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What the Coronavirus Pandemic Tells Us About the Efficacy of Prayer

coronavirus psalm 91:10

Unless you are Jeremiah Johnson living in an abandoned bus in remote Alaska without access to electricity, cellphone service, and internet access, you have likely heard that the world is being ravaged by the COVID-19 virus. Here in the Buckeye State, Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine banned gatherings of people — inexplicably exempting houses of worship — and ordered the shutdown of all food establishments. I suspect Governor DeWine is not yet done with attempts to mitigate the Coronavirus.

While Ohio is in the early stages of the Coronavirus outbreak, other states, cities, and countries are facing alarming increases in cases and deaths. Medical workers are overwhelmed, supplies are running low, and hospitals lack available beds and respirators to treat seriously ill patients — with and without infection from the Coronavirus. My wife was scheduled to have major bowel surgery on March 24. After talking it over with me, Polly decided to postpone her surgery until late June. Yes, that means three more months with a colostomy bag, but it beats being exposed to the virus while in a medically compromised state. I have canceled all of my doctor’s appointments, save one. Since I am on the “this shit will kill you if you catch it” list, I am homebound for the duration. Yesterday, I heard from one long-time reader of this blog who is infected with Covid-19. His mother could also be infected. Here in the United States, we are in the early stages of the spread of the virus. Things will get worse before they get better; and they WILL, in time, get better. Whether all of us come out on the other side of this medically and financially whole, or even among the living, for that matter, is unknown. All any of us can do is listen to what experts are telling us and act accordingly.

Last Friday, President Donald Trump called for a National Day of Prayer on Sunday, March 15. That day has now passed, and, as expected, millions of Christians praying to their version of the Christian God did exactly nothing. Granted, I am sure some of the faithful felt better after beseeching the big man upstairs to ameliorate those affected by the Coronavirus. I suspect that scores of Evangelicals prayed to Jesus, asking him to turn back this attempt by China and the Democrats to crash Trump’s awesome economy and run him out of office. Yet, outside of the cathartic psychological effects felt from praying, what, exactly, changed after the Nothing Fails Like Prayer National Day of Christian Piety? Nothing, absolutely nothing. “Bruce, you can’t know that,” I am sure some Evangelicals might say. “God works behind the scenes in mysterious ways!” Sorry, but this line of bullshit no longer works for me, and I suspect it no longer works for millions of other people, including many Christians. It’s time for the Evangelical God to come out of the shadows and reveal himself. It’s time for him/her/it to make an appearance at hospitals and nursing homes and do some real “saving.” And dammit, it is time for Jesus to make sure there’s toilet paper in every American home. Just remember, the family that shits together stays together.

I am not attacking individual Christians for praying. You do whatever it takes to get you through this crisis. However, don’t expect rational people who put their faith in science to give any credence to claims that your God has the power to do anything about the Coronavirus pandemic. If 2,000 years of Christian church history has taught us anything, it has taught us that when epidemics, plagues, wars, and natural disasters show their faces, the God of Christianity remains firmly ensconced in the fictional pages of the Bible. He is but a character in a movie that’s been playing on an endless loop for thousands of years. We alone remain the only hope for a better tomorrow. We alone have the opportunity, knowledge, and power to hopefully limit the consequences of the COVID-19 virus. I remain hopeful that the world is up to the task and that better days lie ahead.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Quote of the Day: Judge James Dannenberg Calls Out Chief Justice John Roberts

Dear Chief Justice Roberts:

I hereby resign my membership in the Supreme Court Bar.

This was not an easy decision. I have been a member of the Supreme Court Bar since 1972, far longer than you have, and appeared before the Court, both in person and on briefs, on several occasions as Deputy and First Deputy Attorney General of Hawaii before being appointed as a Hawaii District Court judge in 1986. I have a high regard for the work of the Federal Judiciary and taught the Federal Courts course at the University of Hawaii Richardson School of Law for a decade in the 1980s and 1990s. This due regard spanned the tenures of Chief Justices Warren, Burger, and Rehnquist before your appointment and confirmation in 2005. I have not always agreed with the Court’s decisions, but until recently I have generally seen them as products of mainstream legal reasoning, whether liberal or conservative. The legal conservatism I have respected– that of, for example, Justice Lewis Powell, Alexander Bickel or Paul Bator– at a minimum enshrined the idea of stare decisis and eschewed the idea of radical change in legal doctrine for political ends.

I can no longer say that with any confidence. You are doing far more— and far worse– than “calling balls and strikes.” You are allowing the Court to become an “errand boy” for an administration that has little respect for the rule of law.

The Court, under your leadership and with your votes, has wantonly flouted established precedent. Your “conservative” majority has cynically undermined basic freedoms by hypocritically weaponizing others. The ideas of free speech and religious liberty have been transmogrified to allow officially sanctioned bigotry and discrimination, as well as to elevate the grossest forms of political bribery beyond the ability of the federal government or states to rationally regulate it. More than a score of decisions during your tenure have overturned established precedents—some more than forty years old– and you voted with the majority in most. There is nothing “conservative” about this trend. This is radical “legal activism” at its worst.

Without trying to write a law review article, I believe that the Court majority, under your leadership, has become little more than a result-oriented extension of the right wing of the Republican Party, as vetted by the Federalist Society. Yes, politics has always been a factor in the Court’s history, but not to today’s extent. Even routine rules of statutory construction get subverted or ignored to achieve transparently political goals. The rationales of “textualism” and “originalism” are mere fig leaves masking right wing political goals; sheer casuistry.

Your public pronouncements suggest that you seem concerned about the legitimacy of the Court in today’s polarized environment. We all should be. Yet your actions, despite a few bromides about objectivity, say otherwise.

