Source: Gallup

Author: Jena Levi

Emphasis Mine

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The uninsured rate among U.S. adults for the fourth quarter of 2014 averaged 12.9%. This is down slightly from 13.4% in the third quarter of 2014 and down significantly from 17.1% a year ago. The uninsured rate has dropped 4.2 percentage points since the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for Americans to have health insurance went into effect one year ago.


The uninsured rate declined sharply in the first and second quarters last year as more Americans signed up for health insurance through federal and state exchanges. After the open enrollment period closed in mid-April, the rate leveled off at around 13%. The 12.9% who lacked health insurance in the fourth quarter is the lowest Gallup and Healthways have recorded since beginning to track the measure daily in 2008. The 2015 open enrollment period began in the fourth quarter on Nov. 15 and will close on Feb. 15.

The fourth-quarter results are based on more than 43,000 interviews with U.S. adults from Oct. 1 to Dec. 30, 2014, as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Gallup and Healthways ask 500 U.S. adults each day whether they have health insurance, allowing for precise and ongoing measurement of the percentage of Americans who lack health insurance.

Uninsured Rate Drops Most Among Blacks, Low-Income

While the uninsured rate has declined across nearly all key demographic groups since the Affordable Care Act went into effect a year ago, it has plunged most among blacks and lower-income Americans. The uninsured rate among blacks dropped seven points over the past year, while the rate among Americans earning less than $36,000 in annual household income dropped 6.9 points.

The Hispanic population remains a key target of the healthcare law’s marketing efforts, as it continues to be the subgroup with the highest uninsured rate, at 32.4%. Still, the percentage of uninsured Hispanics is down 6.3 points since the end of 2013.

Across age groups, the uninsured rate dropped the most among 18- to 25-year-olds, falling 6.1 points from a year ago. The rate fell 5.6 points for 26- to 34-year-olds, and 5.2 points for 35- to 64-year-olds. The percentage of uninsured Americans aged 65 and older has not changed over the past year, likely because most were already covered through Medicare.


Two in Five Americans Under 65 Have Employer-Based Coverage

The uninsured rate among 18- to- 64-year-olds dropped to 15.5% from 20.8% a year ago, with most of the dip reflecting Americans gaining coverage through self-funded plans, Medicaid and Medicare. Those aged 65 and older are excluded from this analysis of health insurance type because most are covered through Medicare.

The 20.6% of U.S. adults under the age of 65 who say they are covered by a self-funded plan is up three points since the fourth quarter of 2013. This is likely because more Americans purchased individual plans through a federal or state health insurance exchange.

The percentage of 18- to 64-year-olds with Medicaid (8.6%) has also increased slightly over the past year, which is not surprising because many states expanded Medicaid eligibility so that more lower-income and lower-middle-income Americans could get affordable insurance. There was also a slight increase over the past year in the percentage of those under 65 with Medicare insurance.

The percentage who get their insurance through a current or former employer declined in the first quarter of 2014, but recovered throughout the year.

Type of Health Insurance Coverage in the U.S. Among 18- 64-Year-OldsThe percentage who get their insurance through a current or former employer declined in the first quarter of 2014, but recovered throughout the year.


The Affordable Care Act has accomplished one of its goals: increasing the percentage of Americans who have health insurance coverage. The uninsured rate as measured by Gallup has dropped 4.2 points since the requirement to have health insurance or pay a fine went into effect. It will likely drop further as plans purchased during the current open enrollment period take effect. The Department of Health and Human Services reported that 6.5 million Americans either selected new plans or were automatically re-enrolled into a plan via as of Dec. 26, 2014. Prior to this year’s open enrollment period, Gallup found that more than half of those who were uninsured planned to sign up, a positive sign. Gallup also found that most newly insured Americans planned to renew their policy or get a different policy elsewhere.

Furthermore, the uninsured rate may drop because the healthcare law’s provision requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to provide health insurance to 70% of their workers took effect on Jan. 1. In 2016, companies with 50 or more employees will be required to provide health insurance to 95% of their workers.

Other signs also point to the uninsured rate falling more after this open enrollment period ends. HHS continues to focus on the financial assistance available to enrollees and increasing the fine for not having health insurance: currently $325 per person or 2% of an individual’s yearly household income, whichever is greater. Gallup previously found that higher fines would compel more uninsured Americans to sign up.

The uninsured rate could also fall further as more states expand Medicaid. Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia implemented Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act in 2014, which Gallup found to be a major factor in declining uninsured rates. Pennsylvania expanded Medicaid as of Jan. 1, and Arkansas, Iowa and Michigan approved Section 1115 waivers for expansion, giving the secretary of HHS authority to approve experimental, pilot or demonstration projects that promote the objectives of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

However, closing the health insurance gap may be more challenging this year than last, as those who did not sign up last year may be harder to reach or more reluctant to get health insurance. Additionally, the open enrollment period will be nearly two months shorter in 2015 than in 2014.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 1-Dec. 30, 2014, as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey, with a random sample of 43,016 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point at the 95% confidence level.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index works.



