Rewriting History — The History of America Mega-Conference: Part Four, Kevin Swanson Is Tired Of Losing

Rewriting History — The History of America Mega-Conference: Part Four, Kevin Swanson Is Tired Of Losing

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. For more information about Ahab, see his blog’s About page. Part Four of this series was originally published on July 9, 2013.

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Also in this series: Part One: First Impressions | Part Two: Doug Phillips on God in History | Part Three: “Religious Liberalism” And Those Magnificent Mathers | Part Four: Kevin Swanson Is Tired Of Losing | Part Five: Messiah States and Mega-Houses | Part Six: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century | Part Seven: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon | Part Eight: Closing Thoughts

*****

After celebrating July 4th, I returned to the History of America Mega-Conference on July 5th to observe more workshops. On Friday morning Kevin Swanson presented a workshop entitled “Why 19th Century Literature Was at War with God”. Swanson, host of Generations Radio, has a long history of eccentric comments documented by Right Wing Watch, and he was no different in person. I’m not sure what troubled me more: Swanson’s acidic tone, or the hyperbolic content of his talk. His seething hatred for The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and other 19th century writers was both irrational and unsettling.

Swanson began his talk by lamenting that America is not the Christian nation it supposedly once was and is not doing as well as it had in the past. The United States is breaking down, he claimed, because the Western world is slowly “apostatizing” as families and civilizations disintegrate.

Swanson reserved special rancor for liberal professors. Citing Ken Ham’s 2011 book Already Compromised, he told listeners that liberal arts professors in Christian colleges are highly likely to believe in evolution because of their liberal leanings. Apostasy always begins in the liberal arts departments of Christian colleges, Swanson insisted, adding that many liberal arts colleges are “corruptible” because of their very foundations. Harvard and Princeton have already been “compromised”, and many professors at Wheaton College voted for Obama, Swanson said with regret.

Swanson further caricatured liberal arts studies with bombastic words. He sneered at liberal arts departments for their admiration of Karl Marx, whom he called a “Satanist” and “atheist” with an wrong-headed epistemology and a flawed view of history. Swanson also looked askance at liberal professors for their love of Harry Potter books and the gay Dumbledore character. Society is locked in a battle between worldviews, one with battle lines laid out in liberal arts departments where the next generation is receiving its education, he said.

“I am tired of losing!” Swanson shouted. “Is anyone else tired of losing?” The audience applauded.

Swanson proceeded to rant disjointedly against Catholics, LGBTQ persons, and other people he blamed for “apostasy”. The Roman Catholic church represents so much “apostasy” from the Christian faith is because of its liberal arts heritage, starting with Thomas Aquinas, he claimed. He wondered aloud how America went from the Christian primers of its early history to children’s books such as Heather Has Two Mommies.

Swanson seemed baffled that America has allegedly come to lead the “Neronic* agenda”, his term for the LGBTQ equality movement. Even “pagan” leaders in Africa were disgusted by the “hatred toward God” expressed by President Obama’s support for same-sex marriage.

The root of the present situation, Swanson posited, is that powerful intellectual men, “many of whom were possessed by the Devil himself”, introduced dubious ideas into universities. Swanson called these men nephilim (a reference to human-angel hybrids in Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33) because they led to the destruction of the world through the Great Flood in the Bible, just as they are destroying society today.

Feverishly, Swanson launched a polemic against Thomas Aquinas. In Summa Theologica, Swanson explained, Aquinas separated sacred and philosophical knowledge, with philosophical knowledge based on human reason. This division of knowledge gives man the ability to “think autonomously” apart from God, which Swanson blasted as Aquinas’ greatest error. Over a span of 400 years, thinkers such as Locke and Descartes celebrated philosophical knowledge and the supremacy of the human mind, which Swanson branded as toxic to faith.

In the 1700s and 1800s, tension between the Bible and classical writings — the beginnings of “apostasy” — could be found in the writings of the Founders, Swanson asserted. By the turn of the 19th century, most Americans rejected the idea that God holds authority over human actions, Swanson claimed. Such was the idea undergirding 19th century “cults” that rejected the idea of the Trinity and embraced Arianism, he insisted.

Swanson was furious that in today’s world, science says that the universe is billions of years old, parents are discouraged from spanking children, and the Bible is being rejected because it doesn’t jive with humanism. Ethics, philosophy, and science have been divorced from the Bible, he lamented.

Swanson pointed to Emersonian Transcendentalism as a powerful influence on 19th century American religion. Emerson’s aunt raised Emerson in the Hindu religion, Swanson claimed, describing Emerson as a pacifist who encouraged others to follow their hearts and make it up as they go along. Swanson further caricatured Transcendentalism as a system in which man allegedly defines his own ethics as he goes along and creates his own reality.

