Category Archives: Religious Liberty

Religion And Patriarchy

The current assault on women’s autonomy, led primarily by people espousing fundamentalist versions of Evangelical Christianity, has awakened many Americans to the considerable influence of religion on American law and culture. That influence is not new, although the extent of it has largely gone unrecognized. Indeed, through most of American history, people have vastly underestimated the profound and continuing influence of culturally-embedded attitudes that originated with religious ways of interpreting reality. Most of us today recognize the impact of purportedly religious beliefs on issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and support for the death penalty, but what is far less obvious is the degree to which religiously-rooted worldviews continue to influence seemingly secular policy debates, including economic policies.

Many of the cultural perspectives that shape our policy preferences were originally religious, and those religious roots have influenced our adult worldviews—including the worldviews of people who reject theological doctrines and do not believe themselves to be religious. The much-ballyhooed “values” debate isn’t a conflict between people who are religious and people who are not, nor is it a struggle between people holding different religious beliefs. It’s a debate between people operating out of different and largely inconsistent worldviews, and whether they recognize it or not, many of those worldviews originally grew out of different and frequently inconsistent religious explanations of the world we inhabit. Those inconsistencies don’t just reflect differences between major religions—different theological approaches taken by Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc.—but also between denominations within those religions, especially the numerous denominations within Christianity. Calvinist beliefs, for example, continue to exert a major influence on American economic policy.

As women have slowly moved into the mainstream of American life, the doctrinal and
structural differences of the major Abrahamic religions have shaped both their official
responses and the culture. That has especially been true of religions like Catholicism that
prohibit women from the priesthood and consider both abortion and artificial birth control
sinful.  It wasn’t until 2020 that Pope Francis changed church law to allow a somewhat expanded role for women within the Catholic Church. The decree allows women to serve as readers, altar servers, and assistants to priests during service or in administering Holy Communion; however, the priesthood remains exclusively male.

As Frank Bruni has written  “For all the remarkable service that the Catholic Church performs, it is one of the world’s dominant and most unshakable patriarchies, with tenets that don’t abet equality.”

For women to get a fair shake in the work force, they need at least some measure of reproductive freedom. But Catholic bishops in the United States lobbied strenuously against the Obamacare requirement that employers such as religiously affiliated schools and hospitals include contraception in workers’ health insurance.

The autocratic structure of Catholicism, which discourages dissent from approved messaging, and requires the exclusion of women from the pulpit, operates to reinforce the subordinate status of women. Recent revelations about an internal “faith group” within Catholicism underscore that message.  People of Praise (which counts current Supreme Court Justice Amy Comey Barrett among its members) calls for complete obedience of women to their husbands, “emphasizes the importance of childbirth, pregnancy and the abandonment of autonomy and privacy it supposedly entails, as a core part of what it means to be a woman.” The Catholic Church remains adamantly anti-abortion, recognizing an exception only when it is clearly required in order to save the life of the mother.

The response of liberal Protestantism to cultural change has been very different. The largest Mainline  Protestant denominations include the United Methodist Church (UMC), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Presbyterian Church (PC-USA), the Episcopal Church, the American Baptist Church (ABC- USA, not to be confused with the Southern Baptists, considered below) the United Church of Christ (UCC), and Christian Church Disciples of Christ (DOC). Sometimes referred to as the “Seven Sisters,’ these denominations have seen significant growth in the ordination of women; as of 2010, approximately 10% of Protestant pastors were female.  A survey conducted in 1987 suggested that women entering pastoral positions brought liberal commitments in religion, theological discussions, and cultural values to their congregations. Those commitments translate into their current supportive positions on abortion and birth control; a recent study by Pew categorizes them as supportive of abortion rights, albeit with some restrictions.

