November 5th, 2010
11:32 AM ET

My Take: The anger/hope/repeat cycle in U.S. Politics

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Just a thought, but is it possible that perhaps our current economic catastrophe isn’t really the Democrats’ fault? Or even the Republicans? Is it possible that the fault is our own?

Last month I participated in a conversation with Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international relations and history at Boston University, and the author, most recently, of Washington Rules:  America’s Path to Permanent War (2010) and The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008).

The event that brought us together was called “Are Americans God’s Chosen People?”

What lingers from the conversation was Bacevich’s refusal to pin the blame for our failed foreign policy exclusively on our politicians and commanders in chief. Much of the blame, he argues in each of his most recent books, lies at the feet of the American people.

Who stood idly by while our leaders ordered our troops into Iraq and Afghanistan? Who let President George W. Bush get away with his dangerous doctrine of “preventive war”? Us and us.

All of this makes me wonder whether our current economic woes can be placed squarely at the feet of either Obama or Bush or the U.S. Congress.

After all, we are the ones who ran up our credit cards. We are the ones who took out mortgages we could not afford. We are the ones who sat idly by while our representatives deregulated the financial system. And, as Bacevich points out, we are the ones who nodded yes and refused to ask “how much?” as we advanced in the name of all that is good and godly into Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now we are as mad as hell that Obama and the 111th Congress haven’t fixed in less than two years a catastrophe that was a generation in the making. And if unemployment remains high two years from now we will doubtless blame the do-nothing Republican House for doing nothing to fix it.

During my public conversation with Professor Bacevich last month, I pointed out that, in the colonies and the early republic, Americans conceived of themselves as participants in a covenant with God.

This covenant, however, was conditional. If we pursued justice and mercy then God would bless us. But if we turned our backs on one another and pursued our own selfish ends then God would curse us.

Or, as Governor Winthrop put it in his famous sermon aboard the Arabella:

“We must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us;  so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world . . . till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.”

Notice that Winthrop is blaming no one other than his people. He is not blaming the Indians or the French or the Spanish. He is not blaming the Democrats or the Republicans or Obama or Bush or Muslims or immigrants. As he looks forward to some possible catastrophe, he anticipates blaming himself, and his people: us.

This, it seems to me, is a voice of maturity. The voices I hear today, in both political parties, are voices of adolescence.

Both parties decry the ballooning deficit, but the Republicans are unwilling to raise taxes and the Democrats are loath to cut spending. And I can count on one hand our senators and representatives who are on record as willing to go after any real cuts in the only place where there are real cuts to be had:  in entitlement programs.

So what we get from both sides of the aisle is a sort of anaesthetic journey into the land of make-believe, punctuated every two years by a spasmodic dance of anger and hope - anger at anyone who reminds us that the world is not the sort of place our fantasies insist it must be, and hope in anyone who offers up a new fantasy.

This anger/hope/repeat cycle is likely to repeat itself until we American citizens wake up and start taking responsibility for our own problems, and our own dreams. Barack Obama is not the Messiah. The last two years have taught us that.

But the next two years will show us that neither is the Tea Party.

We got into this economic mess through our own profligacy. The only way out of it is through our own sacrifice. But don’t expect to hear it from either party, because in American elections the idea of a covenant to which we are responsible won't sell. Hope and anger do.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Opinion • Politics • Tea Party

soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. tuvia



    September 10, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  2. Iqbal khan

    Dear Muneef you can check Siraj wahaj on youtube and many others like Gary Miller,Khalid yaseen, Dr.Jerald Dirks,Yusuf Hamza,Abdul raheem Green and Jashua Evans also do read the book What Jesus Really the link I have posted many times you can download for free, I would say once you read it you can talk with great confidence and certainly an eye opener..

    November 8, 2010 at 9:23 pm |
  3. Iqbal khan


    November 8, 2010 at 7:18 pm |
    • Muneef

      @Iqbal Khan.
      This man is a fine speaker I like his lectures although this is the second of him you showed me but has mentioned many of things I wrote about before in different blogs.

      November 8, 2010 at 9:13 pm |
  4. Iqbal khan

    A very informative book, "What Jesus Really Say" many lectures and articles download for free...

    November 7, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
  5. Iqbal khan


    November 6, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
    • Reality

      Muslims to include lqbal khan should burn their copies of the koran for the 1400 year old con job that is pulled on them daily by the imams and ayatollahs.