Swanson was especially livid over the popularity of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter in high school and college literature classes. He accused Hawthorne of hating his Christian heritage and dying a nihilist who allegedly saw no purpose in life. He further blasted Hawthorne for allegedly attending seances, marrying into one of the worst “progressive” families of his era, and having ties to Horace Mann, a supporter of public schools. Hawthorne allegedly mocked Christianity in his writings, referring to Cotton Mather as a devil. Finally, Swanson accused Hawthorne of allegedly doing enormous damage to America’s Christian heritage with his writings. Events such as the History of America Mega-Conference have such small attendance because people have read Hawthorne and become corrupted.

And here’s where things get … weird.

Swanson believed that Hawthorne’s sister was “demon possessed” and sought to see Hawthorne’s children possessed as well. He claimed that an unearthly force moved Hawthorne’s hand as he wrote The Scarlet Letter, a story “forged in Hell”. Outrageously, he claimed that both Hawthorne and Herman Melville admitted to being demon possessed (!?).

Swanson shuddered at the alleged power of The Scarlet Letter, warning listeners not to underestimate the ways that its “Satanic effects” can change nations. Attacking the novel as “stupid” and a “farce”, Swanson claimed thatThe Scarlet Letter represents two gospels. The gospel of Dimmesdale, he claimed, preaches repentance without faith in Christ, as Dimmesdale finds self-atonement rather than substitutional atonement for his adultery. The gospel of Hester, on the other hand, is one of love divorced from law, thus rendering love meaningless, he said.

Swanson’s wrath toward the fictional Hester was brutal. He called Hester a “prophetess” of adultery in a later age, when high divorce rates, premarital sex, and out-of-wedlock births would surge. Swanson also accused Hester of being the predecessor of Margaret Sanger, Margaret Mead, Gloria Steinem, and other feminists with “unyielding and rebellious hearts”. Hester, in short, was the harbinger of a “feminist world” in which the family is crumbling.

As the workshop churned on, Swanson’s gave voice to more visceral hatred ofThe Scarlet Letter. The moral of the novel, he insisted, was that witchcraft, homosexuality, incest, and feminism are better than Christianity. The Bible commands the death penalty for adultery, but Hawthorne and today’s average Christians loathe the death penalty.

Wait a minute. Did I just hear Swanson defend capital punishment for adultery? I thought. The audience sat rapt, apparently unfazed by Swanson’s rant. Are you people okay with this? Hello!?

Swanson observed that many Christians are embarrassed by what the Bible commands regarding adultery, homosexuality, and witchcraft. Such Christians love Jesus but hate his law, he said, and thus American religion is solidly anti-Biblical law.

Swanson lobbed similarly hateful accusations at Mark Twain, stunned that so many homeschooling families have Twain’s books in their homes. According to Swanson, Twain was an “apostate”, communist, atheist man who hated the Biblical God and was possibly possessed by Satan (!?). As proof of this, Swanson said that Twain allegedly acknowledged he was writing letters from Satan himself when he composed Letters from the Earth. Twain also encouraged women to commit adultery, Swanson asserted with no small amount of disgust.

Predictably, Swanson blasted Huckleberry Finn, criticizing the eponymous main character for not fearing God and mocking the notion of divine judgment. The novel, he explained, was about slavery, with Huckleberry Finn choosing to help his enslaved friend at the risk of his eternal soul. Rather than praise Finn’s moral courage, Swanson launched into a diatribe about vast numbers of Americans being “enslaved to the welfare state” today. He branded “Muslim” slavery, in which people are kidnapped and sold, as evil, but said that he wished he had time to discuss a Biblical view of slavery. 

Huh? I thought. Slavery is wrong, no matter who practices it. Full stop. I don’t care if there’s a “Biblical” form of slavery. It’s wicked. What is wrong with this man?

“Do not read the heathen stories to your children,” Swanson warned the audience. He urged listeners to teach their children the Bible first, instead of giving them a “Greek” education. “Give them the Bible! Let them know the book of Deuteronomy better than they know The Scarlet Letter,” he demanded, to which the room erupted in applause.

Deuteronomy? I fumed. You mean the Deuteronomy brimming with bloodshed and genocide? The Deuteronomy with guidelines for owning slaves? The Deuteronomy that allows warriors to take conquered women as sexual booty? The Deuteronomy that instructs communities to stone rape victims and women who don’t bleed on their wedding nights? No, Kev, I’m NOT teaching THAT to a child.

Swanson concluded by encouraging listeners to give their children a “war of the worldviews”, to give them Biblical context for supposedly ungodly classics they might read. A 14 year-old is not ready for Plato and Aristotle, he claimed; rather, parents should give their children Christian ideas and writers first, then expose them to “heathen” works in their late teens. That way, children will understand how evil such “heathen” ideas are.

In short, Swanson was advocating a closed information system for homeschooled children, in which parents shield their offspring from non-Christian ideas until they approach adulthood. In my opinion, this approach could only produce children who are utterly disconnected from their cultural heritage, from mainstream America. When such isolated children reach adulthood and leave their bubble, how will they navigate American culture if so many important ideas have been either demonized in their eyes or left out of their education altogether?