When it comes to religion and women’s rights, historians note that Quakers and Jews have been longstanding and prominent proponents of female equality. Quakers are among the least “top down” of Christian sects, and as far back as the early 1800s, Quaker women who were recognized as being “called” were allowed to travel to share their gifts of ministry, usually with a chaperone. The most famous was probably Lucretia Mott (1793-1880). The Quaker acceptance of women’s education and ministry set Quakers apart from the rest of organized Christianity, and may explain the disproportionate presence of Quaker women in the abolition movement. That activity led to gatherings of women who were also concerned about the need for greater rights for women. Of the four women who led the planning for the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls in 1848, three were Quakers.

Like Quakerism, Judaism has no single authority able to prescribe what is “kosher” in Jewish law and observance. Throughout the ages, Rabbis have argued about the proper meaning of biblical and Talmudic passages, and individual Jews have followed those that they found persuasive. Women’s status has varied, but the prevailing attitudes have usually been more progressive than those of surrounding cultures. In Judaism, descent is matrilinear—a Jew is someone born of a Jewish mother. Jewish law requires women to obey the same negative commandments that men must follow (the “thou shalt nots”), but excuses females from ritual duties that are time-bound, presumably in recognition of women’s maternal obligations. As far back as Talmudic times, evidence suggests that at least some women were educated in the Bible and Jewish law. During and after the Middle Ages, because many Jewish women were the family breadwinners in order to allow the man of the house to study, the culture has been very accepting of women entering the workforce and later, the professions.  With respect to worship, progress has been more recent: Reform Judaism ordained its first female rabbi in 1972, and Reconstructionist Judaism followed suit 1974. Today, there are more than a thousand women in the rabbinate, as well as a growing number of LGBTQ Rabbis, and congregants are accustomed to seeing women as Rabbis and Cantors within Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist synagogues.

The Orthodox movement within Judaism has been considerably slower to accept women’s full participation; in Orthodox synagogues, men and women still sit apart, and until very recently there have been no female Rabbis. Feminists within Orthodoxy have been actively advocating for reforms, and in 2013, a first group of female rabbinical students graduated from a New York seminary, but there is still considerable resistance within Orthodoxy to giving them pulpits, and similar resistance to many of the changes that Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements have made.

With respect to abortion, Jewish law affirms that protecting existing life is
paramount at all stages of pregnancy; however, Judaism does not consider a fetus a person until the head emerges from the womb. In Jewish law, the interests of the pregnant individual always come before that of the fetus. Jewish sources explicitly state that abortion is not onl permitted but is required should the pregnancy endanger the life or health of the pregnant individual, and “health” includes psychological as well as physical health.

American Muslims have only recently been numerous enough to affect social attitudes about women. Worldwide, Islamic practices vary widely. The Koran does require the education of women, and gives women certain rights if divorced by their husbands. According to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, in the United States, Muslims are more likely than white Evangelicals and Protestants to have favorable views of feminists. The Institute has found that “American Muslim women denounce gender discrimination inside and outside of their community.”

Evangelicals and the Status of Women

Evangelicals, like the rest of America’s religious landscape, are diverse; however, the more fundamentalist White Evangelical Christian denominations are currently united in their opposition to women’s reproductive autonomy. That contemporary reality has tended to obscure the history of American Evangelicalism, which was far from monolithic in its approach to gender, and considerably less political than today. In some Evangelical denominations, women were allowed to be ordained and otherwise vested with spiritual authority; in many others, women were—and still are—forbidden from holding leadership roles.

A major tenet of Evangelical Christianity is the doctrine of complementarianism—the belief that while men and women are equal in creation, they are distinct in function. “Biblical womanhood” reflects this belief in “separate spheres.” Men are to be the leaders of the church and the home, and women are meant to support and submit to them. This doctrine has a long history in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), one of the largest and most influential of the Evangelical churches. As one religious historian wrote,

Southern Baptist leader John Broadus answered the question “should women speak in mixed public assemblies?” with a definitive “no” in 1889. The year before, when Southern Baptist women formed the Woman’s Missionary Union, they assured male leaders that they only desired to be supportive, not independent as women in some other denominations were.