Paul Krugman: 4 Surprising Reasons to be Cheerful at the Close of 2014

Source: NY Times via AlterNet

Author: Janet Allon

Emphasis Mine

Paul Krugman is feeling a tad optimistic as the year 2014 winds down. In his Friday column, he writes about “Tidings of Comfort,” if not quite tidings of great joy. The reason? Despite all the miserable messages about a world spinning out of control and a government completely not up to the task of confronting tough problems, “a number of major government policies worked just fine,” he writes. “And the biggest successes involved the most derided policies. You’ll never hear this on Fox News, but 2014 was a year in which the federal government, in particular, showed that it can do some important things very well if it wants to.”

Here are the four areas where Krugman posits the government, and in particular, the Obama administration showed its competency:

1. Ebola

Just a month or so ago we were in a full-blown panic about Ebola coming to this country. And the message of many policiticans was that our public health officials were in no way up to the task of dealing with it using conventional methods.” Instead, they insisted, we needed to ban all travel to and from West Africa,” Krguman writes, “imprison anyone who arrived from the wrong place, and  close the border with Mexico. No, I have no idea why anyone thought that last item made sense.”

This was all wrong. It turned out that the epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actually knew what they were doing, despite some early mistakes. Ebola is still killing people in Africa, but there was no outbreak here, despite what the fearmongers projected. 

2. The Economy

Yes, the recovery has been painfully and unneccessarily slow, in particular it has been ” held back by unprecedented cuts in public spending and employment,” Krugman writes.

But the story you hear all the time portrays economic policy as an unmitigated disaster, with President Obama’s alleged hostility to business holding back investment and job creation. So it comes as something of a shock when  you look at the actual record and discover that growth and job creation have been substantially faster during the Obama recovery than they were during the Bush recovery last decade (even ignoring the crisis at the end), and that while housing is still depressed,  business investment has been quite strong.

What’s more, recent data suggest that the economy is gathering strength —  5 percent growth in the last quarter! Oh, and not that it matters very much, but there are some people who like to claim that economic success should be judged by the performance of the stock market. And stock prices, which hit a low point in March 2009,  accompanied by declarations from prominent Republican economists that Mr. Obama was killing the market economy,  have tripled since then. Maybe economic management hasn’t been that bad, after all.

Whether the gains in the economy help poor Americans still struggling with low wages, staggering inequality and brutal rises in the cost of living, remains to be seen. But at least by some conservative standards, Obama’s stewardship has been on track. Not that you’ll ever see that acknowledged on Fox or by Republicans.

3. Obamacare Krugman cites one of his favorite topics, “the hidden-in-plain-sight triumph of Obamacare,” at the end of its first full year.  Krugman says he is asked, even by liberal friends, whether the program can be made to work. Apparently, they have not gotten the memo. It is working. 

In fact, Year 1 surpassed expectations on every front. Remember claims that more people would lose insurance than gained it? Well, the number of Americans without insurance  fell by around 10 million; members of the elite who have never been uninsured have no idea just how much positive difference that makes to people’s lives. Remember claims that reform would break the budget? In realitypremiums were far less than predicted, overall health spending is moderating, and  specific cost-control measures are doing very well. And all indications suggest that year two will be marked by further success.

4. Foreign policy This one will be controversial, but Krugman writes that Obama’s foreign policy of containing threats like Putin’s Russia and Islamic State. rather than waging all-out war on them, is “looking pretty good.” The message is that, despite all the right-wing propaganda to the contrary, 2014 shows that the government can be part of the solution, which is not to say that problems have disappeared from the world. Or that Fox News and their flunkies will admit it. 


A season’s reflections on socialism

Source: Peoples World

Author: Sam Webb

Emphasis Mine

This season, besides gaiety, good food and drink (and may all of us have an abundance of these), brings moments of quiet reflection. Sometimes the reflection is of a personal nature; other times, it’s about the larger world in which we live.

Both are good for the soul. But here, I’m going to stick with the larger world – and making it a better one – with some reflections on socialism. It is a subject on which my thinking has changed significantly over the past decade, and continues to evolve.

And that’s good! Over time I have learned that in politics, standing still is seldom a wise choice, especially when things change, and they always do.

Reflection 1: I begin with the unexpected implosion of the Soviet Union nearly a quarter century ago. One moment this seemingly sturdy socialist edifice was a major presence in world politics and the next moment – poof! – it was gone.

Not surprisingly, the demise of that first land of socialism, whose revolutionary beginning in 1917 constituted a sea change in the international class struggle, triggered a debate that will likely continue for a long time. While I don’t claim to be a historian, I offer one thought:

The fall of the Soviet Union wasn’t the singular handiwork of its then-leader Mikhail Gorbachev, as some have suggested. I don’t doubt that Gorbachev played a role in the meltdown, but leaving the analysis here misses the forest for the trees.

The “forest” - the bigger picture – was the Soviet model of socialism that took shape in the 1930s, became entrenched, acquired a political constituency at the leadership and mass level, and proved resistant to any fundamental change till the very end.

