Ready for Real Life: An Investigative Series

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 1.15.43 AM

Ready for Real Life: Part One, Botkins Launch Webinar

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. Part One of this series was originally published on September 15, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One, Botkins Launch Webinar | Part Two, Ready for What? | Part Three, Are Your Children Ready? | Part Four, Ready to Lead Culture | Part Five, Science and Medicine | Part Six, History and Law | Part Seven, Vocations | Part Eight, Q&A Session | Part Nine, Concluding Thoughts

*****

One of my readers alerted me to a webinar series hosted by the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences, led by Geoffrey Botkin. The Ready for Real Life webinar series, hosted by the Botkin family, is a seven-part audio series on how Christian homeschooling families should teach children.

“Starting this September, the Botkin family will be hosting a 7-week webinar series on educating children for leadership in the real world. Featuring all seven Botkin children, as well as Geoffrey and Victoria, they’ll be taking on the tough questions: What do you do if your child has a special gifting? How should we teach our sons and daughters marketable skills? How do we teach them to navigate the real world without becoming like the world? How do we find the best resources without breaking the bank? How do we prevent homeschool dropouts? What constitutes “success,” and how do we help our children achieve it? What should we do about higher education? And how do we teach our children well about things we don’t know ourselves?”

I have purchased access to the webinar series, and I will be posting a series of blog posts on its content. 

What I’ve listened to thus far has depicted the state as an antagonistic entity and Christian homeschooling as a positive force for freedom, children, and the future of faith. As the series progresses, I am eager to hear how the Botkin’s views on gender roles, “statism”, and children as torchbearers color their views on children’s education.

For readers unfamiliar with the family, the Botkins are a fundamentalist Christian family with strong ties to Vision Forum. The Botkins are not only supporters of fundamentalist Christian homeschooling, but vocal proponents of Christian patriarchy. For instance, books by the Botkins at the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences are supportive of Christian patriarchy tenets such as courtship and traditional gender roles. Geoffrey Botkin took part in an interview for the anti-contraception film The Birth Control Movie. Also, So Much More by Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin encourages young women to be helpmeets to their fathers and promotes a “stay-at-home-daughters” vision for girls. Websites such as Overcoming Botkin SyndromeTime to Live FriendNo Longer Quivering, and Love, Joy, Feminism have criticized the Botkins for promoting sexism and unhealthy family relationships.

To boot, Geoffrey Botkins is vehemently opposed to so-called “statism”, painting the modern state as a bloated, intrusive entity at odds with the Christian community.

For instance, at this summer’s History of America Mega-Conference, Geoffrey Botkin devoted a talk to the alleged harms of the “Messiah state” and social safety nets. In a 2009 commentary piece, he attacked the state’s alleged “Marxist social engineering”, accusing it of seeking to kill Christendom, emasculate boys, exploit women through the workforce, and confiscate wealth. Geoffrey Botkin’s caricature of the modern state must be understood in order to understand his enthusiasm for fundamentalist homeschooling and Christian patriarchy.

With this in mind, the Botkins’ webinar series should offer a revealing glimpse into their ideology. Stay tuned for commentary on the “Ready for Real Life” webinar series!

*****

To be continued.

Rewriting History — History of America Mega-Conference: Part Eight, Closing Thoughts

Rewriting History — History of America Mega-Conference: Part Eight, Closing Thoughts

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 Eight of this series was originally published on July 18, 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

*****

I’ve infiltrated several Religious Right events for Republic of Gilead over the years, but none left me as drained as the History of America Mega-Conference. The fundamentalism and revisionist history pervading the conference was difficult to digest, but it offered me a glimpse into an disquieting homeschooling subculture. Woven through the conference presentations were several common themes:

Dominionism / Christian Reconstructionism — Dominion theology and Christian Reconstructionist thought were everywhere at the History of America Mega-Conference. From presenters who quoted from Gary North and R.J. Rushdoony, to merchants who sold Rushdoony’s books, to the banner in the dealer room that read “READ RUSHDOONY”, it was difficult to ignore the affection that organizers held for Christian Reconstructionist writers. To boot, speakers such as Doug Phillips and Marshall Foster attributed Christian principles to America’s foundations, ignoring evidence to the contrary.

Patriarchy — A heavy musk of Christian Patriarchy ideology hung over the conference. All speakers were white men, several spoke harshly of feminism, and some romanticized stereotypical gender roles and family arrangements. Glaringly, most of the historical figures they spoke of were men. The idea that women have played dynamic roles in history, or that female presenters could have brought meaningful content to the conference, was ignored. When the speakers spoke of “men” in history, I don’t think they meant humankind, but rather people with Y chromosomes.

Christianity as Monolithic — It soon became clear that when presenters spoke of Christians, they meant fundamentalist Protestants. In more than one talk, America was celebrated as a “beachhead” for evangelical Christianity throughout history. Anti-Catholic sentiments reared their heads in several talks, suggesting that some speakers did not recognize Catholics as Christians. Moreover, Doug Phillips claimed that the church was silent on political and social issues in the first half of the 20th century, ignoring the rich contributions of Catholic and progressive Protestant Christians during that time.