      November 7, 2010 at 7:30 am |
  6. Iqbal khan

    Improve your knowledge:


    November 6, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
  7. MicheleG


    November 6, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  8. Derek


    I love those quotes.

    Christianity was dubbed the "perfect" religion in one of those quotes. The only issue I have with that statement is the fact that Christianity puts forth the idea that one person, Jesus Christ, will save the world. Well, he did not do it while he was on earth. Therefore, he did not save the world. Will he in the future? No one can say for certain unless he actually comes back and does it.

    In theory, every religion is perfect because they do not tell you to kill people. When someone with greater influence over the minds of others tells people to kill, or break any of the other rules, and they do it is where imperfection manifests itself. A great example and everyone knows of is Hitler. He influenced many people to use everything in their power, whether they realize it or not, to try to expel an entire people from the earth. If he had used his influence to tell the German country "Love the Jews because they clearly know how to become successful. Love them because they too are people," Germany very well may have become the most peaceful country on earth.

    November 6, 2010 at 11:33 am |
  9. pat kennedy

    We got into this economic turmoil because we tried to be nice and nice guys finish last. We were the economic powerhouse and we let corporate greed dictate our economic policies we just gave it away. Our American born corporations have decided to take advantage of people of other cultures with weak governments that do not protect their people or environments and finally we land in China. Supposedly the People's Republic, but obviously an oligarchy and we have business practice that basically would rather share wealth and power with Communist China than with the American middle class. Also of note the vast declination of the dollar, compare 1967 and 2010, the lowly candy bar, nickel or a dime in the 60's and now an almost just as big version for a dollar or more in this year.

    November 5, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
    • Reality

      It is called inflation. $0.72 in the year 2009 has the same "purchase power" as $0.1 in the year 1960.

      November 5, 2010 at 11:40 pm |
  10. RJ

    I agree with the point of your article, BUT your reference to a "conditional covenant" is the same reasoning that leads to protesters at soldiers' funerals and claims that Hurricane Katrina is an act of God's wrath (although I don't think there was agreement on what God was mad about).

    And conversely, there's too much evil that doesn't get "consumed out of the good land."

    November 5, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
  11. jeff

    Ran across many interesting quotes from our founding fathers who are so oft cited today as deists who believed in separation of church and state...

    From John Adams:

    “We have no government armed in power capable of contending in human passions unbridled by morality and religion... Our Consti-tution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” John Adams, 21 June 1776

    “Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.” Letter of June 21, 1776, quoted in The Wall Builder Report, Summer 1993

    From Benjamin Franklin:

    “...only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”
    Letter to Messrs. The Abbes Chalut and Arnaud, April 17, 1787

    From George Washington, in his Farewell Address, Sept. 17, 1796:

    “...And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion...reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

    From Benjamin Rush:

    “The only foundation for...a republic is to be laid in Religion.” “...Christianity is the only true and perfect religion;
    and that in proportion as mankind adopt its principles and obey its precepts they will be wise and happy.”

    From Charles Carroll, signer of the declaration:

    “Without morals, a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion...are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.” Letter to James McHenry, November 4, 1800

    From Patrick Henry:

    “The great pillars of all government and of social life [are] virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor...and this alone, that renders us invincible.” Letter to Archibald Blair, January 8, 1799

    Alexis de Tocqueville, French historian, in 'Democracy in America':

    “The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and liberty so intimately in their minds that it is impossible to make them conceive one without the other.”

    “The religious atmosphere of the country was the first thing that struck me upon my arrival in the U.S. In France, I had seen the spirits of religion and freedom almost always marching in opposite directions, in America, I found them intimately linked together and joined and reigned over the same land...

    Religion should therefore be considered as the first of their political insti-tutions. From the start, politics and religion have agreed and have not since ceased to do so.”


    November 5, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
    • honestanon

      @ Jeff

      Good Job. Here's more:


      And of course there's more – all you have to do is open your eyes and look for it.

      November 5, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
    • honestanon

      @ Jeff

      And now that we've dropped the bread in the water, it shouldn't take too long to watch the carp churn over it...

      There are, of course, two sides to this argument, and what's to say that the founding dads (and many politicians since) weren't / aren't working both sides against the middle? The argument is unresolvable, folks, so save yourselves the energy of all those frothy spews... In the end people will believe whatever works for them.

      November 5, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
    • Q

      I won't waste time posting Jefferson/Madison quotes, but simply refer to the Establishment Clause, Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists and Reynolds v U.S. (1878) which referencing the Jefferson letter's "separation" language in interpretation of the Establishment/Free Exercise clauses states: "Coming as this does from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure, it may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured."