It is clear to me that your Court is willfully hurtling back to the cruel days of Lochner and even Plessy. The only constitutional freedoms ultimately recognized may soon be limited to those useful to wealthy, Republican, White, straight, Christian, and armed males— and the corporations they control. This is wrong. Period. This is not America.

I predict that your legacy will ultimately be as diminished as that of Chief Justice Melville Fuller, who presided over both Plessy and Lochner. It still could become that of his revered fellow Justice John Harlan the elder, an honest conservative, but I doubt that it will. Feel free to prove me wrong.

The Supreme Court of the United States is respected when it wields authority and not mere power. As has often been said, you are infallible because you are final, but not the other way around.

I no longer have respect for you or your majority, and I have little hope for change. I can’t vote you out of office because you have life tenure, but I can withdraw whatever insignificant support my Bar membership might seem to provide.

Please remove my name from the rolls.

With deepest regret,

James Dannenberg

Former Judge Resigns From the Supreme Court Bar, March 14, 2020

Is God to Blame for the Coronavirus?

Cartoon by Clay Jones

The coronavirus gives rise to one of those deliciously pregnant moments when Evangelical theology runs smack dab into reality. The question I want to answer is this: is the Evangelical God to blame for the current coronavirus outbreak? Is God in any way culpable for the origin of the virus, its infection of people, and the subsequent death of scores of people infected with the virus?

The bigger question is this: is the Evangelical God — the one true creator of all things — to blame for everything? Evangelicals might chafe at my use of the word “blame,” but if we are going to answer the questions mentioned above, isn’t ultimately the issue about blame; about culpability; about ownership; about whom the buck stops with?

Evangelicals are often schizophrenic when answering such questions. If God is the creator, the sovereign Lord over all, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and nothing happens apart from his purpose, plan, and decree, then it is reasonable to conclude that the Evangelical God is to blame for everything. If God is the first cause, the alpha and omega, the beginning and end, and he holds the world and all its inhabitants in the palm of his hand, surely non-Christians can’t be faulted for holding God responsible for what happens in their lives and the lives of others. Evangelicals are fond of saying that it is their God who sets up and takes down rulers; that Donald J. Trump is president because he is appointed by God to do so. Don’t like it, Democrats? Take it up with God!

With these things in mind, let’s consider the coronavirus. It is not reasonable to conclude that the Evangelical God is to blame for the virus; that he created it, controls it, and determines who will get the virus, and who will die from it? If God is omnipotent, then surely he has the power to start and stop the virus. If he can stop it, but won’t, what does that say about God? If he can’t stop the virus, surely it is fair for Christians and unbelievers alike to question whether God is really who Evangelicals say he is. And if God can stop the virus, but he only does it for some people — people who believe the right things; pray the right things; do the right acts of penance — what does this say about God’s character?

We need only look at what some sects and churches are doing in light of the coronavirus to see what many Christians believe about the power of God and the efficacy of prayer. Churches are canceling sacraments, communal activities, and events that bring people in proximity to each other. I suspect it won’t be long before churches will cancel worship services, suggesting that congregants stay at home and “commune” with God. Well, except for your weekly tithe and offering, please send it to the church office. Your envelope will be opened by dedicated church members wearing surgical gloves and masks. The church may be able to do without you — sorry for lying to you and saying you were “special” — but we can’t do without your money.

Evangelical vice president Mike Pence is in charge of the coronavirus task force. One of the first things he did was convene a prayer meeting. Why? Is there any evidence for the efficacy of prayer; that there is a God in Heaven listening to and answering the petitions of Christians? According to the Bible, God does not listen to the prayers of unbelievers, so those of us who are unbelievers and come down sick with the virus better put our hope in science and modern medicine. These are the Gods we worship! I suspect in a 1 Kings 18-like battle between Praying Christians and the Prophets of Science, that the Prophets of Science are going to win every time. Perhaps it is time to start keeping track: the number of infected people saved solely by prayer and the number of infected people saved solely by science and medical treatment. Of course, how would we know if someone was cured through prayer? I doubt many Evangelicals are willing to forgo medical treatment and just faith it out. When it comes to serious health problems, the Mike Pences of the world become big believers in vaccines and medical intervention. If God is all that Evangelicals say he is, why not let him sort things out? If he holds every believer in the palm of his hand, surely the triune God can keep those believers from getting a silly, not-serious-says-Trump virus. Is it not time for Evangelicals to trust their God to take care of them? When a taxpayer-funded vaccine becomes available, Evangelicals true to their faith (and politics) should forgo treatment. “God will see us through,” modern prophets of God say. “When the coronavirus plague comes over our land, we need not fear. God will see the blood of Jesus on the doorposts of our home and pass us by.” “It’s the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world that better worry!” “God’s going to come to their homes, see that’s there’s no blood applied to their doorposts, and unleash the coronavirus on everyone in their homes.” “Repent now, lest God afflict you and you die!”

I highly doubt any of us has anything to worry about when it comes to a mythical deity infecting us with anything but laughter. It’s not God I worry about, it’s the Evangelicals running the federal government who think prayer is a first-line defense against the coronavirus, and that God has everything under control.

While I argued above that God is to blame for the coronavirus, I did so because I want Evangelicals to think about the consequences of believing that God is in control of everything; that God is the sovereign Lord over all; that he holds the whole world in the palm of his hand. Such thinking breeds arrogant, foolish complacency. “Waiting on God” when it comes to our health leads to horrible outcomes, including death. If you must pray, by all means, do so, but then get up off your knees and responsibly take care of your health and that of your family. Stop supporting politicians such as Trump and Pence, who still have not yet grasped the seriousness of the coronavirus. And by all means, let science and reason, and not theology be your guide.

