From Bright Young Things
Secularists are scaring themselves with a new bogeyman: Dominionists. That is their term for evangelicals and other conservative Christians, whom they are conflating with a tiny number of actual theocrats, which are probably fewer in number than members of the American Communist Party. I like Michael Gerson’s account:
Evangelicals, warned liberal theologian Albert Outler, “want a society ruled by those who know what the word of God is. The technical name for that is ‘theocracy,’ and their Napoleon, whether he likes it or not, is Jimmy Carter.” When Carter turned out to be less than Napoleonic, George W. Bush was identified as “the first prince of the theocratic states of America.” Bush, according to one entirely fictional account, was converted to “Dominionism” — a kind of Christian Wahhabism — by Assemblies of God pastors who provided him “explicit coaching.”
Now the heroes of the Tea Party movement, it turns out, are also closet theocrats. “If you want to understand Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry,” argues Michelle Goldberg in Newsweek/Daily Beast, “understanding Dominionism isn’t optional.” A recent New Yorker profile by Ryan Lizza contends that Bachmann has been influenced by a variety of theocratic thinkers who have preached Christian holy war.
As befits a shadowy religious sect, its followers go under a variety of names: Reconstructionists. Theonomists. The New Apostolic Reformation. Republicans. All apparently share a belief, in Goldberg’s words, that “Christians have a God-given right to rule all earthly institutions.”
The Dominionist goal is the imposition of a Christian version of sharia law in which adulterers, homosexuals and perhaps recalcitrant children would be subject to capital punishment. It is enough to spoil the sleep of any New Yorker subscriber. But there is a problem: Dominionism, though possessing cosmic ambitions, is a movement that could fit in a phone booth. The followers of R.J. Rushdoony produce more books than converts.
So it becomes necessary to stretch the case a bit. Perry admittedly doesn’t attend a Dominionist church or make Dominionist arguments, but he once allowed himself to be prayed for by some suspicious characters. Bachmann once attended a school that had a law review that said some disturbing things. She assisted a professor who once spoke at a convention that included some alarming people. Her belief that federal tax rates should not be higher than 10 percent, Goldberg explains, is “common in Reconstructionist circles.”
The evidence that Bachmann may countenance the death penalty for adulterers? Support for low marginal tax rates.
Bachmann is prone to Tea Party overstatement and religious-right cliches. She opened herself to criticism by recommending a book that features Southern Civil War revisionism. But there is no evidence from the careers of Bachmann or Perry that they wish to turn America into a theocratic prison camp.
A friend of mine, Nancy Pearcey, was actually accused in the New Yorker of being a Dominionist thinker. See her response here.
Wanting a Christian influence in the society as a whole is not the same as wanting to impose a theocratic government. And it isn’t that the Bible says Christians should have dominion over non-believers; it says that human beings as a whole have been given dominion over nature. Christianity is not a matter of laws, as if people could be forced or legislated into being good or Christian or whatever. It is a matter of the Gospel, of forgiveness through Christ for not being good. All Christians, for all of their differences, know that. To say otherwise, to stir up the public against Christians, is religious McCarthyism.
UPDATE: Just today I came across some material on the New Apostolic Reformation movement. OK, as some of you commenters have been warning, THAT is something to be concerned about! I’ll try to post something on the NAR in the future. For now, I’m just saying that a number of people who are being accused of Dominionism are not Dominionists and are not connected to the NAR movement. I suspect that politicians who are being associated with them know nothing about their theology or their agenda but in fact are being used by these people. Meanwhile the secularist left is accusing ALL politically active Christians as being secret members of this cult. Just as many on the right a few decades ago accused all liberals and even moderates of being Communists. Not that there weren’t actual Communists or actual Dominionists. (By the way, the “Theonomists” tend to be Calvinist in their theology, though not all Calvinists are Theonomists. The NAR Dominionists are Pentecostal in their theology, though, again, not all Pentecostalists or charismatics are Dominionists. So Theonomists and Dominionists probably wouldn’t have anything to do with each other. But more on all of this as I unravel it.)
Some libertarian venture-capitalists are planning to build new nations on ocean platforms–they are calling it “seasteading” (get it–from homesteading?)–as libertarian mini-utopias:
[Patri] Friedman [grandson of free market economist Milton Friedman] wants to establish new sovereign nations built on oil-rig-type platforms anchored in international waters—free from the regulation, laws, and moral suasion of any landlocked country. They’d be small city-states at first, although the aim is to have tens of millions of seasteading residents by 2050. Architectural plans for a prototype involve a movable, diesel-powered, 12,000-ton structure with room for 270 residents, with the idea that dozens—perhaps even hundreds—of these could be linked together. Friedman hopes to launch a flotilla of offices off the San Francisco coast next year; full-time settlement, he predicts, will follow in about seven years; and full diplomatic recognition by the United Nations, well, that’ll take some lawyers and time.
“The ultimate goal,” Friedman says, “is to open a frontier for experimenting with new ideas for government.” This translates into the founding of ideologically oriented micro-states on the high seas, a kind of floating petri dish for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons.
