Religion As Politics

I still remember those college dorm arguments about religion and politics–the debates over where to draw the line between purportedly religious beliefs, on the one hand, and devotion to political ideology, on the other. Back in those days, the focus was usually on Soviet Communism–was it a political identity? Or was commie “true belief” actually akin to religious devotion?

That debate has morphed over the years, especially for the growing number of Americans who tend to be skeptical of organized religion. If we didn’t have so many other, more pressing issues to argue about, I suspect that a recent report from Pew would trigger a new and acrimonious round.

Pew was investigating whether there had been an exodus from far-right Evangelical Protestant churches due to the support for Trump displayed by those denominations. They found no exodus–instead, the research uncovered  “solid evidence” that White American “Trumpers” who weren’t Evangelical before 2016  “were much more likely than White Trump skeptics to begin identifying as born-again or evangelical Protestants by 2020.”

The data also shows that Trump’s electoral performance among White evangelicals was even stronger in 2020 than in 2016, partially due to increased support among White voters who described themselves as evangelicals throughout this period.

The study confirms what many of us have suspected: Americans are sorting ourselves into  tribes, and one such tribe is composed of the “Christian” White Supremicists who identify with Trumpian Republicanism. These are the people who tell pollsters that only (White) Christians can be considered “real Americans.”

According to Christianity Today, they are increasingly likely to call themselves “political Evangelicals.”

The Survey Center on American Life  –a project of the conservative American Enterprise Institute-reports that White Evangelical Republicans are far more inclined to believe in claims about the Deep State, to believe in QAnon, and to believe that antifa was responsible for the January 6th violence at the US Capitol. They also are more likely than other Republicans to accept Trump’s Big Lie:

Given how widely accepted the belief in voter fraud is among white evangelical Republicans, it is not surprising that they express far greater skepticism about the fairness of the 2020 election than their co-partisans. Only 27 percent of white evangelical Republicans say that Joe Biden’s election win was legitimate, compared to more than half (56 percent) of nonevangelical Republicans. Three-quarters (75 percent) of white evangelical Christian Republicans say Biden was not legitimately elected.

As an essay from the New York Times just after the 2020 election put it, White Evangelicals have now

blended so seamlessly into the broader Republican base that adherents and observers say that the label has become more a political than religious one. Electing Republicans has become, for many evangelicals, an end in itself.

Those of us on the outside of this Evangelical/GOP cult have marveled at the contortions required for “family values Christians”–a movement based on Christian principles and presumably devoted to  concerns about character– to support someone like Donald Trump. The Times essay quoted a Pew researcher who cited data showing that” White Evangelical Protestants are not only Republican; they have been and continue to grow more Republican over time.”  In 2018 and 2019, 78 percent of White Evangelical Protestants identified with the Republican Party; in 2000, that number was 56 percent.

Michele Margolis is a political scientist who studies how political affiliation influences religious beliefs and practices, “a cause-and-effect that reverses traditional assumptions.” People may like to believe their faith informs their vote, but her research shows it is often the other way around.

Charles Blow recently quoted another academic, Anthea Butler, for the observation that evangelicals may wrap themselves in religious rhetoric, but that what the movement has really been since the 1970s is “a political arm of the Republican Party.” Evangelicals now “use moral issues as a wedge to get political power.”

Butler concluded, “We need to quit coddling evangelicals and allowing them to use these moral issues to hide behind, because it’s very clear that that’s not what the issue is. The issue is that they believe in anti-vaxxing, they believe in racism, they believe in anti-immigration, they believe that only Republicans should run the country and they believe in white supremacy.”

Whether we consider these Evangelical denominations genuinely “religious” or see them as pseudo-religious political cults frantic to protect America’s longstanding White Christian dominance depends upon just how capacious our understanding of “politics” is, and how we define the difference between religious and  secular commitments.

We might also think about the difference a label makes when these folks go to court to protect what they insist is their “religious liberty.”

20 thoughts on “Religion As Politics

  1. “…to protect what they insist is their “religious liberty.”

