Social & Domestic Issues

Dangerous Influences: The New Yorker, Michele Bachmann, and Me

The takeaway from Ryan Lizza’s hit piece on Michele Bachmann in the New Yorker is this:  “Dominionist” is the new “Fundamentalist”—the preferred term of abuse, intended to arouse fear and contempt, and downgrade the status of targeted groups of people. 
Never mind that most of those people have never heard the term—including me.  Bachmann told Lizza that a major influence on her thinking was my book Total Truth (“Bachmann told me [it] was a ‘wonderful’ book”), along with the work of Francis Schaeffer, whom I studied under. 
Lizza labeled the two of us Dominionists.  Dozens of liberal websites have picked up the story and repeated the charge. 
I had to Google the term to discover whether there really is such a group. 
Yes, there is a little-known group of Christians who claim the term, though they are typically called Reconstructionists.  Apparently it was sociologist Sara Diamond who expanded Dominionism into a general term of abuse, based on a passage in Genesis where God tells humans to exercise “dominion” over the earth. 
By that definition, anyone who respects Genesis as Scripture would be a Dominionist—including Jews and Catholics, as well as Evangelicals, Fundamentalists and Pentecostals.  And not a few of the American Founders.
Reductio ad absurdum.  Or so you would think.  But liberal writers have jumped on the label and are applying it to conservatives in just about all of the above groups, with a few secular conservatives thrown in. 
Journalist Stanley Kurtz calls this usage of the term “conspiratorial nonsense,” “political paranoia” and “guilt by association.”
If we’re looking for the real hermeneutical key to Michele Bachmann’s mind, surprisingly it’s right out in plain sight.  It is a term that appears several times in Lizza’s piece, though he ignores it. 
The term is worldview
A major theme in my writings and Schaeffer’s is that Christianity is a worldview.  That means it is not reducible to a set of privatized religious rituals and practices.  Instead it offers a coherent, rationally consistent intellectual framework for all of life. 
Schaeffer spent most of his adult life in Europe, and his concept of worldview owes much to Dutch thinkers Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd.  Kuyper was prime minister of the Netherlands in the early 20th century and founder of the Free University of Amsterdam.  Dooyeweerd was a systematic philosopher who taught there. 
They adopted the concept of worldview from Continental philosophy.  It is a translation of the German term Weltanschauung, which expresses the Hegelian notion that any given society shares a common outlook, a Zeitgeist or spirit of the age. 
The implication is that a society’s cultural artifacts—its laws, customs, morality, art, politics—all express that shared spirit or common outlook. 
For Kuyper and Dooyeweerd, this holistic concept of worldview did a nice job of capturing the creative impact that Christianity has had on Western culture through history, inspiring much of its art, literature, music, architecture, philosophy, and political thought. 
It was this creative impulse that Schaeffer hoped to revive in our own day.
Lizza writes as though anyone who applies Christianity to all of life is a dangerous extremist.  But that shows a failure to understand how worldviews work. 
Marxists offer a Marxist perspective on economics, politics, family, technology, and virtually every other discipline.   
The same is true of feminism and other isms.  Even evolution:  There’s a growth industry in books applying Darwinian categories to everything from politics (Darwinian Politics), to sexuality (The Evolution of Desire), to music (The Singing Neanderthals), to creativity (Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity), to literature (Madame Bovary’s Ovaries: A Darwinian Look at Literature).
In Total Truth I explain that such all-encompassing worldviews function as lenses through which people see the world.  Lizza quotes one of those passages, insinuating that it is a symptom of near-paranoia.  (”She tells her readers to be extremely cautious with ideas from non-Christians.”) 
But the role of worldviews is standard stuff among Continental thinkers.  “All facts are theory-laden” has the status of cliché in philosophy of science. 
Everyone has a more or less coherent worldview that gives them a toolbox of ideas to explain the world—even writers for the New Yorker. 
And even if that worldview is masked in order to appear fair and balanced while writing a hit piece on a presidential candidate.  In fact, it’s the unstated assumptions that have greatest power to influence and control public perceptions.
You might even conclude that a “Dominionist” impulse is alive and well among members of the secularized ruling class.
Meanwhile, would someone please put Total Truth into the hands of Barack Obama?  I’d love to be a dangerous influence on him too.

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  • William Riddle

    Nancy, good points at the start of your article here.  We’re all been changed from Fundamentalists to Dominionists and theocrats now.  I am surprised however that you were not familiar with the Dominion/Reconstruction movement, however.   It is on the margin, but also influential in certain Presbyterian circles.  Ironically though, I think it peaked in the 80s.

  • Adam Moreira

    Maybe it’s me, but I had heard of the word, albeit not thinking of it as “fundamentalist”, but rather as “originalist” (i.e., the Canadian sense of the word; I could be wrong on that, as I have not yet . That said, The New Yorker is written for a very specific audience…the minds of Greater New York (where I happen to live); as for liberal bias, this was the same magazine that published that Obama cartoon…and went on to defend it. I haven’t picked up a copy yet, but I may be better able to comment when I do read it.