As the writer noted, that thinking—advanced by the world’s largest organization for Protestant women– “shaped the views of generations of Southern Baptist women and in turn, those of their Evangelical neighbors and friends.” This approach to the roles of men and women persisted; in 1974, the wife of one influential Southern Baptist pastor wrote to a widely-approving audience that the man should lead and the woman should be submissive.

As the broader American culture changed, some Southern Baptist women pushed the denomination to rethink that submission. The SBC held a consultation on women’s roles in 1978, and a later organization, Baptist Women in Ministry, argued for an expanded role for women within the denomination. Within the broader Evangelical movement, there were also challenges to complementarianism and the traditional understanding of women’s roles. In 1988, Christians for Biblical Equality sought to empower women in Evangelical churches. About the same time, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was formed to revisit the accepted definition of biblically-appropriate gender roles.

These efforts largely failed. In 2000, despite the emergence of Evangelical women arguing for more equal status within the faith, the SBC reaffirmed its adherence to complementarianism, publishing a proclamation that wives should submit to their husbands and pastors should be male.

Evangelical theology doesn’t simply elevate men over women; it considers homosexuality and gender-fluid identities to be sinful and unnatural, and rejects efforts to secure equal legal rights for LGBTQ Americans. As Evangelicals have become more and more political, and as the Republican Party has become more and more dependent upon the Evangelical vote, those beliefs have powered what has come to be called the Culture War, and the transformation of Evangelical theology into a political movement. As a result, any effort to examine Evangelical theology today must contend with the fact that, in today’s America, Evangelical is no longer a religious descriptor. It has become a political label.

Numerous studies have confirmed that a significant percentage of contemporary Americans who claim an Evangelical identity rarely attend religious services. In 2008, 16% of all self-identified Evangelicals reported “never or seldom’ when asked about their church attendance. By 2020, that number was 27%. In 2008, a third of self-identified Evangelicals who never attended church claimed to be politically conservative. By 2019, that number approached 50 percent. In addition, growing numbers of Catholics and Muslims now call themselves Evangelical. Apparently, many Americans think that being very religiously engaged and very politically conservative makes one an Evangelical.

Even more troubling, a growing body of research confirms that American Evangelicalism hasn’t simply become a political rather than religious identity; to a very significant extent, the American Evangelicals who dominate today’s Republican Party are more properly identified as White Christian Nationalists, and they are focused not upon faith but upon the defense of White male Christian privilege.

When it comes to women’s rights and the current effort to ban abortions, it is manifestly dishonest to argue that opposition to reproductive choice is grounded in Christian theology. Pastors to whom we have spoken—both those who describe themselves as “pro-life” and those who are “pro-choice”—agree that the bible is silent on the issue. Religious historians have documented that the roots of the anti-abortion movement lie elsewhere.  It wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after the Court decided Roe v, Wade—that Evangelical leaders, goaded by Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion as “a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term.” As noted religion scholar Randall Balmer has written, these political figures felt that objecting to abortion would be seen as “more palatable” than what was actually motivating them, which was protection of the segregated schools they had established following the decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

According to Balmer,

Both before and for several years after Roe, evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject, which they considered a “Catholic issue.” In 1968, for instance, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy. In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” The convention, hardly a redoubt of liberal values, reaffirmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976.

It was rightwing anger about civil rights laws that originally motivated the “Right to life” movement. Political actors were savvy enough to recognize that organizing grassroots Evangelicals to defend racial discrimination wouldn’t cut it—that they would need a different issue if they wanted to mobilize Evangelical voters on a large scale. Distasteful as that reality is, evidence clearly shows that the Christian Right’s political activism, including but not limited to its opposition to abortion, was largely motivated by a defense of racial segregation, not by religious doctrine.

A lengthy 2022 article from the Guardian reported on the extensive relationships between White supremacist and anti-choice organizations.

