Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Cult of Power

I don't personally have a problem with Christianity in general, or with people who follow Christianity as a spiritual path. As a Thelemite, I believe that everyone's spiritual path is entirely their own business. It does me no good to disparage someone else's spirituality just because it doesn't work for me. Now if you read Augoeides, you might be a little puzzled by that statement. I do post a lot of articles making fun of a certain group of people who I call "Poor Oppressed Christians." This group is generally made up of evangelicals and fundamentalists - but I should stress that not all evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians belong to it.

Salon has an article up today about a new book that articulates exactly what I find objectionable about these particular Christians. They don't worship God or Christ as much as they worship political power. The "Oppressed" thing is basically a narcissistic ruse, in that the whole point is to gain special rights and privileges that they can use against those they see as enemies - atheists and agnostics, the LGBT community, and even other Christians they consider heretics. The bottom line is that if they were willing to leave the rest of us alone and quit trying to write their beliefs into laws that everyone has to follow, I would leave them alone.

Author Katherine Stewart has the answer: Because the true god these folks worship is power. In her book, "The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism," Stewart details how she traveled around the country, getting to know the various Christian conservative figures that are whipping support for Trump and his agenda. She deems the "Christian nationalists" and demonstrates how their supposedly Christian values always come second to their endless quest for power. Stewart spoke with Salon about her new book. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

In the intro of the book you write that most Americans view the Christian right as a "cultural movement centered on a set of social issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage." But in fact, it's a political movement and its ultimate goal is power. What do you mean by that?

I think when we think of the religious right, we're often thinking of a cultural movement or social movement that works from the bottom up, expressing the anxieties and reactions of a particular group in American society to change social realities, focused on issues like reproductive rights or same-sex marriage. But Christian nationalism really works from the top down. It actively shapes and manipulates its target population, and it often shifts its target.

When movement leaders are talking to the congregants or to pastors who speak to congregants, it's all abortion all the time. The foot soldiers may even believe that they're fighting for things like a ban on abortion or same-sex marriage, but the leaders have actually consciously reframed these issues in such a way that they can control the vote of a large subsection of the American public. They use that to solidify and maintain political power for themselves and their allies, to increase the flow of public and private money in their direction, and to enact economic policies that are favorable to their funders.

When you dig a little deeper into what the movement leaders talk about when they talk with one another, they actually advocate for a very wide range of policy issues that don't just have to do with abortion or same-sex marriage. A lot of it has to do with economic policy. A lot of it has to do with foreign policy, social policy. It's important to look at the movement in this broader fashion as a political movement that wants power.

That's just the first question. Go ahead and read the whole thing, it's quite good.

I want to emphasize two things here. First, not all evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are part of this group. It's entirely possible - and probably a lot more spiritually healthy - to have conservative Christian beliefs and just keep your mind on living your life according to those beliefs. For a long time, too, conservative Christians mostly stayed out of politics, or at least political activism. The modern "religious right" only dates back to the 1960's, and mostly arose as a reaction against the youth and civil rights culture of that time.

Second, as a political lefty I'm no fan of Donald Trump, and Stewart frames much of her book's argument in those terms. While I agree with those points, I think it's important to emphasize that this goes far beyond Trump himself. As I see it, one of the reasons that the Republican Party has been unwilling to rein Trump in is that the "religious right," or if you will, "Poor Oppressed Christians," have spent decades infiltrating the party leadership and transforming it into a manifestation of their "religion of power."

I'd be happy to offer these folks a truce - if they quit trying to legislate my civil rights away as a member of a minority religion, I'll quit making fun of them. Maybe that would work if I were a highly prominent public figure, but I doubt it. After all this time it seems that their desire for power is way more important to them than being the butt of a few jokes.

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