Another Right-Wing Grievance/Resentment For Life's Losers: Violent, Nationalistic Religion This Time
Yesterday, basing his NY Times column on Taking America Back for God by sociology professors Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry, Thomas Edsall pinned the insurrection, at least in part, on Christian Nationalism, which Whitehead and Perry defined as including "assumptions of nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism. It is as ethnic and political as it is religious. Understood in this light, Christian nationalism contends that America has been and should always be distinctively ‘Christian’ from top to bottom-- in its self-identity, interpretations of its own history, sacred symbols, cherished values and public policies-- and it aims to keep it this way."
"It is a political movement," wrote Katherine Stewart in her new book, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, and its ultimate goal is power. It does not seek to add another voice to America’s pluralistic democracy, but to replace our foundational democratic principles and institutions with a state grounded on a particular version of Christianity, answering to what some adherents call a ‘biblical worldview’ that also happens to serve the interests of its plutocratic funders and allied political leaders." In other words, not a culture war but "a political war over the future of democracy."
Perry told him that "The Capitol insurrection was as Christian nationalist as it gets. Obviously the best evidence would be the use of sacred symbols during the insurrection such as the cross, Christian flag, Jesus saves sign, etc. But also the language of the prayers offered by the insurrectionists both outside and within the Capitol indicates the views of white Americans who obviously thought Jesus not only wanted them to violently storm the Capitol in order to take it back from the socialists, globalists, etc., but also believed God empowered their efforts, giving them victory... reflects a mind-set that clearly merges national power and divine authority, believing God demands American leadership be wrested from godless usurpers and entrusted to true patriots who must be willing to shed blood (their own and others’) for God and country. Christian nationalism favors authoritarian control and what I call 'good-guy violence' for the sake of maintaining a certain social order."
Yale sociology professor Philip Gorski, who wrote American Covenant: A History of Civil Religion From the Puritans to the Present, told Edsall that "Many observers commented on the jarring mixture of Christian, nationalist and racist symbolism amongst the insurrectionists: there were Christian crosses and Jesus Saves banners, Trump flags and American flags, fascist insignia and a 'Camp Auschwitz' hoodie. Some saw apples and oranges. But it was really a fruit cocktail: White Christian Nationalism... [a loose confederation of people and institutions that share] a certain narrative about American history. In rough outline: America was founded as a Christian nation; the Founding Fathers were evangelical Christians; the Nation’s laws and founding documents were indirectly based on 'biblical' principles, or even directly inspired by God, Himself. America’s power and prosperity are due to its piety and obedience... The history curricula used by many Christian home-schoolers are organized around a Christian nationalist perspective. Christian Nationalist activists also seek to influence the history curricula used in public schools. Some evangelical pastors have made national reputations by preaching Christian Nationalism. Robert Jeffress of Dallas’ First Baptist Church is a well-known example. In recent years, some Christian Nationalist pastors have formed a network of so-called 'Patriot Churches' as well... Christian nationalists use a language of blood and apocalypse. They talk about blood conquest, blood sacrifice, and blood belonging, and also about cosmic battles between good and evil. The blood talk comes from the Old Testament; the apocalyptic talk from the Book of Revelation.
Whitehead and Perry, wrote Edsall "calculate that roughly 20 percent of adult Americans qualify, in Perry’s words, as 'true believers in Christian nationalism.' They estimate that 36 percent of Republican voters qualify as Christian nationalists. In 2016, the turnout rate among these voters was an exceptionally high 87 percent. Whitehead wrote that 'about 70 percent of those we identify as Christian nationalists are white.' [To ask white Americans about restoring America’s Christian character] "is essentially to ask them how much they want to take the country back to the days when they (white, native-born, conservatives) were in power. To ask Black Americans about America’s Christian past is more likely to evoke thoughts of what we’ve traditionally thought of as 'civil religion,' our sacred obligation to being a 'just' nation, characterized by fairness, equality, and liberty."
Edsall concludes that "as members of the Christian right have become angrier and more adversarial, some to the point of violence, their decline from dominant to marginal status has bred a provocative resentment that is serving to spur the very secularization processes that so infuriates them. If the evidence of the Capitol attack and its aftermath is any guide, this vicious circle does not bode well for the future."
Writing around the same time yesterday, Rev. John Pavlovitz noted that Evil dies hard, that even with the head severed "the snake is still alive... Because we wanted to believe the best about humanity, many of us clung to a false narrative of otherwise decent people hopelessly swept up in the fervor of the moment: good human beings intoxicated in the bloody water of a feeding frenzy power-grab, eyes rolled back and unable to do anything but consume."
It turns out that the recently departed and disgraced madman was not the manipulative puppet master animating them into acts of viciousness and cruelty they’d otherwise refuse to consent to, they were the ones pulling the strings all along. What we’re seeing now is irrefutable evidence that these people were not altered by the presence of some singularly evil man-- but fully embodied in him.
In the first few hours following the January 6th terrorist attack, a few of them may have been briefly sobered by the loss of life or momentarily afflicted with a sudden twinge of humanity, but that proved only a fleeting moral annoyance they’ve since cast aside. They would not allow decency to fully overthrow their hearts.
They’ve newly declared their allegiance to him once more, defended the violence he instigated, loudly castigated those demanding consequences, doubled down on their social media assaults, and rushed headlong to fill the space he’s left.
And today, the danger is as great as it ever was.
This vile thing is still alive and well: the slithering, lurking, ravenous, toxic creature is simply reconfiguring and reconstituting itself in order to emerge in a less obvious form, one that will not as easily be dealt with-- which makes this moment more urgent than any that came before it.
Evil adapts to keep itself alive, and we need to adapt to kill it. We can’t be lulled into complacency by the euphoria of the moment, sedated into inaction by the return of rational, compassionate leadership in the Presidency or distracted by the cheap high of a political win.
...If we allow this thing to remain alive and to gain strength, we will soon find our Republic mortally wounded, and these present victories will have simply postponed our inevitable demise.