Then again, maybe I should be more optimistic. In an age of book stores, libraries, and the internet, young people are likely to encounter ideas outside of their upbringing and read books such as The Scarlet Letter.  Swanson and his ilk may find that creating a closed information system for children will be harder than they imagined.

Later, as I recuperated from the workshop in a nearby pub, I tried to digest what I’d just heard. Demon possessed authors? Capital punishment for adultery? Biblical slavery? A closed information system meant to stifle the minds of children? This is sick, I thought. This. Is. Madness.

Swanson’s feverish words, and the audience’s approval, impressed upon me a disturbing truth: Christian Reconstructionism and superstitious hysteria are alive and well in small corners of our culture. People like Swanson earnestly embrace a fundamentalist worldview, and have every intention of inflicting it on the next generation of homeschooled children.

Stay tuned for more talks from Vision Forum’s History of America Mega-Conference!

* A reference to the Roman emperor Nero.

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To be continued.

Rewriting History — The History of America Mega-Conference: Part Three, “Religious Liberalism” And Those Magnificent Mathers

Rewriting History — The History of America Mega-Conference: Part Three, “Religious Liberalism” And Those Magnificent Mathers

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. For more information about Ahab, see his blog’s About page. Part Three of this series was originally published on July 7, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One: First Impressions | Part Two: Doug Phillips on God in History | Part Three: “Religious Liberalism” And Those Magnificent Mathers | Part Four: Kevin Swanson Is Tired Of Losing | Part Five: Messiah States and Mega-Houses | Part Six: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century | Part Seven: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon | Part Eight: Closing Thoughts

*****

On Wednesday, July 3rd, I took in two workshops at Vision Forum’s History of America Mega-Conference: “The Rise of Religious Liberalism” and “Puritanism and the Multigenerational Vision of the Mather Family”. The first was a swipe at progressive Christianity and 19th century spiritual movements, while the latter praised Cotton Mather and his forefathers for their piety and devotion to family life.

On Wednesday morning, Col. John Eidsmoe of the Oak Brook College of Law and Government Policy presented “The Rise of Religious Liberalism”. The workshop was a polemic look at the rise of Unitarianism, Transcendentalism, and other forms of “religious liberalism” in 19th century America.

Eidsmoe spoke warmly of early Americans who celebrated Christianity. The Constitutional Convention, he claimed, had mostly Christians in attendance and involved God in their work. He dismissed the deist Founding Fathers in attendance as “outliers”. He discussed the message of 18th century preacher George Whitfield, who did much to unite Americans under a common faith, he claimed.

Eidsmoe also smiled upon Benjamin Franklin for praising Christian preaching and social endeavors, suggesting that the Founding Father appreciated Christianity. However, I found his portrait of Franklin to lack nuance. While Franklin did celebrate the Puritan virtues of his upbringing and respect preachers such as George Whitefield, he also referred to himself as a Deist in his 1771 autobiography, embraced Enlightenment ideas, endorsed religious pluralism, and spent time at a London Unitarian congregation.

In the 1800s, despite the Second Great Awakening, America sees the emergence of Unitarianism. Eidsmoe pointed out that 19th century Unitarians were different from today’s Unitarian Universalists, describing them as “strongly moral” people who revered the Bible but did not believe in the Trinity.

The 1800s also saw the emergence of Transcendentalism, which Eidsmoe described as a belief in God’s presence within nature and humans. Transcendentalists, Eidsmoe stated, believed that all humans have a divine spark within them, and that by getting in touch with that divine spark, they can become godlike. According to Eidsmoe, Transcendentalists rejected the idea of original sin and did not see the need for a savior, thus contrasting them to Christians.

Eidsmoe didn’t seem to think highly of Transcendentalists, sneering at failed Transcendentalist projects such as Fruitlands commune. He briefly discussed major Transcendentalist thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emmerson, who drew inspiration from German thinkers such as Friedrich Schleiermacher, Buddhism, and the Bhagavad Gita. Eidsmoe also discussed Henry David Thoreau in unfriendly terms, scoffing at Thoreau for trumpeting his return to nature inWalden while eating meals at his parents’ house and drinking coffee in town. Thoreau defended civil disobedience in his classic essay, but Eidsmoe claimed that this was actually a Biblical concept rooted in obedience to God over obedience to civil authority. (For a more in-depth, non-polemical look at Transcendentalism, click here.)

Practice eisegesis much? I thought.

Transcendentalism led to the rise of “religious liberalism” by leading Americans away from Biblical Christian principles, Eidsmoe argued. While he praised Albert Schweitzer for his scholarly and humanitarian work, he disagreed with his “liberal” view of Jesus in Quest for the Historical Jesus. Eidsmoe also disagreed with the work of Julius Wellhausen, who theorized that the Pentateuch was written by four authors in different time periods rather than Moses (later known as the documentary hypothesis or Wellhausen hypothesis). Wellhausen’s theory was rooted “squarely upon evolutionary thought”, Eidsmoe insisted, even though Wellhausen was not the first scholar to speculate that someone other than Moses penned the Pentateuch. Eidsmoe frowned upon the Wellhausen hypothesis, seeing it as an attack on the divinity of Jesus himself who acknowledged Moses as the author of the Torah. Finally, Eidsmoe was also disdainful of the alleged Darwinist worldview, which he caricatured as positing that humans started in the “slime” and evolved, rather than being created by God with moral responsibility.

