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Gordon Howie, David Brat, God, Capitalism, and Rome

Last updated on 2014.07.08

Gordon Howie believes David Brat's primary upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia's Seventh District bodes well for Howie's hard Indy climb against Mike Rounds for South Dakota's U.S. Senate seat:

While this is being tagged as a “tea party” win, Brat affirms that the real victory came from his uncompromising support of the Republican Party platform, which deals with less government control, free market solutions and faith in God.

When given a clear choice between an establishment candidate with lots of money and a conservative with a commitment to principle, voters will continue to choose principle over politics [Gordon Howie, "Howie Says Cantor Loss Indicates Big Trouble for Mike Rounds," campaign press release, 2014.06.11].

As was the case in his April interview with me, Howie appears to assert that he can win Independent votes with "uncompromising" Republican principles. I feel a disconnect there.

Gordon Howie graphic, celebrating Dave Brat's primary victory over Eric Cantor, June 13, 2014
Gordon Howie graphic, celebrating Dave Brat's primary victory over Eric Cantor, June 13, 2014

So does my friend Leo Kallis, who sees Howie alienating everyone to his left (which is 98% of us) with his standard hard theo-right pitches unmodulated for an Independent run. Contrary to the heavenly graphic Howie glues to his underdog devotional, Brat's primary win is not an Easter parable or a fulfillment of Christian poster prophecy. This Christian God I keep hearing about is not registered to vote in Virginia or anywhere else and probably does not need any economics professor or former thrift shop owner to win an election to save His Creation.

Like Howie, Brat mixes too much Jesus juice with his politics, and mixes it badly. In this September 2011 paper on usury and capitalism, which Union Theological Seminary must have been asleep at its editorial switch to allow on the pages of its journal Interpretation, Brat mashes bits of his education (master of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, Ph.D. in economics from American University) into something that reads more like an exuberant if uncomfortable stump speech-revival tent mashup than a scholarly essay on either theology or economics.

Brat blithely dismisses contemporary Christian critiques of usury as inconsistent leftist attempts to devilishly cite Scripture for their purpose. (I would love to hear Brat's response to the usury critique offered by our own brave pastor and Republican state legislator Steve Hickey.) Those darned leftists just want to dismantle capitalism, says Brat, and that's a non-starter, because, by God, capitalism is awesome and it's here to stay:

The answer to usury is likely a good proxy for the answer to where one stands on capitalism. And there, my friends, we have a good story, because that is the story of our day. Capitalism is the major organizing force in modern life, whether we like it or not. It is here to stay. If the sociologists ever grasp this basic fact, their enterprise will be much more fruitful. We set alarm clocks to follow the schedule of the market. Children leave their families to follow the job market. We often weigh our social worth by looking to market wages, salaries, and consumption patterns. We spend much more time on market activity than God activity. Thus, Calvinism [David Brat, "God and Advanced Mammon—Can
Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?," Interpretation, September 2011].

Worth noting: Brat's opponent, Jack Trammell, teaches sociology.

More worth noting: dissolving families, defining self-worth by money and consumption, and spending more time shopping than praying and serving God all sound pretty unChristian. But instead of offering a proper pulpit-y critique of capitalism's undermining of the church, Brat tells his fellow believers that "capitalism is here to stay, and we need a church model that corresponds to that reality."

That's funny. I thought Christians, like Jesus, always put ought above is. I thought Christians were supposed to upset the apple cart and not give in to the awesome, inevitable, unbeatable Goliath... which is what David Brat says Christians did with Rome:

Rome was hard to budge. Jesus did not go after Rome, but a few hundred years later, Rome was a Christian empire [Brat, 2011].

Back in 33 A.D., lots of people said, "Rome is here to stay." Lots of Roman subjects would have said then what Brat says of the capitalist empire today: that it does all sorts of good (ecce aquæductum!), that we should fit our religion to it, Hail Caesar!

Jesus said pay your taxes, but he didn't embrace empire the way Brat does... and the way, dare I say, Howie does. Entangling Christianity and Empire didn't go well for the Church then (thus, Luther!), and it won't go well for believers now.

Gordon Howie will have trouble winning Independents. With his Hail-Mary triumphalism about Brat's win and Brat's principles, he may not even win conservative Christians trying to get their theology right.


