Politics: The New Time Religion

Fareed Zakaria is one of our most perceptive pundits. I have purchased his most recent book, Age of Revolutions, and am about halfway through it. Thus far, I’ve found it illuminating.

Zakaria’s recent essay in The Washington Post was similarly illuminating, connecting America’s increased secularization to the growing religious zealotry of the GOP and Trump’s supporters. Here’s his lede:

Reporters have been noticing something new about Donald Trump’s campaign events this time around. They often resemble religious revival meetings. The New York Times notes that where his rallies were once “improvised and volatile,” their finales now feel more planned, solemn and infused with religion. The closing 15 minutes “evokes an evangelical altar call” filled with references to God.

Trump is a shrewd reader of his supporters and has clearly seen what the data show. White evangelicals, who make up about 14 percent of the population, made up about one-quarter of voters in the 2020 election. And about three-quarters of them voted for Donald Trump. Even more striking, of those White voters who attend religious services once a month or more, 71 percent voted for Trump in the 2020 election. (Even similarly religious Black Americans, by contrast, voted for Joe Biden by a 9 to 1 ratio.) The key to understanding Trump’s coalition is the intensity of his support among White people who are and who claim to be devout Christians.
The decline in the nation’s religiosity is one of the many cultural changes that have upset so many Americans. For a number of years, America was an outlier among modern Western nations, most of which had secularized far earlier. (Ironically, scholars mostly attribute this country’s greater religiosity to the Separation of Church and State so despised by Christian Nationalists.) In the 1990s, that began to change, and it has plunged since 2007.
As the scholar Ronald Inglehart has shown, since that year, religious decline in America has been the greatest of any country of the 49 surveyed. By one measure, the United States today is the 12th-least-religious country on Earth. In 1990, according to the General Social Survey, less than 10 percent of Americans had no religious affiliation. Today it’s around 30 percent.
Zakaria considers some of the reasons for the decline, and then turns his attention to what has taken the place of fundamentalist religious dogma: politics. He quotes Walter Lippmann for the observation that modern life has deprived men of the “sense of certainty as to why they were born, why they must work, whom they must love, what they must honor, where they may turn in sorrow and defeat” and notes that Americans who are trying to cope with the loss of that “sense of certainty” have increasingly replaced religious dogma with political extremism.
Over the past few years, this process has been extended even further with those who consider themselves devout Christians defining their faith almost entirely in political terms — by opposing abortion, same-sex marriage and transgender rights. This in turn has led to a great Democratic dechurching: According to Gallup, Democratic church membership was 46 percent in 2020, down from 71 percent two decades prior. The scholar David Campbell of the University of Notre Dame told the Associated Press, “Increasingly, Americans associate religion with the Republican Party — and if they are not Republicans themselves, they turn away from religion.” This phenomenon — of the right using, even weaponizing religion — is not unique to America or Christianity. You can see it in Brazil, El Salvador, Italy, Israel, Turkey and India, among other places….
This is the great political challenge of our time. Liberal democracy gives people greater liberty than ever before, breaking down repression and control everywhere — in politics, religion and society. But as the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote, “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” Modern society gives us all wealth, technology and autonomy. But for many, these things cannot fill the hole in the heart that God and faith once occupied. To fill it with politics is dangerous. But that seems to be the shape of things to come.
Those of us who embrace life in secular America, who find the wide diversity of opinions, philosophical commitments and religious beliefs stimulating and thought-provoking, confront a political movement powered by people who find the loss of certainty terrifying, and who have compensated for the loss of religious fundamentalism by turning politics into a (similarly fundamentalist) religion.
The problem is, the essence of productive political engagement and governance is negotiation and compromise. Political engagement doesn’t work when one party sees policy disagreements, but the other sees those same disagreements as a battle between good and evil.
MAGA is a religion, and in religion, battles between good and evil are non-negotiable.


  1. I keep saying you can not be an actual follower of the Christ and vote for trump, and increasingly republicans in general, since the two are polar opposites and mutually exclusive. Too many trump supporters have been conned by power hungry politicians and “religious leaders” over the years and refuse to see the blatant hypocrisy involved in their “Republican Jesus” vs the biblical Christ. We are seeing in real time how Mussolini and Hitler (even Godwin says his law doesn’t apply when discussing trump) came to power and their nations to ruin.

