"The Protestant Deformation"

Discussion in 'Politics' started by KenH, Jan 1, 2006.

  1. KenH

    KenH
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    I thought I would try my hand at providing a synopsis(some mental work to start my year) of an article in the Winter 2005 issue of The American Interest entitled "The Protestant Deformation" by James Kurth, pp. 4-16.


    This article is an update of an article written by the author eight years ago in which he writes about a sort of religion that has guided U.S. foreign policy for the life of the United States, the process of which he refers to as the Protestant declension, and which has reached its fulfillment in the past couple of decades.

    He starts with the wonderment among some as to why the U.S. has adopted "unilateral diplomacy and preemptive military action". Some blame the neo-conservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz; others blame the "oil interests" such as Dick Cheney; and others blame hypernationalists such as Donald Rumsefeld.

    But Mr. Kurth directs us to George W. Bush who has spoken of freedom as God's gift to man and that it is America's calling to bring people to other peoples. And his strongest support has come from Evangelical Protestants, or the Religious Right. But Mr. Kurth states that is not Evangelical Protestantism but a pseudo-religion he calls the Protestant Deformation from which both Presidents Clinton and Bush have drawn their foreign policy.

    Mr. Kurth then discusses the Protestant Reformation and its disdain for heirachy and community as a means to having a relationship with God. Instead, the Protestant Reformation brought to the forefront that man can have a direct relationship with God without an earthly intermediary.

    This rejection of heirachy and community spread to secular life as well, especially in the United States. In economics, the elimination of the hierarchy of monopoly or oligopoly led to the embrace of the free market. In politics, the elimination of the hierarchy of monoarchy or aristocracy led to the embrace of liberal democracy.

    In order to avoid anarchy something had to replace hierachy and community, and that something was the written word - a written contract in economics and a written constitution in politics.

    The six stages he describes as the Protestant declension are:

    1. Salvation by grace. The Protestant teaching that an individual is saved by the grace of God, not by an individual's own works.

    2. Grace evidenced through work. In the Episcopal and Lutheran churches, church rituals and works continued to play a part and kept an emphaiss on works. The Reformed churches and the Presbyterian and Congregational churches rejected these rituals as evidence of salvation but evidence of grace became "the success of work in the world". Mr. Kurth states: Thus, the second and later-generation Reformed Protestants
    could experience worldly life and worldly work as a tabula rasa."

    3. Salvation by works. After several generations the emphasis on grace decreased and work began to be seen as "a good in itself" and "became a new version of good works".

    4. The unitarian(philosophy not the denomination) transformation. With grace being lost as a focal point so did the focus on Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and the transformational emphasis became the "abstract concept fo a Supreme Being or Divine Providence". This helps to explain why among the public documents of the late 18th century more references "to the Supreme Being or Divine Providence and rarely to Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit".

    5. The American Creed. Quoting Mr. Kurth: "Now the various Protestant creeds were replaced by the American Creed, which reached its fullest articulation in the first half of the 20th century. The elements of the American Creed were free markets and equal opportunity, free elections and liberal democracy, constitutionalism and the rule of law." Mr. Kurth describes this as a secularized verions of Protestantism.

    6. Universal Human Rights. This final stage was reached in the last two generations with the ascendancy of the American Creed as being "universal goods". And with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the stagnation of the German "social market" and Japanese "organized capitalism" the competitors to the American Creed were vanquished.

    The author points out that at the birth of the United States churches and U.S. citizens were at various stages of this declension. This led to a pluralism which resulted in "the rhetoric of unitarianism" where all believed in a Supreme Being. Early 19th century revivals led some Protestants back to higher stages of belief as, the author points out, religious revival in the U.S. has done during the past generation.

    By the early 19th century most Americans believed that free market economics(written contracts) and liberal democracy(a written constitution) were the only legitimate forms. But in the 19th century the United States had little opportunity to insert these ideals into its foreign policy. This changed in the 20th century. Starting with Woodrow Wilson and continuing through Franklin Roosevelt to George W. Bush vast opportunities arose "as American power allowdd the translatioin of what should be in the world into what could be in the world."

    Mr. Kurth states that in President Wilson's "New Freedom" that he "believed that God meant for him to advance these ideals both at home and abroad, 'to make the world safe for democracy'."

    The free market and liberal democracy seem normal to millions of Americans - then and now - but that is because we have grown up in a Protestant culture, and not another religion.

    (Continued below.)
     
  2. Joseph_Botwinick

    Joseph_Botwinick
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    Sounds like a Communist. Who cares what he thinks? :D

    Joseph Botwinick
     
  3. KenH

    KenH
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    (Synopsis continued).

    The author makes the point that even though the idea of the League of Nations failed that Wilson's other ideas became a permanent part of U.S. foreign policy.

    Mr. Kurth states that the U.S. did not really retreat into isolationism after World War I as that applied only to European security and military matters. The U.S. expanded its presence in Latin America and in East Asia under the GOP presidents of the 1920s, and continued to do so under the "Good Neighbor Policy" and the "Open Door Policy" under Roosevelt.

