By J. Parnell McCarter


The prestigious Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), formally established in 1921, is one of the most powerful private organizations with influence on U.S. foreign (and even domestic) policy.  It, as well as the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, came about as a result of a meeting on May 30, 1919, at the Hotel Majestic in Paris. Some of the fifty participants were Edward M. House, Harold Temperley, Lionel Curtis, Lord Eustace Percy, Herbert Hoover, Christian Herter, and American academic historians James Thomson Shotwell of Columbia University, Archibald Coolidge of Harvard and Charles Seymour of Yale.  It has about 4,000 members, including former national security officers, professors, former CIA members, elected politicians, and media figures.   And its journal of note is Foreign Affairs magazine.  While I do not subscribe to some of the ‘interesting’ conspiracy theories surrounding the CFR, I do believe it is at least **representative of** of America’s leadership elite.  We can ascertain some of the mainstream thinking of America’s leadership elite by reading the CFR’s journal.  So the recent headline article on religion in American politics should not be ignored.

The most recent headline article in the Foreign Affairs magazine (available at http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20060901faessay85504/walter-russell-mead/god-s-country.html ) published by the Council on Foreign Relations, and written by CFR fellow Walter Russell Mead, has these choice quotes:




"Like the Puritans, many fundamentalists hold the bleak view that there is an absolute gap between those few souls God has chosen to redeem and the many he has predestined to end up in hell. Calvinists once labored to establish theocratic commonwealths -- in Scotland by the Covenanters and the Kirk Party, in England during Oliver Cromwell's ascendancy, and in New England, all during the seventeenth century."


"Fundamentalists, despite some increase in their numbers and political visibility, remain less influential. This is partly because the pervasive optimism of the United States continues to limit the appeal of ultra-Calvinist theology. Moreover, religious politics in the United States remains a coalition sport -- one that a fundamentalist theology, which continues to view Catholicism as an evil cult, is ill equipped to play. To make matters more complicated, fundamentalists themselves are torn between two incompatible political positions: a sullen withdrawal from a damned world and an ambitious attempt to build a new Puritan commonwealth."


"As used here, the term "fundamentalist" involves three characteristics: a high view of biblical authority and inspiration; a strong determination to defend the historical Protestant faith against Roman Catholic and modernist, secular, and non-Christian influence; and the conviction that believers should separate themselves from the non-Christian world. Fundamentalists can be found throughout conservative Protestant Christianity, and some denominations more properly considered evangelical (such as the Southern Baptists and the Missouri Synod Lutherans) have vocal minorities that could legitimately be called fundamentalist. Fundamentalist denominations, such as the ultra-Calvinist Orthodox Presbyterian Church, tend to be smaller than liberal and evangelical ones. This is partly because fundamentalists prefer small, pure, and doctrinally rigorous organizations to larger, more diverse ones."


"Evangelicals, the third of the leading strands in American Protestantism, straddle the divide between fundamentalists and liberals. Their core beliefs share common roots with fundamentalism, but their ideas about the world have been heavily influenced by the optimism endemic to U.S. society. Although there is considerable theological diversity within this group, in general it is informed by the "soft Calvinism" of the sixteenth-century Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius, the thinking of English evangelists such as John Wesley (who carried on the tradition of German Pietism), and, in the United States, the experience of the eighteenth-century Great Awakening and subsequent religious revivals."




My first impression of the contents of this article was dismissive.   I was struck by the way the article twisted and changed definitions from their historical use. Also, I was struck by some of its mis-characterizations.  And it certainly did not escape my notice that the same ‘fundamentalist’ label was being pinned on those of my persuasion as is often pinned on Islamist terrorists, though the two have so little in common.

But the more I have had time to reflect upon the article, the more perceptive I think it is.  Terms and labels like 'fundamentalist' inevitably change with context. And more often than not, such labels are used with political motives in mind. Even the label 'Christian' was at one time used to derogatorily label a group of people. And given that "Islamic fundamentalist" is often being used to describe Islamists fighting the mainstream Western political model, we should not be surprised that the 'fundamentalist' label would also be pinned on those perceived to be the greatest threat to the modern Western political model.   So I do not think we should be distracted by the semantics of the article, but rather focus upon the article’s theses.

With that in mind, we should ask this question: are Calvinists that "defend the historical Protestant faith against Roman Catholic and modernist, secular, and non-Christian influence" and desire "a new Puritan commonwealth" a threat to the modern Western political model?

On the other hand, are those of the ilk of "sixteenth-century Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius" and who make political confederacy across religions not that threatening to the modern Western political model (and hence not "deserving" the label of 'fundamentalist')?

I find myself agreeing with Mr. Mead (the author of this article) in my answers to these central questions implicitly raised in his article, even though I think his use of the label ‘fundamentalist’ is rather sinister.   Arminian and latitudinarian “evangelicals” have been part of the coalition that has built the modern Western political model which historic Calvinists oppose.  The former are no real threat to the modern Western political model, whereas the latter are definitely so.


Yet despite this agreement on the answers to the central questions, I object to the article’s failures, such as its failure to mention that historic Calvinism employs and seeks Reformation and not Revolution, something that cannot be said of liberals, secularists, Islamists, Romanists, and Arminians and other latitudinarians.  The latter parties have had to rely upon deceit and violence to overthrow lawful governments in furtherance of their own power, whereas historic Calvinists have relied upon truth and the preached word of God to reform governments.  Mr. Mead even hints and admits that their tools to obtain and hold power have been rather unsavory in these concluding words of his article: “As more evangelical leaders acquire firsthand experience in foreign policy, they are likely to provide something now sadly lacking in the world of U.S. foreign policy: a trusted group of experts, well versed in the nuances and dilemmas of the international situation, who are able to persuade large numbers of Americans to support the complex and counterintuitive policies that are sometimes necessary in this wicked and frustrating -- or, dare one say it, fallen -- world.”  “Complex and counterintuitive policies” are but Mr. Mead’s euphemisms.


Mr. Mead’s article betrays his own concerns that historic Calvinism rests upon a power far above the power that its opponents must rely upon.  In order to see this, consider for a moment how many people really meet these qualifications of his definition of Protestant ‘fundamentalist’:


1.     “Calvinists”

2.     Once labored to establish theocratic commonwealths”

3.     Desire “a new Puritan commonwealth.”

4.     Have “a high view of biblical authority and inspiration.”

5.     Have “a strong determination to defend the historical Protestant faith against Roman Catholic and modernist, secular, and non-Christian influence.”

6.     Have “the conviction that believers should separate themselves from the non-Christian world.”

7.      “Prefer small, pure, and doctrinally rigorous organizations to larger, more diverse ones.”

8.      “Ill equipped to play” US coalition politics, because their “theology…continues to view Catholicism as an evil cult”.


Even generously calculated, those meeting the above qualifications could not number more than in the thousands.  Compare that with the roughly 300 million US population.  And consider that this group does not have resort to the unsavory tactics of their opponents, for the use of deceit and violence to overthrow government and attain power are inimical to their Biblical principles.  What sort of threat could such a group really pose to the entrenched modern Western political model, considered in merely human terms?  Why is such a small group even worth mentioning in an article such as this on religion in American politics?


Up to this point in time, historic Calvinists have been able to operate relatively free of overt molestation in the US, and hopefully this condition will persist for some time to come.  But we should know that we have caught the gaze of some men in high places, and we should not imagine that it is a friendly gaze.