      Furthermore, anyone who references Barton (as the linked site does) has apparently not been paying attention to the numerous refutations exposing his revisionist effort. While the refutations have come from both the left AND the right, those described by Chris Rodda in her YouTube series perhaps best show Barton for what he is, i.e. a liar for Jesus.

      November 5, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
  12. Didn't!

    Don't pin that crap on me!
    I had nothing to do with any of that. You wanna point fingers, point 'em at yourself.

    November 5, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
    • Derek

      You are right. I also had nothing to do with any of it because I am only a 22 year old college graduate that doesn't know anything yet, lol.

      I did not intend to point a finger at any individual. Instead, I pointed an imaginary finger at our country. Our country consists of millions of citizens. Whether any citizen likes it or not, they are part of this country and our country is responsible for what it does.

      November 6, 2010 at 11:37 am |
  13. Derek

    I absolutely agree that Americans are the blame. We, the people, are this country. One person cannot take the blame for an entire country's actions. Every time I think of politics I think of a quote that has inspired me to try to change the world. I cannot remember the exact words but it goes something like this:

    I tried to change the world, but when that did not work I tried to change my country. When I tried to change my country that did not work so I tried to change my state. When that did not work I tried to change my town. When that did not work I tried to change my family. Alas, that did not work, so I changed myself.

    If we want this world to change, we all need to change ourselves, individually. It will not come with a tax cut or any new policy. When will we stop idolizing others and start loving ourselves. Treat ourselves with respect, and we will treat others with respect. Love yourself before you can love your neighbor.

    God might exist, there might be an ultimate creator. No one can ever know for sure unless he reveals himself. So until that time comes, why can't we realize that what matters is we are here, on earth, and were the ones that wrote the words in the holy books.

    People spend their entire lives FIGHTING to have their voice be heard. FIGHTING to convince others that their way is the right way. Why can't EVERYONE be right. Why can't this world exist as a world of belief. Everyone believes in everyone. That way, no one will disagree. We may debate, with words, but NOT with actions.

    Maybe death comes to those we love because the world is not good enough for them. Our world is not capable of keeping people alive for long periods of time because we don't let it. We don't make each other happy enough to stay young forever. Yet YOUTH is what everyone wishes they had when they are "old."

    I personally believe it should be America's goal to establish peace in the world.

    Call everyone we have overseas and tell them to come home to their families and then APOLOGIZE, SINCERELY to every country we have hurt. Apologize even to the countries we did not hurt but simply tried to enforce our beliefs on them.

    Then genuinely ask that we do not wish to engage in any more fighting and arguing and destructive behaviors because that is the only way world peace can actually happen.

    Money is not the answer. It never was. It never will be.

    We are the answer.

    It is time for our country to establish a HUMAN system of government.

    I apologize if this post was a little unorganized because I wrote it straight through because this is how I am feeling right now. Please respond, though, because I love hearing what others have to say.

    November 5, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
    • honestanon

      @ Derek

      I admire your passion. But whether human altruism can be realized in the face of human self-interest is an eternal question for philosophers – not politicians or pragmatists. And by the way, your quote was almost right.. here's the full text.

      When I was young, I wanted to change the world. I tried, but the world did
      not change. Then I tried to change my town, but the town did not change.
      Then I tried to change my family, but my family did not change.
      Then I knew: first I must change myself.

      Credited to Rabbi Israel Salanter in reference to the development of religious self-improvement (the 'Musar Movement') and quoted in, among many religious texts, "To Heal a Fractured World, The Ethics of Responsibility," by Rabbi Jonathon Sacks.

      November 5, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
    • Muneef

      You are right as there is a verse in Quran that says that things will not change unless we change our selves first.

      November 8, 2010 at 5:14 am |
  14. Reality

    Obviously, the two "professors" never read the news and are definitely "recent history challenged" but we are here to bring them up to date:

    Our War on Terror and Aggression:

    An update (or how we are spending or how we have spent the USA taxpayers’ money to eliminate global terror and aggression)

    The terror and aggression via a Partial and Recent Body Count

    1a) 179 killed in Mumbai/Bombay, 290 injured

    1b) Assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh

    2) 9/11, 3000 mostly US citizens, 1000’s injured

    3) The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US Troops killed in action, 3,481 and 924 died in non-combat, 97,172 – 106,047 Iraqi civilians killed, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ and

    4) Kenya- In Nairobi, about 212 people were killed and an estimated 4000 injured; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85.[2]

    5) Bali-in 2002-killing 202 people, 164 of whom were foreign nationals, and 38 Indonesian citizens. A further 209 people were injured.

