Friday, May 18, 2018

Hell of a Week: "Americans Who Mandate a Close, Symbiotic Relationship btw Christianity & Civil Society Are Deeply Opposed to Federal Gun Control Legislation"

It has been a hell of a week, and center-stage in each fresh hell are U.S. white Christians, notably white evangelicals. Here's some commentary:

I think it's clear that white evangelicals have essentially traded their efforts at branding themselves as values voters and have become what I was calling nostalgia voters. They've let the values thing go by the wayside and doubled down on a candidate that was at least promising them to turn back the clock to a time when they had more power and when they felt like the country was more with them than today. But that's a fairly desperate move, in my opinion. Now what you see is white evangelicals being the champion of a consequentialist ethic where the ends justify the means.

White evangelicals have shown us who they are, and so, to borrow a phrase from Maya Angelou, we should believe them. There is some indication that we as a society are beginning to. For example, African-Americans are making what Campbell Robertson has called "a quiet exodus" from predominantly white evangelical churches that had sought to integrate through a policy of what they call "racial reconciliation" without honestly facing their complicity in systemic racism. In addition, we are now seeing headlines such as "Evangelicals are Proving their Harshest Critics Right" and "No Wonder There's an Exodus from Religion" from mainstream publications that typically leaned apologist when it came to evangelicalism.  
In short, what some are calling an evangelical reckoning is underway. Evangelicals are aware that they are under the microscope, and as scandals regarding child molestation, sexual assault and the mistreatment of women continue to break, prominent evangelical leaders and institutions are working overtime on damage control. While I do not doubt the sincerity of some evangelical critics of church abuse, in many other cases, it is fair to suggest that evangelicals may be more concerned with optics than real change. 

The devil's bargain was loyalty to the Republican Party in exchange for access to power and special treatment as an interest group. 
White Protestant Evangelicals would provide unwavering support for policies favouring what is now called 'the one percent' and corporate interests (the approach could be described as 'socialism for the rich, unaided free enterprise for the poor'), even if that meant favouring the rich. 
Republicans would give lip service to Evangelical religious beliefs, pass legislation exempting Evangelical institutions from certain legal requirements, and support for the community’s hot-button issues (contraception and abortion rights, the banning of prayer from public schools, the teaching of evolution, untrammeled scientific inquiry, the banning of books and art considered offensive, the rise of LGBT rights, alternative family structures, equal rights for women, non-discrimination protections for ethnic minorities, equal treatment for all religions, immigration, etc.). 
Starting with the 1960s 'southern strategy' of appealing to white racial prejudice, the Republican Party has increasingly come under the influence of the 'movement conservatism' of talk radio, Fox News, the alt-right, and the many ultra-conservative think tanks that have been established to counteract ideas coming from mainstream so-called 'elite' universities, research institutions and news media. 
These 'movement conservatism' ideas, mostly extreme and reactive, have become the de facto White Protestant Evangelical positions on social and political issues, in part because Protestant Evangelicalism in modern times never developed a coherent overall social vision comparable to the compassionate view towards humanity and its suffering that had existed and inspired the movement in the early 19th century.

These white evangelicals, by rendering to Caesar what is God's, have not only lost their integrity; they have lost their credibility as religious leaders. Their hypocrisy, their worship of political power and money, damages the cause in which they claim to believe and betrays the teachings of the person they claim to worship. Whatever political advantages they gain will be short-lived. As Amanda Marcotte writes, "the Christian right may be winning elections in the short term, but it’s also driving people out of the pews, which is likely to lead to long-term defeat."

Well, let the hate mail keep coming, but this needs to be said: It was a shameful thing for evangelical pastors to be celebrating the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem while just a few miles away the Israeli army was killing dozens of Palestinian protesters against Israeli policies. (The death toll stood at 60 as of Tuesday, Palestinian officials said, and more than 1,700 people had been hospitalized.) It's shameful, not only because they use their theology to make the moving of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem a matter of 'eternal' significance, but also because they refuse to hold the Netanyahu government accountable for Israel's treatment of Palestinians, some of whom are themselves evangelical Christians. 

