Fundamentalist Religion And Politics

If you are looking for an explanation of America’s current, toxic political tribalism, you can find plenty of theories from which to choose. There’s the yawning gap between the rich and the rest, the ability–facilitated by our fragmented media environment–to find “facts” that are congenial to your political preferences, the craven behavior of too many political figures…the list is extensive.

That said, the major element of today’s culture war is religion. Not the specifics of religious belief or theology, but the role fundamentalists and Christian Nationalists believe religion should play in modern society and governance.

I spent six years as the Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, and experienced first-hand the consistency and ferocity of efforts to ignore America’s Constitutionally-mandated Separation of Church and State. I lost count of the number of panels and discussions devoted to (hopefully patient) explanations of the First Amendment, and why–despite the fact that the exact word “separation” doesn’t appear–the history and clear meaning of the Amendment require recognition of the Founder’s intention to keep religion and government in their proper lanes.

But today’s battles are different from that older, persistent effort to erode operation of the First Amendment’s religion clauses.

The rise of Christian Nationalism is part and parcel of the angry, knee-jerk fundamentalist reaction to cultural change. That reaction is what’s behind the morphing of what used to be a political party into a cult frantically trying to return the country to a time they largely misremember. Just as the racists among them are reacting to demographic changes eroding Whites’ majority status, fundamentalist Christians are reacting to the decrease in public performative religiosity and to what has been termed the “rise of the nones”– to the loss of Christianity’s cultural hegemony.

I rarely make predictions, because I’m not very good at them (mine tend to be based more on hope than evidence). But I feel fairly confident that efforts to turn the U.S. into a fundamentalist Christian theocracy are doomed. The public reaction to court decisions based on religious dogma rather than legal precedent–Hobby Lobby, Dobbs, and the recent Alabama ruling equating embryos with children, among others–is telling.

The argument for injecting religion into the broader culture, rather than honoring the right of individuals to determine their own belief structures, is almost always based on assertions that religiosity equates to morality. An allied charge is that, absent rigorous religious grounding, children will grow up to be selfish and immoral. Neither of these assertions is supported by evidence.

Quite the contrary.

I recently came across a fascinating study suggesting that raising one’s children without religion may be a healthier alternative.

Gone are the days of the unyielding God-fearing mother as the archetype of good parenting, suggests a recent article from the Los Angeles Times. According to multiple reports, research has shown that a secular upbringing may be healthier for children. According to a 2010 Duke University study, kids raised this way display less susceptibility to racism and peer pressure, and are “less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian, and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.” But the list of benefits doesn’t stop there.

Citing Pew Research, the Times’ Phil Zuckerman notes that there’s been a recent spike in American households who categorize themselves as “Nones” — their religious affiliation being “nothing in particular.” According to Zuckerman, modern nonreligious adults account for 23 percent of Americans. As early as the ’50s, that figure was only four percent. And with godlessness on the rise, researchers have begun analyzing the benefits of nonreligious child rearing more closely.

“Far from being dysfunctional, nihilistic and rudderless without the security and rectitude of religion,” writes Zuckerman, “secular households provide a sound and solid foundation for children, according to Vern Bengston, a USC professor of gerontology and sociology.” Bengston oversees the Longitudinal Study of Generations, the largest study of families and their religious affiliations in America. After noticing an uptick in nonreligious households, Bengston added secularism to the study in 2013. “Many nonreligious parents were more coherent and passionate about their ethical principles than some of the ‘religious’ parents in our study,” said Bengston in an interview with Zuckerman. “The vast majority appeared to live goal-filled lives characterized by moral direction and sense of life having a purpose.”

Little by little, that dreaded “cosmopolitanism” is undermining the fundamentalist battles that historically triggered wars and currently fuel so much social discord.

Both secularism and the more liberal iterations of Christianity, Judaism and Islam that increasingly characterize today’s culture are signs of social and human progress. Despite the current blowback, I predict they’ll prevail.


  1. Along those lines…. we really should be taxing their property and income streams like we do all other business ventures.

  2. “The argument for injecting religion into the broader culture, rather than honoring the right of individuals to determine their own belief structures, is almost always based on assertions that religiosity equates to morality.”

