Why the Religious Right is so cruel

Why is evangelical Christianity in the US so heartless? There’s nothing inevitable about an extreme religious faction being insensitive. It certainly isn’t the case with Mormons. What is it about hard-core Christians, especially in the South, that makes their politics so cruel?

For years I’ve sat on this idea, not quite ready to commit it to writing. It just seemed too harsh, too damning. It’s time to talk about it. From a new post at Forbes:

What developed in the South was a theology carefully tailored to meet the needs of a slave state. Biblical emphasis on social justice was rendered miraculously invisible. A book constructed around the central metaphor of slaves finding their freedom was reinterpreted. Messages which might have questioned the inherent superiority of the white race, constrained the authority of property owners, or inspired some interest in the poor or less fortunate could not be taught from a pulpit. Any Christian suggestion of social justice was carefully and safely relegated to “the sweet by and by” where all would be made right at no cost to white worshippers. In the forge of slavery and Jim Crow, a Christian message of courage, love, compassion, and service to others was burned away.

Christianity in the South, once forced to split away from contact with and accountability toward their northern brethren, developed in disturbing directions. Isolated under a terrorist regime in which any expression of dissent could lead to summary execution by your neighbors or your congregation, pastors in the South evolved an odd theology, stripped of human compassion or any urge toward social justice.

It isn’t a controversial concept. In fact, it’s simply a recitation of what happened. But for years I found that history hard to square the apparent moral virtues of Southern friends, neighbors and family I knew so well. White evangelical Christianity as an institution might be remarkably cruel, but if the individuals participating in those faiths can find their way to compassion, how important is the history of the institution?

The 2016 Election was a moral lie detector, exposing a lot of realities most of us would prefer not to see. All the excuses and explanations we offer for grandma’s racist comments or your neighbor’s insensitive jokes were burned away like tissue in a furnace. It turns out, these people really meant it. They really would unleash hell on their fellow man out of no motive greater than unvarnished bigotry. People I respected and thought I knew would do terrible things without the slightest hint of shame or conscience. It can happen here.

Perhaps, in realizing what America actually is, we can earn a chance to become what we always thought we were.

 

16 Comments

  1. I listened and watched in shock as people in my own congregation–a nearly all white “Willow Creek” style church in the suburbs of Seattle–stood up in a public meeting to denounce Hillary in the vilest terms, to shake in fear and anger at the arrival and presence of “those evil Muslims,” to demand that we rise up and vote for Donald Trump, God’s choice, and to say that everyone who was a Christian *must* vote for Trump or go against God.

    People. In. My. Church.

    People I either respected and looked up to, or simple acknowledged as sweet saints for Jesus.

    Something godawful has infected them and has led them to hold two (or more) truths simultaneously: that Jesus is good and kind and just and love, and that those who are liberals or gay or Muslim or immigrant or brown are the vilest scum on the planet and deserving of torture and death.

    It is not for anything overt from the pulpit. My pastoral team was as shocked as I am. But it was endemic and systemic, and it is as if all the weeks and months and years of the gospel message of redemption and seeking and finding really never counted as long as the people had their right-wing media on 24×7.

    I heard people *in my own house* tell me that Obama was a Muslim. That Trump was a “baby Christian.” That Oprah was the Antichrist.

    And that Jesus was the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

    I do not get this. Not at all.

    It is as if some weird spiritual and mental and emotional delusion has set in.

    I go to this same church with these people, and not only have I not been so affected, I have not heard nor seen this nonsense preached from the pulpit.

    The *only* difference is that I don’t tune in to right-wing media.

    The Evangelical church has lost its mind, and with that, has lost its testimony and its witness. We won’t recover from this for two generations, until the last of the people coming up in the ranks with this hatred have vanished from the scene.

