Making Christianity more vicious

About forty years ago, PBS did a documentary on what was then the extreme right of American Christian conservatism, people who openly advocated for theocracy. The kind of extremists that supposedly sensible moderate conservatives such as Jerry Falwell backed away from (though Falwell was hardly a moderate, being a devout segregationist).

That was then; now calls for a “Christian nation” and claims we were always a Christian nation (until the godless liberals took over) are the Republican norm. And more and more of them are open about an extreme, militant Christianity, asserting, for example, that it’s good to burn books. They really hate “the assumed right to hold whatever opinions one pleases upon any subject.”

Or consider Republican Mark Steffen, Kansas State Senator: he believes the US is a Christian nation (wrong) and the separation of church and state is a myth (also wrong) and says he’ll legislate based on his Biblical worldview and what his community wants. When a Muslim in his district asked how he’d represent her his response was that he’d “try to convert you.”

Over in South Carolina, Senator Tim Scott says government should kneel before the church. I recommend reporters in the relevant areas ask both him and Steffen how they define things like Christianity and “the church.” Does it include Catholics? Mormons? Churches that allow gay marriage or women preaching? When Scott says Christians can “exercise their faith wherever they go” what does he mean? That they have a right to pray anywhere? They should feel free to insult and bully gays?

Another shift is that right-wingers are increasingly trying to broaden the right to discriminate beyond religion. In Florida there’s a bill that might let doctors refuse patients based on moral objections — and possibly let insurers refuse coverage too (Republicans deny that, but they lie a lot). I think that’s significant. First Amendment exemptions were based on freedom of religion, which is not the same as morality. The latter gives bigots considerably more leeway to discriminate.

Of course they’d shriek blue murder if this were used against them (“Sorry Pastor Steve, you got this disease sleeping around on your wife — I can’t condone your adultery.”) or if doctors claimed their morals required them to provide patients with abortions or trans-related medical care. On the first point, they’re probably counting on a)liberals generally aren’t fans of discrimination, and b)all the right-wing justices throwing out opposing claims.

For the second, Republicans won’t acknowledge those religious claims as legitimate. A synagogue has filed a lawsuit arguing that Florida’s abortion restrictions violate Jewish religious views; a right-winger made the argument that other than conservative Orthodox Judaism, Jews don’t have real religious beliefs. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone made the same argument against liberal Christians down the road. Especially given the growing cries that liberals are literally agents of Satan.

As Fred Clark says, when Texas has schools post the Ten Commandments, it’s going to be the Protestant version — which makes it less about morals and more about See, Our Religion is Best! The same purpose as Confederate monuments. Oh, and forget parents’ rights: as not enough parents are right-wing Christian Republicans, Family Research Council urges those who are to indoctrinate other people’s children.

The supposed secular rationale is that posting the Commandments and imposing religion on others will make us better people. Never mind that when Protestant Christian Bible readings and prayer were the norm in schools nice white Christians lynched thousands of blacks. Nor did Christianity stop the Southern Baptists from covering up abuse and harassment. Nor, as Texas State Rep. James Talarico points out, will posting commandments about having no graven images do much to stop school shootings. No more than replacing school mental health professionals with chaplains will do students any good. But I’m sure the churches will appreciate the added revenue stream.

And when all else fails they can shriek that whoever opposes them serves Satan. It often sounds over the top and comical but people have gone to jail in past Satanic panics. The religious right is following a long tradition of loving America while hating their fellow Americans.

Ansley Quiros says that we too need to “unabashedly invoke the language of morality. Of religion. We must make the choices plain. Admittedly, that is difficult when so much of our political speech is spiritually tinctured hyperbole. And yet, those who care, still, about goodness and justice and mercy, should not abandon the effort. ” I think President Biden gets this, for example, marking the careers and futures destroyed by the 1950s lavender panic.

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