Sanitization of Christianity in History — Speakers trumpeted real or imagined boons from the spread of Christianity while ignoring violence and oppression committed in Christianity’s name. Whether speakers were ignoring the violence of Iceland’s Christianization, the bloodshed of King Sigurd I’s Crusade, or the ethnocide of the Native Americans, the conference painted a very sanitized picture of Christianity’s role in history.

Distrust of Secular Government — Several speakers, including Doug Phillips and Geoffrey Botkin, condemned the U.S. government for its alleged “statism”. Government programs and social services intended to help the vulnerable were caricatured as the tentacles of a “Messianic” state.

Distrust of the Present and of Mainstream Culture — Speakers repeatedly slammed the modern era and its imagined boogeymen — “statism”, secularism, abortion, feminism, evolution, and same-sex marriage — as fallen and evil. Mainstream culture was caricatured as a corrupting influence from which homeschooling must shield children. At times, Vision Forum’s history conferences hints at a longing to return to the past, a past imagined as more virtuous and Christian.

Children as Torchbearers — Presenters understood children to be transmitters of fundamentalist Christianity unto future generations, and thus concepts such as “generational thinking” often came up. The History of America Mega-Conference was a homeschooling conference, after all, and its revisionist ideas were intended for the curricula of homeschooled children. To boot, children are to be steeped in fundamentalist Christian thought and shielded from mainstream culture, according to Kevin Swanson. Presenters refused to consider how such revisionist education might leave children ill-prepared to integrate into American society, and failed to grasp that some children might reject their fundamentalist upbringing altogether.

At the History of America Mega-Conference, I was exposed to a subculture whose worldview is at odds with modern society. As American society slowly embraces religious pluralism, gender equity, LGBTQ equality, and the paradoxes within its own history, fundamentalist subcultures find themselves out of place in their own country. Since these social upheavals show no signs of abating, will fundamentalists subcultures such as this one retreat even further into their own bubbles? Or will they desperately try to reshape society in their own image by molding the minds of the next generation?

As I listened to workshop after workshop on revisionist history, my heart broke for the children being raised in fundamentalist homeschooling households. The vision of the world they were receiving was incomplete and inaccurate, and I worried about how they would integrate into the larger society as young adults. Would they have the curiosity and will to seek out fresh perspectives and new information, or would they be weighed down by the propaganda of their youth?

As people who recognize the problems with fundamentalism, how do we counter the messages of groups such as Vision Forum? By challenging historical revisionism. By remembering that history encompasses many narratives, not just one. By demanding accuracy in homeschool curricula. By reaching out to current and former homeschoolers and making accurate information available to them. And finally, by educating ourselves on the past and recognizing its impact on the present.

To end on a lighter note, after days of listening to History of America Mega-Conference workshops, I think I’ve earned a beer. Let’s toast to a world free of fundamentalism someday!

Photo courtesy of Ahab at Republic of Gilead.

*****

End of series.

Rewriting History — History of America Mega-Conference: Part 7, Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon

Rewriting History — History of America Mega-Conference: Part 7, Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon

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 Seven of this series was originally published on July 18, 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

*****

The History of America Mega-Conference schedule was packed with workshops that sounded interesting (or disturbing), but I could not observe them all, sadly. Fortunately, a kiosk in the Radisson grand ballroom was selling audio recordings of of keynote speeches and workshops, so I purchased CDs of “The Early Explorers: Sea Kings and Vikings” and “The Providence of God in the Age of Exploration”. The former painted Norse voyagers as Christians carrying out a Biblical dominion mandate, while the latter imagined the European “discovery” and colonization of the New World as willed by God.

“The Early Explorers: Sea Kings and Vikings” was presented by Col. John Eidsmoe, the same presenter who delivered “The Rise of Religious Liberalism” workshop. Eidsmoe asked aloud “why men climb mountains” — that is, why they explore. He explained human exploration as a product of two forces: the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28, and the great commission to convert the world of Matthew 28:19-20.

Earth has likely been explored many times over through human history. One example of ancient explorers was the Phoenicians, who were genetically and linguistically related to the Hebrews. However, he quickly reminded listeners that the Phoenicians lived under a “totalitarian” god-king and followed a “religion of paganism and fertility and human sacrifice”.

The Phoenicians, Eidsmoe explained, carried out sea expeditions along Africa’s eastern coast, Britain, and possibly North America. To lend plausibility to the latter, Eidsmoe cited the “Mechanicsburg stones” (also known as the Phoenician Stones or Susquehanna Stones) found in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna Valley, allegedly with Phoenician writing upon it.

Eidsmoe shared stories of northern Europeans who set sail, reminding listeners that such stories might be fanciful concoctions or actual historical events that were later embellished. He spoke of the legend of St. Brendan the Navigator (St. Bréanainn), an Irish monastic who embarked on an sea journey with fourteen monks in the 6th century. According to Irish legends, he recounted, St. Brendan and his traveling companions found the island of Paradise, discovered an island of monks with magic loaves that prevented aging, faced a volcanic island with demons, and came face to face with Judas Iscariot.

Another northern European traveler that Eidsmoe discussed was Prince Madog, a Welsh “sea king” who allegedly came to the New World. During the Elizabethan era, when England and Spain competed for the New World, English writers used the Madog legend to justify England’s claim to the Americas, Eidsmoe added. Legends also claims that Scottish nobleman Henry Sinclair explored North America in the late 14th century, nearly one hundred years before Christopher Columbus’ arrival.