    I’m sure to get comments regarding racism when they are directed at a situation of forcing my family to be part of a religious system we do not adhere to due to a Black Chaplain at my daughter’s death bed. On Sunday, December 10th, we were summoned to Eskenazi Hospital for our final goodbyes; within minutes of arriving a white male Chaplain appeared to join us, he was very kind and supportive and answered our questions. When I asked his religious affiliation he replied nondenominational; he stayed with us till Robin was stabilized and then left (I thought). When I went to the ICU waiting room to let someone else be with her I found him still with my family; still offering support and answering questions. The crisis passed for the time being; on Wednesday, December 13th, we were again called to her bedside, there was already a young white Chaplain there who left at the end of her shift (this was not a supportive move for us and I found it offensive); she was replaced by a Black woman Chaplain, dressed all in black except for shiny silver threads in her skirt. She talked to family, gave comfort to those who needed it, being deaf I couldn’t know what she was saying. When the time came to disconnect all life support she invited us to pray; it went on and on and on and I finally opened my eyes in time to see her look heavenward, with arms raised, open hands slowly waving back and forth and I noticed the long, fake nails and the long, fake upturned eyelashes and I left the room. When I asked my granddaughter if the Chaplain was giving the sermon of “sending Robin off to glory land”, she said it was what she said. That was not the accepted religion of my family and, in my mind, was no different than sending a Catholic Priest to give last rites to a dying Jewish patient. There is no escaping religion being forced on us in all facets of life.

    I apologize for the length and the deeply personal content of this post but it seems that not even death is an escape from honoring the religious rights of my daughter and her family. The Chaplain left within minutes of Robin’s death as if her shift was over and her job there was done. Separation of church and state has been replaced with religion taking over politics, allowing politics to enact religious based laws on the nation by the followers of a leader who preaches evil. It is his followers I find more frightening than the man himself.

    “Despite the current blowback, I predict they’ll prevail.” Sheila, I hope and pray you are right about your prediction.

  3. What isn’t imposed externally we impose on ourselves internally.

    Most all of us want to lead good lives and have safe, successful, happy families.

    Retailing our moral sense to an external party (eg, “religious authority” — text or person) actually disengages our moral sense and replaces it with compliance and apoearance.

    Without that 3rd-party retailing, we are left to think things through for ourselves. Doing that both internalizes our values and, over time, forces us to reconcile any internal inconsistencies, making them both more coherent and more applicable in new situations.

  4. I say this as a recovering Southern Baptist/Fundamentalist.
    There has been no more destructive force in the history of the “modern” world than religious belief.

  5. It must be painful for the evangelical nationalist to try and ignore that 2nd commandment God gave Moses. I guess neighbor is different from “them”.

  6. I think it is a waste of time trying to convince the MAGA crowd that there is a metaphorical “wall of separation” between government and religion. But try this. ask them to read the last section of the Constitution, which prohibits religious discrimination in obtaining and holding down a government job. They will be glad to know that they cannot be fired from a government job because of their religious beliefs. But they may not be happy if you point out that that clause in the Constitution implies that their religious beliefs cannot affect their ability to do a government job. And that implies that religion has no relationship to how the government functions. Then point out that that section in the Constitution is the only place in which religion is mentioned – hence the “wall of separation” that they don’t want to believe in. The only mention is to imply, if not state precisely, that our government’s functions are completely independent of religious beliefs.

  7. The videos of death and destruction by the Zionists in Gaza reveal how fundamentalism impacts our world. Combine the US/UK so-called Christian nations, and there is no evidence of moral leadership. Religion has failed to produce morality in its citizens.

    However, looking around the Midwest and South, all you see are churches. They want the Ten Commandments on display in government buildings. They want prayers/sermons before municipal meetings. They need God in everything because believers are Godly.

    It’s all BS!

    Give me someone who chooses Spiritual, Not Religious, any day of the week. They don’t need faith (belief) because they live according to the spirit inside and outside them. They are connected to the spiritual realm. They don’t need a pastor to interrupt the Bible. They have a much better sense of Jesus than most pastors.

    They can also easily transverse the secular and nonsecular worlds without getting hung up. They also don’t demand you follow their lead and believe like they believe. They aren’t missionaries.

    I think the crazy world we live in has created much fear, and that fear drives people into churches still today.

  8. What James Todd said. The evidence is overwhelming. Case in point: Israel vs. Hamas, Taliban, Islam in general. All these cults want to do is kill each other … as they have for thousands of years. Yeah. God. Sure.

  9. An interesting read is “The Kingdom The Power and The Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism” by Tom Alberta

  10. While Sheila is hopeful, I am not. Historians, I suspect, will view this period in time will be seen as the dawn of an “un-enlightenment” movement where our use and appreciation for reason is greatly diminished. We want to be dumb. It’s a choice and we have chosen. Perhaps life is easier when you dumb. I don’t know but it looks as if we are all going to find out…..