  1. Roger Cornelius 2014.06.13

    What Gordon appears to b overlooking is that Brat won as a Republican, not as an Independent. That makes a huge difference, especially in South Dakota.

    The interesting part of the Brat election is that shows there is great divide, and getting greater, within the Republican Party. Mainstream Republicans do not like Brat and like him even less now that he beat Cantor.

  2. Steve Sibson 2014.06.13

    Cory, this is some really thought provoking commentary. I wonder if Brat understands the difference between GOP Establishment capitalism, which is an anti-thesis to what most believe capitalism to be, which is a competitive free market enterprise system. I think a lot of conservatives are deceived by a lack of understanding.

  3. Bill Fleming 2014.06.13

    Big difference in the nature of the game for a guy running for House in an extremely gerrymandered district, and a guy running for Senate where the way districts are drawn don't make any diff. If I were Mr. Howie, I wouldn't try to draw too many parallels between Brat's race and his. They are two completely different animals.

  4. mike from iowa 2014.06.13

    I thought wingnuts worshipped the almighty greenback and revered those born with the most. Sounds like they have already melded religion and capitalism to make trump.

  5. bearcreekbat 2014.06.13

    Brat has an interesting history and philosophy that I doubt Gordon agrees with. For example, Brat is reported to be a strong Ayn Rand advocate, teaching her theories in college after receiving a $500,000 grant to focus on expanding an acceptance of her philosophy among his students.

    Rand was an avowed atheist, who considered altruism a major weakness and defect. Greed was her deity. Not exactly a New Testament point of view. With Brat's history of espousing such views, while claiming to be a Christian, seems hypocritical and would seemingly be contrary to Gordon's purported Christian outlook.

  6. Kurt Evans Post author | 2014.06.13

    "Bearcreekbat" wrote:
    >"[Ayn] Rand was an avowed atheist, who considered altruism a major weakness and defect. Greed was her deity... With Brat's history of espousing such views ..."

    Dave Brat has no history of espousing those views. He acknowledges having been influenced by Atlas Shrugged and says he appreciates Rand's case for human freedom and free markets, but he explicitly says he's not a Randian.

    For whatever it's worth, Ron Paul, who also professes Christianity, says essentially the same thing.

  7. Tim 2014.06.14

    Brat seems to be just one more example of the radical right picking out the parts of religion that suits their purpose and forgetting the rest, I would think if they truly believed that crap they would practice all of it, not just bits and pieces. They all do it, must be accepted practice, would be funny if the true believers (of which I am not one of) would call them out on it. Or better yet, quit donating time and money to the hypocrites.

  8. Darrell Reifenrath 2014.06.14

    Way too much is being made of the Brat win. There was only a 12% voter turnout. Sensible Republicans (it makes me cringe saying that) stayed home.

  9. Jerry 2014.06.14

    Eric Cantor's upset shows that big money doesn't always win. Mr. Cantor spent more campaign money on steakhouses than Brat did for his entire campaign, think of that one for a minute. What won the thing for Brat, in addition to Cantor being such a worm, was the fact that Brat bashed Wall Street and K-Street with a populist message. Rick Weiland is doing that right now and if he and the rest of the Democrats keep the drum beat up for the accountability of the crooks and liars that damned near destroyed us, they will win the day. Remember, the polling had Eric Cantor up by 34 points! Cantor had a huge war chest with lots of support, and he got his ass kicked. Says a lot about the will of the people, Rick just needs to keep tapping that to take back our country.

  10. mike from iowa 2014.06.14

    No need to feel bad about Cantor. He'll land a lucrative lobbying position or Adelson will adopt him. He is set for life to grub more money than he'll ever need and it still won't be enough. Millions go to bed hungry,a chosen few go to bed hungry for more.

  11. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.06.15

    It breaks my heart, while at the same time making me so angry, when someone like Brat or Howie turn such a beautiful thing as Jesus Christ and his life and teaching, into something ugly and cruel. It just sickens me.

  12. Douglas Wiken 2014.06.15

    I don't think the Cantor defeat really has legs that take it to any other races. The specific situation is so specific that generalizing from it is probably a matter what side we are on. It does indicate that money alone may not always buy an election however. The money and deluge of ads may just cause voters to sit at home. Which is the intent if it is voters of the other party, but it seems to be the case with voters of the ad buyer's party as well apparently. But, as I wrote, generalizations like this may be a mistake.

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