I don’t believe for a moment that God is to blame for anything. He’s a myth, and the man Jesus has been dead for 2,000 years. The only things standing between us and the virus are scientists, medical doctors, and rational people who understand what is required of them to deal with the coronavirus.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

My Recent Interview with Manny Otiko

I was recently interviewed by journalist Manny Otiko. Manny writes:

A few years ago, I heard about the practice of ministers who lost their faith and walked away from the clergy. These are not isolated incidents. Ex-ministers even have their own support group called The Clergy Project, which has 1,000 members, according to its website. I was always curious about how someone quits being a minister. Here is an interview with Bruce Gerencser, a former minister, who now describes himself as a humanist.

You can read my interview here.

Local Christian Woman Blasts Evil Democrats for “Persecuting” President Trump

libtardRecently, a woman wrote a letter to the editor of the West Bend News — a weekly publication. In the letter, the woman quotes Psalm 58:1-11 — implying that Democrats are wicked, evil liars and snakes —  and then proceeds to rail against the Democrats for their slights against one President Donald J. Trump, also known as the Orange Menace.

Here’s the non-Bible part of her letter:

God has the last word, that’s why Donald Trump is in office. Put protection around the President. No weapons against the President Donald Trump will prosper. In Jesus’ name thank you Lord. Protect the security guards that lay their lives down for the President. A divided house won’t stand. You’re trying to get dirt on the president and wasting tax payers’ money (why) maybe you should look in your closet. If you’re without sin you can cast the first stone. Democrats are using the hatred act against our President Donald J. Trump. God’s still on the throne, “Avenges is mine,” said the Lord (not yours).

I am hesitant to say much about this letter due to the fact that its writer is almost 80 years old and a lifelong Republican. On the other hand, her letter is a perfect example of the Christian-Republican union that is prominent among older residents of rural northwest Ohio and northeast Indiana. In 2016, Donald Trump easily won the counties surrounding my home in Ney. Come November he will carry these counties again, likely by a higher margin than he did in 2016. The same will happen with the elections of local and state Republican candidates. Democratic candidates, if they run at all, will likely be thrashed, leaving them to wonder why they bothered running at all. When over seventy percent of locals vote Republican, it is impossible for Democrats to win elections. Locals of The Great Generation and Baby Boomers overwhelmingly vote Republican. While the future rests with younger residents, many of them are indifferent to politics, don’t vote, and those who are politically active find that local Democratic party officials are often clueless about the issues affecting younger Americans. I don’t know of one local active Democratic outreach to younger voters. Sadly, the people running local Democratic offices are generally in their 50s and up.

The aforementioned letter writer doesn’t say anything that I don’t hear locals say at ballgames, restaurants, or other public places, or write in letters to the editors of local papers or post on social media. I shoot upwards of a hundred local basketball/baseball/football games, volleyball matches, and track meets every year. I am retired, so I do this as a way to give back to our local school district and provide student-athletes and their families with quality photographs. Keeps me busy, allows me to meet new people, and takes my mind off the unrelenting chronic pain I battle each and every day. Doing so, however, exposes me to far more Trumpist Christian bullshit than I care to see or hear.

As I mentioned above, most locals vote Republican. Those I meet in public often “assume” that I am part of the Trump tribe. This is especially true on social media. I can count on two hands local Democrats I have met. And those who are as liberal as I am? One is the loneliest number, Three Dog Night sang in 1969, and I find that to be true when it comes to locals who line up with me politically. I’ve learned to accept that I am a vampire-like outlier. Even among Democrats, my view on abortion is a minority viewpoint. This is due, of course, to the pervasiveness of conservative Christianity. The overwhelming majority of the letters to the editors of the Defiance Crescent-News over the past decade advocating pro-choice positions were written by yours truly. I love living in rural Ohio, but politically I find it impossible to feel at home.

If locals want to read my pointed viewpoint on American politics, Donald Trump, the culture war, and Evangelical Christianity, they have to go to this blog, Twitter, or my Facebook page. On my personal Facebook wall, I am decidedly a-political and a-religious. Many of my Facebook friends are not so inclined, especially local Republicans I am “friends” with. Trump worship is common, and libtards and evil commie socialists — also known as Bruce “Santa Claus” Gerencser — are routinely savaged, abused, and slandered. I have no doubt that many of these people think the West Bend News letter writer is spot on with her God- and Bible-inspired attack of her Democratic neighbors and the Party in general (though I am sure many of them would wince at her atrocious grammar).

Later this week, I will plant in my front yard campaign signs for Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg. I am hoping one of the three will be the Democratic candidate for president. I hope one of the other two will be the chosen candidate’s vice president. In 2016, you may remember, I prominently displayed my support for Sanders. I only knew of a handful of other locals who were willing to show their support for Bernie. To do so is socially and economically risky. My sign “disappeared” before the election. It was, best to my knowledge, stolen by a Trump supporter who could no longer stand looking at my sign as he or she drove by my house. Here’s a screenshot of a discussion Trump supporters had about my Bernie sign in February 2016:

stealing bernie sanders sign

(Please see The First Bernie Sanders Sighting in Defiance County, Ohio, Encouraged by a Young Bernie Sanders Supporter, and Local Residents Threaten to Steal or Destroy Our Bernie Sanders Sign.)