    I made a game of searching out on Facebook the rabid ‘muh rights’ people who posted on my company’s internal portal (a major hospital) bashing our vaccine mandate, screaming about how they can’t be forced to put something foreign in their bodies, that God gives them natural immunity (funny how many have ‘already had COVID)….each and every one I located on FB was a Trumper wingnut, anti-everything, conspiracy theory whackjob. And these idiots have the ‘right’ to a “religious exemption” to the vaccination. If only they could just make themselves ill, I would honestly no longer care.

  2. This struck me as odd, “Evangelicals now “use moral issues as a wedge to get political power.”

    Don’t you think that wedge is being used by the oligarchs against the Evangelicals? 😉

    As for the slave-owning mentality, that goes back long before the Civil War. Who was working with the Confederacy against the Northern aggressors?

    If I remember correctly, Russia stopped an attack from Canada against the Abolitionist North. Booth spent a lot of time in Montreal before his appearance at the theater.

    As for believing in a Deep State, I won’t fault anyone for that because there is a Deep State, as I referenced above. JFK learned about this Deep State as well. And Eisenhower referred to it.

    We can sort ourselves as much as we want, but remember who is doing the gerrymandering for control and power. It’s not the politicians. They are just actors. It’s not the media. They are just actors.

    The oligarchs have been controlling the play for a long time. Don’t you think it’s ironic that the Evangelists consider themselves chosen by God, and so do White-Euros? 😉

    The folks selling eugenics seem to have a relatively easy crowd to manipulate and have for many generations, whether here or in Germany or Britain.

    Twitter was buzzing yesterday with the photographs of the Border Patrol on horseback cracking whips against the Haitian refugees. That’s literally where the expression “cracker” came from, and it’s entrenched in our collective souls.

  3. Personally I see it as Politics as Religion, but either way the outcome is the same, a cult. BTW, the Southern Baptist Cult has mixed religion and politics from day one as it supported slavery and the Confederacy.

  4. For me, it isn’t just the Evangelical’s arrogant abandonment of our country’s principles, but rather it is their self righteous hypocrisy that so offends and erodes those same principles while destroying the very fabric of Christianity.

  5. Copied and pasted below is an excerpt from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, December 2020:
    “Lack of available alternative
    According to the US Bishops, although all the three vaccines produced by Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca now available in the US have some connection to cell lines connected to aborted foetuses, their use would be morally justifiable in consideration of the present circumstances. These are: the lack, at present, of an available alternative vaccine “that has absolutely no connection to abortion”, the serious risk to public health and, most importantly, the need to protect the more vulnerable from the disease.

    With regard to the AstraZeneca vaccine, the US Bishops note that it is “more morally compromised” than the the other two, and therefore “should be avoided” if there are alternatives available. However, if “one does not really have a choice of vaccine, at least, not without a lengthy delay in immunization that may have serious consequences for one’s health and the health of others”, they state that “it would be permissible” to accept it.”

    How the individual city Catholic Archdiocese and individual Catholic parish Priests present this information, IF they present it, and the recent Pope Francis speech against abortion makes me question “Religion As Politics”, or politics as religion, in the current escalating numbers of the Delta variant of Covid-19 among the unvaccinated. Religion and politics, and politics and religion, have become so entangled; is there a way to tell where one begins and the other ends. We cannot remove religion or politics from the refusal to seek vaccinations for self, family members and now young children. And children of Kindergarten age are now victims here.

  6. People are shocked by the Border Patrol riders. Folks, the Border Patrol “union” endorsed the Former and, if you like conspiracy ideas may have been encouraged to be so visible by Bannon, Stephen Miller…..the optics for Biden are crippling (while the GOP loves it).We will see these images over and over in GOP ads in ’22. “When they go low, we bend over….”

  7. Think of it as all about power. The Republicans do use the Evangelicals, as Todd has pointed out, but the Evangelicals also use the Republicans to gain outsized power based on their numbers. Two sayings come to mind: “God help us, ” and “Jesus, save us from your followers.”

  8. Todd @ 7:00 am wrote: The oligarchs have been controlling the play for a long time.

    Robert Reich recently wrote:

    House Democrats are scared to tax billionaires – that’s a costly mistake. This week, House Democrats released their proposed tax increases to fund Joe Biden’s $3.5tn social policy plan.