This model didn’t come out of any Marxist textbook. It was a specific historical product. It was the outcome of an extraordinarily tumultuous 10-year period, in which a peasant-based economy and society, hyper-industrialization, an autocratic political culture, the looming war against Hitler and Nazism, competing political and class forces, and especially the personality and policies of Joseph Stalin clashed and left a deep and lasting imprint on the main features and dynamics of Soviet socialism.

dSoviet society during this period was modernized, struck – at great cost in human life – the decisive blow against the Nazi war machine, evolved into a world power, registered notable achievements in the provision of jobs, education and other public services, science and culture, and overcame many long-standing divisions and inequalities.

But the price paid was nearly incalculable, in two ways.

First, the authoritarian and at times improvisational “forced march to socialism” snuffed out the lives of millions of victims, including substantial numbers of communist leaders and members. In the name of building socialism in one country and combating the class enemy, Stalin and his acolytes committed crimes on a vast scale. Only later was this sordid chapter in socialism’s history finally condemned by the Soviet Communist Party and the world communist movement.

Second, the command-style, undemocratic structures of political and economic governance were deeply rooted and persisted long after Stalin’s death. These structures - and the political constituencies that controlled and gained advantage from them in various ways - were resistant to necessary economic renovation and democratization in the second half of the 20th century. All of this gradually and inexorably sucked the dynamism and liberating potential out of Soviet socialism. By the 1980s, stagnation, exhaustion and cynicism came to define the society.

Any analysis that fails to place these historical dynamics at its core will yield only the most surface, superficial insights as to why the Soviet Union fell so quickly and with no popular resistance. At the same time, making a deeper historical-political analysis doesn’t preclude recognizing other causative factors – including the role of Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders who lost confidence in socialism and its capacity for renovation, the unrelenting pressures of U.S. imperialism, and so on - but it doesn’t turn them into the main explanation for the collapse.

Reflection 2: If our vision of socialism is simply a slightly modified version of what existed in the 20th century, don’t expect a crowd to embrace it. I have said on more than one occasion that using a rear view mirror to construct a vision of socialism won’t fill the bill.

Only a vision that is modern, democratic, forward looking,  and home grown will capture the imagination of the American people – not to mention meet the challenges of this century. It has to be sunk in our own realities, traditions, and sensibilities in the first (and last) place.

Moreover,  socialism’s vision shouldn’t be reduced to economic structures, relations, planning, and growth rates, or how big a basket of material goods it provides.

What should figure large is socialism’s commitment and capacity to expand the boundaries of human freedom and equality, as it completes the unfinished democratic tasks left over from the American Revolution and Civil War. It must place ordinary people – and this is paramount – at the center of creating a new society. It must accent the full, free, and many-sided development of the individual along with the expansion of collective rights like the right to organize. It must paint in many colors new arrangements of collective living and working.

And it should insist that political power be subordinated to a set of values, as well as embedded in and checked by a thoroughly democratic culture and institutions.

Furthermore, political power and its exercise cannot be the property, constitutionally or otherwise, of any one party or centralized state. Socialism should diffuse power broadly among the people and a range of institutions. If the 20th century taught us anything it is that a singular emphasis on the question of class and political power (a means) at the expense of socialist values and aims (a purpose) can easily lead to major distortions of democracy, massive crimes against people, and eventually the loss of legitimacy, and defeat.

In short, socialism’s vision and practice in the 21st century must give new vigor to, and in some cases recover, its democratic, emancipatory, humanistic, people-centered essence.

Reflection 3: It is evident that some sections of the American people are gravitating toward a radical critique of society. And furthermore, this gravitation towards radical change, inconsistent and uneven as it is, is explained in no small measure by the giving way of one era in which U.S. capitalism was relatively dynamic, stable, and broadly lifting standards, to a new era defined by instability, inequality, heightened exploitation, and economic crises.

Economic crisis alone, however, is not the sole cause of revolutionary change. The soil is prepared via the cumulative impact of many different crises – economic, political, social, and moral – taking place over time, during which people’s understanding gains in sophistication (going beyond “them and us” and “the system sucks”), unity broadens and deepens, and organizational capacities and infrastructures grow by leaps and bounds.

In other words, the old notion of economic breakdown followed by “the revolution” should be retired. It should be replaced by an understanding of a more protracted and complicated political/historical process, which will surely have more than one stage and shifts in initiative, momentum, popular thinking, and power, as we see today in Latin America.

Reflection 4: Socialism, it is correctly said, must be the product of an engaged, united, and politically sophisticated majority. But it doesn’t follow that such a majority will simply emerge out of everyday struggles in the absence of a growing, equally engaged, and broad, nonsectarian left. To think it will just emerge out of struggles is as mistaken as the inverse, namely, thinking that socialism will be the product of an energized and radical minority. Both are bound up with and depend on each other. And without a broad, deep, and durable alliance between them, a socialist future is a pipe dream.

Reflection 5: The struggle for democracy (economic and social as well as political) is at the core of the struggle for socialism. It’s not a diversion or a second-order task. Of overriding importance in this regard is the struggle against racism and male supremacy and for equality. Not only do these interrelated struggles bring long overdue justice to tens of millions, but they are also a cornerstone of higher levels of unity and understanding in the working-class and people’s movements at every stage of struggle, socialist included.

