. What it means is that the scholarship that helped shaped those non-traditional interpretations is rooted in the idea that tradition ought not to get in the way of, well, scholarship, and that there are various methodologies available to reinterpret much of what the Bible meant to countless generations of believers. Obviously I don’t have a problem with the common sense idea that we know more now about the cultural context of the Bible (and the biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek and Aramaic) than we did during, say, the Middle Ages, and that scholarship can shed important light on not only obscure passages of scripture, but offer evidence that might prove that old interpretations of what were once considered well-understood passages are false. There are plenty of examples of both.

          But I have a problem with sophistry, even the soft kind that I think I see among some well-meaning scholars relative to this issue. In some cases, I think scholars are using sophisticated argumentation, based on their considerable knowledge that most people aren’t in possession of, to make a strained theological case that seems plainly contrary to the ordinary understanding of language, even and especially biblical language that was meant to be read by ordinary folks. Many scholars (or more accurately, those who use scholarly work to write on the subject) do this, of course, because they don’t want to discard the Bible as a source of spiritual inspiration, even though they recognize that it appears to have many serious flaws. I say, after my own struggles with the Bible, just face reality and admit that folks writing in the Bronze and Iron Ages didn’t have a clue regarding some very important matters and were often guided by their own prejudices and bigotry, not to mention their need to justify past behavior like, oh, ethnic cleansing.

          In any case, you say there are “justifiable” readings of the OT passages regarding homosexuality. Okay. Maybe they are justifiable in the sense that someone who doesn’t want to believe that the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality can justify them. But as one who has spent no small amount of time wrestling with hermeneutics, their arguments leave me unconvinced. In some cases, their arguments are an insult to my intelligence. Let me give you an example from the New Testament, which you say involves “words we don’t quite know the meanings of, so we’re left to guess what the specific actions are” and which you say “the context suggests” coercion is the problem being addressed. Here is the entire passage from Romans 1 (New American Standard version), which I would ask you to read as objectively as you can:

          For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

          For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.

          For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another,amen with men committing 1indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 

          And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

          It seems to me that the plain meaning of this passage, especially when the Greek is consulted, is essentially a) that God frowns on folks who don’t worship Him and Him only, and b) God’s way of dealing with such folks is to leave them alone to do their dirty deeds and get what is coming to them for doing so (his “judgment”) and that c) among others, one of those dirty deeds is homosexuality. Plainly, and in context, Paul is saying God is not a fan of homosexuality in any form. And that is the way this passage has been understood from the beginning, as far as I can tell. I don’t see any mysterious words involved or see any clues that coercion is involved.

          More important, the plain meaning (even if it is a wrong interpretation) of this passage is based on the assumption, before science began to show us otherwise, that people “choose” to act as homosexuals and that such a choice is against “nature.” “Their women exchanged…,” Paul wrote. “The men abandoned…,” he said. Those are volitional claims. And the common, pre-scientific assumption on which those claims are based, that homosexuality is a choice, is what makes this passage so absolutely devastating to those who want to rehabilitate the Bible and make it appear a relevant (not to mention, trustworthy) moral document here in the 21st century.

          As far as slavery, that is a much more complicated issue, mainly because even conservative Bible-thumpers these days want to make the Bible say something that it seems not to be saying. The best that can be said about the Bible’s stance on slavery is that it is conflicted over it. That’s the best that can be said. The worst is that it seems to actually condone it. But it never states, emphatically states, that it is morally wrong to own another human being. That’s sort of a glaring admission, don’t you think? I mean, slavery existed before the Bible was written (and tradition has it that the Hebrews were slaves of the Egyptians) and continued long after it was written, some of its passage used to justify the institution, especially here in America. It would seem a common sense idea that such a nasty and brutish and immoral situation should have been condemned, at least once, by a God (not to mention his Son) who claims some higher moral authority, right?

          Since you put prime emphasis on the NT and particularly on the book of Philemon, I would ask you this: Why didn’t Paul simply tell Philemon, who was running a Christian church in his own house, to let his slave Onesimus (whom Paul had converted to Christ and sent back to his master) go free? Instead of appealing to Philemon’s “free will” on the matter, why didn’t Paul (or God, if one believes that he is the “author” of or inspiration for scripture) tell Philemon that slavery was clearly wrong, that is was an offense to morality and to God, and be done with it? That might have saved us from centuries and centuries of slavery, right? But it didn’t happen that way. And the fact it didn’t tells us a lot about the Bible and its authorship and moral legitimacy, doesn’t it?