Many of these examples were fanciful legends — something Eidsmoe admitted — rather than solid historical fact supported by evidence. I wondered why Eidsmoe was citing legends about men who may or may not have come to the Americas, rather than exploring known history.

Eidsmoe noted that Chinese and Muslim civilizations may have also visited the Americas centuries ago. Eidsmoe claimed that Nihad Awad, founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), alleged that Muslim expeditions from Morocco and Iberia may have visited North America centuries ago. However, Eidsmoe quickly dismissed this claim as being based in “political correctness” rather than historical evidence.

The Vikings, Eidsmoe explained, were the first pre-Colombian explorers whose visits to North America had “solid” basis in fact. Before delving into Norse expeditions to the New World, Eidsmoe briefly discussed the Christian conversion efforts of King Olafr and Thangbrandr, neglecting to mention the violence and threats that reportedly accompanied the Christianization of the Norse. (Doug Phillips sanitized Norse Christianization in a similar manner in his July 2nd opening speech.) He quoted Shane Leslie’s writings, which spoke glowingly of Christianity overcoming traditional Norse and Celtic religions.

Eidsmoe celebrated other Christian Norse leaders, including Norweigan King Sigurd I the Jorsalafari (“Jerusalem-farer”), who vowed to lead an army of 10,000 warriors on a Crusade. After sailing around Europe’s coast and battling Moors, King Sigurd I received hospitality from King Baldwin I of Jerusalem upon reaching the Holy Land. During his stay with Baldwin, Sigurd I reportedly vowed to take any Muslim city. After Baldwin encouraged him to conquer Sidon, Sigurd I’s forces took control of the city. Siggurd I’s greatest regret, Eidsmoe claimed, was that he never had the opportunity to directly engage the Turkish fleet in a sea battle.

Eidsmoe depicted the Norweigan Crusade as a swashbuckling adventure, failing to mention the looting and massacres of non-Christians that it entailed. The fig leaf of faith cannot hide the realities of war, slaughter, and looting.

Eidsmoe delved into accounts of Erik the Red and his son, Lief Erikson, who converted to Christianity during a visit with King Olaf. After sharing stories of Norse expeditions to Greenland and New England, as well as violent encounters between Norse voyagers and skraelings (indigenous North Americans), Eidsmoe offered speculation as to why no permanent Norse colonies succeeded.

“Why were these Viking colonies unsuccessful? I’m going to suggest to you why. Because even though they were Christian, they showed no interest in sharing Christ with the natives. They spoke derogatorily about them with a term of derision, skraelings. Sometimes when they came upon Eskimos in Greenland, they simply called them ‘trolls’. In other words, they followed the dominion mandate, but they ignored the great commission.”

I found this theory darkly amusing. First, it ignores the fact that the Norse were intruders on Native American soil, which might explain the lack of interfaith dialogue. Second, it disregards other possible roots of Norse colony failures — disease, difficulties adapting to a new land and climate, lack of critical mass, ongoing hostilities between Norse colonists and Native Americans — in favor of a dominionist Christian narrative. Finally, Eidsmoe’s comment could be interpreted to mean that later European colonists succeeded because they proselytized to the Native Americans, regardless of the conquest and ethnocide it entailed.

Toward the end of his talk, Eidsmoe spoke of the Kensington stone in Minnesota and the Newport Tower in Rhode Island, arguing that these could be remnants of Norse visits to North America. While he did mention that evidence is not fully conclusive, he argued as to why these could plausibly be Norse artifacts from pre-Columbian Nordic visits to North America. He dismissed claims that the Kensington stone is a hoax, apparently eager to show that Norse explorers had an extensive presence in North America.

Eidsmoe’s history of early European travelers wove together history and legends into a decidedly Christian narrative about ancient voyagers and evangelists. In doing so, I feel that he downplayed the violence inherent in that narrative, sugar-coating conquests and crusades as Christian “dominion”. Eidsmoe’s talk, like many others at the History of America Mega-Conference, serves as a reminder of the problems inherent in a narrow view of history.

*****

“The Providence of God in the Age of Exploration” was presented by Marshall Foster, founder of the World History Institute (formerly the Mayflower Institute). Foster began the workshop with a statement about God’s intent for human exploration.

“God, from the beginning of time, has made us adventurers. He has made us explorers, and there really is no age of exploration, there is simply unbelief and belief in the power of God to explore. Depending on the time, depending on the age, there has been an ebb and flow of an understanding of God;s purpose for mankind, and during specific times — that’s why we call it the age of exploration — there was an explosion of exploration and settlement of places around the world. and it took place in the 15th and 16th century, coming out of Europe.”

Exploration and settlement by whom? I thought. Plenty of those places were already explored and settled before Europeans came along. These were stories of European conquest.

A series of events over the centuries brought forth America as we know it, Foster explained. To understand this history, we must go to the root of history, he said. Everything must be seen in context of who God is, who we are, and what our purpose is in relationship to God. Everything one needs to know about God and oneself is written in the Bible, he argued, and to the extent that people understand their purpose, they will become “mighty warriors for God” who transform nations.