Reflection 6: We have seen over the past four decades an unrelenting ruling-class offensive, the rise of right-wing extremism and neoliberalism, and large-scale economic transformations in the global economy and the size and structure of the working class (including a historically unprecedented expansion of the pool of cheap, unprotected, and exploitable pool of labor worldwide). But to turn this new socio-economic environment, in which organized labor is fighting for its life, into a rationale for bidding farewell to the working class as a political actor in the 21st century is wrongheaded.

There is no way to win radical democracy and socialism without labor figuring prominently in the leadership of the broader movement. What other social constituency has labor’s resources, institutional strength, and power?

Reflection 7: A socialist movement needs a revolutionary theory.  At its core is Marxism, but it must also include our country’s revolutionary-democratic traditions and other schools of radical social theory. But theory becomes a guide to action only if creatively applied and developed, only if it captures the complexity, contradictions and contingency in everyday life. Cut-and-dried formulas, simplistic answers, and high-sounding slogans with no reflection in concrete reality are of little help.

If the left hopes to evolve into a major political player in the politics of the U.S., practical engagement in everyday struggles is an absolute necessity. But at the same time, that is not enough, and never will be. The left has to distinguish itself at the level of ideas as well as practice. And that takes hard work and study, collective and individual, a robust infrastructure and a culture that builds theoretical capacities every bit as much as organizational ones. As a someone once said, humans do not live by bread alone; they also need ideas, understanding and inspiration.

Reflection 8: There is considerable resistance on the left to embracing the concept that the struggle goes through phases and stages, each with its own particular balance of power and particular class and democratic tasks. It’s as if political will and a resistance alone are enough to bring us to socialism.

A case in point is the near refusal by many radicals to acknowledge differences of any consequence between the Republican and Democratic parties. A while ago, I read an editorial in a left journal introducing a special edition on strategy. There was not a single mention in that editorial of the rise of right-wing extremism, which, among other things, dominates the Republican Party, controls roughly 25 state governments, and is one election away from controlling every branch of the  federal government.

Now if this article were the exception, I wouldn’t bring it up, but it isn’t. The analysis of many on the left boils down to this: both parties have “blood on their hands” and bow down to Wall Street.

These are neither brilliant insights nor good guides to action. Indeed, they obscure the differences between the two capitalist parties on a whole range of questions, their very different social bases, and the utterly anti-working-class, racist, misogynist, super-militarist, anti-immigrant, deeply reactionary and authoritarian worldview and program of the Republicans.

Understanding these differences and their strategic and tactical implications is essential if the left is to assist in moving the country beyond the current political impasse to the higher ground of substantive social justice, sustainability, and eventually socialism.

Thinking of the major turning points in our nation’s history makes me believe that socialism in the U.S. will never become a reality without stages of struggle, changes of tack, compromises, unreliable and conditional allies, and tensions between competing tasks. It will never happen without taking advantage of rifts in the ruling and political elite, without a keen sense of mass moods (not our mood), without experienced, modest, and astute leaders, leading organizations that are transparent, democratic, and able to activate people at the grassroots, without a big and lasting footprint in the legislative and electoral arena, and without a sustained and broad-scale struggle for democracy. Isn’t it ridiculous in the extreme to think otherwise?

Thus the left – not to mention the larger movement – has to allow for complexity, contradiction, and a shifting terrain of struggle on which it elaborates and re-elaborates its strategic, tactical, and class and democratic tasks to fit changing conditions of struggle. The point of political engagement isn’t to feel righteous or conjure up “get socialism quick schemes.” It is to change the world.

Reflection 9: Socialism must give priority to sustainability, not growth without limits, not growth that degrades the natural conditions that make the production and reproduction of life and human society in its infinite variety of forms possible.

Humankind now faces changes in our planet’s climate that could not only make socialism a mere dream, but make the Earth itself uninhabitable. If there is a more defining struggle in this century I’m not sure what it is.

But while its full resolution will require socialism, humanity – and certainly socialist-minded people – can’t wait for socialism to address the dangers of climate change as well as environmental degradation. These dangers must be front and center now! We are approaching tipping points which if reached will give global warming a momentum that human actions will have little or no control over.

Standing in the way of any mitigation of climate change – not to mention every other progressive change on the political agenda – is, in the first place, right-wing extremism and powerful global energy corporations. Only a broad and diverse movement stands a chance of defeating this entrenched and powerful political bloc and, in doing so, taking a first and absolutely necessary step to protect and sustain Earth and life on it – and the  possibility of a socialist future.

This winter solstice week we see the return of the light as the days start to get longer. I hope my nine reflections on socialism shed some light as well at this turn-of-the-year season. I’ll continue to ponder them through the holidays and beyond, and hope you do too.


Why Millions of Christian Evangelicals Oppose Obamacare and Civil Rights

Source: Religion Dispatches

Author: Daniel Silliman

Emphasis Mine

 American evangelicals have been waiting for the world to end for a long time. But that’s not to say they’ve just been sitting around. Apocalypticism has inspired evangelistic crusades, moral reform movements, and generations of political activism.

