How Religious Law Continues to “Poison Everything”


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The destructive influence of right-wing evangelical Christianity is one of the most underrated factors in the decentralization of American politics. Despite the decline in religious participation among the general public, Christian Conservatives, to use Christopher Hitchens’ phrase, have poisoned everything.

With the conquest of the Republican Party, the religious right took over the Supreme Court. The horror of this can currently be seen in Texas, where the state government has mandated random citizens to report women (or anyone who helps them) to authorities, even if they inquire about an abortion. For the McCarthyite act of “naming” draconian law enforcement agencies, Texans can receive a reward of $ 10,000 for filing a civil lawsuit against the individuals they designate.

Meanwhile, white evangelical Christians – 81 percent of whom voted for Donald Trump in 2020 – are the most ardent and deranged in their objections to the COVID-19 vaccine. As if it wasn’t toxic enough to allow a deadly disease to spread, many Christian conservatives disapprove of anything deemed “progressive,” such as black lives, trans rights, and climate change mitigation.

It often puzzles observers of US politics how so many Christians could routinely behave on an agenda of hatred, paranoia, and repression.

One of the most shocking images of the January 6 uprising was a group of young men, including the so-called QAnon shaman, who headed the Senate Chamber and prayed to Jesus that their efforts to dismantle democracy would be successful. You weren’t alone. Accompanied by white racists and violent militias, many Christian nationalists stormed crosses and religious banners as they stormed the Capitol and hailed the execution of one of their brothers, Vice President Mike Pence.

It often puzzles observers of US politics how so many Christians could routinely behave on an agenda of hatred, paranoia, and repression. Randall Balmer, an American historian of religion and professor at Dartmouth College, ends the mystery in his compelling and important new book Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right (Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company). At a rapid pace and in skilful prose, Balmer examines the impulses of the religious right and tracks exactly how their followers entered politics and why they have become enemies of multiracial democracy.

The book begins with Balmer’s reluctance to attend a closed circuit conference of evangelical leaders for research purposes in 1990 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the election of Ronald Reagan as president. In the midst of an otherwise boring and self-gratifying event, Paul Weyrich – a Republican strategist and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation who was perhaps more responsible than anyone for politicizing evangelicals – gives a “passionate self-talk in which he stated that abortion has nothing to do with the.” The emergence of religious law. ”

The first problem that led Christian conservatives to take political action, according to Weyrich’s own admission, was the lifting of the tax exemption from religious schools by the federal government that refused to accept black students. Balmer writes that Ed Dobson, leader of the Moral Majority, one of Reverend Jerry Falwell’s senior deputies, quickly agreed. Around them on the stage stood right-wing power brokers like Richard Viguerie, the pioneer of direct fundraising for the Republican Party; Ralph Reed, then executive director of the Christian Coalition; and Donald Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association. Nobody contradicted Weyrich’s assessment.

Evangelical Christians were largely apolitical in the 1960s and 1970s due to their theological doctrine that the world is irretrievably corrupt and the belief that a Christian’s only duty is to evangelize for the faith while waiting for the Apocalypse. The Supreme Court ruled Roe v Wade in 1973 – but Jerry Falwell’s first reference to abortion did not appear in a sermon until 1978. Six years before Roe v. Wade, Ronald Reagan, who would become an icon of the Protestant right, stood up and signed the most liberal abortion law in the country during his tenure as governor of California in 1967.

Contrary to popular belief, it was not Reagan but Jimmy Carter who first drew electoral support from evangelical Christians because of his own “born again” testimony. Regardless of ideology, Christian conservatives were forced to elect an evangelical to the highest office in the United States. Less than four years later, the flock chose Reagan as their shepherd and helped run the country off a cliff of union busting, exploitation of the poor, and racist demagoguery.

Balmer brings together a staggering amount of evidence to prove that the Religious Right turned away from Carter (and forever into the arms of the Republican Party) because the federal government revoked tax exemptions for religious schools that discriminate against students and families of color .

Following the Brown v Board ruling, Balmer reveals that there was a mass exodus from public schools in the South, and many Christian alternatives, including Jerry Falwell’s own Lynchburg Christian School, opened with an explicit promise to enforce a “whites only” policy.

In fact, it was President Gerald Ford, not Carter, who began investigating and punishing Christian “racial segregation” academies for using Balmer’s label; Carter stepped up politics by allocating more funds and staff, including lawyers in his newly created Department of Education, to racial integration.

As Balmer notes throughout the book, Falwell, James Dobson, several administrators at Bob Jones University, Grover Norquist, and many other right-wing luminaries are publicly known and confirm Balmer’s thesis: “The real roots of the religious right were not in the defense of a fetus, but rather in defense of racial segregation. ”

The birth of the religious right is critical to understanding US politics for several reasons. First, it demonstrates the centrality of racism for the Republican Party, both among its leaders and among its foot soldiers. Reagan made little attempt to hide his hostility towards blacks in his public statements, denouncing “welfare queens” and praising “the rights of states” in a southern city notorious for hate crimes against civil rights activists.

The increasingly reactionary GOP is not a “workers protest party” but a white nationalist and theocratic insurrection.

Decades later, Donald Trump tore off the thin mask Reagan had worn with his ironic smile. No amount of propaganda or delusional left theory about the consequences of the real failure of the Democratic Party can hide the truth of what the Republican Party is today. The increasingly reactionary GOP is not a “workers protest party,” to quote Thomas Frank, but a white nationalist and theocratic uprising.

Second, the Religious Rights Commitment to Jim Crow reveals the deception of their favorite term “religious freedom,” which is regularly used to justify sexism, homophobia, and opposition to masking and vaccination requirements.

The book ends where it begins, with the sickening candor of Paul Weyrich. He told Balmer and other journalists on several occasions that he knew that a transition to abortion was ultimately necessary because open appeals to racism had undermined the nationwide popularity of the religious right.

Working with the council of his superiors, Reagan, as a presidential candidate, quickly became one of the most persistent forces against reproductive freedom. His Vice President George HW Bush did the same.

Abortion now has members of the religious right in battle mode, and they have finally succeeded in realizing their dystopian dream in Texas. As long as the right-wing Supreme Court refuses to hear challenges to Texas law, many other states in the South and Midwest are likely to enact their own versions, leaving women in a desperate position where their health, constitutional rights, and physical autonomy exist under the Control Christian nationalists and the politicians who serve them.

Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right offers a rich irony for anyone who wants to better understand the Christian conservative uprising and its fanatical opposition to democracy and public health. It is a phrase from Charles Darwin that best sums up religious law: They bear the stamp of their “low origin”.

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