    1. Evangelical Christianity tends to focus on Saul, d/b/a Paul, a Roman, Pharisee/ex-Christian persecutor, rather than, you know, the Gospels, where Jesus says all that socialist stuff about loving your neighbor and not keeping your treasure here on Earth (Mammon).

      Evangelical Christians are essentially Mammon-worshipers. With Mammon worship, you don’t just worship Mammon – you worship those blessed by Mammon, i.e. the wealthy. JobCreators™. TheInvisibleHandOfTheMarket™, and FreeMarketCapitalism™ are the Holy Trinity of the Mammonites who’ve been tricked into believing they are Christians.

      Evangelical Christians worship a Mammon dressed up like Jesus. And like their political philosophy, cognitive dissonance and projection allow them to continue their delusions.

      Once you understand that, it’s easy to see why what they say, and what they do, are so disconnected. Just like how from the outside, it’s easy to see that they practice a “Christianity” where belief is enough, and works are unnecessary.

      Mammonites worship wealth and the people who’ve already been blessed with it. Why would they go out of their way to help those who’ve been cursed with poverty?

  2. The Atlantic has two on-point articles on this topic. One, written by a self-professed evangelical, is a superb look at the decline of evangelicals to their current iteration, fueled by resentment and retaliation:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/04/the-last-temptation/554066

    The second takes a look at just what the term “evangelical” means and who it applies to (or who describes the self with that term):

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/03/still-evangelical-trump/554831/

  3. Another great piece!

    have you read Nietszche’s _On the Genealogy of Morals_ and _Beyond Good and Evil_? Nietszche argues there are 2 fundamental types of religion: morality of the master and morality of the slave. The former serves to celebrate the powerful but is based on nobility: the responsibilities that come with the power you have. The latter is based on convincing the slaves that their suffering and deprivations actually makes them morally superior to the master.

    The ancient Greek and Roman religions are classic examples of a religion of the masters. Christianity is a classic example of the religion of slaves.

    Nietszche actually goes further and says Christianity is actually powered by hatred and resentment toward the powerful, wrapped up as love. Thus why it needs a conception of hell, as the ultimate revenge fantasy against people more powerful than them.

    IMHO, Modern southern Christian fundamentalists are basically going through severe contortions to convert Christianity to a religion of the masters, and also redirecting the latent hatred of the powerful into a hatred of the weak, something even most religions of the masters don’t have (most of them viewed the poor as weak and pitiable with some obligation of the strong to protect them).

  4. Yes 2016 was the great eye-opener. I wasn’t so naïve as to think that evils like racism were gone, but I badly underestimated just how much of it was still hiding under the surface. I also underestimated the number of principled conservatives like Chris who would be willing to hold their noses and vote for Clinton, or at least not vote for Trump. I also have experienced great disappointment and sorrow and diminution of respect for the people who are willing to look aside from the bigotry that Trump feeds, because Gorsuch or because tax cuts.

  5. Chris – I loved this piece. It is reminiscent of one you posted some time ago but so beautifully updated, and, of course, imminently relevant. You understand this topic well. You know these people. You also understand what they are capable of and what motivates them. Hypocrisy abounds in their very public embrace of Christian dogma while demonstrating total lack of generosity and tolerance. I shared this post with other groups. Good people are looking for answers about why our nation is experiencing such discord. Too few understand the deeper reasons motivating the co-mingling of religion and politics. Clearly, you do and your post teaches the real truth behind the actions of those who use religion as cover. No more!

  6. Thank you for this Chris. Here in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, we are 97% white, just north of the Mason Dixon line, and have our fair share of white evangelicals who can be pretty obnoxious.

    A bit off topic, but I’ve been wanting to write this for some time:

    I personally owe Chris Ladd and this blog a huge thank you. Spurred on by Chris’s call to action in December of 2016, I used facebook to form a resistance group. It quickly ballooned to hundreds of people, and we used the forum to organize protests in front of our Congressman’s office because he refused to sit down and talk with us or hold a town hall meeting.