The alliance between fundamentalist Protestants and Roman Catholics cannot survive the humiliations of evangelical support for President Trump…. 
For the last 30 years, the alliance between Catholics and white evangelicals has been an enormously powerful force on the right of American politics. It was based around a common opposition to abortion – a cause to which evangelicals came relatively late – and a wider suspicion of feminism. Apart from that, the two groups have little in common demographically, culturally and even economically. The economic model of American evangelical Christianity has been fantastically successful, based around marketing, merchandising and vigorous competition between preachers for congregations. But when you adopt the methods of the entertainment industry, you will also imbibe some of its values. One result has been the growth of megachurches where the American flag is far more conspicuous than the cross; another is the growth of the "prosperity gospel", which teaches that the rewards God wants for his followers are to be obtained in this world. The big names of that world, such as Paula White, the thrice-married woman who counsels President Trump, were reality stars before the Kardashians, showing off their wealth as evidence that God blessed them.

Some Republican politicians are apparently ready to force kids to sleep on dirty floors than to admit that LGBT parents are just as good as straight ones.

"By 2010, a ban (on gay marriage) was in place in 29 states," they write. "These states were more likely to be evangelical, and had smaller populations of 'nones' in them in 2006. But by 2010, that gap between the 'none' in marriage-ban states and those in states with no marriage ban had been cut in half." 
This suggests that, in those traditionally religious states, the anti-gay-rights campaign soiled the name of religion for a significant number of residents, and they responded by stepping away from their former faith. 
"The decision to de-identify and disaffilate with religion are not solely individual, psychological processes," Djupe and his colleagues conclude. Rather, that deeply personal shift can be driven by reactions to "specific policy skirmishes that gather public attention and shape decision-making." 
The results suggest evangelicals would be wise to consider the consequences of their political advocacy. In a clear case of unintended consequences, it appears to be driving people from the pews.

The "they" whom Jacobs is citing are Paul A. Djupe, Jacob R. Neiheisel, and Kimberly H. Conger, "Are the Politics of the Christian Right Linked to State Rates of the Nonreligious? The Importance of Salient Controversy."  

It should also surprise nobody that Schlossberg supported Trump, because, well, of course he did.

In Kteily's studies, participants — typically groups of mostly white Americans — are shown this (scientifically inaccurate) image of a human ancestor slowly learning how to stand on two legs and become fully human. 
And then they are told to rate members of different groups — such as Muslims, Americans, and Swedes — on how evolved they are on a scale of 0 to 100.

You'd hope people would rate all groups at 100 — perfectly human, right? 
They don't. Mexican immigrants and Muslims are routinely dehumanized in these studies, scoring, on average, well below 90.

Kteily is Nour Kteily; Resnick links this article about Kteily's research.

When you can get human beings to believe this kind of grotesque fantasy, they will give you carte blanche to do and say all manner of horrific things in order to save them. There will be no rock bottom too cavernous, no behavior too reprehensible, no words too cancerous. 
We have seen this in white American Evangelicals over the past two years: their doubling down, their normalizing, their complicity with unthinkable cruelty. It's because they believe they're the victims. 
In Trump's incendiary white lie, there is one common thread running throughout:
The encroaching sub-human monsters, those vile, gathering hordes in the tales he tells—they are never white American Christians.
They are outsiders and immigrants and illegals.
They are Muslims and Mexicans.
They are gays and Atheists.
They are archetypal foreign terrorists in Middle Eastern garb.
They are Transgender deviants lurking in restrooms.
They are unseen hordes of brown-skinned animals snarling at our borders. 
Cue the dog whistles. 
Over and over again, this is the story this President writes, because this is the one his target audience needs to hear.
It is the one that most leverages their fears, triggers their nationalistic fervor, stokes the torch fires of their prejudice—and enlists them in the imaginary battle for morality, in which they alone stand on the side of goodness. 
And the vomit-inducing irony, is that Donald Trump and those responding to his code language and his racist fairy tales, are the people most existing at the periphery of decency right now.
They are the ones pushing the limits of what human beings can do to other people and still claim Humanity.
They are the ones justifying hospital room ICE raids and family deportations, the ones advocating for torture, the ones making coarse jokes about dying senators, the ones trafficking in anti-Semitic social media slurs and racist memes, the ones hounding teenage shooting survivors and demonizing gay kids.

* Chris' essay is in Playboy, something I wanted to note in case that matters to anyone clicking on the link.

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