The Progressive - September 25, 2021

The destructive influence of rightwing evangelical Christianity is one of the most underrated factors in the devolution of American politics. Despite falling rates of religious participation among the general public, Christian conservatives have, to paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, poisoned everything.

By conquering the Republican Party, the religious right has taken over the Supreme Court. The horror of this is currently on full display in Texas, where the state government has deputized random citizens to report women (or anyone who assists them) to authorities for even inquiring about how to obtain an abortion. For the McCarthyite act of “naming names” to draconian law enforcement agencies, Texans can receive a $10,000 reward if they file a civil lawsuit against the people they name.

Meanwhile, white evangelical Christians—81 percent of whom voted for Donald Trump in 2020—are the most zealous and deranged in their objections to the COVID-19 vaccine. As if enabling the spread of a deadly disease wasn’t poisonous enough, many Christian conservatives express blanket opposition to anything deemed remotely “progressive,” such as Black Lives Matter, trans rights, and measures to mitigate climate change

One of the most shocking images of the January 6 insurrection was a group of young men, including the so-called QAnon shaman, standing at the head of the Senate Chamber, praying to Jesus that their efforts to dismantle democracy would prevail. They were not alone. In the company of white supremacists and violent militia groups, large numbers of Christian nationalists carried crosses and religious banners as they stormed the Capitol building and cheered for the execution of one of their brethren, Vice President Mike Pence.

It often mystifies observers of U.S. politics how so many Christians could routinely behave according to an agenda of hatred, paranoia, and oppression. Randall Balmer, a historian of U.S. religion and professor at Dartmouth College, puts an end to the mystery in his riveting and important new book, Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company). At a breezy pace and in clever prose, Balmer examines the impetus of the religious right, tracing exactly how its adherents entered politics and why they have developed into an enemy of multiracial democracy.

The book opens with Balmer, for research purposes, begrudgingly attending a 1990 closed-door conference of evangelical leaders to mark the tenth anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s election to the presidency. In the middle of an otherwise dull and self-congratulatory event, Paul Weyrich—a Republican strategist and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, who, perhaps more than anyone else, was responsible for the politicization of evangelicals—gives an “impassioned soliloquy in which he declared that abortion had nothing whatsoever to do with the emergence of the Religious Right.” ...
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