    The biggest surprise: they didn’t go after the huge accumulations of wealth at the top – representing the largest share of the economy in more than a century.

    But senior House Democrats decided to raise revenue the traditional way, taxing annual income rather than giant wealth. They aim to raise the highest income tax rate and apply a 3% surtax to incomes over $5m. The dirty little secret is the ultra-rich don’t live off their paychecks.

    So what’s holding them back?

    Put simply, Democrats are reluctant to tax the record-breaking wealth of the rich and big corporations because of … the wealth of the rich and big corporations.

    Many Democrats rely on that wealth to bankroll their campaigns. They also dread becoming targets of well-financed ad campaigns accusing them of voting for “job-killing” taxes.

    Republicans sold their souls to the moneyed interests long ago, but the timidity of House Democrats shows just how loudly big money speaks these days even in the party of Franklin D Roosevelt. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/sep/18/house-democrats-tax-billionaires-biden-social-policy

    This timidity as Robert Reich puts it has nothing to do with evangelical religion or bible thumping. It has everything to do with the “Paymasters” of the campaign donations. These “Paymasters” are the one true God of elected officials and wanna bees.

    If bible thumping religion can be used as a lever for the GOP so much the better.

  9. I do not think that those religious beliefs were purported religious beliefs, but were beliefs about a purportedly magical system.
    It appears to me that if one can identify as an, Evangelical, someone who believes in that magic, it is easier to take the next steps to believe in the QAnon foolishness (trying to be polite here), and other cultish material.
    So, Todd, are you suggesting that the Oligarchs are the “Deep State?” I believe that when most people refer to this, they mean people embedded within the government, but if I read you correctly, these folks are at one remove from the actual gov’t. Not that they don’t exercise some, maybe much, control.
    That counterintuitive research finding is interesting, indicating that if one is a racist, and rejects science, supporting all those “anti” positions, it is easy to fall into the Republican mold. But, if those “anti” perspectives come from their religious perspective (God gives me protection from the virus), it is more of a mixture.
    And, yes, ML, money is the God and driver.
    Quite some time ago, I wrote (to myself) in my “Notes” section:
    I think resistance to vaccination has to do with underlying agendas people carry
    around. Some people may say something like “It’s just not what I
    would do,” while they harbor the belief that Jesus, or God, would
    protect them from it, or even with it. Some people may “feel” that
    it would be giving into “Them Libruls!” Or that since we have
    much evidence of the gov’t lying us into wars, and what not, that the
    gov’t “must” be lyng about this, as well. Some might believe the
    garbage about the speed with which the vaccines were developed, and
    “know” that they must be bogus. The truth is that the type of
    vaccines being used were being explored for many years before it
    became necessary to speed up the research. And then there are the
    folks who just “know” that Tucker Carlson, and friends would
    “never”lie to them. MSD
    Bigotry runs on idiocy, willful ignorance, dislike for science and the evidence upon which it is built.
    Theresa, you might like Tim Urban’s comment: “Arrogance is ignorance plus conviction.”
    Voltaire’s “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities,” would seem to explain the Trumpist/QAnon, Jan. 6th attack on the government. And, I’m sorry if it offends some, but absurdity is an accurate description of belief in the Rapture, and on, and on.
    Then there is Marshall McLuhan, with “A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.”
    I’ll stop now.

  10. The good news (as I have written recently elsewhere) is that whatever percentage of Republicans who believe that Biden lost is to be multiplied by a less than 25% (and falling) of total voters who self-identify as Republicans, and with their plummeting percentage of the Independent vote, 22 and 24 are lookin’ good. The Republican Party cannot be saved by evangelicals and Koch is fighting a rear guard action with his zillions because in time the Republican Party with no platform and no guiding principles in sole pursuit of naked power is destined for self-destruction and is headed back to the mists of the Whig Party from which it arose in 1854.

    “Cultural Republicans,” (aka anti-Trumper Eisenhower Republicans) are abdicating the Republican Party in droves, are self-identifying as independents and I would not be surprised to see self-indentified Republicans at a some 20% level come 24. As suggested earlier herein – lookin’ good.