In his latest book, Matthew Avery Sutton, a professor of history at Washington State University, traces this history of American evangelical apocalypticism from the end of the 19th century to the present day. In the process, he proposes a revised understanding of American evangelicalism, focused on the urgent expectations of the end of human history. If you want to understand modern evangelicalism, Sutton says, you have to understand their End Times theology.

Daniel Silliman spoke with Sutton at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, in Heidelberg, Germany.

Why write about evangelical Christian apocalypticism?

The question that initially sparked this research was why were fundamentalists and their evangelical heirs skeptical of the state? Why were and are they critical of the federal government? I started thinking about this in the context of the health care debates over the last decade. Why were so many Christians so reluctant to support national health care? I could see why they were critical of the Democratic party on gay rights. I could see why they were critical on abortion. What I didn’t understand is why, as a conservative Bible believing Christian, you would be opposed expanding health care.

This book is a very long, 480-page answer to that question.

My argument in a nutshell is that the apocalyptic theology that developed in the 1880s and 1890s led radical evangelicals to the conclusion that all nations are going to concede their power in the End Times to a totalitarian political leader who is going to be the Antichrist. If you believe you’re living in the last days and you believe you’re moving towards that event, you’re going to be very suspicious and skeptical of anything that seems to undermine individual rights and individual liberties, and anything that is going to give more power to the state.

How significant is apocalypticism in the history of American evangelicalism?

The idea that Jesus is coming back soon was a fairly radical and unconventional idea in the 19th century, but by the 21st century it’s the air American Christians breathe. The most recent polls said something like 58 percent of white evangelicals believe Jesus is going to return by 2050. They simply take for granted that there is going to be a Rapture and Jesus is going to come back.  I took those statistics and others like them and moved backwards in time. What I found in my research was that apocalypticism was central to fundamentalists and evangelicals. What made them most distinct, what set them apart from liberal Protestants is not what we’ve traditionally thought. It’s not questions of the virgin birth or how you read the Bible or questions of the nature of the incarnation or the literal resurrection of Jesus or Jesus’s miracles. All those matter, all of those things do set them apart, but they don’t affect how they live their daily lives. The one thing that affects how they live their daily lives is that they believe we are moving towards the End Times, the rise of the Antichrist, towards a great tribulation and a horrific human holocaust.

In their minds, the imminent Second Coming would not be as important as getting people saved. Salvation, converting sinners, would be the most important thing driving them. But in terms of how they’re shaping and organizing their own lives, I think apocalypticism has been the driving force for much of the last century. It has fueled the movement and shaped it in fundamental ways.

If you haven’t been in the archives it’s really unbelievable to read these articles, these sermons and these letters, to realize how much apocalypticism saturated the minds of fundamentalists and evangelicals in the 20th century. The looming rise of the Antichrist was just the forefront of their thinking.

And they say that. Over and over again. They’re very clear.

This is significant because to believe the world is rapidly moving to its end effects how you vote, how you’re going to structure your education, how you understand the economy, how you’re going to treat global events, how you’re going to look at organizations like the United Nations.

Apocalypticism is central to understanding how fundamentalists and then evangelicals acted.

Can you give a broad outline of this theology?

It’s a relatively complicated theology that fundamentalists and then evangelicals drew from a lot of different influences, a lot of different impulses. The key to unlocking their theology is to see some fairly obscure passages from the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation, and Jesus’s sermon in Matthew 24 through their eyes.

But their conlusions, broken down to their simplest form are these: We’re living in the church age and we’re moving towards the Rapture. Jesus will Rapture all true believers out of this world, they’ll just disappear, they’ll go up to heaven with Jesus, and then with the loss of Christian influence in the world, Satan will have free rein to take power through a political leader, called the Antichrist, who is then going to rule over the world for seven years. This period is called the Tribulation. Antichrist rule will lead to a series of wars, which will then culminate with Jesus coming with an army of saints and fighting the battle of Armageddon, in the literal land of Palestine. Jesus will defeat the Antichrist, vanquish evil and then establish a new kingdom.

There’s been a long debate in Christian history about the timing of Jesus’s Second Coming. Would he come to initiate the start of a new millennium, a 1,000 years of peace and prosperity, or would he come at its conclusion? Fundamentalists and most evangelicals believed that Jesus is going to come back before the millennium. From there they determined that there will be signs or indications that tell us we’re approaching the Second Coming. They believe the Bible had laid out these signs, the sequence of events that would happen, as they understood it, as we get closer and closer and closer to the Second Coming of Christ.

The rough picture is that we’re moving towards the End Times. Instead of the idea that Christians are building the kingdom of God on earth, the earth is on a quick, slippery slope descending to hell.

What is the practical effect of this expectation?

Traditionally, people have believed that this expectation that Jesus is coming back would lead to indifference, that people would focus on the next world, they would invest very little in this world. In fact, they’ve done just the opposite. This is a central argument in the book.