Explicit white nationalism, and an emphasis on conscripting white women into reproduction, is not a fringe element of the anti-choice movement. Associations between white supremacist groups and anti-abortion forces are robust and longstanding. In addition to Patriot Front, groups like the white nationalist Aryan Nations and the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Worker party have also lent support to the anti-abortion movement. These groups see stopping abortion as part of a broader project to ensure white hegemony in addition to women’s subordination. Tim Bishop, of the Aryan Nations, noted that “Lots of our people join [anti-choice organizations] … It’s part of our Holy War for the pure Aryan race.” That the growing white nationalist movement would be focused on attacking women’s rights is maybe to be expected: research has long established that recruitment to the alt-right happens largely among men with grievances against feminism, and that misogyny is usually the first form of rightwing radicalization.

In his decision in Boggs v. Jackson, Justice Alito claimed that reversal of Roe “restores the US to an unbroken tradition of prohibiting abortion on pain of criminal punishment [that] persisted from the earliest days of the common law until 1973.” This assertion is deeply dishonest and easily disproven. As historians have exhaustively documented, early American common law (as in Britain) generally permitted abortions until “quickening”, or perceptible fetal movement, usually between 16 to 20 weeks into a pregnancy. Connecticut was the first state to ban abortion after quickening, in 1821, which is roughly two centuries after the earliest days of American common law. It wasn’t until the 1880s that every US state had some laws restricting abortion, and not until the 1910s that it was criminalized in every state. In the wake of Dobbs, social media was awash with examples from 18th- and 19th-century newspapers that clearly refuted Alito’s false assertion, sharing examples of midwives and doctors legally advertising abortifacients, Benjamin Franklin’s at-home abortion remedies, and accounts of 19th-century doctors performing “therapeutic” (medically necessary) abortions.

As the Guardian reported, anti-abortion fervor has not been motivated by the moral or religious beliefs generally cited by anti-choice activists. In fact, the first wave of anti-abortion laws was entangled in arguments about nativism, eugenics and white supremacism, as they dovetailed with a cultural panic that swept the US in the late 19th and early 20th century as a result of the vast changes in American society wrought by the conflict. This panic was referred to at the time in shorthand as “race suicide.”

The increasing traction today of the far-right “great replacement theory”, which contends that there is a global conspiracy to replace white people with people of color, and has explicitly motivated white supremacist massacres in the US, is often said to have originated with a French novel called The Camp of the Saints by Jean Raspail. Published in 1973, the same year that Roe v Wade enshrined American women’s rights to reproductive autonomy, it is a dystopian account of “swarthy hordes” of immigrants sweeping in and destroying western civilization. But there were many earlier panics over “white extinction”, and in the US, debates around abortion have been entangled with race panic from the start.

A post on the website of FiveThirtyEight.com put it succinctly,” the anti-abortion movement, at its core, has always been about upholding white supremacy.” Women’s rights were collateral damage.

Of course, religious beliefs– whether seen or unseen, “up front” or latent, rooted in religious belief or racism– are not the only powerful influences shaping American worldviews. American culture also reflects popular understandings of the country’s constituent documents—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights—documents that are widely venerated (although apparently much less widely read and/or understood). Religion scholars credit the First Amendment’s religion clauses, which mandate the separation of church and state, for America’s religiosity—a religiosity that flourished here at the same time that Europe was becoming far more secular. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits government from privileging the beliefs and practices of certain religions, while the Free Exercise Clause protects individual beliefs. As a result of the operation of those two clauses (for which the phrase “separation of church and state” is shorthand) the United States has nurtured a wide diversity of religions, including numerous denominations within the country’s dominant Christianity. As the foregoing description illustrates, there is no uniformity among them on the status of women, or the extent of female agency, or on the permissibility of birth control or abortion.  What we do know about religion’s influence on the status of women (globally as well as within the United States) is simple: the lower the level of religious affiliation and fervor, the higher the level of gender equality.

Tomorrow: The Legal Context

About That War On Women….

I’m a woman of a “certain age”–in other words, old–and I’ve lived through some fairly significant social changes, especially changes in the status of women. And I’ve seen enough to recognize a backlash when I’m experiencing it.

