Spiritual Fruit Not Religious Nuts

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” Barry Goldwater, former Republican Senator (1909 – 1998).

Mixing religion, politics and government is bad. This has been proven many times, in many places, over the history of the world. One need look no further than the current situation in the Middle East to understand that separation of church and state is essential to good governance – and the well being of people – in the 21st century. When religious extremists gain political power, conflicts, discrimination, injustice, violence, ethnic cleansing and wars happen.

Whether it is the ayatollahs in Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Houthi mullahs in Yemen, the Hindu in India or the Zionists in Palestine, religious zealots breed conflict. Frequently it is, women and children who are the primary victims. Fundamentalist preachers and culture war warriors in this country are not much different. Mixing intolerant religious dogma with government is bad for most people in any society

Today we are seeing a surge in right wing fundamentalists in our national and state governments. As the arch conservative Barry Goldwater warned many years ago, “it’s going to be a terrible damn problem.”

This is not to say that people motivated by religious conviction do not have a right to participate in politics and government. The problems arise when people believe their religion is the only “true faith” and try to impose their religious dogma on others using laws and government policies. In modern pluralistic societies this uncompromising attitude simply doesn’t work.

Neither is this about some recent, liberal, partisan “war on Christians.” In 1875 President Ulysses Grant spoke out against public funding for religious schools and for separation of church and state. In a speech that could have been given today he said, “Encourage free schools, and resolve that not one dollar of money appropriated to their support…shall be appropriated to the support of any sectarian school…Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.”

Today the danger Barry Goldwater was talking about is called “Christian Nationalism.” Today, Mike Johnson, the current Speaker of the House, is an ardent adherent to this pernicious ideology. So are a number of other Republican politicians in all levels of government from the U.S. Supreme Court to local school boards.

Christian nationalism claims our country is, and should remain a “Christian nation.” They claim our country was founded by Christians, defined by Christian beliefs and our our laws, mores and social relationships should reflect Christian “values” (as defined by them). They oppose legal abortion, gay marriage, equal rights for LGBTQ, no-fault divorce, sex education and similar culture war issues. They favor public funding for religious schools, school vouchers, official pray in schools, the “In God We Trust” motto and displays of Protestant religious icons like the Ten Commandments In public places.

Christian nationalism encompasses more than religious beliefs. Experts who have studied this movement say it is about political and cultural identity. Christian nationalists tend to be older, white, conservative, evangelical Christians from the rural ares and the deep south. They are almost exclusively Republicans. Their beliefs tend to correlate with white supremacy, nativism, patriarchy, authoritarianism and militarism.

In other words, Christian nationalists are what used to be called WASPS, white, Anglo-saxon, protestants with a healthy dose of MAGA delusion mixed in for extra hate.

The Center for American Progress sums up the Christian nationalist problem, “At its core, this idea threatens the principle of the separation of church and state and undermines the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. It also leads to discrimination, and at times violence, against religious minorities and the nonreligious. Christian nationalism is also a contributing ideology in the religious right’s misuse of religious liberty as a rationale for circumventing laws and regulations aimed at protecting a pluralistic democracy, such as nondiscrimination protections…”

In theory religious freedom was established in the first amendment. But in practice government at all levels has historically given preferment and support to protestant Christianity. Other religions, sects, Christian denominations and non-believers have not been treated equally or been free from discrimination. As with all of our civil liberties, actually achieving real religious freedom for everyone, including freedom from religion, has been a long and frustrating struggle.

The historic truth is we have always been religiously diverse. We have also been racially, ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse. America has always been a salad bowl rather than a melting pot of diversity. Christian nationalists refuse to accept these facts.

Typical of the distorted thinking of these religious radicals, Mr. Johnson has declared, “You know, we don’t live in a democracy…It’s a constitutional republic. And the founders set that up because they followed the biblical admonition on what a civil society is supposed to look like.”

Mr. Johnson conveniently forgets that the biblical “civil society” created by the “divinely inspired” founding fathers included chattel slavery, the extirpation of indigenous Americans and a legal system in which women were the property of, and subservient to, men. Voting in this “constitutional republic” was reserved to white men of property.

From my Baptist upbringing, I don’t remember any “biblical admonitions” to create such a society. Rather I remember Jesus preaching “love thy neighbor as thyself” and a non-political instruction to “render unto Cesar what was Cesar’s and unto God what was God’s” (separation of church and state). I remember St. Paul saying true Christians exhibit the “fruits of the spirit” which are enumerated in Galatians 5:22-23 as “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance..” I remember a bumper sticker that says, “God wants spiritual fruit not religious nuts.”

So when Republican religious nuts misinterpret our history, vilify diversity and divide us using various irrelevant individual or social characteristics they are simply wrong. Even worst than wrong, they are destructive to democracy and everyone’s personal safety and well being.