Do the Republicans Have a God Problem?

I was thinking of the old trope from a few years ago that Democrats don’t know how to talk about religion. See, for example, Do the Democrats Have a ’God Problem’? (Pew Research, 2006) and In Politics, the ‘God Gap’ Overshadows Other Differences (New York Times, 2006). See also The God Gap, Revisited (Mahablog, 2008). The theory was that if Democrats could speak as naturally and effusively about God as Republicans do, they would pick up a lot of voters. Democrats just needed to be more pious.

And then the Right got behind an areligious con man with no observable moral compass who bragged that he never asked God for forgiveness and can’t even site Bible verses correctly.

Let’s see who’s talking about God now. Last weekend Michael Flynn made news when he declared the United States must unite under one religion. “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God,” he said.

Much commentary of this remark assumes Flynn meant Christianity would be the “one religion.” I haven’t seen a transcript of Flynn’s entire remarks, and I don’t know if he referenced Christianity specifically. Also, nothing in Flynn’s online biographies suggests he is all that religious.

He was speaking at a QAnon rally; QAnoners in the past have accused Flynn of worshiping Satan. Perhaps Flynn was just trying to assure people he does not. And I don’t know why the QAnoners would have picked on Trump-supporting Flynn to be in league with Satan. QAnoners are not famous for logic, whether internal or external.

Flynn’s utterly unconstitutional suggestion also smacks of authoritarianism. Throughouth most of human history governments have assumed power by claiming a connection to divine authority of some sort — i.e., the Chinese tianming, or mandate of heaven; the European “divine right of kings.” In the West, democracy didn’t become possible until philosophers began to challenge the assumption of a divine mandate for monarchs. Genuine democracy, government of the people, can’t very well happen if the government speaks for God.

In the 20th century, totalitarian governments lurched away from theocracy and, instead, claimed control over religious institutions or banned religious instutitons outright (see: Mao Zedong, Cultural Revolution). Today, churches or temples in China that wish to remain open must be subservient to government authority. The Chinese Communist Party can censor sermons, decide which rituals can be performed, regulate the publication and distribution of Bibles, appoint Catholic bishops, and identify reborn lamas. The Third Reich came to power in Germany in part by reassuring Christians the Reich was pro-Christian, but in truth ministers who did not support the Führer (i.e., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemöller) tended to come to a bad end. And no, Hitler was not a Christian. The long-term plan of the Reich, never carried out, was to destroy German Christianity.

Religious authority has power; a totalitarian state must either absorb and control that power or destroy it.

This takes us to the Christian Nationalist movement. The basic ideas behind Christian Nationalism — that Christianity must be recognized as the state religion and inform all government policies — have been with us from the beginning of the nation. What fuels its most fanatical elements is not piety, however, but a desire to maintain cultural and racial hegemony. And that’s not new, either.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS PHOTO

I’ve read the Gospels; Jesus didn’t say a word about white supremacy. Or abortion. Or capitalism. Or homosexual wedding cakes.

See The Growing Anti-Democratic Threat of Christian Nationalism in the U.S. by Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry in Time:

As a political theology that co-opts Christian narratives and symbolism, Christian nationalism has its own version of the “elect,” those chosen by God. They are “people like us,” meaning conservative Christian, but also white, natural-born citizens. Moreover, in a prosperous nation, only “the elect” should control the political process while others must be closely scrutinized, discouraged, or even denied access. This ideology is fundamentally a threat to a pluralistic, democratic society. …

… The threat of Christian nationalism is buried within the seemingly harmless language of “heritage,” “culture,” and “values.” But within this language is an implicit understanding of civic belonging and relative worth. Study after study shows Christian nationalism is strongly associated with attitudes concerning proper social hierarchies by religionrace, and nativity. These views naturally extend to whom Americans think should have the right to participate in the political process and whether everyone should have equal access to voting.

What I hope people understand is that those attitudes concerning proper social hierarchies by religion, race, and nativity are deeply ingrained social and cultural biases that are not supported by Jesus’ teaching. The problem with any religion is that  churches and temples are planted in cultures with deep and long-abiding biases, and the people who are ordained into religious institutions bring those biases with them. After a few centuries it gets hard to separate wheat from chaff, so to speak. (Maybe Jesus never explicitly said white people were superior, they think, but it’s just common sense that they are. So Jesus must have thought so, too.) And eliminating religion doesn’t get rid of the biases.