God created man in his image, and created man and woman together so as to subdue the Earth, Foster said. He assigned Adam the task of naming the plants and animals in the Garden of Eden, thereby structuring the garden with the expectation that Adam would take the “wilderness” and transform it into a “city on the hill”. God designated humans as his “sub-regent of the universe”, making the dominion mandate a godly task. This command was established through families in the Old Testament, he argued, citing Adam and Eve, Noah and his descendants, and Abraham and his descendants. Foster stressed that the Biblical God devised a predestined plan for humanity, not the “god of the Muslims” or the “11,000 gods of the Hindus”. Foster seemed to have ignored the fact that the Quran clearly establishes Allah as the god of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.

When we understand this mandate, Foster argued, we can understand the great explorers. He lamented that humans quickly took the dominion mandate too far, with conquerors exercising dominion over other men. Ancient civilizations were plagued by five grave sins: tyranny, human sacrifice, enslavement of both one’s own people and foreigners (empire), the establishment of laws independent of God (autonomy), and persecution of believers.

“Mankind went out and took dominion. The only problem is that men took dominion and they went over what God said. God did not say take dominion over other men, he said take dominion over the plants and the animals. What men figured out through Cain and Abel, and then through the great tyrannies of the ancient world, from the Egyptians to the Babylonians to the Greeks to the Romans, was that you just simply needed to take dominion over other men and then you could make them your slaves. Come up with a false religion, guilt them into obedience to you, and have them build your pyramids, have them build your great tombs called the Seven Wonders of the World. And what you’ve got now is civilization structured on a perverted view of the cultural mandate.”

In making this argument, Foster ignored divinely-sanctioned slavery, patriarchy, conquest, and genocide in the Old Testament, reluctant to admit that the Israelites exercised a “perverted view of the cultural mandate” too.

Foster argued for the supremacy of the Christian faith in history. Rome was an unjust empire, but it now lies in ruins, whereas Christianity has risen from the catacombs to become a major world religion. As proof of its supremacy, Foster claimed that Christianity is the only truly world religion, having spread to multiple continents.

Um, Marshall? Islam and Buddhism would like to have a word with you, I thought.

Christianity allegedly exerted a “civilizing influence” over the ancient world, persuading people to give up their “pagan ways”. He likened ancient Christian evangelists to explorers, spreading Christianity far and wide. In the 15th and 16th centuries, “God put all the pieces together” following the Christianization of Europe, he claimed. Europe had lost its missionary zeal, much like modern America, he argued, and “God was going to shake up the troops”. This alleged shake-up took the form of the “Muslim hordes”, first unleashed in the 7th century, then later surging as the Ottoman Turks. After the Byzantine empire, the “greatest culture of the world”, fell to the Ottomans, many Europeans thought they were facing a “countdown to Armageddon”, he claimed. By frightening Christian Europe and forcing it out of its comfort zone, God was allegedly disciplining Europe and setting the stage for later exploration.

Foster cited Psalm 107, calling it a psalm of exploration that inspired Christopher Columbus. “God is in control of the wave of history,” Foster proclaimed, assuring listeners that God had supremacy over Satan in the world. If one walks with God, God will bless one’s culture, as history demonstrates, Foster asserted.

The travels of Christopher Columbus and other explorers led to the creation of America, Foster reminded the audience. He narrated a history of Columbus’ early life that included a vision to take Christianity abroad.

“[Columbus] goes on to have a vision of what God wants him to do, begins to read the scripture, and his vision is to go to the west and find the Indies, not only to find treasure, but to find a way to reach Jerusalem and take the gospel to the nations.”

Foster shared the story of Columbus’ commission, 1492 voyage, and eventual arrival in the Caribbean. Foster called Columbus a “good man” and a “godly man” while briefly acknowledging that he was a poor governor and witnessed evil take place under his management.

That’s an understatement, I thought. Kidnapping, exploitation, and colonization aren’t exactly the legacy of a “good” man.

However, Foster was quick to demonize the indigenous people that Columbus ruled over as cannibals, likening their alleged cannibalism to modern-day abortion. I wondered if this was intended to soften Columbus’ sins in the eyes of the audience by depicting the colonized Native Americans as monsters.

“The natives were not exactly super-friendly. In their second and third voyage they found the Carib Indians, who created children so that they could string them up, abort them, and eat them for bacon, and so … they were cannibals … This is not unnatural, and I’m not looking down on those Native Americans, because this was a way of life for the Romans, for the Greeks, for most civilizations throughout the world, for the Aztecs, for the Incas, and so when people are found in pagan cultures, they almost always are involved in human sacrifice, and then as Christian cultures become more pagan, what do they do? They go back to that human sacrifice, and there are 58 million babies dead today in America because we have forgotten our vision as a Christian nation.”

Baby bacon? Has Hannibal Lecter heard about this? I thought.

Foster briefly recounted the travels of explorers such as Amerigo Vespucci, Balboa, Vasco de Gama, Magellan, and Ponce de Leon. Foster wove these voyages and their subsequent cultural upheavals into a Christian narrative, arguing that God arranged these events to create a Christian nation.