It’s a vivid, wild-eyed dream—think Burning Man as reimagined by Ayn Rand’s John Galt and steered out to sea by Captain Nemo—but Friedman and [Facebook funder Peter] Thiel, aware of the long and tragicomic history of failed libertarian utopias, believe that entrepreneurial zeal sets this scheme apart. One potential model is something Friedman calls Appletopia: A corporation, such as Apple, “starts a country as a business. The more desirable the country, the more valuable the real estate,” Friedman says. When I ask if this wouldn’t amount to a shareholder dictatorship, he doesn’t flinch. “The way most dictatorships work now, they’re enforced on people who aren’t allowed to leave.” Appletopia, or any seasteading colony, would entail a more benevolent variety of dictatorship, similar to your cell-phone contract: You don’t like it, you leave. Citizenship as free agency, you might say. Or as Ken Howery, one of Thiel’s partners at the Founders Fund, puts it, “It’s almost like there’s a cartel of governments, and this is a way to force governments to compete in a free-market way.”
Do you think this would work? Can a nation really be run like a business to this extent? Since an oil platform without the oil would have no natural resources, Appletopia would presumably rely on “intellectual” resources for its economy. Wouldn’t all of the other countries you would depend on for your commodities and your trade have laws and regulations that would prevent you from having a completely free economy? And what if a ground-based country decided to send a ship to conquer you? What would be some other problems with this kind of nation-state?
Would you be willing to emigrate to–or colonize–a country like this?
HT: Joe Carter
A new Bible translation is now available, the Common English Bible. Check out the website, which includes this comparison of passages from the new CEB and other translations: Common English Bible – Compare Translations.
What agendas are evident in this translation? What theology is at work in the word choices? What can you say about the literary quality of the CEB?
Joe Carter, via a string of other blogs, quotes the late Michael Crichton’s 2002 essay “Why Speculate?”:
Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I call it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)
Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.
In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.
That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I’d point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all.
But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.
Crichton surely overstated the case when he said that the media has no credibility and that it’s a waste of time to read the newspaper. Sports scores are reported accurately, as far as I know, and events reported in the news did, one can assume, take place. Still, the splendidly-named phenomenon described here does apply. It reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s critique of biographical interpretations of literature. He said that when he reads biographical interpretations of his own works they are invariably wrong, by his first hand knowledge of his life; therefore, he is disinclined to accept biographical interpretations of other authors’ works. Even here, when we post an article about some scientific discovery, readers who know something about the science explain how the reporters were getting it wrong.
Is there a way to get around this? Should we trust certain publications or certain journalists more than others? If bias is inevitable, should we just take in media with whose bias we agree? Or should we counter our biases with media biased in the other direction?
This sort of thing attracts ridicule and alarm in the media and the blogosphere–”NASA thinks aliens will wipe us out to stop global warming!” as with “Pentagon plans war with Canada”!–but agencies and consultants spin out possible scenarios and make contingency plans for everything imaginable. I draw your attention to this one just for its Science Fiction possibilities:
Shawn Domagal-Goldman of Nasa’s Planetary Science Division and his colleagues compiled a list of plausible outcomes that could unfold in the aftermath of a close encounter, to help humanity “prepare for actual contact”.
In their report, Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis, the researchers divide alien contacts into three broad categories: beneficial, neutral or harmful.
Beneficial encounters ranged from the mere detection of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), for example through the interception of alien broadcasts, to contact with cooperative organisms that help us advance our knowledge and solve global problems such as hunger, poverty and disease.
Another beneficial outcome the authors entertain sees humanity triumph over a more powerful alien aggressor, or even being saved by a second group of ETs. “In these scenarios, humanity benefits not only from the major moral victory of having defeated a daunting rival, but also from the opportunity to reverse-engineer ETI technology,” the authors write.
Other kinds of close encounter may be less rewarding and leave much of human society feeling indifferent towards alien life. The extraterrestrials may be too different from us to communicate with usefully. They might invite humanity to join the “Galactic Club” only for the entry requirements to be too bureaucratic and tedious for humans to bother with. They could even become a nuisance, like the stranded, prawn-like creatures that are kept in a refugee camp in the 2009 South African movie, District 9, the report explains.
The most unappealing outcomes would arise if extraterrestrials caused harm to humanity, even if by accident. While aliens may arrive to eat, enslave or attack us, the report adds that people might also suffer from being physically crushed or by contracting diseases carried by the visitors. In especially unfortunate incidents, humanity could be wiped out when a more advanced civilisation accidentally unleashes an unfriendly artificial intelligence, or performs a catastrophic physics experiment that renders a portion of the galaxy uninhabitable.
To bolster humanity’s chances of survival, the researchers call for caution in sending signals into space, and in particular warn against broadcasting information about our biological make-up, which could be used to manufacture weapons that target humans. Instead, any contact with ETs should be limited to mathematical discourse “until we have a better idea of the type of ETI we are dealing with.”
The authors warn that extraterrestrials may be wary of civilisations that expand very rapidly, as these may be prone to destroy other life as they grow, just as humans have pushed species to extinction on Earth. In the most extreme scenario, aliens might choose to destroy humanity to protect other civilisations.
“A preemptive strike would be particularly likely in the early phases of our expansion because a civilisation may become increasingly difficult to destroy as it continues to expand. Humanity may just now be entering the period in which its rapid civilisational expansion could be detected by an ETI because our expansion is changing the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere, via greenhouse gas emissions,” the report states.
“Green” aliens might object to the environmental damage humans have caused on Earth and wipe us out to save the planet. “These scenarios give us reason to limit our growth and reduce our impact on global ecosystems. It would be particularly important for us to limit our emissions of greenhouse gases, since atmospheric composition can be observed from other planets,” the authors write.
Can you think of other possibilities of what aliens might do? (Space aliens, not illegal aliens. Though I suppose the former would also raise major immigration issues.)