And it came to pass that many of the January 6 insurrectionists displayed Christian symbols and slogans along with political ones while they were trying to overturn democracy.

Yeah, nothing demonstrates love of Jesus and country better than breaking into the Capitol and terrorizing the lawmakers.

We now have a Democratic president who is Catholic to the hilt and speaks reverently of God as easily and naturally as he can breathe. The Republican Party, on the other hand, is now being led by the Golden Calf. See also Donald Trump and Uses and Misuses of the Bible (Ian Frazier, The New Yorker, June 2020).

What this tells me is that this God Gap thing was never about religion. It was just an extension of the Culture War, with righties presuming that Jesus was on their side. Hell, they aren’t just presuming. They are clinging frantically, with all their being, to the certainty that Jesus shares their biases.

The great theologians of Christian history would be appalled.

Update: Rittenhouse acquitted. Damn. This country won’t be safe for anybody to live in.

20 thoughts on “Do the Republicans Have a God Problem?

  1. Connect two more dots.

    N+1: Religion is an allegory.

    N+2: So is everything else.

    There is no N+3, because, by the time we get there, there will be no one left who knows how to count that high.

  2. Regarding the Rittenhouse verdict, legal experts are saying the verdict was correct, based on the law and the evidence, but it was not "just."  Then what does that say about a justice system that can legally produce unjust verdicts that we must all abide by?

    Apparently, this verdict says if you have a gun, it doesn't matter how many laws you break along the way to getting where you are threatening someone with it,  you can just shoot them and claim self defense if the person you're threatening tries to fight for their own life.  Of course, this doesn't apply if you are black. 

    This is really bad.  White nationalism is turning this country to barbarism.

    1
    • We have a legal system, not a justice system in this country.  Unless you are wealthy and/or well connected, then you can be judged by the 'Just-Us' system.

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    • What should've been on trial is the whole idea of "open carry". If some yahoo can carry a gun into what amounts to a war zone, then all bets are off.

      4
    • The problem is Rittenhouse did not provably violate Wisconsin law, per the jury. And there's a lot to dislike about Wisconsin law.

      But this wasn't O.J., and it wasn't Derek Chauvin. This was a failure of the state legislature to impose limits on firearms possession and use, to write an actual manslaughter law, and to place reasonable limits on what constitutes self-defense.

      And the press coverage didn't sufficiently acknowledge that this was a very weak case from the start. 
       

  3. Regarding religion: T. Jefferson introduced a radical concept for his time, refuting the "Divine Right of Kings" and suggesting that every man has a relationship w/ God and government (when it is just) derives its power from and is responsible to the people.

    (There's a whole different discussion about who the founders thought "the people" were considering women were denied representation and slavery was codified in the US Constitution. But even with all apparent warts, the idea that the majority will decide who their government leaders are – was and is radical.)

    Slavery was abolished – women were granted almost equal rights. Native Americans have the right to vote. Over the last 200 years, demographics have shifted. Whites are about to become a dominant (most numerous) MINORITY in the US. In the 20th Century, many US Supreme Court decisions have enshrined actual equality. A significant portion of ‘woke’ whites support actual equality. The genie of actual democracy won't fit back in the bottle of limited equality. The absolute proof that things were out of control was the election of Obama. 

     So the white supremacists (overt and those who don't say it out loud) need a mandate that supersedes rule by the numeric majority. What will be acceptable to the bigots (overt and covert) to justify throwing democracy under the bus. Answer: "We're on a mission from God." 

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  4. Regarding Baby Kyle: This from the Pittsburg Post-Gazette –

    "George Zimmerman can’t get a date. Like a lot of murderous losers, he can’t get a job, either. Because he is America’s patron saint of losers, he’s suing the parents of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old he shot and killed seven years ago, for $100 million.

    The way Mr. Zimmerman sees it, it’s their fault he’s a loser. It’s their fault that people still consider him a murderer despite his acquittal in a case in which he shot an unarmed boy in the chest. Having fallen on to hard times is everyone else’s fault but Mr. Zimmerman’s.