D.L. Moody is often used to illustrate the idea of indifference. He famously said that the world is a sinking ship and God has given him a lifeboat and told him to save as many as he could. That’s the idea, that there’s not anything you can do but save those who are sinking. At the same time, Moody turned around and established what were later known at the Moody Church and the Moody Bible Institute, which were extremely active in reform movements during the progressive era. They were focused on issues of crime in Chicago, sanitation, temperance, and in all kinds of moral reform efforts.

It’s clear from Moody to Billy Sunday to Aimee Semple McPherson to Billy Graham to Jerry Falwell, that to believe that Jesus is coming at any moment does not make you less active or less involved in your culture. They say over and over and over again that this is not the case. We just haven’t heard them. Every generation of evangelicals and fundamentalists says it. Their apocalyptic theology makes them more active not less.

There is a biblical argument for this that they use. It’s the parable of the talents. In this story a ruler invests in his servants, giving each of them a number of talents, or money. He then goes away to another kingdom. When he comes back he wants to know what they’ve done with their talents. Some had buried their talents, afraid of losing it. Some had lost the money, wasting their talents. But some had invested wisely and made more money. So the returning ruler rewarded those who had invested wisely and maximized their talents and used them for greater good. For fundamentalists and evangelicals, the point here is that God has given them talents. He’s gone away, he’s coming back, he’s coming back soon, and he’s going to ask what you’ve done with your talents. Jesus ended the parable by instructing the disciples to “occupy” until I come. And that’s what fundamentalists and evangelicals have done.

That means that, far more than many other Christians, they believe they have a responsibility to act as vehemently, as radically, as urgently as possible.

What I’m arguing is that in fact the conviction that Jesus is coming back very very soon creates a sense of urgency, or anxiety or excitement that means there is no time to spare, because the clock is ticking and they’re almost out of time.

The standard narrative of white evangelical history is a great withdrawal from culture in the 1920s and then a reengagement in the 1950s, leading to the religious right in 1980s. Do you want to revise that?

Yes. That’s one of the historiographical arguments I’m making in the book. The traditional argument is that fundamentalists were active and engaged in American society until the Scopes trial, the anti-evolution trial, in 1925. They were humiliated and defeated in the Scopes trial, they withdrew and focused on building their churches, their institutions, but they weren’t engaged in mainstream culture until the rise of Billy Graham who helped turn them around. Then it’s a few quick steps to the rise of the religious right.

That’s incorrect. They never gave up. They never withdrew or disengaged from culture. In the 1930s, for example, most of these fundamentalists were very critical of the New Deal. For Americans who were actively looking for signs of the coming Antichrist in the context of the 1930s, in the context of Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini, Roosevelt had all the markings of someone setting the stage for the end times. He was concolidating power. Government was growing.

I found a letter from one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s operatives. He had gone out to survey the country and look for areas of strength and weakness before the 1936 election and what he told FDR is that the greatest threat was not from the economic reactionaries, that was his term, but from the religious reactionaries. He said the “so-called evangelical churches are strongly against you.” It was shortly after that that FDR issued a letter to all the churches of the nation, asking for their support, and asking what he could do to better meet their needs.

Fundamentalists were involved in politics, they were involved in social reform. A few of them were talking about abortion and same-sex relations in the 1930s. They were very much active and involved with what was going on around them. There’s just no evidence to show that they retreated.

I’m trying to decenter the Scopes trial as not that substantial of a moment in the history of evangelicalism.

What about African-American evangelicals? How were they apocalyptic?

This was one of my favorite parts of doing this book. I wanted to take seriously how African-American evangelicals compared and contrasted with white evangelicals. They started from the same theological premises, but came to very different political and social conclusions.

They had that sense of fever and anxiety and hope for Jesus’s Second Coming, but for them, the signs of the times and the method of occupying until he comes were very, very different.

There were a number of important and substantial issues that were not on white evangelicals’ radar screens, but for black evangelicals, they were absolutely central to what it meant to be living in an apocalyptic age. For them a sign of the End Times was not the supposed lawlessness of Martin Luther King, Jr., a claim made by some white evangelicals. No, for African Americans a sign of the coming tribulation was lynching. They didn’t see the Antichrist coming out of the New Deal, they saw the Antichrist as an extension of state governments that were racist and had Jim Crowed them for generations. They too had a very strong sense that Jesus was coming back, but he was coming back for different reasons, he was going to right different wrongs, and he was going to bring a different kind of peace and a different kind of justice. A different kind of millennium.

While African Americans were having their own theological discussions among themselves, they were also aware of developments in the white evangelical community, but they were not engaging directly with white theologians. For them it was a different kind of discussion. For them, thinking through apocalyptic theology was happening in the context of a long black liberation tradition, so they put a lot of emphasis, for instance, on a verse in Psalms that talks about a great leader coming out of Abyssinia or Ethiopia. There was a sense in which Jesus’s return was the coming of a black liberator.

White fundamentalists and evangelicals were very clear that they didn’t want anything to do with African Americans for most of the twentieth century. They didn’t see African Americans as able to contribute to their movement. The racial assumptions were built into who evangelicals and fundamentalists were as people, just like the vast majority of white Americans right alongside them. They were no different.

