Politics and the Pulpit in America – By James Morone July/August 2015 Issue

Americans have been arguing about the role of religion in government since the earliest days of the republic. In 1789, soon after taking office, President George Washington declared a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer.” God had bestowed a republican government on the United States, said Washington, and the nation ought to express its gratitude. Just 12 years later, President Thomas Jefferson abruptly canceled the ritual. The First Amendment, explained Jefferson, erected a “wall of separation between church and state.”Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at Jul 5, 2015 4.38

Jefferson’s wall could have used a better contractor. Today, there is hardly an aspect of American political life untouched by religion. God seems to be everywhere. The nation’s official motto is “In God We Trust.” The phrase is printed on the nation’s money, affixed behind the Speaker’s dais in the House of Representatives, and engraved over the entrance to the Senate. The Pledge of Allegiance declares a nation “under God,” and—sorry, Jefferson—the National Day of Prayer is back (the first Thursday in May); there is even a National Prayer Breakfast (the first Thursday in February). When they address the nation, U.S. presidents almost always conclude with a request that “God bless America.”

All this religiosity isn’t exactly ecumenical: a majority of Americans consider the United States a “Christian nation.” In his fine new book, Kevin Kruse declares that, whatever the public may think today, the founders had no intention of establishing a religious (much less a Christian) republic. For the most part, they agreed with Jefferson and believed in separating church and state.

What, then, explains the religiosity of American politics? Kruse traces its origins back to the 1930s. Conservative business leaders had trouble gaining traction against the New Deal and eventually discovered that moral claims generated more popular enthusiasm than calling for free markets. The business leaders funded a national movement led by religious figures such as James Fifield, Jr., a Congregational minister who preached that the New Deal, with its emphasis on collective responsibility, had introduced a “pagan statism.” Together, these men of the world and men of the cloth engineered a spiritual revival designed to shake Americans free from creeping collectivism.

Whatever the American public may think today, the founders had no intention of establishing a religious (much less a Christian) republic.

This pro-business, anticommunist, politicized Christianity seemed to find its political champion when Dwight Eisenhower won the presidency in 1952. But Eisenhower recast the movement (Kruse implies he hijacked it) as a more ecumenical, all-American consensus that would unite the nation in the Cold War struggle against the godless Soviet Union. Eisenhower set the agenda, and Congress—Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals—eagerly followed. Many of the most familiar manifestations of religion in government—the legislatively mandated allusions to God in the country’s official motto, on its money, and in its Pledge of Allegiance—emerged during the Eisenhower era.

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Senate Dems, McConnell Strike Deal for Clean DHS Funding Bill – By Gabrielle Levy Feb. 25, 2015 | 6:17 p.m. EST

The pressure to avoid a shutdown shifts firmly back to House Republicans, who have spent the past several weeks insisting their job was done.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid speaks to reporters following the weekly Democratic policy luncheon on Feb. 24, 2015, at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.Senate Democratic Leaders Harry Reid and Charles Schumer accepted a deal that will advance a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security, they announced Wednesday.

The fifth time was the charm in the Senate, which voted Wednesday to move forward on a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security after weeks of partisan squabbles over immigration brought the agency to the brink of shutdown.

Senate Democrats had repeatedly blocked the $40 billion appropriations measure passed last month in the House over amendments that would halt several of President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

DHS’ Johnson Pleads for Funding

But after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., offered Tuesday night to strip the amendments from the bill in exchange for separate consideration of the immigration actions, Democrats dropped their resistance.

Following a caucus meeting Wednesday, Democrats announced they had accepted a deal to allow debate on the bill, after which McConnell would offer a clean substitute. In turn, they agreed not to block consideration of a bill offered by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that would review the immigration actions separately, once the clean DHS funding bill has also passed the House.

“We have a pathway to vote on this tomorrow,” Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters. “We’re glad to see that that’s happened. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure it passes by an overwhelming vote.”

The procedural vote passed Wednesday afternoon, 98-2, with Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., dissenting.

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The Dalai Lama: On China + the Future of Tibet | C-Notes | OZY

Lights shining on the Dali Lama as he speaks on a dark stage
picture source

Dalai Lama

Source: Hannah Peters/Getty

The Dalai Lama speaking in New Zealand

55 Years in Exile

The Dalai Lama Talks About China + the Future of Tibet

By Jörg Eigendorf

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Why you should care

The Dalai Lama has led his people from exile since 1959. He won’t live forever, but dreams of a happier future for Tibet.

Tibet has always “remained a mysterious country,” says the Dalai Lama, and this is probably equally true of himself. Ever since the spiritual leader fled to Dharamsala, India, after being forced by the Chinese to leave his home country in 1959, his only information about Tibet has come from eyewitness accounts. He tries to meet with every refugee who makes it through the Himalayas.