I decided not to file a theft report, but this time around, if my signs come up missing, I plan to file a police report. Or beat the shit out of the thief with my cane. 🙂

Such is life in rural northwest Ohio. There’s much I love about the place of my birth, home to my parents, grandparents, children, and grandchildren. When we returned to this area and bought a home in 2007, we decided that there would be no more moves in our future. There are days, however, when I am so discouraged over the local and national political climate and the shenanigans of the most unfit man to ever sit in the Oval Office, that I want to move to a remote area and live off the grid. President Trump and his supporters have literally worn me out emotionally. The constant lies, distortions, and mixing of church and state makes me sick. Just today, Trump released his budget. More money for the military, Trump’s anti-Mexicans wall, and severe cuts to social programs and regulatory agencies. No surprises. Trump and the Republican Party will not rest until they destroy every vestige of FDR’s New Deal and the social progress the United States has made since the Great Depression. What’s a thoughtful liberal to do? Vote. What else can I do, but cast my votes for people who, at the very least, promise to stem the tide of the Republican/immoral capitalistic/theocratic Christian horde? I know my vote locally is little more than pissing in the face of a hurricane. There’s no chance for local Democratic candidates to win elections. I’m not being pessimistic or fatalistic. It’s just the facts of life here in northwest Ohio. I do, however, believe that on the state and federal level, my vote can make a difference. Will Democrats unseat President Pussy-Grabber in November? Maybe. My greater hope is for Democrats to retake the Senate and strengthen their hold on the House of Representatives. If Democrats fail on every front, I am headed to the wilderness with a bottle of whiskey in each hand and a backpack of weed. I feel as if liberal/progressive Democrats have one last opportunity to turn back and repair the social and economic damage done to our Republic by Trump, Republicans, and spineless, money-grubbing corporate Democrats. (And even if they succeed, the damage done to our judicial system by Trump will take decades to undo.)

In 2008, Barack Obama called for hope and change. In 2016, Bernie Sanders called for a revolution. What will be our rallying cry for 2020?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: Fear Drove President Trump’s Acquittal

donald trump

In the United States Senate, like in many spheres of life, fear does the business.

Think back to the fall of 2002, just a few weeks before that year’s crucial midterm elections, when the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq was up for a vote. A year after the 9/11 attacks, hundreds of members of the House and the Senate were about to face the voters of a country still traumatized by terrorism.

Senator Patty Murray, a thoughtful Democrat from Washington State, still remembers “the fear that dominated the Senate leading up to the Iraq war.”

“You could feel it then,” she told me, “and you can feel that fear now” — chiefly among Senate Republicans.

….

Fear has a way of bending us.

Late in the evening on day four of the trial I saw it, just 10 feet across the aisle from my seat at Desk 88, when Mr. Schiff told the Senate: “CBS News reported last night that a Trump confidant said that Republican senators were warned, ‘Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.’” The response from Republicans was immediate and furious. Several groaned and protested and muttered, “Not true.” But pike or no pike, Mr. Schiff had clearly struck a nerve. (In the words of Lizzo: truth hurts.)

Of course, the Republican senators who have covered for Mr. Trump love what he delivers for them. But Vice President Mike Pence would give them the same judges, the same tax cuts, the same attacks on workers’ rights and the environment. So that’s not really the reason for their united chorus of “not guilty.”

For the stay-in-office-at-all-cost representatives and senators, fear is the motivator. They are afraid that Mr. Trump might give them a nickname like “Low Energy Jeb” and “Lyin’ Ted,” or that he might tweet about their disloyalty. Or — worst of all — that he might come to their state to campaign against them in the Republican primary. They worry:

“Will the hosts on Fox attack me?”

“Will the mouthpieces on talk radio go after me?”

“Will the Twitter trolls turn their followers against me?”

My colleagues know they all just might. There’s an old Russian proverb: The tallest blade of grass is the first cut by the scythe. In private, many of my colleagues agree that the president is reckless and unfit. They admit his lies. And they acknowledge what he did was wrong. They know this president has done things Richard Nixon never did. And they know that more damning evidence is likely to come out.

So watching the mental contortions they perform to justify their votes is painful to behold: They claim that calling witnesses would have meant a never-ending trial. They tell us they’ve made up their minds, so why would we need new evidence? They say to convict this president now would lead to the impeachment of every future president — as if every president will try to sell our national security to the highest bidder.

I have asked some of them, “If the Senate votes to acquit, what will you do to keep this president from getting worse?” Their responses have been shrugs and sheepish looks.

They stop short of explicitly saying that they are afraid. We all want to think that we always stand up for right and fight against wrong. But history does not look kindly on politicians who cannot fathom a fate worse than losing an upcoming election. They might claim fealty to their cause — those tax cuts — but often it’s a simple attachment to power that keeps them captured.

….

— U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, The New York Times, In Private, Republicans Admit They Acquitted Trump Out of Fear, February 5, 2020

666: Beware of the Mark of the Beast

mark of the beast

And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live. And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six. (Revelation 13:11-18)

And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. (Revelation 19:19,20)

Most Evangelical Christians are literalists. When Evangelicals read the book of Revelation, they see the first four chapters as past history or representative of various ages and believe that the rest of the book prophesizes events that have yet to happen. Deeply influenced by dispensational, premillennial, pretribulational eschatology, Evangelicals believe that we are living in the last days; that the return of Jesus and the rapture of the church are imminent. Granted, most Evangelicals don’t live in ways that give credibility to their end-times beliefs, but theologically they believe that Jesus is coming soon! (Believe what I say, not how I live, Evangelicals say.)

Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, explained what will soon happen on earth this way:

We have never been closer to the end of the world than right now. It is, however, important to know that the Bible also talks about a new beginning when there will be no perversion, no terrorism, no war, no starvation… no problem of any kind. As Isaiah 11:9 says, the knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth. [But] it is going to get worse before it gets better.

Revelation 13 talks about spiritually dark times, the tribulation period. “Satan’s son” will emerge on the scene… “the man of perdition, the man of sin, the beast… best known as the antichrist… the most evil man who’s ever lived… history’s vilest embodiment of sin and rebellion.

Revelation 13:15-18: The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.

If you google the number 666, you’ll receive 543 million results. And you probably will find 543 million ideas about what it actually means. I don’t think anyone can answer this with complete certainly, but this much we do know… The antichrist is going to introduce a cashless society… The endgame of this is to cause people to engage in devil worship.