    6) Bali in 2005- Twenty people were killed, and 129 people were injured by three bombers who killed themselves in the attacks.

    7) Spain in 2004- killing 191 people and wounding 2,050.

    8. UK in 2005- The bombings killed 52 commuters and the four radical Islamic suicide bombers, injured 700.

    9) The execution of an eloping couple in Afghanistan on 04/15/2009 by the Taliban.

    10) – Afghanistan: US troops 1,116 killed in action, 902 killed in non-combat situations as of 08/10/2010. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror

    11) The killing of 13 citizen soldiers at Ft. Hood by a follower of the koran.

    12) 38 Russian citizens killed on March 29, 2010 by Muslim women suicide bombers.

    13) The May 28, 2010 attack on a Islamic religious minority in Pakistan, which have left 98 dead,

    14) Lockerbie is known internationally as the site where, on 21 December 1988, the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 crashed as a result of a terrorist bomb. In the United Kingdom the event is referred to as the Lockerbie disaster, the Lockerbie bombing, or simply Lockerbie. Eleven townspeople were killed in Sherwood Crescent, where the plane's wings and fuel tanks plummeted in a fiery explosion, destroying several houses and leaving a huge crater, with debris causing damage to a number of buildings nearby. The 270 fatalities (259 on the plane, 11 in Lockerbie) were citizens of 21 nations.

    15) Followed by the daily suicide and/or roadside and/or mosque bombings every day in the terror world of Islam.

    16) Bombs sent from Yemen by followers of the koran which fortunately were discovered before the bombs were detonated.

    17) The killing of 58 Christians in a Catholic church in one of the latest acts of horror and terror in Iraq.

    Other elements of our War on Terror and Aggression:

    -Operation Iraqi Freedom- The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US Troops killed in action, 3,481 and 924 died in non-combat, 97,172 – 106,047 Iraqi civilians killed as of 8/10/2010 mostly due the Shiite and Sunni suicide bombers.

    – Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan: US troops 1,116 killed in action, 902 killed in non-combat situations as of 08/10/2010. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror,

    – Sa-dd-am, his sons and major he-nchmen have been deleted. Sa-dd-am's bravado about WMD was one of his major mistakes. Kuwait was saved.

    – Iran is being been contained. (beside containing the Sunni-Shiite civil war in Baghdad, that is the main reason we are in Iraq. And yes, essential oil continues to flow from the region.)

    – Libya has become almost civil. Recently Libya agreed to pay $1.5 billion to the victims of their terrorist activities. Apparently this new reality from an Islamic country has upset OBL and his “cra-zies” as they have thre-atened Libya. OBL sure is a di-sgrace to the world especially the Moslem world!!! Or is he???

    – North Korea is still u-ncivil but is contained.

    – Northern Ireland is finally at peace.

    – The Jews and Palestinians are being separated by walls. Hopefully the walls will follow the 1948 UN accords. Unfortunately the Annapolis Peace Conference was not successful. And unfortunately the recent events in Gaza has put this situation back to “squ-are one”. And this significant stupidity is driven by the mythical foundations of both religions!!!

    – Bin La-d-en has been cornered under a rock in Western Pakistan since 9/11.

    – Fa-na–tical Islam has basically been contained to the Middle East but a wall between India and Pakistan would be a plus for world peace. Ditto for a wall between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    – Timothy McVeigh was exe-cuted. Terry Nichols will follow soon.

    – Eric Ru-dolph is spending three life terms in pri-son with no par-ole.

    – Jim Jones, David Koresh, Kaczynski, the "nuns" from Rwanda, and the KKK were all dealt with and either eliminated themselves or are being punished.

    – Islamic Sudan, Dar-fur and So-malia are still terror hot spots.

    – The terror and tor-ture of Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo and Kuwait were ended by the proper application of the military forces of the USA and her freedom-loving friends. Ra-dovan Karadzic was finally captured on 7/23/08 and is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the law of war – charges related to the 1992-1995 civil war that followed Bosnia-Herzegovina's secession from Yugoslavia.

    – And of course the bloody terror brought about by the Ja-panese, Na-zis and Co-mmunists was with great difficulty eliminated by the good guys.

    November 5, 2010 at 11:53 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.