          The writer of the article you referenced wrote this:

          What did worry Paul, a great deal, was that both Onesimus and Philemon were Christians. Two members of Paul’s Christian community were estranged, and that was not how things ought to be. Worse than that, before Onesimus escaped, one Christian had owned another Christian, regarding him as property, and that was also not how things ought to be either.

          So Paul did something strange. He sent Onesimus home, carrying this letter.
          Onesimus’ arrival there would present Philemon with a choice. Philemon had legal rights — property rights over Onesimus — and under Roman law he was free to act on those rights, meaning punishment and re-enslavement for Onesimus.

          The assumption here is that Paul thought slavery was wrong. But who says so? Paul certainly didn’t, even though here he had the perfect opportunity to do so. And appealing to Roman law to justify sending Onesimus back is bogus. The apostles didn’t have a problem with breaking laws, if they thought they were contrary to God’s will. Thus it is fair to conclude that slavery wasn’t outside of God’s will, at least as far as Paul understood it.

          Also, the author of your article makes Paul sound like a New Jersey big boss man by saying that “he could pull rank” but wants granting freedom to be a “voluntary” act and that Philemon “did not dare ignore what Paul was clearly suggesting throughout the letter.” But that ignores entirely the moral case against slavery. Paul essentially made a pragmatic case for Onesimus’ release (“I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel”), not a moral one. My question is why didn’t he make a moral case against slavery? And my answer, which I think is supported by a fair reading of this and other passages in the Bible, is that Paul didn’t think there was necessarily a moral case to make against it.

          Finally, I leave you with this sad passage from Ephesians 6, which I am sure was used to justify the slave trade throughout post-biblical history:

          Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.

          I just don’t know what context one can put that in to justify it. I just don’t understand how one can miss the plain meaning of it, which essentially is this: don’t worry about being a slave; serve your master like you were serving Jesus himself; and if you do so, then you will be blessed. No mention that slavery, owning human beings, was wrong. And certainly no mention that slavery was an affront to God and that a person was justified in rebelling against it. What a horrific passage, one that likely helped prolong the institution of slavery in the United States and condemned generations of black people to horrific lives, the effects of which we are still seeing today.



          • King Beauregard

             /  February 24, 2014

            Keeping it short lest we spin like the tires on a Cherubmobile (as described in Ezekiel):

            “But it never states, emphatically states, that it is morally wrong to own another human being. That’s sort of a glaring admission, don’t you think?”

            I’d be suspicious of any first century Roman text that DIDN’T allow for the practice of slavery. Not because the people reading or writing the text were clearly fine with slavery, but because publicly condemning the entire institution of slavery would probably have led to the author and his followers being crucified up and down the Appian Way. The New Testament is careful to bend to Roman custom in a variety of places — including painting Pilate as the well-intentioned guy who totally would have let Jesus go free if not for those filthy Jews — and you probably can’t take a bold stand against slavery if you’re a splinter sect of Judaism, not always tolerated in the pagan world.

            But, I imagine a Christian operating from Christian principles and following Christ’s example would be able to figure out that owning another human being isn’t cool. (Yes, they understood the concept of “cool”; Arthur Fonzarelli comes from Italian stock, after all.)


            • Short enough for the times we live in, that’s for sure.

              I saw Henry Winkler on TV last week, by the way. What a great guy he seems to be, Italian or not (actually his parents were German Jewish immigrants!).

              In any case, starting with the stoning of Steven, who was killed by angry Jews, and extending into the fourth century, when the Romans were doing the dirty work of persecuting Christians, I just don’t find it all that convincing that fear of persecution from Roman authorities is what kept the Christian writers quiet. Seems more plausible to me that they just accepted slavery as a way of life, and God, to the extent one believes he had a hand in authoring the Bible, didn’t find it a big enough deal to mention. I just find that incomprehensibly strange for a book purported to be the Word of God.


              • King Beauregard

                 /  February 25, 2014

                ARTHUR FONZARELLI is Italian, though.

                Have you ever read the writings of Gaius Plexicus? He was an early Christian who was an outspoken critic of slavery, and called for the freeing of all slaves. He and his little band were all killed by Roman soldiers and his writings were all destroyed, indeed the Romans were careful to literally obliterate him (i.e. remove him from all writings) such that there is no record of him today. So no, you haven’t read the writings of Gaius Plexicus, and neither have I, because the Romans wouldn’t have allowed that sort of thing. Consider him a fictional construct to illustrate my point: there were some things you simply couldn’t get away with in Roman times.