    The author contends that the main reason the U.S. withdrew from Europe was because we became convinced that we could not convert European nations to the American Creed, but hoped to do so in Latin America and East Asia. This was because if a country was strong in relation to the U.S., we would use prudence or distance, "realism", in our foreign policy. But if a country was weak in relation to the U.S., we would use "idealism" in our foreign policy.

    When "idealism" butted heads with "realism" as over China between the U.S. and Japan, well, we see what happened in 1941.

    We see that Roosevelt continued to push free trade and liberal democracy and even resurrected the League of Nations as the United Nations.

    In the post-World War II world, we see the U.S. using idealism in dealing with the now weak nations in Europe and with Japan, while using prudence with the Soviet Union, and distance with China unti 1972.

    Mr. Kurth states that in the 1970s that the "political and intellectual elites began to promote the notion of universal human rights as a fundamental goal of American foreign policy"..."human rights are applicable to anyone anywhere in the world"..."Individual rights and universal rights are one and the same".

    The author states that instead of the "totalitarianism of the state" that what we now see advocated is a "totalitarianism of the self", as seen in the "me generation" - the baby boomers.

    The election of Bill Clinton was the arrival of the baby boomers to politcal power, and his presidency "promoted universal human rights more than any previous administration. Furthermore, "with respect to the promotion of American values abroad...the Bush administration has largely been a continuation, and even an amplification, of the Clinton Administration". Mr. Kurth states that "when George W. Bush speaks about liberty and democracy for all as a universal, God-given right, he is as sincere as any political being can be".

    The author states that the failed Communist states caused Clinton to focus on two wars in Bosnia and Kosovo which did stop the violence but did not establish democracy and left the underlying problems frozen. Islamic terrorism has caused Bush to focus on two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but has not stopped the violence and the success of democracy is still up for grabs in both countries.

    Mr. Kurth makes the point that the pressures on the two administrations has been somewhat different. Clinton was pushed by the human rights lobby and the globalization lobby. Bush has been pushed by the neoconservatives, the globalization lobby, and the liberal hawks among the human rights lobby. During the Bush presidentcy, he further states that the Evangelicals suported democratization as a goal of U.S. foreign policy because it was a Bush project and they supported his rhetoric on cultural issues. The human rights lobby supported democratization because it was a democratization project while they opposed him on cultural issues. This had led to an unstable coalition in support of Bush's foreign policy.


    Mr. Kurth points out that Evangelicals have not seen foreign policy as one of their main political issues and were uninterested in democratization efforts under the Clinton administration. However, Evangelical Protestants are pleased when democratization happens in foreign countries due to the missionary opportunities that arise, but they look to God producing these opportunities, not their own political activities.

    Mr. Kurth closes with a warning to Evangelicals. If the Bush foreign policy fails, someone will have to be blamed, and that someone could well be Evanglical Protestants. Liberals and Democrats will be on the attack against Republicans and conservatives, who will then try to distance themselves from the Bush administration and the Evangelical Protestants(Bush's most consistent supporters). The real formulators of Bush's foreign policy will be ignored and Democrats, Republicans, liberals, and secular conservatives will blame Evangelicals.

    Why? Because the real architects of Bush's foreign policy do not threaten the liberals and the Democrats on the cultural/social issues, whereas the Evangelicals do threaten them on those issues. This would give them a chance to marginalize the Evangelicals politically.

    Mr. Kurth finishes by pointing out that it was the liberals who advocated exporting the American Creed in the first place and, that even though it may be their own project that failed, "that the ungodly world will always find new ways to blame true Christians for its own errors. Such is the dynamic of the Protestant Deformation."
     
  4. KenH

    KenH
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    James Kurth, the Claude Smith Professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College and co-chairman of Foreign Policy Research Institute's Center for the Study of America and the West, succeeds David Eisenhower as Editor of Orbis beginning with the Fall 2004 issue. Kurth has taught at Harvard, University of California at San Diego, and the US Naval War College. He served as an advisor to the Strategic Studies Group of the Chief of Naval Operations and is the recipient of the Department of the Navy Medal for Meritorious Civilian Service. Kurth is the author of numerous essays in The National Interest, Orbis, Current History, and Foreign Policy, and has given testimony before committees of the US Congress on four occasions.

    - LINK
     
  5. OldRegular

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    Ken

    After skimming the above as a Republican, a Conservative, a true believer by the grace of God, and a Baptist [which I believe is evangelical] I am getting primed to blame myself.
     
  6. LadyEagle

    LadyEagle
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    I'm not. I blame Grover Norquist, Bush's Muslim adviser.
     
  7. KenH

    KenH
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    If anyone wants to read the entire article I am not sure if this link will work if one is not a subscriber to The American Interest:

    http://tinyurl.com/856hv
     

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