These 19th century forces contributed to religious liberalism, which exerts influence even today, Eidsmoe argued. He criticized modern “open-minded” liberalism as being closed-minded to anything evangelical, and caricatured religious liberalism as having five characteristics:

  • Denial of absolute truth in favor of a view of truth as relative, subjective, and evolving.
  • Emphasis on man rather than God, with God as a servant of man instead of vice versa.
  • “Presumption against the supernatural” and miraculous.
  • Optimism about progress, public education, medicine, and democracy heralding a new dawn, before events such as World War I and World War II casts shadows on progress.
  • A belief that the Bible is accurate in its conclusions but not its details, or the belief that parts of the Bible are divinely inspired but not inerrant.

The fact that this does not accurately describe progressive Christianity, past or present, seemed to have escaped him. Progressive and moderate people of faith would not describe their beliefs as such, which also seemed to have escaped Eidsmoe.

Eidsmoe listed several alleged dangers of religious liberalism, including the supposed lack of a basis for morality, the supposed lack of basis for evangelism, and the reduction of Jesus to a mere man or to one path to truth among many. Religious liberalism supposedly leaves no room for freedom, he claimed, since it reduces humans to evolutionary animals rather than moral agents accountable to God. He accused religious liberalism of having no means of maintaining Christianity or perpetuating the faith, claiming that liberal Christian denominations are losing members. (Perhaps he forgot that many mainline denominations and religious schools are losing members too?) Germany serves as a model for what can go wrong with religious liberalism, he insisted, claiming that one-hundred years of liberal German thought gave rise to Hitler and the Holocaust. In short, Eidsmoe demonized religious liberalism, using straw man arguments to grossly misrepresent what liberal Christians actually believe.

Eidsmoe concluded the workshop by warning listeners that religious liberalism could seep into their churches. He urged the audience to stay alert for liberal trends in their churches and seminaries, and to stay faithful to belief in Biblical inerrancy. In short, his workshop was not so much a tour of 19th century religious thought as a polemic against non-fundamentalist Christianity, complete with caricatures, oversimplification, and fear.

*****

On Wednesday afternoon, Scott Brown presented “Puritanism and the Multigenerational Vision of the Mather Family”. Brown, a pastor at Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC and the director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, praised the Mather family as a model of piety.

Brown’s workshop focused on three men in the Mather family — Richard, Increase, and Cotton Mather — whom he praised for the “fruitfulness”, citing John 15:5-8 and John 15:16-17. Three generations of the family “cried out for a rising generation”, Brown observed, celebrating the Mathers as a “beacon of light” for families.

According to Brown, the Mathers resolved to bring everything into obedience with the Bible. Every member of the family was dedicated to God and lived for something beyond themselves, he claimed. By looking to scripture alone, the Mathers knew who they were and what role they were to play in life, rather than asking “who am I?”

Brown delved into the individual histories of Richard, Increase, and Cotton Mather, with emphasis on their religious lives and concern for the next generation. I noticed anti-Catholic bias in Brown’s description of Richard Mather when he noted that Richard’s father almost allowed Catholic merchants to fund his education. The Catholic merchants “coveted” Richard’s gifts, and Brown considered it pivotal in Richard’s development that he was not educated by Catholic. Brown then drew parallels to modern times, when “great pagan institutions” allegedly “pickle” children’s brains by pouring “paganism” into them.

Okay, you guys keep throwing around the word ‘pagan’. I don’t think it means what you think it means, I thought.

Brown observed common themes of moral decline in the preaching of Increase and Cotton Mather. For instance, Increase scoured the Old Testament for patterns among the prophets regarding God’s blessing and judgment, Brown said. Increase was reportedly concerned about the “onslaught of wickedness” in his society, and preached sermons on the importance of teaching piety to the next generation. Likewise, Cotton Mather was said to be watching his society decline, and encouraged cultivation of piety in children, Brown stated. Cotton Mather taught parents that children belong in church and are part of the congregation, a belief that Brown seemed to admire.

Brown devoted much of his discussion to Cotton Mather’s admonishments for parents on the spiritual upbringing of children. According to Brown, Cotton urged parents to set good religious examples for their children, concern themselves with their offspring’s spiritual state, and “plead God’s promises” to their children. Moreover, Cotton penned a list of twenty-one resolutions for fathers, including praying for their children, preaching to the family, encouraging children’s self-reflection on their souls, and “marrying” their children to Christ.