  11. Two points: 1) There is a belief of many “fundamentalists” that others have a right to religious beliefs, but these fundamentalists believe in “god” (they use an upper-case “g”), a belief somehow above mere religion. 2) An aspirant for the job of Indiana Lieutenant Governor gives it an interesting spin. In a video a few years ago, he said only Christians can be moral. I’m pretty sure that he meant his “type.”

  12. Are we – “community” and what does that mean? When we are living in fear – our “community” – is a sort of “clan” – the Cicero, IL – of the 1950’s-1980’s – where Black teenagers told me how they would take buses around Cicero – because it was Too Dangerous to ride through it. Where – we come from a “prayer” focus – which is Pity – based – “I want to help those Poor ___ People” – we know what is Best for them – and our Community is hierarchical. We can complain – all we want, however Unless – we are Willing to Step Out of Our Comfort Zone – and build community – outward – really learning from the wisdom of the “others” – The Community – of the Future – is NOT lead – by: older, cis, white men – like I am. It won’t be lead by Individuals at all. I try to listen to Young People! They are often the wisest among us. As we build outward – we can have the capacity – to listen to the often legitimate gripes – of working class – white men (and women of course). They aren’t – making more money from their investments! They are struggling to cope with rising food and medical costs and more. As a Jew – I certainly am Most Aware – of – Christian Hegemony – and its Dangers! Learning – and moving towards and into – Building Real Significant – Affirming Community – is a Win-Win for us – and for me – the Only Way – we/I can have hope!

  13. Is “belief” in universal moral standards a “religion”? NO. Whatever evil has been perpetrated in the name of one or another religion, the “evil” or lack of agreement/attention to what is “good” is becoming a, perhaps, greater problem.

  14. JoAnn, I am so sorry for the loss that you and your family have had with the passing of your daughter. Please accept my sincere condolences.

    While in the hospital with my partner, he was asked if he wanted a chaplin to visit. He declined. But later one arrived to ask if he wanted “prayers”. I found it very uncomfortable, my partner less so. Apparently, especially in religiously affiliated hospitals, no doesn’t mean no.
    Having attended both religious and public schools, I can testify to the daily emphasis on religious practice, often to the exclusion of science and the use of a selective history curriculum within religious schools. Having spent some time in religious schools more recently, I noted that some things never change. The day is still directed by religious practice. Students may not be from families from within that particular religious community but will certainly feel some peer pressure to participate in the religious practices or risk being marginalized.
    Whether motivated by pity, contempt or entitled superiority, too many of the fundamentalist White Nationalists continue to insist that their way is the only legitimate path and continue to force their ideology on others. Arignorant is an appropriate description.
    Fear is the underlying motivation no matter what they fear; loss of status, loss of control, loss of privilege, all are grounded in fear. Religion that purports to provide status, control and privilege gives the fearful refuge in a changing world. Tfg knows his audience for sure.

  15. I am currently reading a book by
    timothy Egan titled “A Fever in the Heartland” a book about the KuKlux Klan’s plot to take over America and the woman who stopped them. I did not know the history of the klan in Indiana and how the klan initially got started. It is chilling to me the parallels between the growth of the klan and what is happening in America now.

  16. It is good to see the statistics in today’s blog post. We ‘Nones’ are unfortunately being forced to endure the rabid pseudo-Christian nationalist/fundamentalist temper tantrums of those bullies as they kick and scream like toddlers that aren’t getting their way.

  17. Two thirds of Americans reject most of the Christian Nationalists’ nonsense. The problem is that only half of them can be counted on to vote.

  18. Greg Farrell. Well put!
    The religious fundamentalists I have known are self righteous, smug, intractable, uncompromising and utterly immune to facts and reason.
    Joann Green. I don’t find your comments at all racist. Your story illustrates why we should not allow chaplains to act as counselors in our public schools. They can’t be trusted to leave their religious doctrine out of their job. Indeed, many of them would consider it a sin to do so.

  19. If religion shapes government, then who’s brand of religion will dominate that outcome. That alone starts wars!
    I believe, only religious sanctuaries should remain tax free, but all other property holdings should be taxed at the going rate of all businesses.
    I believe, Freedom Of Religion, is also freedom from religion, or freedom to choose for yourself which religion you choose to be a part of.
    I believe, the current goals by Christian Nationalists and Christian Fundamentalism is the Highway to hell for America and the wedge into our social constructs the leads to civil war.
    I believe, ALABAMA is Americas loose buckle on the Bible Belt with one of the highest unwed mother populations in our nation.
    And I believe, you can always count on republicans on over reach with their powers and authority that always leads to their demise.
    Thank You, Sheila for your voice and vigilance.