  2. Those who favor a merger of church and state are inviting their own loss of religious independence since the state may infiltrate and take over the church. It’s not a one-way proposition as we saw with papal influence in choice of rulers, the Holy Roman Empire et al.

  3. As far as I can now observe, only Liberals constitute the basic Judeo/Christian beliefs in existence. And, I suppose I must add, that they will not give up their ‘political’ beliefs whether they go to church or not.

  4. Spot on.

    Given religion’s acute and growing partisan weaponization, updating campaign rules and tax policy to treat pulpits and preachers as every other political group is long overdue.

  5. “Separation of Church and State so despised by Christian Nationalists.) In the 1990s, that began to change, and it has plunged since 2007.”

    IBJ article reports Indiana has now approved for Charter schools to switch to Private status allowing them to qualify for vouchers. When will they begin actually closing public schools due to NO FUNDS in the Public Education budget?

  6. If religion will allow people to vote for a person who wants total immunity from all laws, including that against murder, then what good is their religion? How does this religion inform the way they live their lives on a day to day basis? MAGA is so far from the teachings of Jesus that it is hard to see how people connect the two. A lack of personal integrity?
    Dear Jesus, please protect me from your (MAGA) followers!

  7. Gerald. Thank you for making that point. Yesterday on BBC’s World News Tonight there was a segment about Putin’s targeting of Christian churches in Ukraine. At the same time, he is showing solidarity with the Orthodox Church, thus pitting one branch of Christianity against another. It is a clear example of “divide and conquer.” Just as a country engaged in civil war is weak and vulnerable, so people engaged in religious war are weak and vulnerable. His aim, the aim of all dictators, is to so divide and weaken his opponents that he is able to seize total power for himself. Evangelical Christians in Ukraine are being jailed and killed by the Putin regime while Evangelical Christians in this country are trying to elect Putin’s ally. Ignorance abounds!

  8. Sheila writes, “Political engagement doesn’t work when one party sees policy disagreements, but the other sees those same disagreements as a battle between good and evil.”

    Navigating a complex world through the lens of “good and evil” makes it much simpler. Simpler works for closed-minded Republicans who aren’t very bright to begin with. They don’t have to think much—their critical thinking skills are deficient.

    As Sheila mentions, political negotiations aren’t simply black and white. Of course, Republicans want to see it so, but it’s not. It’s almost always gray. This poses a problem for right-wing Christians.

    The example I see numerous times on social media is the genocide in Gaza. Advocates for Israel see Hamas as evil for their 10/7 attacks but cannot see the evil Israel (IDF) has caused since then. We see videos every single day of the evil transpiring in Gaza. If you are anti-Genocide, then you must be pro-Hamas, which makes you evil, too. Also, if you call Israel’s actions a genocide, then you must be an anti-Semite. In their mind, you can’t hold Hamas and Israel accountable for their evil actions.

    I see the same thing with the Russian/Ukraine War. Our media helps promote this dualism as well. There is always a boogeyman (evil) against the US, for which we need protection. This propaganda is called “manufacturing consent.” If you notice, we are always the good guys in the Hollywood movie despite the evidence to the contrary.

    Our world is gray, so an open mind (woke) is essential. However, the Republicans have made “wokeness” an evil to be feared/destroyed. How do you convey to people that their religious beliefs are incorrect/false?

