At the beginning of the 20th Century, the optimism for the future of American Protestant Christianity was at a high level. Like the more-secularized Europeans who believed they had reached the highest levels of civilization (only to have that illusion shattered by World War I less than 20 years later), Protestants proclaimed that they were entering a "Christian Century."
Leaders of the so-called mainstream Protestant denominations, such as the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, especially shared this optimism. Not only were there the obvious advancements of science and increases in the overall standard of living, but the mainstream Protestants also had taken what was called "theological liberalism" into their churches. While it was not apparent at that time, the social gospel would begin as a benign way of thinking that later would metastasize into full-blown statism.
By that time, the so-called "Liberal-Fundamentalist Split" had taken place. Liberals, who had jettisoned the standard Christian doctrines such as original sin, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the infallibility of the Bible, and the need for atonement from sin, gradually took over the mainstream churches, leaving the essential beliefs to the Fundamentalists. The rejection of the standard gospel, of course, required that another set of beliefs take over.
Thus began the new relationship of the Liberals (as opposed to the "small u2018l’" liberals, who held to the efficacy of limited government, free markets, and private property) to the authoritarian state of Progressivism. Gone were the beliefs in the necessity of a constitutional order that created "balances of power" to protect citizens from abuse by the state. What replaced them was a new spirit, described by Walter Lippman, one that declared that there could be no limits to the ability of "enlightened" people to govern others.
Liberals did not wish to do away with Christianity altogether; rather, they wanted to "save" the religion from what they believed was its reliance upon supernatural nonsense. Having embraced the naturalistic doctrines of Darwinism, the Liberals believed that by emphasizing the role of "loving one’s neighbor" and doing good works, they could "save" Christianity from its fundamentalist superstitions.
As noted previously, Progressivism filled the vacuum left when Liberals eliminated many historical Christian doctrines, as they assumed that through enlightened political leadership people could create a "heaven on earth." Not long into the "Christian Century," Liberals even had a U.S. President to match their outlook, Woodrow Wilson, who sought not only to remake his own country, but also the Old World Central and Eastern Europe monarchies. The son of a Presbyterian minister, Wilson had long embraced theological liberalism and the "social gospel" that accompanied it, and he was also a committed Progressivist.
(As a Progressivist, Wilson also implemented a number of federal policies that expanded the practice of Jim Crow racial segregation. While many historians have sought to present Wilson as a liberal, compassionate, principled visionary who simply was ahead of his time, they have failed to point out that the man also was a vicious racist who did everything he could to make the racial climate worse in the United States. Furthermore, the man apparently had no problem with deceitfully maneuvering the USA into World War I — even while campaigning in 1916 that he was keeping the country out of war.)
Wilson did not begin World War I — blundering European and British politicians managed to do that — but he used the terrible conflict to his own advantage, bringing the United States into the war on the side of the British and French. The war also enabled Wilson to enact a Progressivist agenda at home, including imposition of high progressive income tax rates, government controls on business, prohibition of alcoholic beverages, conscription, the creation of a military "superstate," and suppression of dissent.
The aftermath of World War I brought some retrenchment to the Progressive state, but the proponents of theological liberalism continued to advance their agenda. One of the most important events for the Liberals came with the 1925 Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, as the issue of Darwinism came to the fore. Ironically, the radical Progressive William Jennings Bryan testified for the Biblical literalists, while the atheist Clarence Darrow represented those who supported teaching of evolution.
(As I will point out in a future article, Bryan was an important link between Christian fundamentalists and Progressivism. Contrary to popular belief, Christian conservatives were an important element in the creation of the modern authoritarian state.)
The 1920s were not characterized only by the Scopes Trial, however. Business and political leaders embraced "scientific" theories of management and economics, which was manifest in the expansion of the Federal Reserve System and its credit-induced bubbles that finally crashed in 1929.
The Great Depression and the New Deal ultimately was a boon for the religious progressives, who not only fully supported Franklin Roosevelt’s political and legislative agenda, but there was also considerable sympathy for Josef Stalin’s regime. (Read Paul Hollander’s Political Pilgrims to gain insights about the fawning of American and British church leaders over Stalin and his version of political economy.) After the disastrous decade of the 1930s culminated in World War II, religious Liberals became even more socialistic in their outlook. In Great Britain, they would champion the nationalization policies of the postwar Labor government, while in the United States, they jumped front and center into the Civil Rights Movement.
During that same period, their theological positions became increasingly secular as many came to the conclusion that even Christianity itself was not worth saving. As their estrangement from the old faith grew, the void became filled with drive to obtain political power, and by the mid-1950s, religious Liberals found themselves in a permanent alliance with the leftward elements of the Democratic Party. As the Civil Rights Movement began to wane with the passage of Lyndon Johnson’s legislative agenda in the mid-1960s, Liberals found plenty of other causes to occupy their time, as there was the Vietnam War, women’s liberation, homosexual rights, expansion of abortion rights, and the environmental movement.
Nor did religious Liberals forget their admiration for communists. Even the exposure of Stalin’s enormous crimes did little to stem the enthusiasm these folks had for communist dictators such as Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and Fidel Castro. In short, the politics of religious Liberals became identical to the politics of Hollywood (and for that matter, Madison Avenue), despite their alleged aversion to the "shallowness" of media, advertising, and entertainment figures.
In the last four decades, religious Liberalism has grown into an ideology that permits no dissent. At home, the Liberals have joined with anti-Christian groups to restrict the rights of those Christians who fall in the fundamentalist-evangelical camps. As noted in my first article on religious freedom, those who are extremely hostile to conservative Christians have found a home with the Democratic Party, which is also the political base for religious Liberals, whose hatred of fundamentalists and evangelicals literally knows no bounds.
For example, it is no accident that the Liberals have uncritically supported those socialistic regimes abroad that have mercilessly persecuted Bible-believing Christians and Catholics. From Mao’s China to Vietnam to Cambodia to Castro’s Cuba to the former U.S.S.R. to Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, religious leftist publications such as Sojourners, The Other Side, Christianity and Crisis and the secular (but popular with religious leftists) The Nation have sung the praises of those who have labored to exterminate those who might be opposed to socialism.
Those who hold to statist ideologies abhor any kind of competition, and anyone who might hold views opposed to religious Liberals have become rivals to be eliminated. Modern Christian Liberalism has moved from a philosophy that emphasized good works to an ideology of social engineering that holds the socialistic state to be the highest order of humanity. It is obvious that such a worldview cannot coexist with a mindset that permits private property, free markets, and freedom of thought and conscience.
A century ago, religious Liberals stated that they were simply trying to "save" Christianity and the institutions that accompanied it. Today, they have abandoned that mission and are now actively working to destroy most vestiges of the historic Christian religion. Of course, that means that people who might actually believe in things like the Virgin Birth, the Ten Commandments, the doctrine of the Resurrection of Christ, and the primacy of the Holy Scriptures are also impediments to progress.
Religious Liberals, however, cannot simply wish these folks and their beliefs to disappear on their own. They need an ally, and that collaborator, of course, is the anti-religious totalitarian state that seeks its own worship.
(My next article will deal with the Devil’s Bargain that conservative Christians have made with the state, a pact that I believe endangers religious freedom as much as has been imperiled by religious Liberals and totalitarian governments.)
April 22, 2003