A new era has begun with the presidency of Xi Jinping.

And therefore it was neither the photographer York Hovest nor the reporter Jörg Eigendorf but the Dalai Lama himself who asked the first questions during their interview in Dharamsala. He wanted to know the details about Hovest’s time in Tibet. Whether there were still monks in the monasteries where the Dalai Lama once studied and took his exams. How exactly the surveillance cameras of the Chinese worked. And whether it was not somehow possible to plant a few trees 5,000 meters above sea level. Page by page, he went through Hovest’s book , 100 days in Tibet .

But in the end it was still an interview.


Your Holiness, do you think that you can return to your homeland one day?

Dalai Lama:

A black and white photo of the Dalai Lama at age 4

Source: Bettmann/Corbis

The Dalai Lama at age 4

Yes, I am sure of that. China can no longer isolate itself, it must follow the global trend toward a democratic society. I can already feel that change among Chinese students. I heard there are more than 200,000 Chinese students studying abroad nowadays. A few years ago when I met students, they were serious and reserved. Today they smile. Those are signs of change.


Is this the reason you have become almost conciliatory toward China during the past few months?

Dalai Lama:

A new era has begun with the presidency of Xi Jinping. He wants to create a more harmonious society than the one under his predecessor, Hu Jintao. In former years, it was the era of economic growth, which has created a lot of resentment and envy.

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The Religious Right’s Slow-Motion Suicide – Michael Tomasky 09.29.14

In fairness, the culture-war right has done less damage than the neocons and the super rich have. But they’re still the ones on the ropes.

I’m not sure what’s come over me and I suppose it’ll pass, but at just this moment I’m feeling a little bit sorry for evangelical conservatives. They were apparently pretty droopy, these proceedings over the weekend at the Values Voter Summit, as my colleague Ben Jacobs described things. Oh, yes, Ted Cruz fired them up, and some of the old stalwarts put in respectable appearances, but they have to know deep down that they’re like the horse-and-buggy lobby after Henry Ford has hit town. It’s only a matter of time.

I refer here chiefly to same-sex marriage, the big issue on which the cultural right now represents a quickly shrinking minority. You know the storm clouds are gathering when even Michele Bachmann is throwing in the towel—she declared same-sex marriage “not an issue” and even “boring” at the meeting.

But it’s not just same-sex marriage. The country has liberalized culturally in a range of ways in the past six or eight years, and it’s not only not going back, it’s charging relentlessly forward. The religious right also has no leaders anymore of the remotest interest. Back in the ’80s, Jerry Falwell was a figure to contend with; to loathe, certainly, but also to fear. Today? Pat Robertson has lost his marbles, seemingly, and after him, who? Tony Perkins? No one even knows his name, or if they do, they inevitably think of the guy who played filmdom’s most famous matricidal cross-dresser and aren’t entirely sure that this Tony Perkins might not be that Tony Perkins, which is not quite the type of association they’re looking for.

It’s a group that is losing power, and I think the leaders and even the rank-and-filers know it. Their vehicle, the Republican Party, is going libertarian on them. Rand Paul, whether he wins the 2016 nomination or not, is clearly enough of a force within the party that he is pushing it away from the culture wars. He is joined in this pursuit by the conservative intellectual class, which knows the culture wars are a dead-bang loser for the GOP and which finds the culture warriors more than a little embarrassing, and by the establishment figures, the Karl Rove types, who stroked them back in 2004 but who now see them as a liability, at least at the presidential level. There are still, of course, many states where these voters come in quite handy in that they elect many Republican representatives and senators.

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Is Amazon’s Failed Phone A Cautionary Tale? – by AARTI SHAHANI September 11, 2014 3:24 AM ET

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduces the new Amazon Fire Phone on June 18 in Seattle.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduces the new Amazon Fire Phone on June 18 in Seattle.

Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press

It’s been a big week in the world of gadgets. Apple announced its newest iPhones, the 6 and 6 plus, and they’re bigger than any other before. And on the smaller side, there’s an Apple Watch — that does a lot of the same things. Meanwhile, the company Amazon took a nosedive with its foray into the smartphone marketplace. Here are some questions we had:

Amazon Slashed The Price of The Fire Phone From $199 To $0.99. Why?

First, that’s 99 cents with a two-year contract, so if you wanted to load up on smartphones without commitment, no such luck.

But the cut is very telling. Amazon, which is a master at selling things, wanted to try its hand at building the device we use to buy things. While they haven’t said how many Fire phones they’ve sold since the phone launched July 25, they’ve clearly got a lot of inventory left over.

Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch on Tuesday in Cupertino, Calif. The long-awaited smart watch comes in two sizes and requires an iPhone.i

Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch on Tuesday in Cupertino, Calif. The long-awaited smart watch comes in two sizes and requires an iPhone.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

They’re also rolling out the Fire in the United Kingdom this week, and pricing it with no upfront cost, similar to the new price here, in an attempt to make a better first impression in Europe.

It doesn’t look like they’ve given up hope, though — that 99 cents will only get you the low-end version of the phone with 32 gigabytes of memory. The 64-gig phones still will cost you $100.

And that’s not because the memory costs so much more — it could be Amazon hunting for that hardcore, dedicated customer who really loves downloading games and movies. That’s ultimately the customer who might make Fire take off.

The Fire Was Initially Priced Similarly To A New iPhone Or Samsung Galaxy. Is It Actually Inferior?

Well, it gets mixed reviews. Some people say they like the 3D effects on the screen, but that’s just bling at the end of the day. People get smartphones for awesome apps, and The Fire is very much inside Amazon’s walled garden. You can’t even get Google Maps.

What Can We Learn By Comparing Amazon’s Price Cut To This Week’s Hyped Apple Watch Announcement?

Amazon and Apple are actually trying to do similar things — that is, to take the smartphone and rejigger it, to create an even more intimate experience. But there’s a delicate line between feeling intimate and feeling trapped, and Amazon’s approach is a cautionary tale to others entering the smart-phone market.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos thought that because people love shopping at amazon.com so much, they’d love a smartphone that’s really a shopping remote control. So far, it looks like he overshot.

Now over at Apple, CEO Tim Cook wants his customers to put Apple on their bodies — to use a smart-watch to log how much we run and eat, and even take it along to the doctor to share our heart-rate charts. This vision is nothing new — it’s the kind of stuff that lots of so-called Quantified Self junkies have been trying to push for years — but Cook is hoping that because Apple’s doing it now, it’ll stick.

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Under what? Poll: One-third of Americans want God out of Pledge – By Meredith Somers Thursday, September 4, 2014

God created the universe in six days, but it took an act of Congress to get Him into the Pledge of Allegiance.

People wave upside down American flags during a rally Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, for Michael Brown, who was killed by police on Aug. 9, in Ferguson, Mo. Brown's shooting in the middle of a street, following a suspected robbery of a box of cigars from a nearby market, sparked a week of protests, riots and looting in the St. Louis suburb. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The history of the Pledge is dotted with revisions, including the 1954 adoption of “under God.” And though Americans have said the Pledge the same way for the past 60 years, a survey from the American Humanist Association found that one-third would like “under God” removed, after being told those words were not part of the original text.

A May 29 online survey of 1,000 Americans conducted for the American Humanist Association found that 34 percent said “under God” should be removed, and 66 percent said they should remain, after being told those words were added to the original version.

“There’s a lot more we could have said,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “We could say more about the history, that it was clearly an effort by the government at the time to endorse a Judeo-Christian perspective in its proceedings. If that happened today, people would be up in arms. The government should not be endorsing religion in any way.”

Of the 1,000 respondents, 666 identified themselves as Christian, and 123 as followers of other faiths. Unaffiliated persons accounted for 211 respondents in the survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

The Humanist Association survey, conducted by the Seidewitz Group, was carried out as a secular version of a poll conducted by LifeWay Research last September that found that 8 percent of Americans would want “under God” removed from the Pledge.

The LifeWay phone survey asked 1,001 Americans whether they thought forcing school children to say “under God” violated their rights and whether they wanted “under God” removed from the pledge.

Respondents were not told those words were not part of the original Pledge written by Francis Bellamy in 1892.

“Most Americans have recited the pledge hundreds of times and are not inclined to memorize a different pledge,” said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research. “Changing it may just feel wrong. Most Americans say they believe in God or a higher being and feel comfortable having ‘under God’ in the Pledge.”

The humanist association’s survey results, Mr. Speckhardt said, show that with “a little bit of education, we can bring people a little bit in our direction.”

But the problem with the humanist survey is that survey it failed to be factual, said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

“What they’re trying to say … is that the Pledge was somehow unchanged for 62 years, then changed in 1954,” Mr. Rassbach said. “And they’re sort of playing in to this idea that America in the 1950s was retrograde. That’s the history they’re trying to present.”

Written in 1892, the Pledge originally read: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The words “the Flag of the United States of America” were added in 1923, andCongress adopted “under God” in 1954.

“It’s this sort of fake history that the Pledge was this … thing that was out there that no one messed with,” Mr. Rassbach said. “It’s actually miseducating people about the history of the Pledge, and also includes what I would [consider] leading questions.”

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