  9. I see things perhaps a little differently! What is religion based upon? For some – it is a “weapon” . It is weaponized by rich and powerful people including many politicians. This is intertwined with patriarchy and its structure – control. While seemingly men are the “oppressors” and women and children are the “oppressed”, it’s not that simple. While obviously many of us white men can be controlling, we also rely upon women emotionally and often in other ways. Women can and do exert their power in heterosexual family/partnered situations. In a period of major, major societal upheaval, the certainty of “traditional values” can and does appeal to many women (also).
    When one then introduces – fear – into the equation, we have a perfect weapon for those in power to use against others, as well as the perfect thing to UNITE people (of the right). Many white people fear Black People. Immigrants are a convenient target. Our Growing Latino/Latina population is increasingly divided between those seeking equality/justice and those Embracing “Whiteness” – e.g. – Racism/Anti-Blackness. The Catholic Church in particular can be very divisive for many. Gays/Lesbians/Gender-Non-Binary/Trans People are weaponized as the source of our discomfort.
    Religion – can also be a very, very different thing for some of us. It can be “community”. Whereas – for the right – there can be a “community of ‘Othering'” – in homophobia – building walls around our communities – from the others, for those Not in the right it is sharing and caring.
    Even within this – “more moderate” space, there can be divisions related to those of us seeking Social/Political/Societal Justice – through Activism and Personal Growth, and those seeking: “simple peace”. The Simple Peace-ites – avoid the News, enjoy their local sports teams, focus upon how they look, and be as “apolitical” as they can be.
    We face a Politicized – Religiousized – Right!
    Who are “we”?
    The vast majority of supporters of the Right – are passive observers – Praying for 45 – as well as the values of Exclusion and Hatred and “Othering”.
    The – passive – middle – may well be the largest plurality in this country.
    Will – we – the Liberals and Radicals – coalesce – to prevent – Religious/Wealth/ Power Domination – often commonly – Fascistic – in its focus? We will see!
    It will require more work from more of us!

  10. “…anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” Yes, and the Re[publicans, and conservatives, in general, have long been seen as the most anxious among us. So, despite the clear lack of any real Christian sensibility in MAGA, they flock to the “Dear Leader.”

  11. The new theology is based on the Seven Mountains mandate that, in turn, is based on religion as an all-life-consuming cultural power. Humans are nothing compared to God. Every aspect of their lives is owed to Him.

    The movement believes that to control culture, they must control family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business, and government.

    No more old-fashioned Sundays go to church Christians. If they are to take over
    the world they need 24/7/365 from their followers.

    Timing is not on their side though. It’s now or never because the world is adapting to networks for organizations in the face of their ultimate hierarchy. Collaboration instead of follow the leader.

    They hope that blind zeal will overcome any thought of adapting to the future. They promise to be out of touch with the rest of the world as if it’s a possibility.

    That’s a sure means to the country being behind the rest of the world

  12. “…anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” Yup. When we are free to believe what we want, act anyway we want, there are no shared anchor posts to our lives and anxiety rises (as shown daily here). We here tremble and hang in there, too many look for an authoritarian figure to “show the way” and calm things down in some way, Wonder how many of us here might go for a “philosopher king” instead of our messed up “democracy”?

  13. The non-Evangelical Christian Churches need to speak up. If they let the Evangelicals define religion and Christ, they are handing power over to the crazies. They don’t have to be political, they just need to redefine what being a Christian is all about! One of the best is Bishop William Barber, who has launched numerous events to help the poor and the disenfranchised, like his “Moral Mondays”, but even he isn’t talking about how we define what it means to be Christian. Episcopalians, Methodists, Friends, UUCs, and others have a duty to speak up.

  14. When I went to church it was a force for moral good. It seems now a force for global control.

    How has that worked out for Muslims?

  15. One thing is clear: although the founding fathers’ religious backgrounds were varied – mostly Deist – they were unequivocal in the wording of the establishment clause enshrined in the Constitution’s Bill of Right’s First Amendment in 1789: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” So believe anything you want, practice any religious beliefs that make sense to you, but don’t forget that the United States of America is not based on any religion. Period.

  16. In a broader sense, religion is just one more way to separate people. I have been struck by how sports that used to be a singular platform for common experience, much like public education (except for the glaring segregation by race), radio and TV broadcasting when the Fairness Doctrine was in force, have changed. It used to be that the banker and the janitor could enjoy most sporting events together, sitting in the bleachers or boxes, sharing a love of the sport. Public school students came from a mix of social, religious, economic groups. People listened to/watched broadcasts of common interest, exposed to a variety of news items. It was a common base of living. Now that common experience is very often restricted by means. We can no longer share those events, news and ideas without paying for the means of access.
    The Big Sort makes it even more divisive. I would leave this state if I were a young person. The politics of Indiana do not reflect who I am or what I value. Neither does the church I once attended. My budget restrictions mean that I seldom can share sporting events, musical performances or theater that once were aired for all to share and enjoy at their will.
    Sadly, I see no way to restore those lost shared experiences. In this state and country, money and the greed it produces are the root of our demise.