  20. looking at the tube,the last few years on trumps watch/er disaster has gained a 4 fold increase in t.v. religious whatevers. thats religious stations that have become full time talk shows. dont forget the number on the bottom of the screen folks.Im raised in a catholic home,full time nun in family.( i do not believe in a higher power) i became more interested history,that never mentioned god or its significance. seems sects, cults etc.prey on many for their upkeep. the fact the church keeps a so called office in politics, isnt for blessings,and never was. even many movies depict the church as some form of community leader of some sort,but i always seen it in real life as window dressing. the televangilists,really 2 jets? big mega,maga churches. how much do they as a whole,give to politicians,over community good? time for a audit eh? i mean,thats the idea of a tax write off..the republicans now look more like a tribe of grifters depending on religious money for their getting a foot into congress. then use the floor to again,have their conversation,without any real time mention of what they will do for the ones left to live in poverty so they can use more money to polish their shoes, and throw money at the rich. if people are leaving religion,then its because we have become aware of the scam. church for sale, any price..

  21. Part of the problem is that mainline protestants have ceded the small towns and rural areas to the fundamentalists. I am going to pick on the Methodists because the story I am about to tell is about my aunt and cousins, who are Methodists, but you can fill in the blank with any mainline protestant denomination (Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian, etc.). The problem started with the fact that for the last 50 years, educated young people have left small towns and rural areas because small towns and rural areas have limited job opportunities for college grads and people with advanced degrees. This left small towns and rural areas with dwindling populations and most of the people who were left were the elderly, who used to be middle class but have become poor due to inflation, and the high school or less educated young and middle aged people. As giving declined in these churches, due to the demographics of their congregations, small Methodist churches could not pay their apportionments, and rather than seeing this as a mission to support the poor, the districts shut them down. This is true of other mainline protestants and is becoming true of Catholics also. The problem is that these people’s lives centered around the churches and when they got shut down, they and their families felt abandoned by the mainline churches, so they went to fundamentalist churches because there was no where else to go. The relative lack of education made them vulnerable to adopting the values they were not raised with. Please note that most of the religious rights base is in small towns and rural areas.

  22. The weakness of the Republican Party is the fact that they are a flimsy coalition of special interest groups. Racists, Believers in a single omnipotent God, the insatiably wealthy, anti-government anti-patriots, gun nuts, tradwives. What binds them is only the belief that they are superior individuals and are entitled to power over inferior individuals.

    What binds Democrats is simple morality. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    I agree with Sheila. I have enough confidence in you, all of you, to respect your human rights. We will prevail.

  23. Christian Nationalism? Check out Hitler’s spin on God: 1939, in an editorial in Volkischer Beobachter: ’”So shall we today, as the true chosen people of God, become in our dispersal the omnipresent power, the masters of the Earth?’” p.103
    of Rachel Maddow’s ” Prequel.
    With the very active and insidious actions of “the craven behavior of too many political figures…”, in congress, we have a return to a time when we were, also, close to going off the rails. Numerous congress people, from Hamilton Fish to Senator Rush Holt (father of rep. Rush Holt), and Senator Ernest Lundeen. Henry Hoke, early advertising magnate, in speaking to the congressional Dies (original name of HUAC) Committee, warned of Hitler’s “…extensive, expensive , mailing campaign” in the U.S., designed to keep the . S. out of WWII, in the 1940’s. He wrote, a 1940 article in his”The Reporter of Direct Mail Advertising,” about the scale, sophistication, and massive price tag of the Germans’ ongoing mailed propaganda operation in the United States. He also explained exactly why the Germans had been ramping up their propaganda campaign aggressively. Hoke explained: rich versus poor, foreign born versus native born, nonwhite versus white, Gentiles versus Jews, northerners versus southerners, Democrats versus Republicans, conservatives versus liberals. ‘Do you remember what Hitler had said?’ Hoke wrote. ‘America is permanently on the brink of revolution. It will be a simple matter for me to produce unrest and revolts in the U.S., so that these gentry will have their hands full with their own affairs.’” p. 210.
 the above mentioned congresspeople were allowing their mail Franks to be used by “The German Library of Information” to make massive mailings around the country, of their propaganda piece ” Facts in Review.”
    Other German supported propaganda groups were doing the same thing.
    Gee, is it Groundhog Day, with Trump’s “alternate facts,” and Fox News constant barrage of twisted BS?

  24. Pete,

    What’cha been smokin’? “What binds Democrats is simple morality. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That’s why they gerrymander when given the chance. That’s why they take billions from fossil fuel and other corporate influencers. That’s why, when given the chance with power, they couldn’t even give Dreamers a path to citizenship. Gimmie a break….

