by Josh Chernila
When I was a junior in high school, my European History class first encountered the doctrine of Calvinism. After wading through the dates and major figures and events, we settled into a discussion of the doctrine itself. In itself, the Calvinist doctrine has quite a lovely inspiration and is quite nuanced, but in practice it comes down to a fundamental argument that the wealthy are the most favored of God.
As a progressive thinker and American patriot, born and bred, I found this doctrine profoundly repellent. Were the European kings, against whom our forefathers waged revolution, the favored of God, even as they ground centuries of peasantry beneath the boots of tyranny? How must this Calvinist “God” have wept as King George went mad and Marie Antionette’s alluring curls were cast into a bloody basket amidst cheering, jeering crowds.
For me, this was obviously a way for despots to use superstition to justify the “Divine Right of Kings.” But looking around my classroom, I could see that I was nearly alone. A few enlightened schoolmates were clearly turning green as the sickening realization dawned, but we were in the scant minority. Around the room I saw the faces of my classmates come alight. I saw religious fervor meet greed in a critical mass moment that created sneers of self satisfaction, and a dawning, fundamental belief that as they and theirs were to progress into greater and greater wealth, regardless of the means or method, they would always have God on their side.
In the intervening years, I have seen the conservative movement catch fire, aided by the core precept of Calvinism and abetted by a particularly nefarious “greed is good” modernization which has come to be known as “The Prosperity Doctrine.” Megachurches cash in on concepts like “seeding,” as they bilk the poor, tired, huddled masses of middle America of their wealth, wages, and power, all in the desperate belief that wealth shows God’s favor. Mega pastors live in massive mansions, buy yachts and private jets, all to show the their followers precisely what it means to serve this Calvinist God. All this, despite the fact the success of a pastor should not be judged by his net worth, but by the personal fulfillment of his parishioners. How can we have gone so badly wrong?
Just as was the case back in high school, today the progressive movement has remained largely silent against this ascendancy of mammon worship, ignoring a generation’s worth of political and economic fallout, as the bounty of America has been siphoned off to the ultra-wealthy, all in “God’s” name.
By the reasoning of the “Prosperity Gospel” folks, as long as God’s purpose is to create material prosperity, the purpose of government is to protect and empower the wealthy. And furthermore, the bounty of American productivity should not be shared among those whose labor and creativity have made it, but rather with the capitalists who risk their Divine Worth, aka Capital, to increase their own net worth. Taxation and regulation on the wealthy and powerful business interests must be reduced, lest government punish God’s chosen. The poor and working class must be increasingly burdened and punished. Protections against all of life’s risks, from age and sickness to unemployment and hunger, must be eliminated, so that those sadly not in God’s favor might suffer for their obvious disfavor.
This is our America. This is our true American religion, in practice. This is where we have chosen, as a result of the Prosperity Gospel, to direct the fruits of America’s bounty.
Progressives hold a different perspective of divinity. Progressives hold a different relationship with God. Progressives have faith that each of us — every man, woman, and child — has a destiny that exists in the world, independent of wealth. Progressives believe that the purpose of government is not, as the Prosperity Gospel dictates, to enforce the domination of society by an aristocracy of dynastic wealth, but rather that the purpose of government is to serve the people as each seeks to fulfill his or her own potential.
How can our poorest children fulfill their potential as the funds that could have been directed to their schools are redirected to vanity development projects, religious or private schools? How may seniors enjoy the bounty of their wisdom, experience, hard work and love of family when the Social Security they paid for all their lives and their Medicare are siphoned off for Wall Street and insurance company executive pay? How can working families prosper when educational, food support, and retraining funds are sacrificed at the altar of corporate socialist giveaways?
The Destiny Doctrine is the progressive refutation of Calvinism and the Prosperity Doctrine that has made our republic an oligarchy, and now threatens to replace freedom of conscience with theocracy and to replace widespread opportunity with an increasingly disciplinary caste system. The Destiny Doctrine is the moral justification behind the protection of civil rights, and the reassertion of the primacy of the American people at the heart of government, rather than the top 10% of wealthy individuals and organizations.
In the Progressive vision, every man woman and child has a right to fulfill his or her own destiny, his or her own potential. It is thus the obligation of government to safeguard the institutions that protect individual freedom and opportunity. After a generation of singular domination in the American dialogue, it is time for the Prosperity Gospel to get some competition. It is time for the widespread assertion of the Destiny Gospel to put the American people back at the heart of our national purpose.