  17. JD…sounds like you need to learn of the greater impacts of this: “Bowling Alone”.

  18. It is a shame that humans fail to see the amazing wonder of self, the Great I Am! We all have the power for good and for evil, it is free will that allows us to choose which path we will take. It is really that simple. No Son that we must pray to to connect with the Father, only acceptance of the miracle which is you.

  19. how much of these rightwing churches give/grant/oversee/perpetulate pacs directly/indirectly to political/pr/ lobby/ for self preservation? the above discussion is not complete. the overlooked issue is where dose the money come from and who. simple swaggart pleas on tele whatevers may make some of this expense,meybe their real fear is a audit. its bout time we see where they have the right to exist without being taxed as a political advertiser. religion like theres today,seemmore like a con game by trump..now, how many of you have been in a face to face discussion with these fanatics? its fun believe me.

  20. Zakaria is always worth a read, Sheila, just like you. This is a superb, a necessary, column….we need more clones of it, we do!

  21. I have a idea, tell me if you think its off track.
    Back off a bit on Republicans, many are cowed by personal attacks if they dare speak out. Put all blame on MAGA. 30% OF THE POPULATION wants to change our way of life, think they are more important than the 70% of us that have been mostly ok with everything they want too change.

  22. We liberals overthink everything. That is who we are.

    Fundamentalists are, almost without exception, not very bright. They not only do not overthink things, they prefer not to think. They are begging to be told what to do, and their churches fill that gap where there once was a human “Lord” to obey.

    America is unique in that there is no cohesive social structure, no original tribe (other than natives, who have been decimated and marginalized), and the culture of individualism and ruthless capitalism separates us even further from one another.

    These are people who need someone to tell them what to do, how to act, what to wear, and what to believe, and America does not provide them the structure they crave. They will follow anyone who offers them that belonging, and they will happily commit any atrocity to maintain their membership. They are the murderous mob.

  23. Fundamentalism in religion or atheism is a problem. Believing that our thinking selves is the ultimate is lacking. There’s a lot of power in the universe that we don’t understand. Our ancestors appreciated that. I was struck by the recent total eclipse of the sun; when the moon finally totally blocked the sun light we could look directly at it. After just four minutes of darkness and seeing the celestial halo in the sky, a small ray of sunlight radiated that was so bright we couldn’t look anymore. Revelations of truth seem to be like that. We have to have freedom to search and find our way.
    Authoritarian restrictive religion can be soul crushing and cause problems especially in young people searching for truth.
    There can be positives in religions, support, solace and strength to go on. Finding the truths in the metaphorical stories can be helpful. If it’s helpful to you and feeds your soul, as long as it doesn’t command you overstep into the lives of others in a domineering way then embrace it.
    I’m glad in this country we still have the freedom to do that. Being able to speak up and criticize authority is important to that freedom.
    The force from the maddening Maga crowd is frightening. Democratic resistance seems to be holding, even though getting justice is momentously slow going. Americans’ indignation with the arrogant, imposing and destructive ways of anti-progressives seems to be building and that’s a bandwagon I’m willing to be on.

  24. Peggy, many non-Evangelical Christian churches are, in fact, taking a stand against the Christian nationalism movement in both word and action. For example,
    And social justice work is at the very heart of the United Church of Christ’s mission. Locally in Indianapolis, they walk in solidarity at Pride events, participate in statehouse rallies defending the rights of women, affordable health care, and the environment. They are TRULY welcoming and affirming congregations, not just paying lip service to the idea of it. They support the rights of the LGBTQ+ and trans communities, and are involved with Family Promise, an organization that works with, and offers temporary shelter, to homeless families. They support refugees who have fled from their violent homelands. Unfortunately, this isn’t the type of Christian most people want to hear about these days, nor does the media want to cover.

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