Faith-Based Politics

Among former Republicans of a certain age, “what the hell happened” is a popular topic of conversation. What turned a major political party composed of people with a reasonable range of respectable views into a cult imposing extremist litmus tests? What accounts for the rejection of evidence, disdain for science and rigid refusal to compromise even the most extreme positions?

When did the Grand Old Party go nuts?

In a new book, The Party’s Over: How Republicans Went Crazy ,Democrats Became Useless and the Middle Class Got Shafted former GOP strategist Mike Lofgrin blames religion.

Having observed politics up close and personal for most of my adult lifetime, I have come to the conclusion that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism may have been the key ingredient in the transformation of the Republican Party. Politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes—at least in the minds of its followers—all three of the GOP’s main tenets: wealth worship, war worship, and the permanent culture war.

In retrospect, Lofgren sees Pat Robertson’s strong showing as a Presidential candidate in 1988 as the warning sign for what was already underway: the capture of one of the country’s major political parties by religious fundamentalists and fanatics.

The results of this takeover are all around us: If the American people poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on questions of evolution, scriptural inerrancy, the presence of angels and demons, and so forth, it is due to the rise of the religious right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party, and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary beliefs. All around us now is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science. Politicized religion is the sheet anchor of the dreary forty-year-old culture wars.

Lofgren takes aim at a theory that I have held for some time–the theory that the differences between what we used to call the “country club” wing of the GOP and the religious zealot wing would eventually cause a split. It seemed reasonable to assume that the socioeconomic and philosophical gulf separating the party’s business wing from the religious right would make for instability.

I’ve been predicting this split for at least twenty years, and I’m still waiting, so he may be right when he suggests that there really isn’t a basic disagreement between these factions on the direction  the country should go– just a quibble about how far.

The plutocrats would drag us back to the Gilded Age; the theocrats to the Salem witch trials. If anything, the two groups are increasingly beginning to resemble each other. Many televangelists have espoused what has come to be known as the prosperity gospel—the health-and- wealth/name-it-and-claim-it gospel of economic entitlement. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God’s favor. If not, too bad! This rationale may explain why some poor voters will defend the prerogatives of billionaires. In any case, at the beginning of the 2012 presidential cycle, those consummate plutocrats the Koch brothers pumped money into Bachmann’s campaign, so one should probably not make too much of a potential plutocrat-theocrat split.

As for the supposedly libertarian Tea Partiers, Lofgren cites academic studies that identify them as authoritarian rather than libertarian. Over half of Tea Party members self-identified as members of the religious right and 55 percent insisted that “America has always been and is currently a Christian nation”—a higher percentage than non-Tea Party  Christian conservatives.

If Lofgren is right, it explains how we got here, and why government is broken. You can reason with someone who holds a political or policy position. You can negotiate a compromise– a “win-win” with someone whose ultimate goal is different from your own.

When a political position is held with religious fervor, however, it becomes immune to logic and evidence.

Did you all hear about the Republican Representative who attributed the ocean’s rise to the fact that rocks fell into it?

I rest my case.

by Shelia Kennedy - May 22, 2018