I’ve written before about how important reproductive autonomy is to women’s emancipation–not to mention their health. Without the ability to control their own childbearing decisions, women are hobbled in innumerable ways–returned to a time when they were economically dependent on their husbands/partners, and a time when they were far less employable.

There are plenty of other reasons to be outraged by the decision in Dobbs– not least because it elevates dogma held by one religious sect over equally sincere and longstanding beliefs held by others–but it is the decision’s attack on women’s equality that is most egregious.

Dobbs is just the most visible part of a wider war on that equality.

I recently became aware that among the books being attacked by self-described “conservatives” is a popular middle-grade book series “Girls Who Code.” The books are about–duh— girls who code, focusing on the adventures of a group of young girls who are part of a coding club at school.

According to a report in Daily Kos, the series was added to PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans, a nationwide list of restricted literature.

After hearing about the book ban, Reshma Saujani, founder of the Girls Who Code nonprofit organization, shared her thoughts with Business Insider.

“I was just shocked,” Saujani told Insider. “This is about controlling women and it starts with controlling our girls and what info they have access to.”

She added: ”In some ways we know that book banning has been an extreme political tool by the right—banning books to protect our kids from things that are ‘obscene’ or ‘provocative’—but there is nothing obscene or provocative about these books.”

According to the website associated with the Girls Who Code organization, the goal is to “change the face of tech” by closing the gender gap in new entry-level tech jobs.

“Moms for Liberty”–the group that has been actively trying to ban books that focus on topics like critical race theory, sex education, and inclusive gender language–is said to be responsible for adding the series to the banned books index.

The Girls Who Code books are used to reach children and encourage them to code, but because of how “liberal” they seem due to the diverse characters and the message that girls can do anything, conservatives are looking to ban them.

Saujani noted that removing the books not only hinders visibility for women in technology fields but also diversity in the industry, as most of the characters in the series are people of color.

“You cannot be what you cannot see,” she said. “They don’t want girls to learn how to code because that’s a way to be economically secure.”

Apparently, showing girls of various races engaged in coding is “woke”–and as we all know, being “woke” horrifies the White Christian Nationalists who want to take America back to the “good old days.”

According to PEN America, books were banned in 5,049 schools with a combined enrollment of nearly 4 million students in 32 states between July 2021 and July 2022. About 41% of banned books on the list had LGBTQ+ themes or characters who are LGBTQ+. The other majority of banned books featured characters of color or addressed issues of race.

The Republican determination to return America to those (mis-remembered) “good old days” explains a lot of other things, including Congressional votes against reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and against the Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay Act among others. The Party even opposes the League of Women Voters, insisting that the League’s stands on behalf of women and against gerrymandering have remade the organization into a “collection of angry leftists rather than friendly do-gooders.”

Today’s GOP labels anyone–male or female– who supports gender (or racial or religious) equality–as “angry leftists.”

Forty-two years ago, my husband and I met as part of a Republican city administration. When we married, a reporter told me we were considered “nice, but a bit right of center.” Our political philosophies haven’t changed–but the GOP has. Dramatically. Today’s Republicans now consider us part of that “angry leftist” mob–along with most of the then-Republicans with whom we worked.

Make no mistake: today’s GOP is a radical, dangerous cult that bears virtually no relationship to the political party that was once home to people like Richard Lugar and William Hudnut–or even Ronald Reagan. Its war on “woke-ness” and women is part of its hysterical effort to return America to a time when White Protestant males ruled the roost.

November 8th is about whether we are going back.

 

If This Doesn’t Terrify You…

Little by little, media outlets have begun reporting on a variety of really horrifying “movements”–most embracing Neo-fascist and/or crypto-Christian beliefs–that have been accumulating large numbers of adherents despite their underground status.

One such movement is the New Apostolic Reformation.