  11. The line between religion and politics is very blurred. The gospel writers present Jesus as a nonviolent( some say apocalyptic) Messiah. According to Biblical scholars, many of the stories about Jesus and his teachings are a direct confrontation of Rome’s oppression and of the insane belief that Rome could be overthrown by the Jews. MLK used Ghandi’s and Jesus’s model of nonviolent disobedience in his confrontation of racism here in the US.

    The Methodist minister of our church in Rushville had to flee Mississippi because there were threats on his life due to his civil rights’ activism. It is well known that evangelical Christians both north and south had racist views even in the 60’s.

    Karen Armstrong’s book History of Violence shows how politics and religion intersect in the midst of political conflicts , war, and terrorism. She has asserted that monotheistic religions tend to be more prone to violent conflict and masking a grab for power with religious rationalizations.

    Lester don’t bow to despair. There is no doubt that racism played a part in the behavior of the border patrol. But we now have a President who will honestly look into the matter and take corrective action. I am waiting for Kamala Harris to say something. I hope she does soon if she has not already done so.

    And, if we look below all the religous rationalizations of evangelical Christians who believe immigrants are taking their jobs, we will hear the lizard brain of these people saying they have to fear the stranger because the stranger is dangerous to them. They really are afraid. White evangelical Christians who are Trumpists are terrified and mask it with anger. As they say in the science fiction/fantasy novel Dune “Fear is the mind killer.”

    And, by the way, I know a man who is a devout Christian who gives money to an aid group trying to help Haitians obtain food, clothing, shelter health care etc. He is a rebuttal to those men using reins as whips.

    Haiti and its people are so horribly tragic. Earthquakes, hurricanes, corruption, and gangs. It’s no wonder they seek a better life here. It’s so sad that the hopes and dreams of those at the border have been dashed to pieces. I will do what I can. I will again donate money to my friend’s Hatian aid group as soon as they send me another request in the mail. I don’t just look for the helpers as Mr. Rogers has stated, I want to be a helper.

  12. I agree with the need to point out the hypocrisy of the evangelicals who have let their principles slide to support Donald Trump. Many of my fellow Catholics (most Catholics are not evangelical) have done the same. It’s sad to see.

    What I do not understand, and will never understand, is the reflexive hatred many on the left have for anything related to religion. Religion gives many people a moral framework and ethical principles for their lives. It gives their lives structure and meaning. Yes, religion can be misused for evil purposes. The fact that is sometimes done does not make religion on net an evil. The good far and away outweighs the bad.

  13. I don’t get the attacks by the left on the Koch brothers’ influence in today’s Republican Party. The Koch brothers have been a moderating influence on today’s GOP. (I say “they” although one of the Koch brothers is now dead.) The Koch brothers refused to support Trump in 2016 and when he ran for re-election in 2020. The Koch brothers support criminal justice reform. The Koch brothers support DACA and immigration reform. There are a number of issues where the Kochs are on the opposite side of progressives. But compared to the Trumper-wing of the GOP, the Kochs are reasonable, rational Republicans.

  14. Robin,

    “Mayorkas (DHS Sec) and the border patrol chief, Raul Ortiz, said they would look into the agents’ actions, but both officials said they saw nothing apparently wrong based on the photos and video.” [The Guardian]

    Their “buck” stops on Biden’s desk….

  15. Paul, I have to agree with Gerald’s dissent, and point, once again, to the book “Democracy in Chains: the Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America,” by Nancy MacLean.

  16. Back in the day, religion may have influenced votes. Many religious leaders urged their congregations to support the civil rights movement.

    Back in the day, one may have mentioned that they taught Sunday School, or were a Deacon, but that was it.

    Today, “I am a Christian” seems to be a required “qualification for office” among some people. I have a feeling that calling oneself an “Evangelical Christian” is just a left over dog whistle word for White Supremacist. I don’t know that “Family Value Christians” were that different.

    A dear friend (no conservative) once told me that the difference between us was that she believed in “evil”. Thinking about it, I suspect that more people on the “left” believe in “evil acts”, but not “evil people”; while many religions believe in “redemption”, some also believe in Devils that are “pure evil entities”. To many on today’s Trump “right”, anyone not with them is the Devil.

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