    @yahoo-OHBKTCSIRF6UL4KLQDAWQINPSE:disqus, in and of itself, Marxism hasn’t killed anyone; totalitarianism is what has killed, however. You can separate the two concepts.

  • jwebsmall

    The left wants the government to be our only family and the president to be the god of us little gods.  They are terrified we may tear down their temple of death, spoil their salvation of entitlements and dare to speak heresies against their idols in public or even worse challenge their world view in state run schools of propaganda.  They can’t tolerate any competition of ideas since theirs are so fragile. These people are the new barbarians and we’ve seen a glimpse of what life would be like when children of children rule over us like they are attempting to do in London. The UK is reaping the seeds of liberation theology which ironically threatens to enslave them now under totalitarianism. And yet the left fears a woman who might call them out on their immorality who they think is in turn is dominated by her family and husband.  These people are primitive morons who can’t reason their way out of a paper bag.

  • heartsandmindsbooks

    Nora, I’m not exactly sure which idiocy you are referring to.  Pearcey’s observations about how one’s deepest sense of things, which she explains as an application of notions of Continental philosophers into the word “worldview”, effects how people—citizens and leaders, journalists and pundits—all “see” and interpret the world.  It helps us understand things more profoundly, instead of just shouting about this or that policy debate.  I think that sort of rumination is very helpful these days, getting at the deeper matters behind the policy debates (“what really matters.”)  Also, her standing up for herself when a prestigious sloppy journalist unfairly smeared her and her mentor, marginalizing her perspective, is a much-needed corrective!  Whether you are Jewish or any other faith or no faith, the deepest views and ways of thinking of the candidates and the smear tactics of journalists  against fellow citizens is no small matter!

  • no_pc

    Schools are being closed and people are being laid off due to intransigent public sector labor unions that refuse to reduce the overly generous salaries and benefits of memebers,choosing layoffs instead. Look what happened in Wisconsin when those contracts were scaled back and collective bargaining was reigned in.  Jobs were saved and budgets were balanced.  Families are being foreclosed on because jobs were lost from the democRAT policies of overregulation and taxation that have forced businesses to move to more business friendly areas. Every single speech by the TOTUS is full of corporate bashing and class warfare rhetoric designed to confuse and divide the undereducated population. Religion is not the reason for the decline, lack of religion and reliance on the party of gimme gimme gimme is. There is no easy road to success. Hard work, christian values and small government that allows citizens to make their own way in the world is the best way to get the U.S. back on top.

  • Adam Moreira

    For even a majority of the left, that seems to be a ridiculous thought. I’m not even sure where to start.

  • ShadrachSmith

    On the Atlantic Wire, I ran into a poster who maintained that Lizza’s view of Bachmann was the key to understanding her. This Lizza article will haunt her for a good long while. 

    My response was that I don’t care if the woman sacrifices chickens on a stone altar every Friday at midnight. So long as she stands firm on the Tea Party agenda, I’m her boy.

  • Guest

    I must admit that I have never heard anyone credit Christianity with technological or scientific advancements. Christianity has held back the planet from hundreds of scientific discoveries, from Galileo, Copernicus, Giordano Bruno, Newton, just to name a few, all either convicted of heresy for daring to speak the truth or ostracized by the church. Christianity is to science what 7-11 is to fine dining. And pardon me for asking, but weren’t the Dark Ages a result of the rise and corruption of Christianity? I mean really, In 1095 Pope Urban II kicks-off the first Crusade to the Holy Land.  This starts just a whole slew of poorly conceived bad road trips. The dark ages were caused by the Christian church destroying anything that did not agree with the brainwashing they were trying to achieve.  They wanted complete
    control of the masses so they could squeeze them for their wealth.  They destroyed libraries, and persecuted and murdered anyone who disagreed with their dogma. 
    They closed down non-religious schools and forced all education to be through the church. There really are no other factors.  The other evils were a result of the church’s intervention. So to claim that Christianity had anything to do with any
    technological advancement is just silly. If Christianity stands for anything it
    is retrograde thinking and the intolerance of new ideas. Religion hates scientific enlightenment.

    And one more thing, to say that here in America children whom are raised in a Christian home have a lot less problems is pure nonsense. Studies have proven that the less religious nations have far better adjusted societies, better education, lower incidences of teen child birth, STD’s, and lower crime rates. Religion ain’t all that you think it is bub.

  • Adam Moreira

    Those schools would be desirable for the left if those troubemakers could be eliminated. That is the major problem. The rest falls from there.