This scenario is unfolding before us.  The technology to make that happen is already here. The fact that the words of Revelation 13 were penned in the age of wood, stones, swords and spirit, makes this prophecy one of the powerful proofs of the inspired nature and reliability of God’s word that one could have ever imagined. Who could have predicted a one-world economic system that controls all commerce but God?

God knows the future just as well as we know our past. While we sometimes forget even our past, God knows the future with complete precision. Only God can tell what is going to happen, as Isaiah 46:9,10 says.

The real reform is some kind of a banking union where everyone signs on board, that there’s going to be some kind of a banking overlord, a banking union that everyone’s gonna have to bow down to. Can this actually happen? And the leader of it will be the antichrist, and he will have his mark.

The antichrist’s economic policy will be very simple. Take my mark and worship me, or starve to death… No mark, no merchandize… No seal, no sale.

The technology to do this is already here. A June 1, 2012 headline from New York Daily News read, “‘Human barcode’ could make society more organized.” The article said, “Microchip implants have become standard practice for our pets, but have been a tougher sell when it comes to the idea of putting them in people.”

Since 2006, new U.S. passports include radio frequency identification tags, known as RFID, that store all of the information in the passport as well as a digital picture of the owner. In 2002, an implantable id chip, called VeriChip, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The chip can be implanted in a person’s arm, and when scanned can pull up a 16-digit id number containing information about the user. However, it was discontinued in 2010 amid concerns about privacy and safety. Am I saying that this technology will be the mark of the beast? No, I’m not. I’m just saying the ability to technically pull this off exists.

We don’t know when the tribulation period will begin, five or 20 years from now. But with the technology today, we know all this is “totally plausible.” But let’s not overreact. Not every stamp put on someone’s hand by some authority is the mark of the beast. Or, if an office building’s number is 666, that’s not the mark of the beast.

While we do not know exactly when the mark of the beast will appear, we know this though that a great delusion will come upon the world and many will believe the lie leading to their destruction, as 2 Thessalonians 2:9 warns. Destruction will happen “because they refused to believe the truth that would save them.” At the time of the tribulation, they will choose to believe in a lie that the antichrist is “God.”

Got all that?

I came of age in an era when Evangelicals believed that Jesus would come and rapture them away at any moment. Evangelical pastors and evangelists preached prophecy-focused sermons, reminding believers to be busy winning souls for their “redemption draweth nigh.” Congregants were told that it was likely that the antichrist was alive and would soon establish his satanic, one-world government on earth. Some Evangelical pastors tried their hand at predicting who the antichrist was and when Jesus would rapture all the True Christians®. Catholics, mainline Christians, Seventh Day Adventists, and Mormons were considered false Christians. Only those who believed the Evangelical gospel were saved and would soon be taken up into Heaven by Jesus, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.

the rapture 3

Over time, rapture mania faded away. Evangelicals focused on building kingdoms in the present, and not the future coming of the kingdom of God. It’s rare to find Evangelicals these days who really believe that the next sound they could hear is Gabriel’s trumpet. One need only look at how Evangelicals live and how deeply they are immersed in the materialistic culture of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world to see that they don’t really believe Jesus’ return is imminent.

Silly stuff, right? Here’s why these things still matter. First, the federal government and many state governments have Evangelicals who are embedded within the halls of power. Trump is crass pussy-grabbing heathen who only uses Evangelicals for political gain, but Mike Pence is a true believer — a man who reads the book of Revelation literally and who believes that the second coming of Jesus will be ushered in by war in the Middle East. As Evangelicals watch the conflict between the United States/Israel and Iran/Iraq/Syria, they can’t help but think that Jesus is coming soon! Remember, the Evangelical view of the world ends with the battle of Armageddon; a divine reckoning of sorts; a war between God/Good and Satan/Evil. Evangelicals will be raptured away by the time of the battle of Armageddon, but most of the rest of us, having been led astray by the false prophet, will have taken the mark of the beast and will wage war against God.  God will slaughter us, ridding the world once and for all of non-Evangelicals.

The mark of the beast will be used to control and manipulate people. Most importantly, Evangelicals say, the mark of the beast will be used to control commerce. Want to get a hamburger at McDonald’s? You will have to have the mark. Want to buy or sell groceries, seeds, and other necessities? You will need the beast’s mark. I remember when grocery stores started installing barcode scanners. Why, Evangelical preachers lost their collective shit. I heard numerous prophecy “experts” say that barcodes were the precursor for the mark of the beast. And then it was RFID chips. And then it was DNA encoding. And then it was . . .

Evangelicalism continues to be infected by what I call tabloid/news headline preaching. During my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) days, I would preach sermons straight out of the local newspaper. It was easy to connect paper headlines with this or that Bible verse. I later changed my eschatological beliefs and that put an end to such speculation, but millions and millions of Americans literally believe that Jesus is coming soon, and those of us who are not raptured away will be forced to accept the mark of the beast if we want to survive. Of course, if we do accept the mark, that means our souls are doomed, and after we die, we will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire with Satan.

rapture

Are you ready to get saved, dear readers? Jesus is coming soon — so said many an Evangelical. Surely, you don’t want to miss out on an eternity of bliss and perfection and endless praise and worship songs. Neglect your salvation, and you risk spend eternity with Christopher Hitchens, Steve Gupton — yes, I still miss him — Steven Hawking, Gandhi, Bruce Gerencser, and countless other heathens. I plan to remain an unrepentant atheist. As one reader told me, “heaven for the climate, hell for the company.” I am sixty-two years old. Evangelical preachers have spent my entire life saying that the coming of Jesus is right around the corner; that this or that world event is a sure sign of his imminent return; that the moral and social decay and secularization of the United States reflect the increasing influence of Satan on our country. How many times have you heard a homophobic Evangelical preacher say, “if God doesn’t judge the United States soon, he will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Evangelical preachers with all their doom and gloom warnings have become the little boy who cried wolf. Not only aren’t their congregants listening to them, neither are unbelievers. The Bible and its “prophecies” are no longer believable. “You just wait Bruce, God is going to prove you wrong,” Evangelical zealots say. Maybe, but I doubt it. The only hell I am worried about is the one we humans are creating through war and ignoring global climate change. One need only watch what is going on in Australia to see how quickly our planet could burn to the ground. One need only watch the violent acts of warmongers — in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East — to see how quickly millions of people could die. The notion that war stops war is absurd. As the Trappist monk Thomas Merton said decades ago (and I quote from memory, so forgive me if I don’t get Merton’s words exactly right) “war begets war. War only brings a cessation of hostilities. Only peace brings an end to war.”