“Now, those who had a vision for the world, the great commission, the cultural commission had a whole other continent, a wilderness to turn from a wilderness to a city on a hill. And isn’t it interesting that it took five thousand years for the civilized world to discover these continents? You think that maybe providence has set aside for such a time as this for the past four hundred years, the development of the world’s first [inaudible] republic since ancient Israel? Do you think it might be providence that set aside America to be the fountainhead of evangelical Christianity, that creates even to this day 80% of the money that goes for missions in the world? Do you think that even to this day that America is set aside as a land that still can and has represented Christian law to the nations by the fact that our constitution still rises from its base every morning and can be seen and should be understood? Could it be that God has us, at this very moment, as explorers for our day? It’s quite obvious.”

Foster left out many disquieting historical facts from the European colonization of the Americas. First, the Native Americans were erased in Foster’s narrative. The New World was discovered and “civilized” by Europeans, in Foster’s narrative, instead of having been already discovered and settled by the ancestors of the Native Americans. Even more egregiously, Foster ignored the ugly realities of European conquest, colonization, genocide, and ethnocide in favor of a glorious Eurocentric, Christocentric vision. Finally, he shoehorned divine providence into the European colonization of the New World and misrepresented America as a Protestant Christian nation with a “Biblical structure of government”. In doing so, Foster refused to acknowledge that the United States was founded as a secular democratic nation, informed by Enlightenment ideas, and shaped by a religiously diverse populace past and present.

In Foster’s eyes, the European colonization of the New World proved that an “army of compassion” could conquer a land by faith instead of by the sword, ignoring the use of both faith and sword to subjugate indigenous populations. Furthermore, he argued that the history of the Americas showed that a nation could be built on Biblical principles and sola scriptura, ignoring the absence of both concepts in the United States’ founding documents. The fingerprints of God, he argued, are all over the history of the New World.

“God planned the location of the continents, the direction of the sea breezes, the theology of the explorers, all in such a way that America, the America we know, the United States of America, could be developed a few hundred years later.”

In conclusion, Marshall Foster’s account of history was one in which Christian proselytization, exploration, and colonization were all part of a divine plan. By holding up a Eurocentric, Christocentric narrative as the only valid one, Foster effectively erased Native Americans, non-Christians, and non-Protestants from the history of the New World. Foster’s version of history does not force us to wrestle with atrocities of the past, or face the effects of colonization and ethnocide that still linger today. In short, Foster’s history is a shame-free history that absolves us from having to learn from the mistakes of our predecessors.

Stay tuned for closing thoughts on the History of America Mega-Conference.

*****

To be continued.

Rewriting History — History of America Mega-Conference: Part Six, Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century

Rewriting History — History of America Mega-Conference: Part Six, Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century

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 Six of this series was originally published on July 10, 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 the evening of Friday, July 5th, attendees gathered in the Radisson’s grand ballroom for prayer, music, and videos. The evening began with a Puritan call-and-response song lead by Doug Phillips, followed by a benediction. Next, the ballroom screens showed short videos on Vision Forum’s latest projects. I distinctly remember the Hazardous Journeys Society, an all-male organization that seeks to explore the world through the lens of conservative Christianity. Hazardous Journeys Society presented itself as an alternative to National Geographic, which has allegedly interpreted the world through the lens of evolution.

After Danny Craig sang “America, America”, several young women performed haunting renditions of traditional American songs on violins and harps. After a mixed sex Civil War Choir performed in historical garb, Doug Phillips delivered a talk entitled “The Meaning of the 20th Century: A Providential and Theological Overview”.

The 20th century ushered in a new era, Phillips began, and to fully understand the 21st century, we need to understand the 20th. On the ballroom screens appeared a collage of 20th century images: Che, Einstein, Ayatollah Khomeini, a mushroom cloud, Earth from space, and many others.

Phillips recounted his time as a writer for the George Bush administration and a private driver for Billy Graham. While chauffeuring Billy Graham around Washington D.C., Phillips learned about history as Graham pointed out places where he met dignitaries and took part in events. Phillips used this story to explain that the best way to understand history is to study primary documents and meet the people who shaped it.

Phillips shared his version of early 20th century history, beginning with the revivalism of preachers such as Billie Sunday. However, the century would prove to be one of “God-hating nihilism” and genocide”, he said. For the first fifty years of the 20th century, he claimed, the church was silent and withdrawn from public debate.

Huh? I thought. That’s not what I remember from my college history classes.

Phillips had apparently forgotten Reinhold Neibuhr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Adam Clayton Powell Sr., Dorothy Day, the Catholic worker movement, the social gospel movement, Quadragesimo Anno, American preachers’ condemnation of Nazism, regional church roles in Europe’s anti-Nazi resistance movements, and countless other voices among the world’s Christians. If by “the church”, Phillips meant the global body of Christians, then “the church” was anything but silent in the early 20th century.

Phillips claimed that the 20th century church wasn’t prepared to deal with genocide and the Holocaust. For this reason, abortion and birth control have now spread through Christendom, he lamented. One third of the people who could have been at the conference that night were “killed by their parents” thanks to abortion, he fumed.

In effect, the 20th century forgot God and turned against him, Phillips told listeners. He depicted the 20th century as an era that saw the rise of “rationalism” and the rejection of God as a higher authority. Enlightenment thinking had given rise to 19th century movements such as Marxism, feminism, socialism, and evolutionism. Then, despite the “restraining” influences of the British Empire and the Christian Queen Victoria, the 19th century’s “compromises” produced the 20th century, he argued.

