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Adsos Letter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-03-11 09:15 PM
Original message
I re-posted this because I added a bunch after my evening walk.
Has anyone here read Richard Gamble's The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation?

I read this 5 or 6 years ago, and am getting ready to reread it. If I recall his thesis correctly, he made the argument that many early twentieth-century progressive christian protestants were quite comfortable using the State to advance the foreign policy goals of what they considered a "messianic nation." Because of this, progressive religious leaders/thinkers came down hard on the side of US entry into WWI as a precursor to spreading their socio-political vision, by force if necessary.

As I said, it has been several years since I read it but it seems like it had some timely observations on progressive christian entanglement with the political goals of the State. Progressive protestant leaders apparently viewed it as the role of the United States to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth via the Social Gospel.

Maybe it doesn't matter whether it's called the Social Gospel, Kingdom of God on earth, or simply the spread of progressive values. However; I am very uncomfortable with couching progressive politics in theological terms, or pursuing a theological/eschatological goal via the State. Who gets to decide what constitutes the Kingdom of God, and how it is applied?



Not abandoning this; I've got other stuff to do, but I'll check later. Mostly just curious about whether you've read this, and what you thought of it.

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struggle4progress Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-03-11 10:04 PM
Response to Original message
1. It seemsa natural to me that people should work towards political ends reflecting their beliefs and
values

If you find people working towards political ends, that reflect their beliefs and values instead of yours, then of course you should work towards political ends that reflect your beliefs and values

I call that "the democratic process"
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Adsos Letter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-03-11 11:36 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. The results of the democratic process have to be weighed in the light of Constitutional constraints.
Edited on Wed Aug-03-11 11:38 PM by Adsos Letter
Yes, I would expect people to work toward political ends reflecting their beliefs and values; the Religious Right is going at it hammer and tongs as we speak.

I call that politicized theology. I think Gamble is arguing that Wilson's approach to American involvement in WWI, and the support of many of the leaders and pastors of FCC churches, came very close to the same thing although with a different goal in mind.

Have you read Gamble's book? I'm interested in how others who have read his work see it.

Edit: removed the word "really" from the last sentence.
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struggle4progress Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-04-11 09:32 AM
Response to Reply #2
6. The literal constitutional constraints are rather limited: there can be neither religious test
for holding office nor any establishment of religion. So arguments, against introducing religious elements into political discussion, must generally rely on extra-constitutional considerations

Gamble seems to me a rightwinger, ideologically opposed to Wilson (as a Democrat) and more generally to the Progressives (as advocates of government intervention) ; here, for example, is a lecture he gave to the Ludwig von Mises Institute:
Woodrow Wilson's Revolution Within the Form
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c501Jl_RmdQ

The question of how and why the US came to enter WWI is important, but the picture may be rather different than suggested by Gamble's cherry-picking.

While I am most emphatically and sincerely opposed to taking any step that will force our country into the useless and senseless war now being waged in Europe, yet, if this resolution passes, I shall not permit my feeling of opposition to its passage to interfere in any way with my duty either as a senator or as a citizen in bringing success and victory to American arms. I am bitterly opposed to my country entering the war, but if, notwithstanding my opposition, we do enter it, all of my energy and all of my power will be behind our flag in carrying it on to victory ...
Opposition to Wilsons War Message
George W. Norris
http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?do...

George William Norris (July 11, 1861 September 2, 1944) was a U.S. politician from the state of Nebraska and a leader of progressive and liberal causes in Congress ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_W._Norris

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Adsos Letter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-04-11 01:51 PM
Response to Reply #6
10. Thanks for your response. I hadn't even thought to look at Gamble's
potential bias as a historian...a pretty major lapse considering the emphasis on identifying bias in every class I ever took that dealt with historiography. :blush:

I'll check out the YouTube video. The Wiki article on the Ludwig von Mises Institute mentions that they have been criticized by both the SPLC and Chip Berlet for "neo-Confederate" ideas. I support the SPLC financially, and have often pointed DUers to Berlet's writings, so I'll be looking at the PRA site to see if they have anything else to say about Gamble or the von Mises Institute.

Whether or not Gamble has cherry-picked his sources is beyond my knowledge of the subject, but I'll check some academic reviews of his work. Norris and other progressives may have opposed entry into the war but many in the FCC apparently did not and that is where my question lies. Was Wilson consciously using the apparatus of the State (military, taxes, etc.) to pursue an eschatological goal, even if that Kingdom of God eschatology differs markedly in form and substance from that envisioned by the current crop of Conservative evangelicals. I suspect it isn't a simple answer.

I'm still trying to figure out exactly what it is that makes me uncomfortable with Wilson's apparent belief that America had a Providential role in world history (a not at all uncommon view in his time) even though I agree with the goal of making this as good as possible a world for everyone. I really think it has to do with American exceptional ism, and the pursuit of positive goals from a religious rather than simply humanitarian perspective. Progressive christians would certainly see humanitarian and eschatological goals much differently than Conservative christians.

Looks like maybe the place for me to start is not with Gamble's work, but with Wilson's own writings, speeches, etc. Good thing I'm retired and have way too much spare time.

