Christainty as a means to an end.

Russell Moore:

A religious right activist group from Washington placed fliers in our church’s vestibule, outlining the Christian position on issues. Even as a teenager, I could recognize that the issues just happened to be the same as the talking points of the Republican National Committee. With many of these issues, there did seem to be a clear Christian position—on the abortion of unborn children, for instance, and on the need to stabilize families. But why was there a “Christian” position on congressional term limits, a balanced budget amendment, and the line item veto? Why was there no word on racial justice and unity for those of us in the historical shadow of Jim Crow?

I was left with the increasingly cynical feeling—an existential threat to my entire sense of myself and the world—that Christianity was just a means to an end. My faith was being used as a way to shore up Southern honor culture, mobilize voters for political allies, and market products to a gullible audience.

Moore’s comments came after the national spectacle of some Religious Right types making theological justifications for voting for Donald Trump. It is one thing for a voter to examine the candidates with clear eyes and decide to cast his lot for the lesser of two evils, it is quite another to fool oneself and (worse) attempt to fool others into thinking that the lesser evil is in fact a godly candidate.

As a teenager I remember hearing left-leaning Christians excuse Bill Clinton’s white-trash morals with absurdities like “if God has forgiven him, shouldn’t we?” as if Bill Clinton were our uncle or brother-in-law, not a public employee with a job that requires the exercise of prudence and a modicum of self control. The same people who in 1992 were telling us that character matters decided in 2016 that character did not matter, or that somehow Donald Trump was a true Christian, as if being a true Christian were somehow a requirement for faithfully executing the role of the President as outlined in the Constitution.

Scripture assures us that God hates idolatry. That includes the idolatry of putting the church at the service of political ends.

Moore defines all such idolatry as “theological liberalism”.

See, for instance, the use of 2 Chronicles 7:14 (“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land”) by many in the Evangelical wing of the religious right… The “land” is assumed to be the United States of America. No recognition is given that this Old Testament verse is speaking of the temple—a temple the New Testament identifies with Christ himself and the living stones of his Church. God has made his covenant with his elect, not the American nation. Such considerations are often seen as beside the point. The text is useful for a political purpose, and so it is put to use. This is theological liberalism. When Christianity is seen as a political project in search of a gospel useful enough to advance its worldly agenda, it will end up pleasing those who make politics primary, while losing those who believe the Gospel.

We can see this in the history of the Religious Left: Mainline Protestant Churches started using Christian tropes to advance Progressivism, and they entered demographic collapse. Eventually they figured out the trick: if being a good Christian is nothing other than being a good liberal, why bother with being a Christian? Moore points out that the same poison has been killing off the Religious Right for some time.

Before we rejoice in the death of the Religious Right we do however have to realize that the post-religious right will be (in fact, already is) an ugly affair, ugly as the post-religious left. Moore’s analysis is, ultimately, a hopeful one, mine is not. To once again paraphrase Orwell, the future will be an alt-right racist and an obese blue-haired college feminist, screaming in your face, forever.

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4 comments

  1. Well, the before and after religious rights are equally ugly affairs. When religion mixes with politics and power, it becomes ugly. Remember this: http://www.nytimes.com/1985/08/21/world/falwell-denounces-tutu-as-a-phony.html

    1. I was in first grade in 1985, so no I don’t remember. I was too busy mixing martinis and trying to seduce my babysitter to read the NYT.
      But it is more complicated than you make it out to be. There is no such thing as purely rational, transactional politics; politics are always rooted in culture, so religion (the “cult” in culture) will always have a role.
      If you are, say, a Muslim literalist or militant atheist, that is not a problem; nothing in your religion precludes the pursuit of power and smiting you enemies hip and thigh. If you are a Christian it should be a problem since any reading of the NT disparages worldly power, yet you sometimes find your religion in a position of cultural ascendancy.

      1. Well, there are all the things we already understood about politics and society in the Enlightenment. The very things that gave birth to modern democracies. Separating church and state, guaranteeing individual rights, making those rights equal and available to every citizen- and so forth. Attacks on the Enlightenment principles are a bid to undermine equal citizenship and reinstitute a variety of aristocracy.

      2. The Enlightenment was neither monolithic nor is it beyond criticism. The idea that society can be rationalized – which was a strong aspect of the French and German Enlightenments – constantly works against the Scotch, English and American Enlightenment ideals which are more pessimistic about the scope of human rationality and which owe a great deal to English Common Law, the scholastics, and even the Calvinist Reformation’s interest in the OT, which can be fiercely anti-absolutist and even anti-royal. The rationalist impulse on the continent gave birth to plenty of absolutist governments long before it gave birth to democratic governments.
        The contemporary Progressive movement is not interested in personal liberty nearly as much as it is interested in central planning by self-proclaimed experts, which is a sort of gnostic aristocracy that threatens individual liberty more than fox hunting drones ever did.

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