  • JasBOR

    1.  I appreciate that Nancy Pearcey owns up to the implicit Hegelianism in worldviewism.  One does not have to be a follower of Hegel to be a follower of Christ.  Kierkegaard was a striking example, calling for discipleship in the dead orthodoxy that Hegelianism had brought about in Denmark. A growing critique of worldviewism can be observed in the past decade among American evangelicals with a philosophical bent, not least for its totalizing and overly rationalistic tendencies.  Even James Sire has repented some of his earlier understanding. 2.  It is incredible to me that Nancy Pearcey who is so influential and well-read in American evangelicalism had never heard of “dominionism” before.  It flourished 3 or 4 decades ago, but has morphed into several other movement streams today.  3.  Unfortunately for Michelle Bachmann, Frank Schaeffer (the son of Francis) gives credence to the fact that his father allied himself with reconstructionist Rushdooney and others during a period of time.  The older Schaeffer was a complex figure whose thought reflected many different moods at different periods of time.  However, taking the whole of his career, not everything the older Schaeffer did was dominionist.  4.  A whole spectrum of viewpoints might be considered Kuyperian, from right to left, depending in part on how much emphasis one places on the Kuyperian idea of antithesis and how much one places on common grace.  Dooyweerd was only one interpreter of Kuyper.  Vollenhoven and Van Til were others.  And the latter clearly influenced both “dominionism” and the older Schaeffer, although perhaps in different ways.

  • BillNC

    ‘If you are not a liberal by the time you’re twenty, you have no heart; and if you’re not a conservative by the time you’re thirty, you have no brain’ is how I’ve always heard it.

    I also had always heard it attributed to Winston Churchill, but I think that it wasn’t him. 

  • crakpot

    I would add that I consider the preamble to the Declaration to be a good statement of conscience about matters political, “self-evident truths” in Jefferson’s way of speaking.   I can find nothing wrong with the words of that sentence.   And yes, it is possible for a truth to flow through the pen or past the vocal cords of a former or even current slaveholder (Moses committed this grievous sin too).   What matters, what lives on, is truth.

    Any candidate asking for power should hear his or her conscience at least as well as the governed.   From everything I’ve heard her say, I think Bachmann does.

  • BillNC

    ‘Dominion’ has been a part of the Judeo-Christian mindset for thousands of years.  It meant both ‘rule’ and ‘stewardship of’–as contrasted with the liberal accusation of ‘exploitation.’ 

    When I was growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, every Christian I knew had the understanding of and buy-in with the verse in Genesis where God told us that people have dominion over all the other creatures of the Earth. 

    That same belief is well illustrated in many early American Christian writings.  It is understood when people speak of “man and beast” and of “human beings”–that is, humanity has been understood as being different from all the other creatures, in that we are beings, while animals are not. 

    In fact, I think that the whole “Manifest Destiny” attitude found in early America was more rooted in the Biblical directive about dominion, and not in the common, modern-day attrubution of “imperialism.”  


  • Dustoff

    Speaking of the left.

    Senate Democrats are charging taxpayers for a trip to Hawaii,
    The Daily Caller has learned. The entire press staff of the Senate
    Indian Affairs Committee is in Maui, even though a field hearing there
    won’t happen until next Wednesday.

    The committee’s oversight field hearing, scheduled for August 17 at 9:00 a.m. at the Maui Beach Hotel, will focus on “Strengthening Self-Sufficiency: Overcoming Barriers to Economic Development in Native Communities.”

    Rick Manning from Americans for Limited Government, which first discovered the hearing, told TheDC it’s unbelievable that Hill staffers talking about fiscal responsibility would waste money on a trip to Maui.

    “It’s outrageous that Senate Democrats have so little respect for the
    American taxpayer that in the same month they buried our credit rating,
    they’re heading to Hawaii to celebrate,” Manning said.
    Read more:

  • BillNC

    You actually have it all backwards. 

    It wasn’t Christianity that persecuted those scientists.  It was the church being unchristian that did it. 

    Many, many scientists were Christian, and attibuted their scientific researching to their Christian world view.  Johann Sebastian Bach was similar in his pursuit of music.

    You may have heard of Samuel Adams.  “Let divines and philosophers, statesmen and patriots, unite their endeavors to renovate the age, by impressing the minds of men with the importance of educating their little boys and girls, of inculcating in the minds of youth the fear and love of the Deity…and, in subordination to these great principles, the love of their country….In short, of leading them in the study and practice of the exalted virtues of the Christian system.”–Samuel Adams, letter, 10/4/1790.

  • NoSurprises

    It seems every time some bright bulb on the left comes up with a new term of derision, all the dim bulbs jump on it. Just consider a most recent addition to their lexicon: TeaParty Downgrade. It must really suck to be so angry all the time. Their leader is alluded to in the Scripture: Eph 6:12. It’s the only viable explanation.

  • joesolargenius

    Although you have already been properly chastised by your fellow Americans for your recent reply to my comment I just wanted to add a little something else.
    My post was speaking about how the moral standards of the Christian faith had been instrumental in elevating certain nations to a higher standard of living than what is experienced in non christian dominant areas of humanity.
    Children raised in Christian homes have respect for others and view themselves as responsible members of society whom need to help improve the lives of all in their community, A good example of this is black Christians whom commit very few crimes against others as compared to non christian blacks.
    I don’t remember having mentioned the church being part of that success story as I don’t believe people should allow either church or state to control their actions to any great length .

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