We humans are the enemy, not fictitious deities, demons, and Bible characters. We need not worry about the rapture, the second coming of Jesus, the antichrist, the mark of the beast, or the Great Tribulation, any more than we need to worry about the events and people found in the Harry Potter books. WE have met the enemy, and it is US.

Did you grow up in a church that focused on eschatology? Did you worry about the rapture? Did you wonder if the return of Jesus was imminent? Did your pastor ever talk about the mark of the beast? Please share your astute thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Quote of the Day: Donald Trump’s War with Iran

trump nuke or tweet

IN SEPTEMBER 2015, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump appeared on the syndicated radio show of conservative media star, Hugh Hewitt, to talk foreign policy.

“Are you familiar with General Suleimani?” Hewitt asked the real estate mogul from Queens.

“Yes,” said Trump, before hesitating. “Go ahead, give me a little … tell me.”

When Hewitt told Trump that Suleimani “runs the Quds Forces,” Trump responded: “I think the Kurds, by the way, have been horribly mistreated by us.”

“No, not the Kurds, the Quds Forces,” Hewitt interjected. “The Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Quds Forces. The bad guys.”

“I thought you said Kurds,” a sheepish Trump replied.

….

It’s also a column that allows me to revisit what I have long considered to be the most unforgivable take of the 2016 presidential race: “Donald The Dove, Hillary the Hawk.” That was the ridiculous headline to the New York Times column from Maureen Dowd in April 2016, in which she falsely claimed that Trump had opposed the Iraq War “like Obama,” and then credulously suggested that, in contrast to Clinton, “he would rather do the art of the deal than shock and awe.

A reminder: Trump pulled out of the landmark Iran nuclear deal less than 18 months after assuming office. He replaced his predecessor’s nuclear diplomacy with a “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran, which had pushed the United States and the Islamic Republic to the brink of war even before this latest dangerous escalation.

Dowd was wholly, utterly, and embarrassingly wrong — as some of us tried to explain at the time. But it wasn’t just her. Plenty of other people across the political spectrum foolishly bought into the ludicrous premise that Trump would be some sort of dove, a noninterventionist, an old-fashioned isolationist.

And plenty of my colleagues in the media continue to push this deluded view. Remember: Trump has twice bombed the Assad regime in Syria; reduced Mosul and Raqqa to rubble; vetoed a congressional attempt to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi bombardment of Yemen; and overseen a fivefold increase in drone strikes throughout the region and beyond. Yet on New Year’s Eve, the New York Times still insisted on bizarrely referring to “the president’s reluctance to use force in the Middle East.”

That line, of course, hasn’t aged so well. Less than 72 hours later, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force and the deputy head of the Iran-backed militias in Iraq, are dead. Killed via drone.

THE UNITED STATES has now effectively declared war on Iran. This is no longer a “cold” war or a “shadow” war. It’s a war-war. And here’s what so terrifying about it: The current commander-in-chief of the U.S. military as it readies for open conflict with Tehran is the guy who last week accused Canada’s prime minister of cutting him out of a Canadian TV version of “Home Alone 2″; who regularly retweets QAnon, Pizzagate, and white nationalist accounts on Twitter; who believes that Ukraine is in possession of a nonexistent Democratic National Committee server; who thinks climate change is a Chinese hoax; who wants to use nuclear weapons to stop hurricanes; and who is willing to take a Sharpie to an official government map in order to prove he was right about the weather (when he was, in fact, 100 percent wrong).

— Mehdi Hasan, The Intercept, Four Years Ago, Trump Had No Clue Who Iran’s Suleimani Was. Now He May Have Kicked Off WWIII, January 3, 2020

Living in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter

thomas paine on reason

People who believe science is the best way we have to explain the world we live in and who believe facts matter find themselves under increasing assault by people who refuse to accept things as they are. I am all for vigorous debate and disagreement, but there comes a time when what matters is facts. Recently, a family member — who happens to be a Trump-supporting Evangelical pastor — posted a quote allegedly by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on social media. Generally, I avoid discussing politics and religion on my personal Facebook account. Want to discuss such things with me? Go to my Facebook page or my blog. My personal Facebook account is reserved for photographs, family stuff, silly memes, and cat videos.

For whatever reason — boredom, perhaps? — I decided to respond to the Ocasio-Cortez quote. The quote seemed out of character for Ocasio-Cortez, so I went to Snopes to check it out. Sure enough, the quote was false. After determining the quote’s truthfulness, I left the following comment: thou shalt not bear false witness. This got me excommunicated; not unfriended, just blocked from seeing the man’s posts. I don’t play that game, so I unfriended him. I then let him know that I did so, and why.

The false quote perfectly fits this man’s worldview; his view of secularism, liberalism, socialism, and Democrats. In his mind, it must be true because it reinforces his sincerely-held political beliefs. I suspect many readers could tell similar stories; times when they challenged religious or political statements with facts. I have repeatedly responded to false claims on Facebook from friends and family members by commenting with a link to the relevant Snopes article. I have yet to have someone say to me, thanks for pointing out my error. I made a mistake. All I get is silence, and the false quote or meme continues to live on in infamy.