Phillips held considerable scorn for Sigmund Freud and Margaret Sanger. Freud introduced people to psychology, and today, every single branch of psychology is saturated with “anti-God” ideas and “evolutionary scientism”, he claimed. Like many other anti-abortion activists, he blasted Margaret Sanger as possibly the most dangerous person of the 20th century, more dangerous than Stalin, Hitler, or Mao. Satan seeks to foment racist extermination efforts, convince people to see babies as dangers to be eliminated, and make parents hate their children, he claimed, seeking to literally and figuratively demonize Sanger. Phillips accused Sanger of embracing eugenics, branding her “the killer angel” who spawned the modern abortion movement and allegedly fueled the ideology of Hitler and Stalin. “The death count is in the billions!” he grieved.

Belief in the state-as-God gave rise to 20th century totalitarian leaders and their genocides, Phillips claimed, pointing to the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, and Japanese atrocities during World War II. A century of supposed enlightenment produced barbarism, thus showing the failure of societies that reject Christ. (Phillips conveniently forgot that Germany was solidly Christian during the Third Reich, that some Nazis wove Christianity into Nazi ideology, and that earlier Christian anti-Semitism set the stage for Nazi racial policy.)

However, Phillips assured the audience that God uses such horrors as part of a larger plan. One of those who fled the Armenial genocide was Christian Reconstructionist author R. J. Rushdoony, for example. Amidst the events of World War II, the hand of God was upon Winston Churchill, he claimed, who was used for a “godly” purpose. Phillips described Churchill as an “indefatigable” and “indomitable” man who stood up against evil.

Tell that to Dresden. And Poland, I thought. Wasn’t Churchill allied with Stalin, that tyrant you condemned a few minutes ago? The problem with seeing the “hand of God” on political leaders is that it makes it difficult to acknowledge their morally ambiguous choices. I realize that Churchill fought the Nazi regime — a noble and necessary task — and had a net positive impact on the world. However, I also believe that lionizing political leaders as “godly” is highly problematic.

Phillips blasted 20th century “statism”, condemning Roosevelt’s New Deal as a means of making government a “parent” and overriding the family and church. He similarly slammed Johnson’s Great Society programs as “leftist propaganda” that funded abortion and feminist movements.

Predictably, Phillips seethed at the thought of feminism, which began with Eve and exploded in the 20th century, he claimed. He was particularly livid at the thought of women working outside the home. For six thousand years, he insisted, children were raised in the home by mothers, but 20th century women working outside the home changed that. (Actually, women have been working outside the home for centuries. Slaves of both sexes were hired out to work outside the home in Roman times. Plenty of women worked in factories and textile mills in the 19th century. This is not a new phenomenon.)

Decade by decade, the U.S. plummeted into confusion, he explained. He tried unsuccessfully to bring up an image on the ballroom screens, then told listeners that the picture was of the size of babies who never made it into the world. When we reflect on Hitler, we should also reflect on the “abortuary” down the street, he instructed the audience. Phillips lamented the current state of the church, disgusted that even Christian women were having abortions.

Phillips did not want to end on an ominous note, however. He celebrated Christian publishing, apologetics, teachers who have inspired “men of action”, and preaching that creates “warriors for God”. He also held warm sentiments for the Christian homeschool movement, which sprang from the 20th century’s apologetics and activism, he said. The 20th and 21st centuries are times of antithesis, Phillips preached, a time of abortion, evolution, and totalitarianism versus you, versus people who want Christ to be king in their home. The task before Christians, thus, is to choose between death or life, Phillips concluded.

Phillips’ talk was laden with the usual Religious Right chestnuts: abortion and the Holocaust as morally equivalent, disdain for feminism, and historically inaccurate caricatures of prominent figures. Behind the chestnuts, however, was a glimpse at how the Religious Right views the present. For right-wing Christians such as Phillips, the present is a time of barbarism and delusion, which Christians must struggle against. This distrust of the present era and refusal to recognize complexity and nuance in the 20th and 21st centuries reveals a great deal about the Religious Right mind.

More to come soon on Vision Forum’s History of America Mega-Conference. Stay tuned!

*****

To be continued.

Rewriting History — History of America Mega-Conference: Part Five, Messiah States and Mega-Houses

Rewriting History — History of America Mega-Conference: Part Five, Messiah States and Mega-Houses

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 Five of this series was originally published on July 9, 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 Friday, July 5th, I observed an afternoon workshop entitled “The Rise of the Messiah State: From Wilson to Johnson”. Geoffrey Botkin of the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences delivered a talk on the supposed ills of social safety nets and the evolution of the so-called “Messiah state”. Botkin, a long-time ally of Vision Forum, has a controversial history with Great Commission Ministries, according to commentaries at Under Much Grace (see here and here).

At the start of his workshop, Botkin explained to his audience that a major challenge is to communicate how society should be organized to a culture unused to thinking theologically. “All history is theological,” he insisted, echoing the sentiments of other speakers at the conference.

