Somewhere in a parallel universe …
Jerry Falwell, President
December 25, 1978
It is altogether fitting and proper that we should be meeting at this holy time of year. Attached is the final version of the focus group analysis. Nothing new in the numbers, but we have added several recommendations since the last draft. What we are proposing is controversial, and we expect a lively discussion at the Executive Committee meeting.
Also enclosed please find our fourth quarter bill. Note that we have yet to receive payment for the first three quarters. As you know better than we, miracles are infrequent and the rent must still be paid!
TO: Executive Committee, Moral Majority
FROM: Ted Nordhaus, Michael Shellenberger
DATE: December 25, 1978
CC: Howard Phillips, Richard Viguerie
RE: THE NEW JESUS PROJECT
The focus groups we have conducted in our Strategic Values Project have surfaced problematic reactions to the tone, language and narrative of the Moral Majority test materials. Here we summarize the most troublesome areas, consider their meaning and suggest a response. It is our firm conviction that the Moral Majority can transcend its narrow boundaries and become the dominant force on the national political stage. The yawning chasm of depravity opened in the loins of our nation by the Godless beatnik-hippies of the 60’s generation must and will be healed. This can only be achieved, however, if outmoded foundational tenets are discarded and negative, dispiriting approaches are replaced with an inclusive, aspirational story.
FROM NIGHTMARE TO DREAM. The concept of religion has been thoroughly deconstructed. The politics we propose breaks from several widely accepted, but intellectually discredited religious distinctions, such as that between human and God, sin and redemption, and heaven and hell. Few things have hampered Christianity more than its exclusivity and emphasis on the Apocalypse. We argue that Moral Majority must break with both archaic beliefs and espouse an inclusive approach (either a pan-theology or, better yet, neo-Platonic philosophy), and substitute a realistic vision of heaven on earth in place of the fictive (and terrifying) heaven/hell dichotomy. Desire, not fear is productive
THE PREJUDICE OF SOUL. In an all-to-familiar story, a certain Mr. Bernardone listened to a directive from the pulpit and immediately threw down his money, cloak and shoes and walked barefoot into the snow.* He did this for fear of his “soul,” a thing without form or substance, for which no proof has ever been offered. Moral Majority campaigns make no direct reference to “the soul,” but the organization’s very name is a subtle dig at non-believers. Appeals based on “my soul is purer than your soul” (MSPTYP) are spiritual elitism. We no longer believe that it is justified to confine our enmity to a particular sect. Why then do we believe that we are justified in exalting our souls over the souls of others? (*February 24, 1208, Assisi, Italy)
THE GOD PARADIGM. Toward the beginning of the shared Jewish-Christian foundational text, the Supreme Being addresses the character Noah, saying: “Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed.” (NSRV Gen. 9:6). In the Christen-only edition, Jesus says to his disciples, “… the one who has no sword should sell his cloak and buy one.” (NSRV Luke 22:36). The written record of every major religion is replete with this sort of confusing cross-indication, but the Judeo-Christian tradition, with its centuries of Talmudic hair-spitting and weird Apocrypha is particularly rich in contradiction. What sufficed for nomads and medieval peoples, however, is dysfunctional in postmodern society. In a time of Court TV and hyper-contractual awareness, it is essential that religio-commitments, commandments, etc. be consistent, coherent and enforceable on both parties. Flip-flopping Supreme Beings are stumbling blocks in the superhighway of global progress and this sort of behavior is difficult to justify in an infallible being.
THE DEATH OF CHRISTIANITY. We have become convinced that Christianity — its modes of thought, its beliefs and its very institutions — is outmoded and must die so that a new, postmodern, California-esque form of consciousness may emerge. Thomas Aquinas famously wrote … “Hold firmly that our faith is identical with that of the ancients.” This trim sentence neatly sums up all that is limiting, cramped and exclusive in our narrative. We ask our followers to look back, to think alike, to submerge their creativity and individuality, and to accept life on faith.
The terrible narrative of John the Revelator, with its Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Whore of Babylon,and lakes of fire best exemplifies the negative, limiting vision that we believe must be discarded in order that Moral Majority may fulfill its promise. We cannot expect to gain influence in the general public with a message of sin, moral superiority and damnation for all who are not born-again Evangelical Christians.
GREATNESS. In 1977, working with a small group of foundation officers and pastors, we conceived an experimental approach called the “New Jesus Project.” We believed that by shedding the outmoded interpretations and horse blinders of an antiquated religious past, we might unearth a more robust and forward looking religio-political model. We proposed a major investment in Biblically based construction projects, service work, transportation, communications and justice systems. The political thinking was that this agenda would win over Jewish voters, particularly the proposal to assist the State of Israel in reclaiming all of Jerusalem and rebuilding the Temple (in strict accordance with Ezekiel 40, etc.). Negative reactions from the small, but growing US Muslin population would be ameliorated by funding “Peoples of the Book” community centers in major cities. Our focus groups found that the “Counselor Jesus,” portrayed in the “Jesus Files a Restraining Order Against the Moneylenders” 30 and 60 sec. spots, connected very strongly with fears over street crime and anger at high bank fees.
We received many denominational endorsements, but were baffled by what happened next. In the spring 1976, we called on pastors to replace traditional Palm Sunday services with “New Jesus” ceremonies, dispensing with frivolous “donkey, fronds & kids” theme to refocus on the more important issue of institutional change and preaching … “Why Die Hard?: Steps to Win/Win for JC & Ciaphas” sermons. Privately, many pastors told us that they supported the idea, but deacons and major tithers put in the kibosh.
On September 22, 2002, Oprah Winfrey accepted the first Bob Hope Humanitarian Award. In her acceptance speech, Oprah dwelt on common bonds … “we all are just regular people seeking the same thing. The guy on the street, the woman in the classroom, the Israeli, the Afghani, the Zuni, the Apache, the Irish, the Protestant, the Catholic, the gay, the straight, you, me — we all just want to know that we matter.”
Instead of inspiring her audience with a vision of the essential American promise — you too can be uplifted above the poor peoples of the world! — the very aspiration she herself embodies, she muffed it.
Imagine how electrifying if Oprah had preached… “You do not have to be as poor as an Afghani, you too can be as rich as an Apache with a casino! You do not have to wait for wings, anyone can be an angel! You do not have to wait for heaven, America is heaven!”