6 min readApr 15, 2017


Christ, Christ, Christ . . . ., Watercolor, 21.5" x 29", Richard J Van Wagoner, Circa 2000, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**

My guess, and it’s only a guess, is Christ, Christ, Christ . . . . is a product of a period in which the artist mourned the realization that portions of his received belief system were deeply flawed. His artwork was both manifestation and integral component of his deconstruction and reformation of that system. In the resultant pressure chamber his artistic process and product evolved to honor the complex unwinding of his longstanding internal conflicts, an unwinding that ultimately better aligned his system with his naked sense of how people ought to behave toward, regard and treat others. Seldom outwardly cynical, the artist might be projecting a suspicion of the sincerity and veracity that underpin the confirmation filters through which believers see and interpret the world and Christianity’s commoditization and customization.

Happy Easter Money Ministries, Bible-based science and common-sense deniers, those who insist America equates Christianity, those who hide behind religious dogma to justify their hatred and discrimination, those who blur the lines between government and religion — so long as their belief system and none other receives official endorsement.

The following op-ed provides one point of view about those filters:

My father the artist was Mormon throughout his life. I suggested in earlier posts he entered a period of broad destabilization from the religious and social hostilities surrounding his son’s gayness. He grieved, I believe, for his son and for himself, his son for having been alone and himself for having been complicit. He had, after all, been a Mormon Bishop which required his most loving advocacy of institutional abuse, the spiritual kind of course, of “our homosexual brothers and sisters” who had the courage to live authentic lives or were outed. My guess, and again it’s only a guess, is he concluded one or both of two things: laws and ethics exist independent of any Lawgiver; and/or the Lawgiver he eventually came to know in his own imperfect mind didn’t correspond with the image projected by religious institutions whose motives for doing so often proved ulterior.

The artist’s commentary on a religious or other large organization’s insistence on alternative facts includes his 1995 watercolor Galileo’s Recantation. I previously posted this painting in MONDAY NIGHT MASSACRE:

Galileo’s Recantation, Watercolor, 42" x 51", Richard J Van Wagoner, 1995, Courtesy of Angela Moore**

No Religious Test for Public Office

The United States Constitution purports to preserve citizens’ religious independence, expression and exercise from government imposition and interference. It tries to do so in a couple of ways. The First Amendment Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses provide:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . .

These few words have generated some of the most important yet divisive and contentious battles in all of American jurisprudence.

Presumably, the imposition of a religious test for public office or employment would also run afoul of the Establishment Clause. The body of the Constitution emphasizes that point by purporting to prohibit the government from conditioning anyone’s qualification for public office or employment on religion. Article VI, Section 3, provides:

No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

I won’t delve into the Founders’ wisdom of these provisions, except to say that many people and religious organizations challenge this rather malleable separation between government and religion, but do so only to the extent the government would advance their peculiar, or even popular, religious predilections. In other words, I can impose on your religion or irreligion but don’t impose on mine — as it happens to be the one god favors.

The People’s Religious Test for Public Office

Candidates for high public office must, however, pass the mandatory religious test imposed by the electorate. An admitted atheist will not be elected President of the United States anytime soon. A closet atheist who feigns belief, whose endorsement of the supernatural extends only to his own grandiosity, and the entirety of whose words and conduct are transparently anathema to professed beliefs, might be able to slip through.

• Why does the electorate impose a religious test for President of the United States?

• How does religion enhance the qualifications (qualities) of the person who sits in the Oval Office and Situation Room?

• Does religion create an orientation that enhances the quality of a President’s decisions and decision making?

• Does religion create an orientation that impairs the quality of a President’s decisions and decision making?

• Could a President’s belief in, say, an imminent coming or return of deity result in his disregard for climate science?

• Could a President’s belief in an afterlife translate into a more cavalier attitude about putting military personnel in harm’s way? Life is, after all, just a speed bump to eternal life.

Would you prefer a President who makes decisions through the filter of his deeply and sincerely held Evangelical religious beliefs over a President who bases his near entire self-worth and ideology on self-aggrandized adoration and adoration by others?

Random Things I am thankful for this Easter:

• I am able, at least for now, to openly express even minority, unpopular views

• China is not a currency manipulator

• NATO is no longer obsolete

• Climate change remains a hoax

• There was no connection between Russia and the Trump campaign

• Any connection between Russia and the Trump Campaign was coincidental

• Any non-coincidental connection between Russia and the Trump campaign had no impact on the election

• The Russia thing is a total witch hunt

• Health care is complex

• Carrier has agreed to keep some jobs here

• Things will work out fine between the United States and Russia despite the relationship falling to an all-time low

• Only Democratic Presidents must get congressional approval before attacking Syria

• Phenomenal tax reform is on its way but only after doing health care right

• Trump’s ability to employ the Nixonian Madman Theory of unpredictability and inconsistency is uncanny

• Markets are easily and spontaneously manipulated in 140 or fewer characters

• Foreign governments are easily and spontaneously manipulated in 140 or fewer characters

• United States policy, domestic and foreign, is spontaneously created, modified and reversed sometimes in the same 140 characters

• The Export-Import Bank is now a good thing

• Goldman Sachs is no longer evil

• Janet Yellen’s artificially low interest rates are now ok, she’s ok and she doesn’t have to be ashamed of herself

• The bombs are getting bigger

• The already bloated federal government can, once again, continue to expand

• Verifiably false claims are negotiable

• Verifiably true facts are negotiable

• Mexico still will pay for the wall

• We have re-declared war on the victor in the war on drugs

• A President cannot be easily swayed or manipulated by transparently false flattery

*My brother the fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to

**My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father’s work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father’s art reproduced in are hers




Criminal defense and First Amendment attorney.