I wrote about this in 1981, in the month that Ronald Reagan Was inaugurated. I knew that his fundamentalist supporters were intellectually schizophrenic.
The Moral Majority was shut down before Reagan left office.
The conference brought many of the nation’s leading Protestant evangelists to the podium, along with senior retired military men and Christian political leaders, to speak to thousands of (mostly) Protestant laymen and ministers. The message was straightforward: it is the Christian’s responsibility to vote, to vote in terms of biblical principle, and to get other Christians to vote. There can be no legal system that is not at bottom a system of morality, the speakers repeated again and again. Furthermore, every system of morality is at bottom a religion. It says “no” to some actions, while allowing others. It has a concept of right and wrong, Therefore, everyone concluded, it is proper for Christians to get active in politics. It is our legal right and our moral, meaning religious, duty.
You would think that this was conventional enough, but it is not conventional at all in the Christian world of the twentieth century. So thoroughly secularized has Christian thinking become, that the majority of Christians in the United States still appear to believe that there is neutrality in the universe, a kind of cultural and social “no man’s land” between God and Satan, and that the various law structures of this neutral world of discourse are all acceptable to God. All except one, of course: Old Testament law. That is unthinkable, says the modern Christian. God will accept any legal framework except Old Testament law. Apparently He got sick of it 2000 years ago.
So when the crowd heard what the preachers and electronic media leaders were saying, they must have booed, or groaned, or walked out, right? After all, here were these men, abandoning the political and intellectual premises of three generations of Protestant pietism, right before the eyes of the faithful. So what did they do? They clapped. They shouted “Amen!” They stood up and cheered.
These men are master orators. They can move a crowd of faithful laymen. They can even move a crowd of preachers. Was it simply technique that drew the responses of the faithful? Didn’t the listeners understand what was being said? The magnitude of the response, after two days of speeches, indicates that the listeners liked what they were hearing. The crowds kept getting larger. The cheering kept getting louder. The attendees kept loading their arms with activist materials. What was going on?
They were, for the first time in their lives, smelling political blood. For people who have smelled nothing except political droppings all their lives, it was an exhilarating scent. Maybe some of them thought they smelled something sweet back in 1976, but now they were smelling blood, not the victory of a safe, “born again” candidate like Jimmy Carter once convinced Christians that he was. They were smelling a “throw the SOB’s out” victory, and they loved it. Only Reagan showed up. Carter and Anderson decided the fundamentalists wouldn’t be too receptive to them. How correct they were.
But it was not simply politics that motivated the listeners. It was everything. Here were the nation’s fundamentalist religious leaders, with the conspicuous exception of the fading Billy Graham, telling the crowd that the election of 1980 is only the beginning, that the principles of the Bible can become the law of the land, that the secular humanists who have dominated American political life for a hundred years can be tossed out and replaced with God-fearing men. Every area of life is open to Christian victory: education, family, economics, politics, law enforcement, and so forth. Speaker after speaker announced this goal to the audience. The audience went wild.
Here was a startling sight to see: thousands of Christians, including pastors, who had believed all their lives in the imminent return of Christ, the rise of Satan’s forces, and the inevitable failure of the church too convert the world, now standing up to cheer other pastors, who also have believed this doctrine of earthly defeat all their lives, but who were proclaiming victory, in time and on earth. Never have I personally witnessed such enthusiastic schizophrenia in my life. Thousands of people were cheering for all they were worth — cheering away the eschatological doctrines of a lifetime, cheering away the theological pessimism of a lifetime.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)