    Oh, how he has suffered in the last seven years. Because he says he now suffers from PTSD, depression, insomnia and weight gain triggered by the stress of the homicide trial and its aftermath, he has no choice but to sue Benjamin Crump, the lawyer who represented Trayvon Martin’s family. He’s also suing the publisher of Mr. Crump’s book because of unkind things written about him in its pages."

    Zimmerman did not get convicted, but he's ruined. Nobody wants to forgive or forget. The character flaws that brought Zimmerman to commit his murder were only amplified by the trial and what happened after.  Eight years after the murder, it's Marley's ghost and it won't go away.

    I predict the same for Baby Kyle. According to what I read today, he's planning on going to school, studying medicine and – I don't know – becoming the EMT he pretended he was on the night of the shooting. No school will want him, if only to avoid the disruption that will follow him. Other students will be, "unkind" to him and the school admin won't let him bring an AR-15 to class to discourage the teasing and mean comments. I predict that the character flaws will become the dominant traits – he's got 15 minutes of fame on Fox. The real world will reject him. And not gently..

    I wanted a conviction to send a message. The message is: open season on liberals and minorities. If the Aubrey trial goes as badly, I'll need body armor because I'm not allowed to own a gun. And I'll continue to support BLM and participate.

    That will be the test – as the trumpsters feel emboldened to intimidate with open weapons, will we continue to show up? They want/expect that we will leave them to "own the libs" by frightening us into submission.

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    • You're absolutely right, Doug. Kyle is going to have to take Kyle along with him for the rest of his life. It's called divine justice. Already Kyle is forced to gravitate to those who offer a facade of acceptance for what he did but, in reality those who ( Tucker, Don.jr, Gaetz) have thus far praised his actions are only feeding off the carcass of a dead soul to serve their own purposes.

       Kyle knows every lie he told to avoid responsibility. He knows the thoughts that lead him to want an AR15. He knows the thoughts that brought him to Kenosha that night. And he knows what transpired to trigger the events of that night. So in the court of divine justice Kyle has imprisoned himself for life. Serve it well, Kyle!

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  5. I look at it from a viewpoint of spiritual maturity. The baby level is everything your article talks about, in essence We vs Them, God as tribal leader.

    The baby level is maximally unaware. And so you can have people who claim to be spiritual following an areligious con-man, himself at a baby level. 

    The baby level condones lies. It doesn't accept or understand that truth and honesty are paramount. It's antenna are undeveloped.

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  6. Besides in English, I've also read the Bible in Russian, and Russian Orthodox Church Slavonic (it's like reading Chaucer in the original Old English).  

    In the Russian Bible – as should be obvious to all but the dullest of moronic twits – Jesus also had nothing to say about abortion, gay marriage, or the hundreds of other conservative "Christian" KKKulture War issues.  

    If the priority for our White Evilgenital (sic) "Christians" were following the teachings of Jesus, wouldn't it make sense for them to integrate the Black and Brown Christians of the same denominations in the area into their church, or integrate themselves into the Black and Brown churches?  Pray together, and evangelize together, why don't you (as Yoda may ask)?  Why have so many of the same denomination's churches in one area?

    Instead – as should be obvious to all but the dullest of moronic twits – these White "Christian's  mirror the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling.  Apoarently, the White "Christians" believe that "separate, but equal" should also (still) apply to churches.

    So bullshite me again, White Evilgenital "Chistians," how nothing you do is ever about race.

    As for that Rottenhouse (sic) punk, I hope Karma kicks his ass long and hard!  Very, very hard.

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    • I want you to know I was once completely undone by Church Slavonic pronunciation. It's worse than Welsh. I was in a choir rehearsing some vespers thing by Rachmaninoff. The pronunciation was so challenging we found someone to come in and coach us, and I still tripped all over it. Fortunately for me, something came up that gave me an excuse to drop out until the next semester. 

       

  7. Great article. The caption on the Foto is misdated. The cars barely visible in the background are from the late 1960s or early 1970s. 

  8. See Digby, "Cancelling Democracy" from today for an extension of the discussion of the role of the God Problem in the quest to enshrine privilege even at the expense of democracy.

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