    We worked with other Pittsburgh area groups to hold our own town hall, and yours truly had the honor of standing in on stage (in full men’s dress) for our absent Congressman, the now notorious Tim Murphy. You may remember his name because he was the pro-life congressman who got caught asking one of his married mistresses to get an abortion.

    Hundreds of people showed up to a town hall that we knew our congressman wouldn’t have the guts to attend. Little did we know that a few months later, he would get caught in the sordid scandal that forced him to resign.

    All of a sudden, we were out canvassing, knocking on doors, making phone calls, holding rallies and meet and greets for the young, authentic, genuine, telegenic, centrist, Marine, and federal prosecutor, Conor Lamb.

    I and hundreds, perhpas thousands, of people have been working our tails off to get him elected in the special election to be held two days from now on March 13th.

    We are a district that went for Trump by 20, and the latest polls have us neck and neck with the republican, who’s claim to fame is that he was “Trump before there was Trump”, and for introducing legislation to put the words In God We Trust in public schools.

    The fact that we just might pull this thing off speaks to how fired up democrats, independents, and disenfranchised republicans are. It’s going to be close, but win, lose, or draw, I thank Chris for his inspiration, and you all for the insightful comments you bring to this little corner of internet heaven.

    1. I made a small donation to Mr. Lamb’s campaign. I normally do not give money in races that I cannot vote in. But our country is under attack. People like Lamb , military Vets are the best way to crack Red Districts. I believe until at least the House is in Democrat control Trump will not be restrain. And the country not defended. The Republican party is a massive failure in doing their duty.

    2. Armchair – We all are indebted to Chris. He has informed us and helped us recognize the imperative of change. I can relate to everything you have said and done (well, maybe not the standing on stage in full men’s dress)….reaching deep within ourselves to stand up and speak out. It is at once empowering as it is also frustrating. I have donated more than once to Conor Lamb, and believe his candidacy is exactly where the Democratic Party needs to head – youth, being his own man, not hewing to the party ideology if it isn’t consistent with his individual beliefs (i.e., guns, Pelosi, other areas) – energy – lord it takes energy to run and support campaigns!

      Like AL where Doug Jones ran an incredible campaign against formidable odds, and won, PA is tough. Very tough. Really, tougher than AL, in my opinion.
      Republicans are investing on a 3:1 ratio to Lamb and the DNC ($9M to $3M for Lamb) and pulling in every high profile pol out there to GOTV. They sense this race is pivotal to the psyche of the country – will it spur on a blue wave or stand with Trump? Lamb is working his tail off and you, the people of PA, are right there bucking the odds and working your hearts out! I am so proud of you regardless how this ends up.

      I wrote a piece today for a FB group about what the Republican majority is doing to thwart the PA Supreme Court decision on the racially gerrymandered election map. The people of PA have been under the oppressive thumbs of the Republican Party for way too long. I hope that whatever the outcome of this race (for a seat that may disappear in a few months!), the people of PA will feel proud of their efforts and continue to resist. It’s easy to get frustrated and disheartened when despite incredible effort, incumbents prevail. Hear this from TX: we are watching your efforts in PA and you are making us proud and giving us courage. Thank you for “your” relentless work in spite of incredible pressure and overwhelming money to fight for a person and values that you hold dear. When it’s all said and done, fighting “for” your beliefs is the ultimate role of each and every one of us who care about our country. Thank YOU!

  7. DFC

    The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. (Merchant of Venice, I, iii) Things haven’t changed much. The South insisted that God was on its side, that slavery was divinely ordained. Lincoln made his summation of this betrayal to the jury of history in the Second Inaugural Address.

    “Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

    1. Many churches are now mixed and diverse. God is a God of reconciliation. Christ made reconciliation through His atonement on the Cross between God and Man. That is God’s will and it is happening regardless of some Men’s resistance. In these matters you either get on the side of God or get left behind.

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