On July 1, 2022, inside a packed Georgia arena, four religious leaders stood on stage as they recited a blood chilling Prayer Declaration called the “Watchman Decree”:

Whereas, we have been given legal power from heaven and now exercise our authority, Whereas, we are God’s ambassadors and spokespeople over the earth. Whereas, through the power of God we are the world influencers. Whereas, because of our covenant with God, we are equipped and delegated by him to destroy every attempted advance of the enemy, we make our declarations: … 3. We decree that our judicial system will issue rulings that are biblical and constitutional. 4. We declare that we stand against wokeness, the occult, and every evil attempt against our nation. 5. We declare that we now take back our God-given freedoms, according to our Constitution. 6. We decree that we take back and permanently control positions of influence and leadership in each of the “Seven Mountains.”

Not only was the arena “packed,” the video of the recitation–which you can see at the link– was viewed more than 3 million times on Twitter alone.

The Watchman Decree is a product of something called the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). The relatively few media outlets that have reported on the movement tell us that it is a rapidly accelerating worldwide Christian authoritarian movement, one that includes practices of faith healing and exorcism. It also promotes dominionism, the belief that Christians must take control of government, business and the culture before Jesus can return to earth.

The men on stage included NAR apostles Dutch Sheets (who wrote the decree) and Lance Wallhau, along with two close colleagues, pastors Mario Murillo and Hank Kunneman. The fifth man, pastor Gene Bailey, hosted the event for his show Flashpoint on Victory TV, a Christian network that platforms the NAR and pro-Trump Make America Great (MAGA) influencers.

Those relatively obscure individuals are joined in NAR by Trump supporters with far more familiar names: former Trump National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, who has appeared on Flashpoint several times, and longtime Trump advisor Roger Stone. Stone, Flynn, and other MAGA influencers were announced as participants in a Pennsylvania tour called the“Reawaken America Tour” (RAT). That tour was founded by a far right podcast host from Oklahoma, and was sponsored by an NAR apostle through something called Charisma News.

Leading NAR apostles are blatantly pro-Trump, and claim their view is supported by God, whereas opposition to Trump is satanic. “Fighting with Trump is fighting God,” Wallnau declared in October 2020. “God does not want” Joe Biden to be president, Sheets claimed in December 2020. “All those witchcraft curses that did not land on Donald Trump are trying to take out his kids,” Wallnau raged in a 2017 video. In a 2017 tweet, he wrote, “Praying for the President-elect at Press Club in D.C. with Lou Engle. Prophetic location. Trump must keep wrecking media witchcraft.”

The NAR also opposes freedom of religion, teaching instead that Christians must exert dominion over all aspects of our society. The NAR isn’t the only movement that espouses dominionism, but it may be the most influential. As explained by Wagner, who fathered the NAR:

“Dominion has to do with control. Dominion has to do with rulership. Dominion has to do with authority and subduing. And it relates to society. In other words, what the values are in Heaven need to be made manifest on earth. Dominion means being the head and not the tail. Dominion means ruling as kings.”

The specific pillars of society over which the NAR plans to “rule as kings” are seven-fold: 1. business, 2. government, 3. family, 4. religion, 5. media, 6. education, and 7. entertainment. NAR leaders call this the “Seven Mountains” mandate.

I find it hard to get my head around the fact that thousands–perhaps millions–of Americans can hold and act upon such beliefs in the 21st Century. I can only speculate about the fears and/or resentments that might account for a person’s  embrace of such a worldview. The fact that the NAR and its ilk have largely flown under the radar adds to the danger. These are people who believe they are privy to the will of a deity they have created out of their own inadequacies, and that they are entitled to exert “dominion” over the rest of us.

We live in very scary times.

 

 

Playing Cozy With The Nazis

It is getting very scary.

Over the past several years–aided and abetted by Trump’s normalization of racism and anti-Semitism–the GOP has become less and less distinguishable from its Neo-Nazi fringe, and less embarrassed by the relationship.

Just a few of the many available examples:

In Washington State, the Republican Party is paying a pro-Nazi blogger.