  25. Thank you Sheila, now I know that I can use “Nones” when being asked for my religious affiliation.
    I have surveyed and participated in so many belief systems from the age of 10 till an Oldster today. You have made me feel a part of instead of an outlier.

    JoAnn, I am so sorry for your experience and the loss of a loved one.
    We can always ask inappropriate people to “stop”, leave, or call the guards for harassment. God will not care.

  26. We live in an interesting.moment. So called Christians are not conducting themselves in a selfless manner and Democrats condone genocide abroad.

  27. Ian. You seem to be a good example of the description I gave above of religious fundamentalists. You decided to believe that crap about genocide and refuse to be swayed by either facts or reason. Ridiculous. Literally. Deserving of ridicule.

  28. It seems that authoritarian, restrictive, dogmatic religions that focus on controlling humans’ primal urges for survival are clashing with Democracy and our inherent freedoms. It seems, in history this is relatively recent development. It’s a life saver to have a balance of power of influencers in life and in this country, we can change our minds as we learn more. Anything that blocks that progress and growth is unjust. Brain washing children needs to be banned.
    JoAnn, I’m so sorry for the loss of your daughter and for the insensitive treatment toward you at that painful time. I hope good memories of your daughter are a comfort to you.

  29. In the rural Texas community where my mother grew up, the village Methodists were scandalized by the Baptists’ habit of tank-dunking for salvation. One bad joke ran: the reason Baptists are against premarital sex is concern that it may lead to dancing. The two churches’ memberships often divided families, tho there was more tut-tutting than warfare. Now we find even the Methodists splitting in two, divided by acceptance or rejection of same sex marriage and acceptance of people with nonstandard sexual orientation. But these conflicts are trivial compared with the never-ending brutal, lethal conflicts between the two great factions of Islam, Shia vs. Sunni. To play on Reagan’s famous inanity, it’s not non belief that’s the problem; RELIGION is the problem.

  30. Lester, Pete is more right than you give him credit for. The Democrats are far from perfect. There is certainly a conservative “old guard” that will do the horrible things you note. They may believe in the better moral tenets, but they _don’t_ believe they can succeed with them politically. (As an illustration, some of them kiboshed the dreamer solutions because they can’t imagine doing the right thing would be good politics. They are wrong; however, they just can’t fathom it. So, to that group–Schumer, Pelosi, Clinton, etc.–good riddance.) Fortunately, more and more of the newer, younger, more progressive members definitely want what’s best for the most people. So, at least the Democrats are moving in the right direction.

    And if _you_ want those good things, then Democrats are the only option.

  31. Vernon, I’d suggest the Israel-Hamas obscenity is not about religion, especially; it’s based on colonialism. Consider the similarities: Israel is approaching (and mostly always has approached) the Palestinians in a very similar manner to the early American treatment of the native Americans. As always, colonialism involves a huge amount of racism and dehumanization. Largely, Israel does not treat the Palestinians as humans; they are just an obstacle in the way of what the colonizers want.

  32. I should be clear. As I hate Putin and his government, I hate Netanyahu and his government. I do not hate Russians, nor do I hate Israelis. Of course.

    That said, I am very angry with the specific Israelis who choose to block key roads to hinder aid transport, and Israelis who sit on hillsides cheering the bombing of Palestinian areas. It may be that they’ve all been swayed by decades of propaganda, but it’s abhorrent to react to suffering and death this way, regardless. I still don’t hate them, but I am very, very angry with them.

  33. No, Sharon, you’re the one who should be ashamed. Biden is facilitating genocide and this admi.istration just recently vetoed a ceasefire at the UN. I get it, you’re racist scum and will bend over backwards to defend a genocide the Biden administration continues to fund.

    Will black-Americans be next on your list for genocide if your favored members of the establishment call for one? I’m betting the answer is yes.

  34. This blog is a perfect example as to how benevolent,educated persons develop into good-Germans.

    People that support genocide have no moral standing and need to be called out.

  35. Hi JoAnn,
    My condolences. Apparently the Black Chaplain thought that her “flavor” of religion was applicable to all people. You made no mention of her discussing the situation with you before her performance. I could go on, but you do not need that.

  36. Isreal is demonstrating there and now the consequences of right wing take over of democracy. Will Netanyahu let go of power when the people of Isreal realize the cost of perfect comfort and safety and vote him out? There is no way for us to know today.

    Will we avoid the risky situation here they put themselves in? There is no way to be sure of that either.

    We don’t know. Perhaps those who represent the same threat in the US will learn from this experience.

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