Saturday, September 1, 2012

GOP: Pushing The Religion Of Success

Yes, well, uhmmm,  I'm not thinking Jesus would qualify for the GOP definition of religious success.

Lisa Miller of Washington Post fame, has written an insightful commentary about what religion the GOP is actually endorsing, and it's not Mormonism or Catholicism.  It's American Successism.  The following is an excerpt from her current column:

...But if this convention changed anything (and I think it did, though Romney’s performance was predictably smug and stilted), it achieved more than a deflection of the Mormon question. It presented Romney as something else entirely: a devoted disciple of a much more mainstream and sympathetic American faith – the religion of success. Over and over, in every speech, speakers spoke of Romney’s achievement in business as not just a personal virtue, and a sign of Romney’s inherent goodness, but as the highest dream shared by every patriot. The robotic pol was displaced, if momentarily, with everyone’s retrograde fantasy Dad, a trustworthy leader who would sacrifice of himself to do right by the people in his care.

Taken together, this week’s convention speeches could be read as a gospel of success. “I want America to succeed,” said Romney near the beginning of his speech, and then near the end, he drove the point home: “In America we celebrate success, we don’t apologize for success.” After explaining that her husband was motivated every day by “family, faith and love for his fellow man,” Ann, in what was perhaps the convention’s greatest moment, became her husband’s best evangelist: “No one will work harder,” she said. “No one will care more. And no one else will move heaven and earth to make this country a better place to live.” And then, her gospel almost finished, she made a promise: “This man will not fail.”

Now, as the race enters its final lap , the Republicans have forced Democrats to explain why material success, that integral component of the American dream, has in certain provinces of the left become recently regarded as a sin.  (Except it's not material success itself that is the issue. It's more about what is enough success for one given individual before it becomes more about power and greed than success.)


I've been doing a lot of thinking about this concept of success.  The Republican party presents a definition of success which is centered in the individual and based in materialism. This then serves as a foundation for a definition of national success based in global domination under the guise of exceptionalism.  Romney's Mormonism fits in with this kind of Republican success because it defines religious success as earning your way into heaven.  Ryan's form of Catholicism panders to the fear on the opposite side of things. It is more about avoiding hell than earning heaven. Romney represents the endless hope of unfettered capitalism while Ryan represents the endless fear of not doing enough to secure the playing field for that unfettered capitalism.

Neither religious definition of success has much to do with any notion of communal salvation, and both foster community through tribal identity. It's 'me first'  followed by a strong belief that others self select themselves out of either community because those others refuse to follow the rules as laid down by the respective religious leadership.  God will punish these types by banishing them from the heavenly end zone. One doesn't need self reflection or maturing in a spiritual relationship.  All one need to do is follow the script and reap the rewards and not ask devilish questions about the script.
One such script is the LDS doctrine about the place of women. Women can't take steps on their own to enter heaven.  They can only take steps to convince a husband she is worthy of being invited to enter heaven with him.  I couldn't help but see one reason for Ann Romney's glowing endorsement of her husband as her taking a step necessary to successfully secure his celestial invitation.  I've met a number of Mormon women who have no problem with this hierarchy of celestial success.  The rationale seems to be it's easier to successfully convince one human husband of their worthiness for heaven, than it is to be male and have to take all the steps men have to take to earn God's definition of celestial success.  Believe me, much of what Mitt Romney has done in his life is motivated by an LDS script that is pretty specific on the exact steps and experiences a man must have on his resume to be sure he's earned the celestial prize. And because of this,  I've also known some Mormon men who have been hounded to death by their wives because those wives were sure their male celestial ticket wasn't doing enough to insure he would qualify so she could get his big celestial invite. I would say Ann Romney doesn't have too many worries on that score. 

Ryan's Catholicism shades all of this differently, but it does seem today's Catholic woman has a much more difficult time avoiding hell than today's Catholic man, what with that radical feminism,  birth control,  and reproductive rights thing.  A Catholic woman increases her odds of avoiding hell astronomically if she marries and totally accepts playing the Catholic version of the conception lottery.  Hence both Romney and Ryan can argue successfully from their religious beliefs in order to make political hay by advocating for restrictions on women's reproductive rights. And they can define this as advocating for their religious freedom, when it can easily be argued it is in fact their form of religious tyranny.

In any event, it doesn't matter if the definition of religious success is gaining heaven or avoiding hell.  Both are definitions of individual success. The community only serves to foster or hinder this individual success.  Nurturing communities are mirrors which perfectly reflect the thoughts and beliefs of the dominant individuals with in it.  No question the world of white Christian American exceptionalism was reflected back to itself at the GOP convention.  Mitt may not reflect this world perfectly but he did a pretty good job of smoothing out the imperfect reflections.   