At the conclusion of the workshop, Brown listed six lessons that families can derive from the Mathers’ example. Modern Christian families, like the Mathers, must strive to be families (1) dedicated to future generations, (2) possessing clear visions of home life, church life, and civil life, (3) aware of the times and responsive to them in both public and private ways, (4) dedicated to the prosperity of the church, (5) determined to honor each other even as they disagree, and (6) crying out for their sons.

In his haste to praise the piety of the Mather family, Brown ignored the dark side of that piety. He neglected Cotton Mather’s Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions, a 1689 treatise on the dangers of witchcraft and demons that was widely read in late 17th century New England. Some historians speculate that Cotton Mather’s writings on witchcraft contributed to the anti-witchcraft hysteria that spawned the Salem Witch Trials. He ignored Cotton Mather’s zeal to convert black slaves to Christianity in The Negro Christianized: An Essay to Excite and Assist that Good Work, the Instruction of Negro-Servants in ChristianityThe 1706 treatise encouraged slave owners to convert their black slaves to Christianity, assuring them that Christianity permits slavery and will not bring about slave’s liberty. The transmission of piety to young generations must be done in a spirit of self-reflection, lest that piety lead to destructive ends as it did with Cotton Mather.

I can accept the idea that the Mathers longed to do well by their children and grandchildren, striving to raise them well and encouraging other parents to do the same. Given Increase and Cotton Mather’s ties to witchcraft myths and the Salem Witch Trials, however, I draw a different conclusion from their lives. When parents teach their children spirituality, that spirituality must also include empathy, humanity, and critical thinking. Piety without these elements can devolve into fanaticism, with unsettling results.

Stay tuned for more on the History of America Mega-Conference!

*****

To be continued.

Rewriting History — The History of America Mega-Conference: Part Two, Doug Phillips on God in History

Rewriting History — The History of America Mega-Conference: Part Two, Doug Phillips on God in History

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. For more information about Ahab, see his blog’s About page. Part Two of this series was originally published on July 7, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One: First Impressions | Part Two: Doug Phillips on God in History | Part Three: “Religious Liberalism” And Those Magnificent Mathers | Part Four: Kevin Swanson Is Tired Of Losing | Part Five: Messiah States and Mega-Houses | Part Six: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century | Part Seven: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon | Part Eight: Closing Thoughts

*****

On July 2nd, I observed the History of America Mega-Conference at the Radisson Hotel Harrisburg in Camp Hill, PA. The event is sponsored by Vision Forum, a ministry with a strong Christian Patriarchy slant that focuses strongly on “Biblical education” for children. On Tuesday evening, I sat among hundreds of Vision Forum supporters in the Raddison grand ballroom, where Vision Forum director Doug Phillips opened the conference with a talk about history, language, and forgetting. For nearly an hour, Phillips’ voice alternated between calm speech and shouting as he shared a narrow, fundamentalist view of  history.

On stage, reenactors in costume performed on bagpipes and drums, concluding their performance by circling the room. The introductory speaker praised America’s forefathers, reminding the audience that they are still part of the great American experiment. Ominously, he claimed that the world is watching to see if the U.S. will be chastened by God for forgetting its past. Next, another man delivered the evening’s benediction, praising God as “the only redeemer of sinners and cultures”. He praised Doug Phillips as one of the most important Christians in the country for recognizing the Christian responsibility to be a “civilization-builder” and restore “Christendom”.

Doug Phillips delivered the evening’s main talk, entitled “The Panorama of God’s Providence in the History of America”. Phillips thanked God for the nearly one-thousand people in attendance. He lamented that this generation has supposedly forgotten our fathers and the goodness of God. A theme he impressed upon the audience was “now is the time”, since the day may come when there are no longer opportunities to have conferences and monuments. I wasn’t sure how to interpret this — was Phillips envisioning a time when Vision Forum would not be hosting conferences, or was he trying to frighten the audience by claiming that a time of oppression and censorship would come? Given fundamentalist Christians’ predilection for claiming that they’re being persecuted, I lean toward the second interpretation.

Phillips provided an overview of the conference, discussing the historical reenactors in attendance, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the “War Between the States”. “War Between the States” is a curious term I’d hear throughout the conference, and it surprised me since I’ve never heard of the Civil War referred to that way. When Phillips announced a Saturday reenactment of the Lincoln-Douglas debate, he cheerfully boomed, “We brought Lincoln back!” Boos rose from a section of the audience. Please tell me those were just Confederate reenactors acting in character, I thought.

After a rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” by Danny Craig, Phillips dove into theology. “God speaks to everything,” Phillips insisted, arguing that God speaks through every part of our history and culture as part of his plan. Phillips emphasized “the primacy of God’s providential history”, urging parents to teach God’s history to their children.