But what apocalypticism did was give white evangelicals a framework and a rationale for fighting the Civil Rights movement, for example. In the last days, they insisted, there will be lawlessness. So they saw the Civil Rights movement as an example of people who break the law. Whiteness influenced these evangelical theologians, and when we compare them with African American theologians we can see how their sensitivities influenced the way they read, understood, and applied the Bible.

How does apocalypticism shape someone like Billy Graham and, by extension, modern evangelicalism?

Billy Graham gets a pass from a lot of scholars who pay very little attenion to his apocalypticism. I think that’s wrong. I think it’s been a core of his ministry. In 1949, when Graham had his first major revival in Los Angeles, the famous one that put him on the map, the revival began just days after Harry Truman announced that the Soviets had tested an atomic bomb. So Graham used this to say, the end is near, the time is close. You have to get saved today because Jesus is coming back.

He would say getting people saved is the engine driving him, but the reason there’s an urgency to getting people saved is that Jesus may be coming back before we wake up in the morning. And he would say that at every revival campaign. That was his message.

He wrote about it more than just about any other topic. He published books on apocalypticism in the 1960s and the 80s and the 90s and 2010. In 2010, writing as a 91-year-old, he believed this message was one of the most important things he could leave behind on this earth. In this book he says the signs are now clearer than ever. He’s written a lot of books, but five on apocalypticism? I don’t know that he’s covered any other topic in five books.

At the same time, I want to be very clear: postwar evangelicalism grew far more diverse than interwar fundamentalism. After the war, the movement got bigger, broader, more inclusive and less tied to apocalypticism. What happens is essentially evangelicalism divides, and you have these more respectable people like Graham and Carl F. H. Henry and Harold John Ockenga, and others on one track preaching a respectable, moderate apocalypticism. Then you have populist apocalyptics who become incredibly popular, like Hal Lindsey in the 1970s, Tim LaHaye in the 1990s and into the 2000s. Then, you have growing numbers of self-proclaimed evangelicals completely rejecting the apocalypticism that had for so long given their movement its distinctive identity. The story of postwar evangelicals is this tension between the more respectable, more careful, more savvy, leaders and those who preached a radical populist apocalypticism that harkened back to the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s.

And yet the apocalyptic never leaves. It’s still there, that’s where the polls come back. It’s now assumed by hundreds of millions of Americans that the rapture is a real thing and that Jesus is coming back.

It’s a genius theology, because it allows people to look at very diverse, very troubling, very dark contemporary events and put them in a context; to say, “I know why this is happening, and it’s going to turn out OK. We are going to be OK.” It gives them peace, comfort and hope in a world that often offers none of those things.

Daniel Silliman is an instructor of American religion and culture at the University of Heidelberg. He is currently writing his dissertation at Heidelberg on secularity and faith in contemporary evangelical fiction. He worked as a crime reporter in metro Atlanta for several years before moving to Germany with his wife in 2008.


Reflections on Dec 7, 1941: What we need today is another ‘Sputnik moment’…

There have been two ‘great awakenings’ in US history: Pearl Harbor Day, of which today is the 73rd anniversary, and October 4, 1957, when the USSR launched the first artificial earth satellite.  The former jarred the USA out of its isolationist mindset, and launched the mammoth government effort to spend the money and organize the resources to defeat the fascists; the latter jarred the USA out of its superior mindset, made science and engineering credible and primary, and the government committed the money and resources to win the ‘space race’.  Science was recognized as truth, engineering became the career to have, and new curricula were  created in physics, chemistry and biology.  Many of us who were in high school in October of 1957 were part of the team on July 19, 1969 that landed men on the moon.  (Evolution was restored  to biology courses until teaching it became a religious/political issue in the late 70’s, and the PSSC physics course which I had in 1959-60 was still taught – with updates – to my son in 1994-95.)  Necessity was not the mother of invention but rather the mechanism which turned on the lights in the Department of Truth and Reason.

If science still held a place of respect in our country, climate change denial would have zero credibility.  What we need is another ‘Sputnik’ moment to turn us away from superstition and look for Answers in Science and Technology.  Perhaps the melting of the polar ice caps is such a moment, but it remains out of the headlines, and ‘below the fold’ on a back page.





Everything I need to know in life I learned in …

Everything I need to know in life I learned in a singles bar.


First impressions matter, whether you are choosing the title for a paper on quantum cosmology, or introducing yourself to someone with whom you wish to engage.


In interacting with others, confidence, genuine concern, a warm smile, and charm are effective in winning friends and influencing people.

Not every venture results in success: know when to exit, and do so gracefully. Avoid denial and wasting resources on lost causes, and keep in mind that what goes around comes around,  so don’t burn any bridges (unless they are connected to a toxic waste dump!)

Dear Evangelicals: You’re Being Had

Source: Daily Beast, via RSN

Author: Jay Michaelson

Emphasis Mine

Dear Conservative Evangelicals,

I drive a Prius, enjoy Vanilla lattes, and am married to a man. I know it’s unlikely for me to be writing you this letter, and even more unlikely for you to read it.

But unlike most of my Obama-loving, liberal friends, I am no longer afraid of you. It’s clear to me that “your side” is losing the battle for public opinion, and I know that many of you agree with that assessment.