So now the Republicans are seemingly united.... at least in their agreement that Barack Obama doesn't come close to reflecting their faces back at them.  I doubt there is enough mirror polish on the planet for President Obama to smooth out his imperfect reflections.  The Republicans are now united in one objective:  scratch President Obama out of the American mirror no matter how much lying it takes, or how many ugly and deep scratches it puts in the national mirror.

The trouble I have with all of this is Jesus' concepts of spiritual success were all about seeing Him and only Him in the mirror-- and that included one's enemies. Jesus taught at length about reducing the competitive and greedy individual ego,  not enshrining it.  On this definition of success the Democrats are actually a little better, but as Lisa Miller points out, this difference is going to be a very hard sell.  Especially in a world where so many of the political messages are designed to increase the fear level for the base survival of the self. 



  1. I also add that most the Scriptures are written by a people that are out of power. The Old Testament featuring the story of the Exodus while the later books of the Prophets are warning the Israelites are about fragile their power really is and it can come to an end quickly. Plus the years of the Babylonian Exile. It was King Cyrus of Persia who allowed them to return. In the New Testament, of course it all takes place under the heel of Rome's boot. As a writer pointed out in a blog post I read a few months ago, if we don't read most of the books of the Bible from the perspective of an occupied people we'll miss a lot the context and ultimately miss the real story being told. Henceforth, my disagreement with Success message being told by the GOP. FWIW, I heard this stuff 24/7 when I was a young fired-up Amway distributor back in the 90's and wouldn't ya know everybody in my group was GOP and Evangelical. I think I was the only Catholic. It was there I saw all of the current trends in today's GOP. The nolastalgia for when men ruled the roost and brought home the bacon. The infatuation with the Military, which as a vet sometimes got nerves. Interesting an older generation called it the Service and not the Military as if it exists for its own sake. Lastly, the intellectual closure was there. Reading the news, or just listening to people outside of the Business was listening to Stinkin Thinkin and was frowned upon. There was always plenty of Prosperity Gospel preached at seminars and rallies along with books from approved writers. The entire GOP seems like one big Amway downline to me.
    To be fair I know of other people in businesses like that that don't exhibit stuff like this.

    Second of all I notice the efforts to scratch out Obama because of his percieved anti-Americanism especially in foreign policy. That was the thrust of Rep Mike Coffman's recent comments about Obama not being an American in his heart. Currently that's also the message in Catholic Dinesh D'Souza's latest film 2016. Hey Dinesh what's so wrong with anti-colonialism? The Scriptures you and I both revere as Catholics was written by people under various occupations yearning to be out from under it. Our nation was founded by anti-colonialists. Heck, some of the people at the convention dressed like them at Tea Party rallies! But no , Mr. D'Souza's movie portrays that same supposed attitude as threatening from President Obama. That we have a President who supposedly understands the POV of other peoples around the world regarding US hegemony is something to be suspicious about according to Mr. D'Souza's film.

    John Fremont

    1. John, your comment wound up in the SPAM folder, and I'm not sure why, it could be the length.

      Your take on AMWAY is on target. I was invited to go to one big regional meeting by a client and could not take it for more than two hours. It was like being at a big revival tent meeting, only the testimonies of conversion were replaced by testimonies of acquisition. God was mentioned a great deal, which I thought was perfectly manipulative because all that mentioning only served to convince people the aggressive sales techniques were God sanctioned.

  2. It was interesting to read the comments of one man on a Catholic site giving his opinion that natural family planning was immoral and gravely sinful. According to this man, married couples should be open to all the children that God can give them. Mark

  3. That was the opinion of more than one theologian and cardinal about Pius XII's permission to use NFP. It contradicted Casti Connubii written by his predecessor Pius XI. Once one lets manipulating time into the conception equation, it's very difficult to say manipulating chemistry (synthesized hormones) is intrinsically evil. But somehow Paul VI was convinced the teaching hadn't changed and in the interests of promoting the church's eternal teachings through the papacy, he convinced himself that in truth, nothing had changed. He was dead wrong. The intent to circumvent pregnancy is the same whether one is manipulating time or hormones. That is the bottom line, and all the obfuscating about one form being more natural than the other form is nothing more than wishful thinking.

  4. Very insightful post/commentary.

  5. All this seems just another 21st century strain of Calvinism - the idea that God has predisposed some to be saved and in doing so bestows grace upon them as evidenced by their resourcefulness and financial success. American Exceptionalism is just a political description of this doctrine as well. Laissez-faire Capitalism is economic example of the same. Ayn Rand's philosophy is the secular endgame of the whole Calvinist scheme. Catholics should be very weary of such notions which are in so many ways inimical to Catholic Social Teaching. Ryan's efforts to try to integrate the two are like striving to integrate oil and water. Thinking Catholics are right to point out the oxymoronic and futile nature of such an endeavor. We do live in surreal times do we not?...