Phillips asked the audience what they would do if they lost their identity and didn’t know their name, parents, or nationality. Without any context for who they were, what would their lives be like? He shared the story of an elderly former admiral he met while visiting his ailing father. Even though the man had been a powerful military leader, his family wasn’t there and no one at the facility knew of his accomplishments, thereby reducing him to a man without context. That is us in modern America, Phillips said. The “might hand of God” can be seen in monuments around the country, but many people do not know they’re there. He likened Americans to the ancient Israelites when they forgot God, arguing that Americans have forgotten God, the names of their great-grandfathers, and their history. “The average schoolboy in the beginning of the 19th century knew more about history than the average college professor does today,” he claimed.

Americans have also lost their vocabulary, Phillips lamented, offering a dubious interpretation of one of the most famous lines in America’s founding documents.

“We’ve lost our vocabulary. It used to be that we used words that meant something. When we said, ‘All men are created equal’, for example, we didn’t mean that all men were created at the same income level. That’s a socialist concept. We didn’t mean when ‘all men are created equal’, that there were to be no hierarchy or differences within society. That’s a Marxist concept. When we said ‘all men are created equal’, we understood that to mean that we’re all judged by the same standard by the living God, the king and the pauper. Everyone has the same standard under God, and we’ve lost our vocabulary.”

Frankly, I don’t know how Phillips arrived at that interpretation, given that the line appears in the Declaration of Independence in a passage discussing inalienable rights and the consent of the governed.

Words such as “freedom”, “Christian”, “family”, and “marriage” are being redefined too, Phillips insisted, taking a moment to blast a recent Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). He stated that ancient societies did not recognize same-sex marriage, ignoring overwhelming evidence to the contrary from pre-modern ChinaEuropeAfricaindigenous North Americaand other cultures.

“We’ve lost our meaning of freedom. We’ve lost the understanding of what it means to be free men. We have redefined the word ‘Christian’, and you understand, brothers and sisters, that whoever defines, wins the culture. You change the words, you change the culture. How about this one? ‘Family.’ ‘Marriage.’ How about that one? Do you understand that yours is the first generation in the recorded history of the world in which the state has sanctioned two men as legitimately being, quote, married. Oh, listen. There has always been perversion. There’s always been wickedness. There’s always been evil. But even the Romans didn’t call it marriage. Even the Greeks didn’t call it marriage. The most vile pagans didn’t call it marriage. Your president calls it marriage. That’s wrong. We’ve lost our vocabulary. We’ve lost our definitions.”

Wrong, Phillips could use an LGBTQ history course, I thought.

Phillips told the audience that they were at the conference to “pick a fight” over America’s language and history, lest “radical” forces such as evolutionists and feminists co-opt them.

“We are here to pick a fight this week. We are here to take it back. We are here to say that were are going to take it to the wall, and we are going to fight for those words, we’re going to fight for those definitions, we’re going to fight for the things that the Lord gave us, and we’re going to say Jehovah is our God. That’s why we are here this week. We do not want out vocabulary to be co-opted by Marxists, feminists, radicals, evolutionists, and others that would destroy it before our very eyes.

Using a common argument among Christian nationalists, Phillips claimed that modern American law draws heavily from the Bible, an argument I found dubious. The idea that the United States was not founded as a theocracy, that the American legal system draws from many ancient and contemporary sources, or that legal systems do not evolve in a straight line, did not factor into his argument.

“Every single time you walk into a courtroom and someone wants to enforce contract law, they’re getting it from the book of Exodus. Every single time someone says you just can’t go assault somebody, they’re getting it from the Pentateuch. Every single time you want to see order or civilization, they are hearkening back to a set of laws that a man by the name of King Alfred required becomes the laws of England that would ultimately transported over to America as part of what we would call, ultimately, our common law heritage, which was built on the word of God and the Bible. It was the Old Testament law applied to local custom … While we have lost the vocabulary, and we have lost the reference points, we still have all around us these reminders, oh, that came from God, that came from Jesus Christ. That came from the law of Moses, breathed by the Holy Spirit, and then applied by our Founding Fathers.

Phillips spoke at length about his late father, who read prolifically, gave history books to his son, and arranged for his son to meet historians and engaging figures. He warmly quoted his father’s advice on studying history, such as the need to recognize imperfect people in history and the dangers of hagiography (a pejorative term for uncritical, sanitized views of history). Hagiography is to be avoided as an “error of the revisionists” who change facts or fail to see God in control of history, he explained. The irony of Phillips’ words made me smirk.

History is about antithesis, Phillips claimed, arguing that history shows contrast and tension between those who obey Jesus Christ and those who do not. Every departure from Jesus in history is a move closer to a false understanding of reality, he insisted. God’s providence in history is the outworking of his character through which he shows his mercy, justice, and immutability, Phillips said. The work of Christ and his love for the church is the “centerpiece” of history. Whereas the ancient Greeks saw God as part of nature, God is actually above and beyond it, he argued.

WHICH Greeks? Greek thought wasn’t homogeneous on this topic, I thought. And if the Christian God is supposedly the centerpiece of history, where does that leave thousands of years of pre-Christian history? Or the rich histories of countless non-Christian cultures? Such historical tunnel vision could prevent someone from studying or appreciating world history, I thought to myself.