Thanks for a thoughtful, and helpful, reply.
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struggle4progress Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-04-11 02:39 PM
Response to Reply #10
13. I guess my point is that the Progressives were a large, diverse, and influential movement:
we can blame them in part for Prohibition, as well as giving them due credit for labor reforms and the push for natural resource conservation

So I expect you'll find both isolationist and interventionist progressives. I don't doubt that you'll find some progressives pushing an interventionist policy using religious terminology

But I doubt you will find the real motives for intervention there: wars often reflect material interests; by the early twentieth century, the US had a long history of intervention to protect its foreign trade; and the blockades by both sides of the European conflict presented the problem of whether the US could accept such blockades

The Central Powers began at the end of 1916 to seek a negotiated end to the war, and (when that failed) the Germans in early 1917 declared unlimited submarine warfare. The actual public justification for the 1917 US war declaration seems to have been the Zimmerman Telegram, which was understood as a betrayal of prior US trust and willingness to convey German diplomatic traffic, as a sign of neutrality -- though I'm too amateur to discuss issues there in any detail. So by the spring of 1917, the US political class may have had an analysis something like this: The Central Powers are losing and increasingly desperate; our shipping is now completely insecure; and Germany is now attempting to foment territorial wars at our borders. So let's save ourselves a long headache, intervene on the winning side, and put an end to this
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Adsos Letter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-04-11 03:06 PM
Response to Reply #13
14.  Yeah, it seems causation is generally fairly complex
and it's often very difficult to assess the weight of any individual or combination of factors (to the degree that they can even be fully identified), so your point is very well taken.

I guess I'm going to approach this as a basic historical question and ask "Was Wilson influenced to take America into war by Kingdom of God eschatology and, if so, is it possible to get an idea of the degree of influence it had on his thinking." For that matter, how influential was Kingdom of God eschatology, specifically, within the broader matrix of American exceptionalist ideology.

Sounds like the work of a lifetime... :D

Thanks again for your response. I agree with you about the Zimmerman Note; one of my profs. in a class on "War and Peace in the Twentieth Century" stressed the importance of that whole affair in the public mind.

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trotsky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-04-11 06:28 AM
Response to Original message
3. I think you hit the nail on the head.
I am very uncomfortable with couching progressive politics in theological terms, or pursuing a theological/eschatological goal via the State. Who gets to decide what constitutes the Kingdom of God, and how it is applied?

As I have said many times in this forum, we bristle at the right wing when they do this. Is it OK to have a double standard, then? Why should it be any different for the left wing? You may be personally motivated by your religion to accomplish liberal goals, and that's great, but let's not make liberal theology the basis of our policy decisions. Liberal thought and policy stand on their own with reason - that's why I, as an atheist, support them.
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jeepnstein Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-04-11 08:04 AM
Response to Reply #3
4. You have to enter the Kingdom voluntarily.
Some people never will, and that's just fine. We're all free to choose. The folks who were expecting a warrior king in the First Century were nonplussed when a itinerant preacher, whose birth raised more questions than it answered, and who hung out with fishermen and sinners, came along and declared his message of salvation for all. They just didn't get it.

Christendom is not about who gets to raise taxes or make law. It rises above the earthly matters of politics. I prefer to keep it in that place where it can't be soiled by politicians and charlatans who would stuff God into a box to suit their own goals. Any politician who frames his policies and positions as ordained by God is immediately suspect in my book. I'm perfectly fine with a politician being up-front with who they are and what makes them tick. I'm not OK with them using political power to ram the Gospel down someone's unwilling throat.
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trotsky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-04-11 08:53 AM
Response to Reply #4
5. Well, I guess it's a good thing you've got it all perfectly figured out.
It rises above the earthly matters of politics.

That's the kind of verbage that creeps me out. To me, as a non-believer, NOTHING rises above the "earthly" matters of politics. Politics is what affects and shapes all our lives - and not believing in an afterlife or any of that junk - our lives here and now are my #1 priority.
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jeepnstein Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-04-11 10:57 AM
Response to Reply #5
7. Figured out? Hardly.
I became much more effective as a politician once I adopted the mind set that politics was "small stuff". I have a place in my world that does not depend on some politician or donor's largess. It's a world view, still evolving, that is long on compassion and short on judgment. You and I share many goals but differ radically on priorities.
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trotsky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-04-11 11:06 AM
Response to Reply #7
8. But that's the problem.
Politics isn't "small stuff." Politics affect everything and everyone in our society. People die in the richest country on the planet because politics have kept them from the healthcare they need. Praying isn't going to help. Thinking that they'll be OK in an imagined afterlife is insulting. How fucked up are YOUR priorities if they don't involve helping people here and now?
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jeepnstein Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-04-11 12:47 PM
Response to Reply #8
9. Oh, I help. I help an awful lot.
My current wind mill is the repeal of the infamous SB5 in Ohio. It's going to be an interesting project and I fear a closer vote than many expect. The healthcare issue is one I've been involve in for years. My specialties are campaign finance and GOTV.

What I'm not willing to do is mortgage my soul for the sake of a political deal. I've seen that and it's just not that pretty at all. After thirty years of working on campaign after campaign after campaign I can pretty much say that I don't believe politics can fix what is wrong with the world. Doesn't mean I quit and go home. I just choose not to let it consume me any more. Politics is "small stuff" to me.

Praying does help. Maybe it doesn't give the spectacular results that some demand but it does help.
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trotsky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-04-11 02:10 PM
Response to Reply #9
11. Congrats.
You keep one eye on heaven, and I'll focus both of mine on Earth.
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Adsos Letter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-04-11 02:39 PM
Response to Reply #3
12. "...let's not make liberal theology the basis of our policy decisions."
Thanks for your response trotsky. I think, for me, this is the heart of the matter. My question regarding Wilson, the FCC, and America's entry into WWI is to what degree Wilson was consciously using the ideology of American exceptionalism to take the nation to war, and was his perception of a Providential role for the United States based in Kingdom of God eschatology.

I can sense how this could be very seductive to progressive christians, because the socio-economic goals of Kingdom of God theology mesh so well with progressive humanitarian values. But as you point out, "Liberal thought and policy stand on their own with reason" and the thought of our nation consciously pursuing a perceived Divine mandate as a matter of State policy makes me uncomfortable.

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