Culture Wars

Not long ago Richard Spencer, the white supremacist best known for getting punched in the face on video, was asked a question about religion.  He said that he was a “cultural christian,” later admitting  he is an atheist.  So, he was not referring to “Christianity” as a religion, but as a set of cultural mores.   I like to call this lower case christianity.  There are no ethical demands inherent in lower case christianity.  No Biblical standards to uphold, no uncomfortable questions about what Jesus would do.  Nobody cares what Jesus would do.  If Jesus were here, he’d be just another unwelcome brown person.

The important thing about Christianity to the cultural christians, is that people believe in it.  In order to carry out the authoritarian goals of the so-called alt-right, cultural christian, etc. movement, people need to believe in things.  All great authoritarians have given the people something to believe in.  In most cases, at least in the beginning, it is belief in the leader himself, or at least belief that the leader has been anointed or ordained in some way.  Later it might just become belief in the overarching power of the leader with the resulting fear of retribution or self-protecting devotion.  Cultural christians (like Richard Spencer) argue that the United States government currently lacks that something to believe in.  They think that in order to be successful, government needs to be intertwined with religion.  Without belief in the government, they argue, the government can not succeed.  Belief in government can be achieved by attaching government to something people already believe in, religion.

These views run counter to modern, humanist philosophy which calls for a separation of church and state so that citizens can have religious freedom (and freedom from religion).   For most of United States history, it has been part of the mythos of the state that the US is a “Christian” nation.  Cultural christians want to legislate that and make it real.

Of course, when they talk about legislating  Christianity, they are not talking about the spiritual values of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control that are spoken about in the Biblical book of Galatians and thought by most Christians to be the signs that a person is living in Christ.  Instead,  the cultural trappings of lower case christianity are what they want.  For instance, they want to repeal marriage equality. Some would go so far as to bring back laws that effectively make homosexuality illegal.   The white supremacist branch wants to get rid of civil rights legislation (and indeed, Jeff Sessions as Attorney General has already instructed the Justice Department to “pull back” on police department civil rights suits).  Some have pushed for things as petty and territory-marking as  posting  the ten commandments at various state houses.  Some would like to make any religion other than Christianity illegal, although that group has not yet become as vocal as they inevitably will as the 45* regime wears on. They want to tie the state in with their religion as tightly as possible.  As Adolph Hitler said, “It is always more difficult to fight against faith than against knowledge.”  If people believe in the leader, they will follow him even against their own interests.  We have seen that happening already.

I’ve written before about the marriage of the republican party to the far right religious groups that I became aware of in the 1980’s.  Now, however, it seem that the far right religious groups have taken over the republican party altogether.  With Trump as their face, they are steadily progressing toward the authoritarian, religious state that the evangelicals, in particular, have longed for since before most of us were born.  But in the process, they have moved so far away from the basic tenets and principles of the Christian faith as to be almost unrecognizable as Christians.

The culture wars are not over.  The cultural christians are still in the minority.  People who actually try to live by Christian principles are starting to realize that the cultural christian movement is antithetical to Christianity, even though many established churches have been subsumed by it.  Non-Christians, meaning people of faith of other religions  as well as  “nones” (atheists, agnostics, etc.)  are not swayed by the religiosity being displayed.  But, it will not be easy to disentangle ourselves from the 45* regime.  As noted above, it is always more difficult to fight against belief than against facts.  No amount of factual data will sway the Trump true believers at this point.  We just need to hope that journalists with integrity will keep putting the truth out there so that less gullible, non-believing people can find it.