So why am I writing you this letter? Because, also unlike my liberal friends, I’m actually on your side, in some ways. I’m an ordained rabbi, and someone deeply concerned with the vulgarization and sexualization of our society. You and I disagree about the solution to this problem, of course, but we agree that there is a problem.

The trouble is, you’re trying to solve cultural problems with political solutions—because politicians have convinced you to do so. I am referring here to establishment Republicans, which for 150 years have consistently been the party of the rich and ungenerous.

In the first half of the twentieth century, most Christians distrusted this party, controlled as it was by “urban bankers” and others opposed to the Jeffersonian values of rural America. But in the wake of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the switch began—and by Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, it was complete. Republicans catered to conservative social attitudes on racial integration, and eventually moved rightward on issues like abortion and feminism, too, although you know as well as I do that they never really believed in them. They just realized that they could gain power by uniting two very different groups: the same moneyed elites as always, and you.

Now, let’s see who has won, and who has lost, in the ensuing 34 years.

It’s clear that the rich—call them the 1 percent if you like, but I prefer to think of them as the moneylenders whom Jesus threw out of the Temple—have prospered enormously. In 1983, the wealthiest 1 percent were 131 times richer than the average American. In 2009, they were 225 times richer. In 2012, the top 20 percent made $13.5 trillion in income; the entire bottom 80% made $1 trillion.

These are disparities not seen since before the Great Depression. Whether for better or for worse, the ultra-rich have done extremely well in the 30 years you’ve allied with them.

How have you done, in the same period? Not well at all. Not only is gay marriage now the law for over two-thirds of Americans while the value of marriage in general has been declining for decades; not only are television, film, music, and video games more vulgar than we could have imagined in 1980; but more Americans are declaring themselves “Nones,” that is, people of no religious affiliation, than ever before in our history. Sure, some churches are expanding, but overall, your way of life is in steep decline. In short, you are losing horribly.

So, who is using whom here? Have the rich Republicans been good for you, or have you been good to them?

I look at the alliance you’ve forged with these people, and I don’t understand why you’re in it. Their agenda keeps winning, and yours keeps losing.

Moreover—and I don’t want to speak out of turn here—their agenda is even eating away at yours. What happened to the Christian concern to “love the least of these,” the most vulnerable, the most destitute? In my opinion, supply-side Republicans have convinced many Christians not merely that the welfare state is a bad idea, but that generosity itself is a vice, that public assistance equals dependence, and that giving the wealthy even more breaks is the way for benefits to “trickle down” to the rest of us.

That theory, by the way, has never been proven. When it’s been put into practice, it’s only made the ultra-rich richer. It’s done nothing for the middle class, the working class, and the poor. And its mean-hearted message, in my opinion, has corrupted the social gospel. Of course, prosperity is a good thing. But our current moment isn’t one of prosperity—it’s of inequality on the scale of ancient Rome.

Now, I’m not saying that you should jump on board with the Democrats’ agenda either. I’m saying that this Republican claim that you can build a Christian nation through politics is bogus, and only serves their goals.

You’re fighting the wrong fight. You should be making your case in culture, not in Congress. Look around. Atheism is highest in Europe, where there are established churches involved in the political process. But according to most historians, America is the most religious country in the Western world precisely because of the separation of church and state.

That “wall of separation” that liberals like to talk about? The original metaphor was: erect a wall to keep the garden of the church free from the wilderness of politics. The more you try to force your beliefs on others, the more people dislike you.

Of course, there are now multi-billion-dollar organizations dedicated to Christian politics. But how effective have they been? What has all that money bought?

I’ve worked in the LGBT movement for 15 years. At first, we, too, tried a political approach, talking about equal rights, civil rights, and so on. But the movement’s PR people found these messages weren’t working. So, in the 2000s, we shifted. We worked in the cultural arena instead, with pioneers like Ellen and Will & Grace. We went into churches and synagogues, testifying about our lives and our families. We changed people’s hearts, not their laws.

We also found messengers who could communicate the truth of our lives. Sure, there are radicals in the LGBT community who really are opposed to mainstream values—and some of them are my friends! But there are also moderates, even conservatives. The LGBT movement looked for places where we could find common ground, and focused there.

But because the public face of Christianity is now made up of the political operatives who can shout the loudest, your “wingnuts” are in center stage. I know that most Christians are not bigots or homophobes. I read the data, and I have Christian friends. But you have to admit: you’re putting your worst feet forward. Many of your spokespeople are loud and mean, because they can turn out the votes.

This all feeds into that devil’s bargain with the Republican Party. They stir you up about social issues in order to get you to the polls, and then they don’t really do anything about them. Because, in fact, they can’t. These are cultural questions, not political ones, and they have to be solved in the cultural arena.

To be clear, I’m not alleging any vast, right wing conspiracy to hoodwink Christians into voting Republican. I know that many of your values do, indeed, align with Republican policies.

But from the outside, from my side of the aisle, the situation seems very clear. The Republican rich are doing very well, and you’re losing badly. There’s only one conclusion I can draw from that: you’re being had.