                But that story of Philemon tells me that Christians expected better of one another than the minimum required by Roman law. The New Testament may say in many places to obey Roman law — pretty much necessary to survive in Roman times — but that doesn’t mean to enthusiastically believe in the Roman way of doing things. Comply with the law, but live by a higher standard.

                And again, I feel that anyone who actually absorbed any particle of Christ’s message should be able to fill in the blanks for himself. The “whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers” bit renders an awful lot of commentary unnecessary. But that gets us back to the hermeneutic practiced in right-wing American Christianity, where you pick and choose so that you don’t have to think about your responsibility to live like Christ.

                Have we talked about Pope Pius XII? It seems like something I would bitch about. The image people have of him today is that he was a silent collaborator in the Holocaust, mostly they got that idea from a German playwright named Rolf Hochhuth, who is a Holocaust denier. Go figure. But during Pius’s day, people understood the pressure he was under and how he had to be careful about what he said and what he didn’t say. Thus, in his Christmas radio broadcasts he spoke about how it was incumbent upon us to treat every man as our brother, no matter the nationality race or creed; and while it sounds tepid by today’s standards, at the time there was no mistaking that it was a rebuke of the Nazis. But there’s only so much the Pope could have done without causing a crackdown on Catholics all over Europe, so he said as much as he could, and let people figure out the rest.


                • I won’t argue any further with what I consider to be a reasonable (though still unconvincing) interpretation of Christian sensibilities in the face of Roman occupation in the 1st century. You made your case quite eloquently. But let’s at least admit that there isn’t much moral courage being displayed in the texts, only existential pragmatism. I’m not sure that is exactly one of the cardinal or theological virtues, is it?

                  In any case, on to the new subject, which I find fascinating. There have always been many critics of the Pope’s role in WWII, not just some German Holocaust denier. And the scholarship on the subject continues to this day. The debate over the actions (or insufficient actions, depending on the critic) of Pius XII (Cardinal Pacelli, who was a essentially a diplomat prior to becoming pope, a fact that may explain why he acted the way he did) will continue no doubt. It is certainly possible to see his official behavior as you describe (especially the decision to maintain “neutrality” because of what doing otherwise would likely have brought on), although I find some of his actions troublesome, if not completely indefensible. But I wasn’t there; wasn’t in his shoes; didn’t have his responsibilities or fears (or misplaced concerns for the future of his Church should the Nazi’s actually win the war). We certainly know that he didn’t approve of what was happening. The question has always been whether he did enough to try to stop it, or at least lend moral support publicly to those who were.

                  One problem not often discussed is just why the Pope would have established diplomatic relations with Imperial Japan in—yes—March of 1942. It didn’t seem necessary and pissed off Roosevelt and many American Catholics, who had come to the realization that isolationism was impossible after Pearl Harbor. As far as I’m concerned, that move is hard to defend in any context, even though, I suppose, you could say that Pius XII was merely trying to find a diplomatic way to stop what the Japanese were doing to Catholics in the Asia Pacific from 1941 on. Flimsy reason, in my view, but it falls in line with a general defense of his relative (though not complete) silence during the Holocaust.

                  As for his not wanting to subject Catholics to Hitler’s fury, let’s not forget about what happened in Poland. The murder of Catholics there began in 1939 and continued for years, all with the Pope’s knowledge (I went back and read a letter, printed in Churchill’s book on WWII, from Polish Catholics informing the Pope of the brutality of the German occupiers; it is quite disturbing). It is hard to understand why Pius XII didn’t name names, but was content, very diplomatically, to briefly mention (in that controversial 1942 Christmas address you referenced, in one sentence near the end of a 52-paragraph, 5000-word document) those “without any fault on their part, sometimes only because of their nationality or race, have been consigned to death or to a slow decline.” Not exactly a giant moral moment for the Pontiff, was it?

                  I realize there are folks who read that Christmas message in ways that tend to confirm their opinion of the Pope (“he was a good guy”; “he was a bad guy”), but, man, it is sure hard to understand why the honcho of the Catholic Church was being so rhetorically evasive in the face of such atrocities. Can you imagine the current Pope, even in the same circumstances, authoring such an understatement of what was happening? Or not calling out the perpetrators by name? I can’t. And I guess that is my point. Whatever one thinks of the Pope’s actions during WWII, Pacelli was no Bergoglio and thus Pius XII was no Francis.



                  • King Beauregard

                     /  February 26, 2014

                    “it is sure hard to understand why the honcho of the Catholic Church was being so rhetorically evasive in the face of such atrocities.”

                    You have high expectations of him — not because you expect him to have done the right thing, but because it sounds like you want him to have done something futile and suicidal. Anything short of that, I think, and you would not be satisfied that his heart was in the right place.