Phillips offered examples of God’s alleged work through history. The rise of the Roman Empire facilitated the spread of Christianity, while the 1588 defeat of the Spanish Armada meant that America would be a “reformation Christianity beachhead” instead of a Catholic land under Spain. Yeah, because those dirty Papists aren’t real Christians, right Doug? I thought.

Dedicated minorities, not majorities, shape history, he claimed. If the conference had 900 people in attendance who were “absolutely unswerving” in their mission, the world could be changed, he assured listeners.

Phillips painted America’s founding as one “drenched with Biblical Christianity”, arguing (dubiously) that America is indeed a Christian nation.

“Was America founded as a Christian nation? … It really depends on what you mean. If what you mean is was America founded such that everyone in it was a born-again, regenerate Christian, then I would suggest to you not only is that impossible … but your understanding of the terminology is completely wrong. It has never been that way, and that is not what determines whether something is a Christian nation or not. When we speak of America as founded as a Christian nation, we mean was America, in its inception, one perhaps though imperfectly which was dedicated to the God of the Bible, whose law systems were rooted in the holy scriptures, whose people perceived themselves as serving Jesus Christ of the Bible, where its basic ethical standards reflective of Christendom and the body of beliefs which we describe as Christian? Was this a nation in our laws, in our ethics, in our foundings, in our charters, in the hearts of our people one which was predisposed and dedicated at least in part to the God of the Bible? And the answer is emphatically yes.”

Phillips depicted the Christianization of the Native Americans and other non-Christian groups as overwhelmingly positive. He reserved special praise for the Christianization of Iceland, which purportedly ended the exposure of unwanted infants.

“This was a country that was historically visited by Vikings  … who may have very well have been Christians. You know, the very first Christian parliament did not take place in England. It took place about 999 in Iceland. You know, one of the very first laws enacted by a Christian parliament? You can’t kill babies. One of the very first laws, because that’s what pagans do. They kill babies. That’s what PAGANS do! PAGANS KILL BABIES! Christians protect women and children. That was part of the legacy of Christendom. And we look back and we say, oh God, how beautiful it was when our people came and saw the great commission as leading the lost to Christ. The Indian nations and the Englishmen who knew not God. How beautiful it was when they sought to declare your law as the foundational law.”

Actually, Christian men have mistreated women and children as well. Early Christians kept slaves that included women and children, and men perpetrated domestic violence in predominantly Christian cultures, both medieval and modern. Once again, Phillips’ pristine view of Christian history does not necessarily conform to historical facts.

As for Iceland, I suggest that readers take a closer look at the Icelandic kristnitaka before they attributes too many civilizing qualities to it. Phillips conveniently forgets the missionary efforts of Stefnir Thorgilsson, who reportedly destroyed non-Christian religious sites, and Thangbrandr, who reportedly had his critics murdered. He also forgets the actions of King Olafr, who reportedly threatened to kill non-Christians when faced with setbacks in converting Iceland to Christianity. (See the Íslendingabók, a 12th century account of Iceland’s conversion.)

As for the Christianization of Native Americans, Phillips conveniently forgets the dark side of those proselytization efforts, such as demonization of Native American religions, the 1883 Code of Indian Offenses, Indian boarding schools, and other chilling attempts at ethnocide. For Phillips to sugar-coat Christian history just a few minutes after discouraging hagiography struck me as darkly amusing.

Phillips concluded his talk by urging homeschooling parents to teach both scripture and providential history to their children. With this view of history, Christians can fight for their culture. The nation is on a trajectory that cannot fail, he stressed. As with other Religious Right ministries, Phillips understood children to be torchbearers for the agendas of their parents’ generation, urging parents to teach them in a manner that would continue that agenda. However, in an age of the internet, widely available books, and a rapidly shrinking world, those very children will likely be exposed to non-fundamentalist historical accounts at some point in their lives. Whether Vision Forum’s efforts to instill providential history in children will prove successful remains to be seen.

Stay tuned for more posts on the Vision Forum History of America Mega-Conference!

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To be continued.

Rewriting History — The History of America Mega-Conference

Rewriting History — The History of America Mega-Conference: Part One, First Impressions

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. For more information about Ahab, see his blog’s About page. Part One of this series was originally published on July 3, 2013.

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Also in this series: Part One: First Impressions | Part Two: Doug Phillips on God in History | Part Three: “Religious Liberalism” And Those Magnificent Mathers | Part Four: Kevin Swanson Is Tired Of Losing | Part Five: Messiah States and Mega-Houses | Part Six: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century | Part Seven: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon | Part Eight: Closing Thoughts

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On the evening of Tuesday, July 2nd, I observed the History of America Mega-Conference at the Radisson Hotel Harrisburg in Camp Hill, PA. The event is sponsored by Vision Forum, a ministry with a strong Christian Patriarchy slant that focuses strongly on “Biblical education” for children. The History of America Mega-Conference features workshops on the past four-hundred years of American history, filtered through a conservative Christian lens. (More here.) The description of the event at the Vision Forum website left no ambiguity about the conference’s agenda.