Arnold runs the far-right Telegram account “Pure Politics,” which traffics in Jan. 6 conspiracy theories, praise of controversial lawmakers, and anti-COVID-containment sentiments. It also has more than 12,000 followers who frequently comment with racist and antisemitic language.

But Arnold himself has said plenty of distressing things. As CNN reported last year, Arnold has advocated shooting refugees, killing undocumented immigrants, and has posted praise for Nazi Germany. He actually once said Adolf Hitler was “a complicated historical figure which many people misunderstand.”

 In a statement shared last week with The Daily Beast, the communications director for the Washington Republican Party, Ben Gonzalez, didn’t deny Arnold’s employment but claimed his tenure was short-lived.

The paid tenure may have been “short lived,” but the party’s relationship with Arnold isn’t. The GOP congressional candidate who won this year’s Republican primary was photographed alongside Arnold, “a move praised by his followers.” 

Other media outlets have reported on Arnold’s strong ties to white nationalist Nicholas Fuentes. Fuentes leads a group of “college-aged, far-right activists that refer to themselves as “groypers”—a rebranding of the racist alt-right movement”–and within the far-right “America First” movement, Arnold is a lieutenant.

The embrace of Nazi ideology isn’t limited to Washington State, nor to organized far-right groups. Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake has endorsed an “out and proud” Oklahoma anti-Semite. Doug Mastriano, running for Governor of Pennsylvania, has a long history of anti-Semitism and has made anti-Jewish attacks on his Jewish opponent.

As one media outlet put it, 

From Dr. Oz in front of Hitler’s car to Marjorie Taylor Greene spouting the Great Replacement Theory to the GOP supporting Kanye West—the message is clear.

GOP officials have praised figures like Hungary’s Victor Orban, and Americans have been treated to a stream of pro-Putin, pro-Orban, anti-Semitic propaganda by Fox News figure Tucker Carlson.

Even though Fox News star Tucker Carlson’s interview with Kanye West was so expansive that it ran during both his Thursday and Friday night broadcasts, it appears the far-right cable host left out plenty of newsworthy footage, Motherboard reported on Tuesday.

These segments of the interview omitted from the final broadcasts showed the rap superstar, now known as Ye, casually peddling antisemitism while making strange claims about “fake children” used to manipulate his own kids.

Last week, before West went on an antisemitic tantrum on social media, he was welcomed on Carlson’s show to discuss the backlash he faced for donning a “White Lives Matter” shirt alongside right-wing provocateur Candace Owens at Paris Fashion Week.

 In the interview that aired on Fox News, Carlson presented West as a conservative folk hero, praising his “interesting, deep, provocative” observations on politics and social issues, even shrugging off concerns about West’s mental-health issues and documented struggles with bipolar disorder.

Carlson has been a major apologist for the so-called “replacement theory”–the fear expressed by far-right White Christian Males that they will be “replaced” (displaced from their perceived status as “real” Americans) by Jews and people of color. The men who rioted in Charlottesville chanted “Jews shall not replace us.”

Almost immediately after his appearance on Carlson’s show,  West used social media to issue antisemitic threats against Jewish people and was locked out of both his Instagram and Twitter accounts. Carlson has ignored the controversy and has continued to laud his “standing up for oppressed white people., as have most Congressional Republicans

Kanye West –now “Ye”–is currently a Republican celebrity, one of a small number of Blacks being used by the GOP to rebut charges of racism. (“I can’t be racist. Some of my best friends/current candidates are…”) Hershel Walker is another. As several pundits have commented, the issue for these cynical Republicans is how to handle personalities like West and Walker, both of whom have publicly struggled with mental health issues and seem unaware of their status as pawns.

As one observer put it, “I am not personally worried that Kanye is going to bomb a synagogue or something like that. I’m more concerned that there is a huge political movement that’s holding him up as this figure.”

Members of disfavored minorities used to worry about rightwing “dog whistles.” These days, the GOP isn’t bothering to whistle–instead, the party (now fully captured by its one-time fringe) is enthusiastically embracing its inner bigot.