                    Then there’s the small matter of mobilizing the Catholic Church to smuggle Jews to safety. How many Jews were saved this way is furiously debated; some place the number as high as 860,000. But let’s say it was only 100,000, or even 10,000 … that still meant a lot of people putting themselves at risk, and saving some Jews. At this point the serious debate isn’t whether Pius XII did anything, but exactly how many tens of thousands of Jews were saved. Not bad for a guy armed with only a single missal.

                    Ever read Golda Meir’s commentary upon Pius XII’s death? Can we trust her to have had some sense of who was one of the good guys and who wasn’t? Her statement to the UN read:

                    “We share in the grief of humanity. When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the pope was raised for its victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out about great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace.”

                    Well shit.


                • Surely you guys realize in this interesting discourse that your are discussing Pius XII’s actions with an implicit assumption that he must not have believed in the inerrancy of the Bible and Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies as well. Ironic is what it is.


                  • King Beauregard

                     /  February 26, 2014

                    I see no conflict between the Pope trying to do what little he could to oppose the Nazis, and believing the Nazis were God’s children and Christ’s brethren.


                  • I see no conflict between the Pope trying to do what little he could to oppose the Nazis, and believing the Nazis were God’s children and Christ’s brethren.

                    Boy, I do, and so must God if one believes in the Hell parts of the inerrant scripture. Yes, I get that the duty assignments are God’s prerogative. That’s just one more chunk of cognitive dissonance that’s too wild for me to swallow.

                    But, I grant you that it fits what we are told we must believe, that no matter what one’s sins or misdeeds, even those of the Nazi leadership or the management of Kim Jung Un’s torture chambers, if they repent and suck up, they get the halo and harp. Good luck with that approach – it’s too much for me.


                    • King Beauregard

                       /  February 26, 2014

                      American fundamentalists are much bigger on the “repent and suck up” angle than Catholics are. Catholics are much more typically about works (which ultimately reveal faith) and the Nazis’ works speak for themselves. But, that doesn’t take away from their being God’s children.

                      Perhaps you are thinking I mean “saved, praise Jebus!” when I say “God’s children”. I don’t.


            • I was referring to confession, as in death-bed confessions, and the forgiveness of sins, no matter how serious. Probably doesn’t matter though, because you have to really mean it. Still, it seems like a cheap out to me.

              The problem I have with Pius XII is that his performance seems hypocritical. As a head of state and politician he acted rationally and pragmatically, but his actions were markedly weak compared to those of Christian martyrs, and most prominently those of Saint Peter and Jesus himself. I think the work “hypocrisy” was used previously in this thread.


              • King Beauregard

                 /  February 27, 2014

                As with Duane, I suspect you wouldn’t be satisfied unless PIus XII did something both futile and suicidal. I understand the allure of that — especially the allure of someone else doing it — but if you are interested in doing some real-world good, you have to remain alive to do it. Being alive to see to it that Jews get smuggled out of Europe counts as real-world good.


                • I want neither futility nor suicide on his part. A simple admission that it’s hypocrisy to advocate turning the other cheek while acting pragmatically would do.


                  • King Beauregard

                     /  February 27, 2014

                    The only way I can parse what you’re looking for, is if we have radically different interpretations of “turning the other cheek”. I have always understood it to mean refusing to respond to violence with violence; how do you read it?


                    • For “turn the other cheek” I was thinking more in the sense of being ordered to “love your enemies”, but of course you’re right. The scriptural phrase is in the context of violence, and hence my analogy was inapt. My problem remains the same however, i.e., hypocrisy. And by the way, I don’t consider that a mortal sin, to borrow a phrase. Let’s call it venial, or even better, quite human. The whole issue wouldn’t bother me so much if it weren’t for the in errantly-characterized dogma that issues from the Vatican and other pulpits.


        • I have sympathy with your argument, my friend. I understand your point about the need to stay alive to get good things, even limited good things, done.

          No, I wouldn’t necessarily have expected the WWII pope to tell the Nazis, Verpiss dich! Ultimately I was comparing his behavior to what we might expect from the current pope. But of course Francis might act in much the same pragmatic way (assuming Pius XII was all motivated by strategic pragmatism, rather than some other, less noble, motive). We don’t know and hopefully won’t ever have to find out how Pope Francis would act if similarly confronted with such horror.