Botkin complained that the U.S. is comfortable with a “Messianic state” now. Quoting Christian Reconstructionist thinker Gary North, he claimed that the “welfare state” died when the Roman Empire fell in 400 AD, but reemerged in the 20th century. From 1913 to 1973 — from the Wilson administration to the Johnson administration — America’s social order changed theologically to a “welfare-warfare state with fiscal and moral deficits of crushing … consequences,” Botkin claimed.

Botkin understood the state, church, and family to be God-created institutions, each with their own sphere of influence. However, the modern American state is so divorced from God’s will that its power to do good has decreased, he said. Over the span of a few decades, “the power of the state to do evil” allegedly grew.

Botkin shared quotes from Christian Reconstructionist authors on the alleged evils of an overbearing state. One quote from Gary North claimed that the “welfare state” is defended as a network of social safety nets, in which business profits are seen as a tax base for the welfare state. Another quote from R. J. Rushdoony caricatured humanists as revering the state as their lord and savior. Revealingly, Botkin’s presentation shared another quote from Rushdoony which accused society of succumbing to the “heresy of democracy”. In Botkin’s eyes, “statists” cannot revere God because they revere the state instead.

“Messianic statism”, as Botkin defined it, is an organization of men who provide answers to all of humanity’s problems through reorganization of society under the scientific/secular/socialist state, rather than Christ. The state, in effect, replaced God in people’s minds, he explained. Changing, man-made laws result in society’s “moral dissipation”, he claimed, making the state a “maternalistic necessity”. As a result of Messianic statism, men become “emasculated”, unable to take responsibility in their lives, Botkins claimed. A cycle of dependency emerges, where the more men descend into moral dissipation, the more they need a “nanny” or “mommy” state to care for them.

Emasculation? “Maternalistic necessity”? Mommy states? Someone has masculinity issues, I thought.

Tastelessly, Botkins used natural disasters as an example of dependency on the state. When a hurricane causes devastation, everyone whines “Where is my Messianic state!?”, he sneered. His utter callousness to the suffering of disaster victims and disdain for any safety net to help them recover startled me.

Botkins proceeded to caricature the policies of U.S. presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Lyndon B. Johnson. He reserved special animosity for income taxes, Social Security, the New Deal, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, and public education, which he derided as “free babysitting”.

His diatribe was peppered with fundamentalist commentary and disgust for real or perceived immorality. For instance, he described Woodrow Wilson as an agent of “totalitarian experimentation” who did not trust the authority of scripture. He defended Warren G. Harding as a president striving for normalcy in a country destabilized by jazz music, movies, and prostitution. He spoke approvingly of the Hays Code, claiming that it prevented entertainment from undermining society, as it allegedly does now. Tellingly, he painted women’s organizations lobbying for pensions for mothers and widows during the Coolidge administration as “less productive” people seeking to exploit the system by looking for handouts.

In his conclusion, Botkin likened the Messianic state to ancient god-kings and notions of divine kingship. He shared a quote from R. J. Rushdoony likening state worship to Moloch worship, calling both examples of “political religion”. Like the ancient god Moloch, the Messianic state demands total sacrifice from its subjects, he warned the audience.

I don’t think Botkin grasps the purpose of social services or a social safety net. Such measures are not the sinister tentacles of a “Messianic state”, but a means by which governments and communities help people in need. The mark of a civilized society is its willingness to help its most vulnerable members gain self-sufficiency. Frankly, I do not want to return to a society where the downtrodden are without recourse. A country without a social safety net, with charities in the place of fair programs, would have a devastating impact on the populace, as S. E. Smith recently observed. The callousness with which Botkin demonized the U.S. social safety net struck me as cold-hearted.

I also found Botkins’ workshop highly ironic. A man trumpeting Christ and scripture while ignoring Jesus’ teachings on compassion left me shaking my head. Whatever happened to “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me”? Whatever happened to “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”? Matthew 25:31-46 is lost on such people.

*****

Later that afternoon, Vision Forum director Doug Phillips and Weir Capital Management founder Erik Weir spoke at a workshop entitled “How Architecture Helped to Shape the Character of the American Family”. Phillips posited that a symbiotic relationship exists between architecture and the family, influencing each other in countless ways. This relationship isn’t a function of income level, he insisted, but of vision, making it applicable for tents and palaces alike. Phillips listed three foundations — aesthetics, design, and architecture — for designing homes.

Phillips argued that modern-day architecture is diverging from the past, elevating form over function, often abandoning aesthetic principles, and neglecting to consider the family. He looked askance at the deconstructivist school of architecture, contrasting photos of eye-catching deconstructivist buildings with a photo of Monticello.

C’mon Doug. A little architectural experimentation is perfectly fine, I thought.

Phillips stressed the importance of bringing every aspect of the home into obedience to Christ. He asked aloud if a home is to be designed to unite families in common spaces, or to cocoon them in separate bedrooms. Colonial and frontier homes, he observed, were organized around a central hearth where the family interacted, for example.

Monticello held special appeal for Phillips, who praised it as a reflection of Thomas Jefferson’s worldview. Monticello functioned as a place to entertain guests, a site of industry and production, a personal study, and a setting in which the new American spirit would be modeled. I noticed that Phillips conspicuously left out Monticello’s underground slave areas, where unseen slaves produced food and sundries for Jefferson’s guests. This, too, was a reflection of Jefferson’s worldview (specifically, his acceptance of slavery), a stain that Phillips left out.