In 2017, Dr. R. Kelly Garrett wrote an article titled, Facts don’t matter to Americans, and we should be worried.

Garrett said:

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’ll bet that’s true,” before you had all the facts? Most people probably have at some point.

Where people differ is in how often they do so. A 2016 survey that my colleague Brian Weeks and I conducted found that 50.3 percent of all Americans agreed with the statement “I trust my gut to tell me what’s true and what’s not.” Some of those polled felt quite strongly about it: About one in seven (14.6 percent) strongly agreed, while one in 10 (10.2 percent) strongly disagreed.

In other words, there’s a lot of variation in how Americans decide what to believe.

In a recent paper, we were able to use the findings from this survey and two others to dig into the different approaches people take when deciding what’s true.

We found some surprising differences between how people think about intuition and how they think about evidence. It turns out that how often someone trusts their intuition and how important they think it is to have evidence are two separate things. Both make a big difference in what we believe.

What we learned offers some hope for people’s ability to tell truth from fiction, despite the fact that so many trust their gut.

Many incorrect beliefs have political foundations. They promote a policy, an ideology or one candidate over another.

People are susceptible to political misinformation because they tend to believe things that favor their side — even if it isn’t grounded in data or science. There are numerous factors at play, from the influence of nonconscious emotions to the need to defend a group that the individual identifies with.

For these reasons, millions of Americans believe things that aren’t true.

….

With all the talk about political bias, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that politics aren’t the only thing shaping people’s beliefs. Other factors play a role too.

For example, people are more likely to believe something the more often they’ve heard it said — commonly known as the illusory truth effect. And adding a picture can change how believable a message is, sometimes making it more convincing, while at other times increasing skepticism.

Valuing intuition versus valuing evidence

Our study focuses on something else that shapes beliefs: We looked at what matters the most to people when they’re deciding what’s true.

We found that having faith in your intuition about the facts does make you more likely to endorse conspiracy theories. However, it doesn’t really influence your beliefs about science, such as vaccine safety or climate change.

In contrast, someone who says beliefs must be supported with data is more likely both to reject conspiracy theories and to answer questions about mainstream science and political issues more accurately.

The risk of relying on one’s intuition may be self-evident, but its role in belief formation is more nuanced.

….

In the end, knowing how much someone trusts his or her intuition actually tells you very little about how much proof that person will need before he or she will believe a claim. Our research shows that using intuition is not the opposite of checking the evidence: Some people trust their instincts while at the same time valuing evidence; others deny the importance of both; and so forth.

The key is that some people — even if they usually trust their gut — will check their hunches to make sure they’re right. Their willingness to do some follow-up work may explain why their beliefs tend to be more accurate.

It’s valuing evidence that predicts accuracy on a wider range of issues. Intuition matters less.

….

In this context, our results are surprising. There are many individual qualities that seem like they should promote accuracy, but don’t.

Valuing evidence, however, appears to be an exception. The bigger the role evidence plays in shaping a person’s beliefs, the more accurate that person tends to be.

We aren’t the only ones who have observed a pattern like this. Another recent study shows that people who exhibit higher scientific curiosity also tend to adopt more accurate beliefs about politically charged science topics, such as fracking and global warming.

There’s more we need to understand. It isn’t yet clear why curiosity and attention to the evidence leads to better outcomes, while being knowledgeable and thinking carefully promote bias. Until we sort this out, it’s hard to know exactly what kinds of media literacy skills will help the most.

But in today’s media environment — where news consumers are subjected to a barrage of opinions, data and misinformation — gut feelings and people’s need for evidence to back those hunches up can play a big role. They might determine whether you fall for a hoax posted on the Onion, help spread Russian disinformation or believe that the British spy agency MI6 was responsible for Princess Diana’s death.

For now, though, when it comes to fighting the scourge of misinformation, there’s a simple strategy that everyone can use. If you are someone who consistently checks your intuition about what is true against the evidence, you are less likely to be misled. It may seem like common sense, but learning to dig into the story behind that shocking headline can help you avoid spreading falsehoods.

Several days ago, a Christian man named Bill Wood stopped by this site to wow me with his intellectual prowess. Wood posted verbose comments meant to “educate” me about Biblical and scientific truth. You can read his comments here. Wood demanded I explain to his satisfaction my deconversion. I pointed him to the WHY page. Not good enough for Wood. He doubled and tripled down, refusing to accept any “truth” but his own. Wood is a classic reminder of why I don’t get into discussions with Evangelicals. Their minds are made up as to what the “truth” is. Wood believes the Bible is God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word. I asked him if he had read any of Bart Ehrman’s books, knowing that the answer was likely a big, fat, emphatic NO! Sure enough, all I got was another lengthy sermon. You see, for the Bill Woods of the world, their minds are closed to anything that challenges their worldview. They have decided this or that is “truth,” end of discussion. Their “gut” (often called the Holy Spirit) tells them that whatever they believe about God, Jesus, religion, science, etc. is true. In Bill Wood’s mind, creationism trumps science; theological dogma trumps archeological, geological, and sociological facts. All the facts in the world won’t change his mind.

We now live in a post-facts world. Instead of chasing truth wherever it leads, people scour the Internet looking for websites, blogs, memes, and social media posts that reinforce their beliefs. In 2016, eighty-one percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. Three years later, a majority of Evangelicals still support the President, despite his having told over 15,000 public lies. On January 23, 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump said:

I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s, like, incredible.