The parallels with Germany in the 30s are too obvious to miss.

 

The Morality Police

We are living in–and hopefully, through–an age  of  global upheaval. Most readers of this blog are probably aware of the uprisings in Iran, prompted by the death of a young woman at the hands of that country’s “Morality Police.” As the Washington Post reported,

Protests in Iran continue more than a week after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died after being taken into custody by the “morality police” for the offense of allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code. The Post reports: “The anti-government protests she inspired are still raging across Iran. Demonstrators, many of them women, are burning hijabs and fighting back against police; they are tearing down posters and setting fire to billboards of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader.” More than 30 people have been killed. The Post has verified video showing the police firing into crowds of protesters.

Several media outlets have reported on the nature of her dress code violation: a loose headscarf.

A 22-year-old died because her headscarf–which she was wearing in compliance with Iran’s religious laws–was deemed “too loose.”

These reports reminded me of a book I read several years ago, and after racking my brain, I finally remembered the title: Hellfire Nation.  I commend it to the attention of those who don’t think America has its own version of Morality Police. The publisher’s description is less hair-raising than I found the book itself, which was replete with descriptions of this country’s repeated moral panics.

This insightful new conceptualization of American political history demonstrates that—despite the clear separation of church and state—religion lies at the heart of American politics. From the Puritan founding to the present day, the American story is a moral epic, James Morone says, and while moral fervor has inspired the dream of social justice it has also ignited our fiercest social conflicts.

From the colonial era to the present day, Americans embraced a Providential mission, tangled with devils, and aspired to save the world. Moral fervor ignited our fiercest social conflicts—but it also moved dreamers to remake the nation in the name of social justice. Moral crusades inspired abolition, woman suffrage, and civil rights, even as they led Americans to hang witches, enslave Africans, and ban liquor. Today these moral arguments continue, influencing the debate over everything from abortion to foreign policy.

Written with passion and deep insight, Hellfire Nation tells the story of a brawling, raucous, religious people. Morone shows how fears of sin and dreams of virtue defined the shape of the nation.

As one reviewer noted,  the book’s “explanatory work is performed by the ubiquitous trio of race, class, and gender.” The author demonstrated the various ways that “anxious Americans invoke the concept of sin to stigmatize and control dangerous others.”  This stigmatization has allowed our home-grown bigots t to characterize America’s underclass  not only as “other” but as “wicked”—and the book traced the implications of that characterization for policy formation. (My own scholarship confirmed that assertion; I found George W. Bush’s Charitable Choice initiative firmly grounded in a worldview that blamed poverty on a perceived lack of “middle-class values.”)

Hellfire Nation described a recurring political cycle, running from zealotry, to bigotry, to panic, and finally to state-enforced legal prohibitions. It also explains what so many of us see as hypocrisy: the self-described “small government” conservatives who are nevertheless all too eager to use the state to impose their own views of morality on others–a scenario we can most recently see playing out in the eagerness of those same conservatives to criminalize abortion.

It is, of course, more complicated than that.

The book documented two kinds of morality politics. The first kind is based upon a concept of sin as an individual moral failure that focuses on efforts to punish the sinner. The second kind locates sin in systemic failures and as a result, makes an effort to restructure the system.(It’s an intriguing way of mapping the differences between conservatives and progressives.)

Those who adhere to the first understanding of sin are preoccupied with  what they see as affronts to God; the second group is more concerned with earthly justice.That said, in the real world, the two versions are not so neatly allocated. As the book tells us, abolitionists combined a progressive vision of racial justice with a very intense focus on personal industry and sexual purity.

America’s legal system separates church from state, but as any reading of our history will confirm, that has never stopped our homegrown Morality Police from trying–often successfully–to impose the mandates of their religious dogmas on their neighbors.

They want a version of Iran based upon adoption of their particular form of Christianity. It is not inaccurate to point out that we will be voting on that vision in November.