Phillips also praised Montpelier, the historic plantation of James Madison. He described Montpelier’s central core, in which children were educated, parties hosted, heads of state entertained, and the family business operated. Montpelier, like other estates of the era, was built with the assumption that future generations would live there an exert an ongoing influence on the area.

Phillips contrasted the communal homes of the past with the homes of the present, which he likened to “flophouses”. In the past, it was common for three or more generations to live under the same roof, either out of custom or necessity, he said. He contrasted such multigenerational homes to the dwellings of the “selfish generation” which segregates its elders. Today, families are getting smaller while houses are getting bigger, so families tend to share less space. By living and working near each other, families experienced less infidelity, closer ties existed between parents and children, and more economic incentives to perpetuate family life.

I chuckled to myself at Phillip’s assumption about infidelity, as the reality was far less pleasant. Less infidelity? Hardly. Slave owners sexually abused slaves in that time period. Plenty of men patronized brothels in that time period. There was plenty of infidelity.

Phillips stressed the importance of generational thinking regarding architecture and the home. For example, he encouraged listeners to avoid faddishness and cheap quality in home decorations and furnishings in favor of long-term, durable furnishings that will last for many years. In choosing and designing homes, Phillips encouraged listeners to consider multiple considerations: geography, climate, space use, flow, and many others.

It occurred to me through the talk that Phillips’ home advice, while well thought-out, would only be applicable for well-to-do families. If families are struggling economically, they won’t be able to afford the durable, long-term furnishings. If families are limited in what kind of housing they can afford, they may not be at liberty to base home or apartment choices on a wide range of considerations. In an ideal world, everyone could consider furnishings, geography, and flow in their home choices, but we do not live in an idea world.

This realization grew stronger as I listened to Weir’s part of the workshop. Weir’s wealth was evident as he described his home, Magnolia Hall Plantation, inspired by the Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana. His family chose a large property that would allow space for future growth, including a row of oak or magnolia trees and on-site housing for his children, he explained. Sharing photos of his home, he proudly pointed out the “manly” Doric columns they chose instead of “flutey” Corinthian columns. As photos from the inside of the home flashed on the screen, Weir explained that he wanted to create an inviting interior. (The foyer, while sleek and pristine, struck me as cold and a little too perfect, however.) Weir and his wife chose fine wood for their floors so that guests with children wouldn’t have to worry about sullying a carpet with spills.

This is great, but … how does this apply to middle and working class families? I thought. Most of the people in the audience probably can’t afford to make these choices.

In short, the workshop on architecture was a paradox, an example of intricate thought and little thought. On one hand, Phillips and Weir clearly spent time reflecting on aesthetic values and home functionality, demonstrating a level of forethought that I respected. On the other hand, they seemed oblivious to the fact that only well-off people could meaningfully apply these principles. Weir’s home, while lovely and well-planned, is the home of a wealthy man. How relevant would Weir’s description of his home be to a couple struggling to feed and clothe multiple children? After taking in Botkin, Phillips, and Weir that afternoon, I wondered how often they reflect on the middle and working class.

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

*****

To be continued.

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.

*****

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.

*****

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!

*****

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.

*****

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 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.

*****

To be continued.

Vision Forum and “Historical Revisionism”

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on June 15, 2013.

American history today isn’t what it once was. There was a time when American history privileged the white, the wealthy, and the Christian, and ignored the stories of marginalized, the complexities of events like the American Revolution, and the genocide of the Native American population. This has changed, and universities today tell the stories of the marginalized and challenge traditional black and white patriotic narratives.Not everyone is happy with this, however:

Are you and your children equipped to defend America’s godly heritage against today’s fierce onslaught of historical revisionism? To help address this need, Vision Forum Ministries is pleased to announce the History of America Mega-Conference, an exciting five-day event to be held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Join a faculty of distinguished scholars and thinkers delivering more than fifty stirring lectures on a host of topics concerning America’s past—all from a distinctively Christian worldview.

What all will the conference cover?

This conference will offer the most comprehensive overview of our nation’s history that we’ve ever given to date. Over five days, you’ll receive a thorough and biblically-sound examination of America’s past that you’ll search in vain to find in today’s college classroom. The academically-potent lectures will span four centuries — it’s an American history crash-course you won’t find anywhere else.

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.

Were our Founding Fathers Deists? How should we view our government’s treatment of American Indians? What are we to make of the War Between the States? These and other raging controversies will be answered.

Here’s the video promo, complete with lots of shots in costume:

There are more videos here, most of which I have not yet watched.

Did I mention that Vision Forum only sells grey civil war cap, and not a blue one? Or that their description of a Civil War history tour is a bit, well, one-sided? And then of course there’s this picture of Doug Phillips’ son posing in front of a monument to the founder of the KKK and the racist blackface knickknack in the Phillips’ home. The most blatant, of course, is the fact that Vision Forum sells books by Robert Lewis Dabney, describing the nineteenth century southern theologian known for his racism and his influence in the post—Civil War South in glowing terms.

In an anthropological sense I think it would be fascinating to be a fly on the wall at Vision Forum’s upcoming History Mythology of America Mega-Conference, but at the same time when I think about what it is they’re teaching, and to a willing audience, I’m absolutely appalled.