          However, we also don’t know whether more openly defiant behavior from Pius XII would have proved “futile and suicidal.” And we don’t know what would have happened if it did prove suicidal, if a more outspoken pope, say, would have been assassinated by the fascists in 1939 or even earlier. Maybe American opinion would have shifted much more quickly and some of the atrocities against the Jews could have been prevented by an earlier entry into the war. Who knows?

          As for his heart, beats me whether it was in the right place. I hate to make negative judgments in the kinds of circumstances that existed in Europe after the Nazis began their assaults. I suppose I assume it was in the right place without solid evidence to the contrary. I was essentially commenting on his tactics, without questioning what his motives may have been. And, although Golda Meir may have overstated it a bit, he certainly does deserve credit for some behind-the-scenes help. But the greater credit, to the point of honoring them with extraordinary heroism, goes to those individual Catholics—who could have turned their heads in anonymity—but instead who saved the lives of so many Jews.

          On that, I know, we can completely agree.



          • King Beauregard

             /  February 28, 2014

            “Maybe American opinion would have shifted much more quickly and some of the atrocities against the Jews could have been prevented by an earlier entry into the war.”

            Perhaps, but it would have probably taken a media blitz to get people sufficiently riled up to be willing to die for a bunch of Jews. The Final Solution didn’t start until 1942 in any event, after the US’s entry.

            The US government certainly had information about concentration camps, but very little of that information made it to the public; you’d see a one-paragraph mention of a mass deportation somewhere on page eight, but that was about it.

            Some time, watch “Casablanca”, there’s a very jarring moment at one point where Victor Laszlo makes a very dismissive reference to the time he spent in a concentration camp, like it was an inconvenience at worst. Man, if only the writers knew how that line would look decades later …


  3. Duane,

    Well, Kansas is one of those states like Texas that I think most of us would agree should probably secede from the Union. Then again, maybe Missouri and Oklahoma should too.

    As to the Republican Party, I’ve already said my peace about the American Taliban on this and other blogs. It just seems to be getting worse. Kansas is only the tip of a very large iceberg – one that’s not melting but actually seems to be growing in size.

    On the religious front, by which I mean Christian fundamentalists, it’s interesting to note that their beliefs go back only about 100 years, not 2,000 years. In 1910, the Presbyterian General Assembly invented what have become known as the “Five Fundamentals.”
    (1) The inerrancy of scripture;
    (2) The divinity of Christ (including a literal interpretation of the “Virgin Birth”);
    (3) Christ’s death as substitutionary atonement;
    (4) Christ’s resurrection as a literal event;
    (5) Christ’s return (the “Second Coming”) as a literal event.

    Of course, many other Christian denominations have adopted those “fundamentals” and their adherents, virtually all white and all conservative, become completely irrational when challenged on them, especially about the first one, and more especially about Genesis. Creationism anyone?

    There’s a good article on AlterNet giving fundamentals something they should consider, but probably won’t: http://www.alternet.org/belief/5-biblical-concepts-fundamentalists-just-don’t-understand



    • Not too long ago, Herb, I would have disagree with the whole secession thing. But after the Ted Nugent nonsense, I’m not so sure. I have a brother and sister down there, so I would like to get them out first!

      As for fundamentalism, sure the term came about much later than the scriptures, but the roots of all those doctrines can be found in the original writings. Sure, there have always been various interpretations of the Bible, but “orthodox” Christianity has, in some form or another, held fast to the fundamentals, even despite the higher criticism that radically changed the way we look at the Bible today.

      In fact, fundamentalism as a movement began in response to critics of the Bible who were interpreting it in ways that denied its authenticity as “God’s word.” That’s why “the inerrancy of scripture” is often the number one doctrine you hear conservative Christians mention. All else flows from that. If the Book isn’t God’s and if it isn’t correct in all it teaches, then it is merely a book written by man, like any other book. My point, though, is that the idea of scripture being inerrant and literally God’s word was around from the beginning of the Church. Fundamentalism simply tried to reaffirm that old idea, which was trampled by the intellectual theologians of the 19th century and after.



  4. Duane,

    Just came across a quote that seems apropos to this discussion:

    “Mark my word, if and when these preachers [fundamentalists] get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” — Barry Goldwater


    p.s., A million years ago my family, mainly my father, who grew up in Carthage, and the Putnam family were good friends. I’m pretty sure John is a descendent, though I’m not sure if his parents and grandparents, now long gone, would be proud.


    • Nice Goldwater quote. Here’s a related quote he spoke on the Senate floor in 1981:

      On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.

      I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?

      And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”

      As for John Putnam, as repugnant as some of his beliefs are, I have no doubt he is as sincere a guy as he can be. But I don’t think he would want to tangle with Barry Goldwater, do you?



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