Fast forward to today. Does anyone doubt that what Trump said is the truth; that no matter what he says or does, a sizeable percentage of Americans will resolutely support him. To these people, facts don’t matter. As long as their beliefs and worldview are confirmed, Trump is free to run roughshod over our Republic. As long as Trump says he is anti-abortion, anti-transgender, anti-immigration, anti-welfare, anti-socialism, anti-atheism, anti-anything enacted by Obama, white Evangelicals, conservative Catholics, and Mormons will continue to vote for him. Racists and white supremacists know that Trump is their best chance for a whiter America. No matter what the “facts” are, an overwhelming majority of Republicans and libertarians move in lock-step fashion with the President.

What are people who value facts supposed to do? If a large number of Americans are impervious to the truth, what hope is there for this great nation of ours? I know that this post will do nothing to change hearts and minds. People who agree with me will shout “right-on, brother!” Those who don’t will just see me as yet another liberal, commie, socialist out to destroy white Christian America.

We truly live in perplexing times. I have no confidence in things becoming better any time soon. I shudder to think what four more years of Donald Trump will bring us. Imagine what would happen if Republicans somehow took control of Congress? We are fools if we think the United States is invulnerable to decline and collapse. History tells us about many great civilizations who have come and gone. We are not immune to a similar fate.

What do you think people who value facts and truth should do? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

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Quote of the Day: What Does U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr Really Want?

bill barr

But at least since Mr. [Bill] Barr’s infamous speech at the University of Notre Dame Law School, in which he blamed “secularists” for “moral chaos” and “immense suffering, wreckage and misery,” it has become clear that no understanding of William Barr can be complete without taking into account his views on the role of religion in society. For that, it is illuminating to review how Mr. Barr has directed his Justice Department on matters concerning the First Amendment clause forbidding the establishment of a state religion.

In Maryland, the department rushed to defend taxpayer funding for a religious school that says same-sex marriage is wrong. In Maine, it is defending parents suing over a state law that bans religious schools from obtaining taxpayer funding to promote their own sectarian doctrines. At his Department of Justice, Mr. Barr told law students at Notre Dame, “We keep an eye out for cases or events around the country where states are misapplying the establishment clause in a way that discriminates against people of faith.”

In these and other cases, Mr. Barr has embraced wholesale the “religious liberty” rhetoric of today’s Christian nationalist movement. When religious nationalists invoke “religious freedom,” it is typically code for religious privilege. The freedom they have in mind is the freedom of people of certain conservative and authoritarian varieties of religion to discriminate against those of whom they disapprove or over whom they wish to exert power.

This form of “religious liberty” seeks to foment the sense of persecution and paranoia of a collection of conservative religious groups that see themselves as on the cusp of losing their rightful position of dominance over American culture. It always singles out groups that can be blamed for society’s ills, and that may be subject to state-sanctioned discrimination and belittlement — L.G.B.T. Americans, secularists and Muslims are the favored targets, but others are available. The purpose of this “religious liberty” rhetoric is not just to secure a place of privilege, but also to justify public funding for the right kind of religion.

Mr. Barr has a long history of supporting just this type of “religious liberty.” At Notre Dame, he compared alleged violations of religious liberty with Roman emperors forcing Christian subjects to partake in pagan sacrifices. “The law is being used as a battering ram to break down traditional moral values and to establish moral relativism as a new orthodoxy,” he said.

Barr watchers will know that this is nothing new. In a 1995 article he wrote for The Catholic Lawyer, which, as Emily Bazelon recently pointed out, appears to be something of a blueprint for his speech at Notre Dame, he complained that “we live in an increasingly militant, secular age” and expressed his grave concern that the law might force landlords to rent to unmarried couples. He implied that the idea that universities might treat “homosexual activist groups like any other student group” was intolerable.

This form of “religious liberty” is not a mere side issue for Mr. Barr, or for the other religious nationalists who have come to dominate the Republican Party. Mr. Barr has made this clear. All the problems of modernity — “the wreckage of the family,” “record levels of depression and mental illness,” “drug addiction” and “senseless violence” — stem from the loss of a strict interpretation of the Christian religion.

The great evildoers in the Notre Dame speech are nonbelievers who are apparently out on the streets ransacking everything that is good and holy. The solutions to society’s ills, Mr. Barr declared, come from faith. “Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian rules for human conduct,” he said. “Religion helps frame moral culture within society that instills and reinforces moral discipline.” He added, “The fact is that no secular creed has emerged capable of performing the role of religion.”

Within this ideological framework, the ends justify the means. In this light, Mr. Barr’s hyperpartisanship is the symptom, not the malady. At Christian nationalist gatherings and strategy meetings, the Democratic Party and its supporters are routinely described as “demonic” and associated with “rulers of the darkness.” If you know that society is under dire existential threat from secularists, and you know that they have all found a home in the other party, every conceivable compromise with principles, every ethical breach, every back-room deal is not only justifiable but imperative. And as the vicious reaction to Christianity Today’s anti-Trump editorial demonstrates, any break with this partisan alignment will be instantly denounced as heresy.

….

“What does Bill Barr want?”

The answer is that America’s conservative movement, having morphed into a religious nationalist movement, is on a collision course with the American constitutional system. Though conservatives have long claimed to be the true champions of the Constitution — remember all that chatter during previous Republican administrations about “originalism” and “judicial restraint” — the movement that now controls the Republican Party is committed to a suite of ideas that are fundamentally incompatible with the Constitution and the Republic that the founders created under its auspices.

Mr. Trump’s presidency was not the cause of this anti-democratic movement in American politics. It was the consequence. He is the chosen instrument, not of God, but of today’s Christian nationalists, their political allies and funders, and the movement’s legal apparatus. Mr. Barr did not emerge in order to serve this one particular leader. On the contrary, Mr. Trump serves a movement that will cynically praise the Constitution in order to destroy it, and of which Mr. Barr has made himself a hero.

— Katherine Stewart and Caroline Fredrickson, The New York Times, Bill Barr Thinks America Is Going to Hell, December 30, 2019