“Are you and your children equipped to answer the politically-correct, historical revisionism that dominates higher academia and the mass media today — to defend our nation’s godly heritage with nuance and precision against the fierce onslaught of secular skepticism?

Antagonists to the Christian faith are stealing our history, and it’s time we take it back. The engaging messages given at this conference will arm your family with the truth to combat the lies of the Left — to have a sure foundation for the 21st century.”

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, and given the proximity of Camp Hill to Gettysburg, many attendees dressed in Civil War era costumes. The costumes, while lovely, made navigation tricky. I almost fell over a woman’s enormous hoop skirt, then got accidentally whacked in the knee by a scabbard swinging from a passing man’s belt. When did Religious Right events become this hazardous!? I thought.

"The New Geneva Christian Leadership Academy table was stocked with books by Christian Reconstructionist author R. J. Rushdoony."
“The New Geneva Christian Leadership Academy table was stocked with books by Christian Reconstructionist author R. J. Rushdoony.”

About a dozen vendors were manning tables at the conference — mostly books, DVDs, and homeschooling curricula — and their titled amused me. The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches seemed keen on gender roles, judging by book titles such as Preparing Boys for Battle and Feminine By Design. At the Vision Forum merchandise table, alongside toy guns, toy swords, and books such as Large Family Logistics were DVDs with titles such as Tea with Michelle Duggar and Birth Control: How Did We Get Here?, a video on the evils of “child prevention”. I chuckled at the title of a video on food culture, Food Heresies: How to Reform Our Theology of Food Without Becoming a Selfish Marxist, a Radical Environmentalist, or an Imbalanced Vegan.

The New Geneva Christian Leadership Academy table was stocked with books by Christian Reconstructionist author R. J. Rushdoony, such as the colorfully named Noble Savages: Exposing the Worldview of Pornographers and Their War Against Christian Civilization. 

However, one display made my blood run cold. In the hotel’s grand ballroom was a display from Heritage Defense that read, “NO, YOU MAY NOT TAKE MY CHILDREN!” Sitting in the display were free DVDs such as CPS vs. the Family and How to Handle a Social Worker Visit. Upon reading the flyers at the foot of the display, I realized that Heritage Defense was casting child protective services as an opponent to Christian families. On its flyer, Heritage Defense claimed that it empowers Christian families by “uncovering social services abuses” and “holding abusive social workers accountable”. The flyer also celebrated the organization’s efforts to protect families from the following “threats” from social services:

  • Corporal Punishment
  • Sanctity of Life Decisions
  • Medical Choices like vaccinations and midwifery
  • Mandatory Reporters such as doctors, nurses, dental care providers, law enforcement, child-care services, nursery workers, coaches, counselors, and others…
  • Accidents in which children are injured
  • Premature Births or special-needs children
  • Anonymous Tips by those who wish to harm families
  • Harassment by extended family, neighbors, or mere acquaintances regarding disagreements concerning philosophical/religious direction and training of children
  • False reports generated by rebellious, disobedient, or indiscreet children within the home
  • Targeting of Profiling of Christian families because of faith, number of children, or other family dynamics
"Heritage Defense was casting child protective services as an opponent to Christian families."
“Heritage Defense was casting child protective services as an opponent to Christian families.”

Suggesting that mandatory reporters and anonymous tipsters are “threats” casts child abuse reporters as troublemakers rather than responsible citizens. To boot, the branding of children who seek help from CPS as liars or “rebellious, disobedient, or indiscreet” made me shudder. When child abuse occurs in fundamentalist families, where can victims find refuge if they’ve been taught that CPS is monstrous and that those who report are wrongheaded? When fundamentalists witness or suspect child abuse, could rhetoric like this make them reluctant to do the right thing? CPS is by no means perfect, but it does protect children from abuse and neglect, and thus this kind of demonization benefits no one.

Opening ceremonies for the conference began at 6 p.m., and hundreds of participants streamed into the grand ballroom. As the crowd filed in, I noticed several things about the attendees. First, the gathering was overwhelmingly made up of white families. Second, practically all of the women were wearing casual dresses or skirts, which I assumed had something to do with Christian patriarchy subculture. Finally, many of the families I saw had at least three children, often more, and babies were a common sight.

To be fair, everyone I met was gentle and helpful, and the families I observed treated their children with warmth. I struggled to reconcile these kindly people with the jarring messages I would hear from workshop speakers. It wasn’t just the workshop content that gave me pause — although polemic workshop titles such as “Why 19th Century American Literature Was at War with God” and “The Rise of Religious Liberalism” left me scratching my head — but the presenters of those workshops as well. I wondered how the women felt about a conference with only male presenters, or how anyone felt about a conference with all white presenters.

Stay tuned for posts on Doug Phillip’s opening speech and Wednesday’s workshops!

For more information on Vision Forum’s History of America Mega-Conference, visit the conference’s website.

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To be continued.