Yesterday, I titled my post “Yes!” Today–after the election of a new House Speaker–I can only retreat into “No!”

After nearly four weeks of total dysfunction, the House GOP elected a Speaker candidate–essentially, Jim Jordan without the public buffoonery and scandal baggage. According to the Washington Post, here are five things to know about this previously undistinguished culture-war Representative from deep-Red Louisiana.

First–and least surprising, although deeply troubling– he’s an election denier.He opposed certifying the 2020 election and urged Trump to “stay strong and keep fighting” as Trump tried to overturn his loss in the presidential race. He tweeted out a message urging Trump to fight the results, adding “We must exhaust every available legal remedy to restore Americans’ trust in the fairness of our election system.”

Johnson also objected to certifying Biden’s electoral win and was one of the architects of a legal attack on the election that consisted of arguing that states’ voting accommodations during the pandemic were unconstitutional. He led a group of 126 Republican lawmakers in filing an amicus brief to the Supreme Court alleging that authorities in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan had “usurped” the constitutional authority of state legislatures when they loosened voting restrictions because of the pandemic. The court rejected the underlying complaint — filed by the state of Texas — citing a lack of standing, and dismissed all other related motions, including the amicus brief.

Second, and extremely concerning, he was one of 57 lawmakers — all of them Republicans — who voted against a $39.8 billion aid package for Ukraine in May. Although a majority of GOP Representatives support aid to Ukraine, Johnson is not among them.

Third–and probably least surprising–Johnson, “a constitutional lawyer who identifies as a Christian,” opposes abortion. He actively celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, has insisted (via Twitter) that rights are not protected by government but “given by God,” and those God-given rights don’t include reproductive autonomy for women. He supports an absolute national ban on abortions.

The antiabortion nonprofit Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America gives Johnson an A+ ranking on this issue, stating that he “has voted consistently to defend the lives of the unborn and infants,” including by “stopping hard-earned tax dollars from paying for abortion, whether domestically or internationally.”

Fourth, his election cements the takeover of the GOP by Trumpers–as if there was any doubt.

He served on Trump’s legal defense team during his two impeachment trials in the Senate. He has called charges against Trump — which include a federal case relating to his attempts to overturn the 2020 election — “bogus,” and has said the legal and political systems have treated Trump unfairly.

Fifth, Johnson displays the anti-LGBTQ bigotry we’ve come to expect from the GOP’s pseudo-“Christian” culture warriors. He continues to oppose same-sex marriage, for example.

Johnson has positioned himself on the far right of the political spectrum on several social issues, even within the current conservative Republican conference. Notably, he introduced legislation last year — modeled after Florida’s “don’t say gay” bill — that would have prohibited discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as related subjects, at any institution that received federal funds. The Human Rights Campaign, a pro-LGBTQ civil rights organization, gave Johnson a score of 0 in its latest congressional scorecard.

Johnson also opposes gender-affirming care for minors and led a hearing on the subject in July. In a statement, he described gender-affirming care — meaning medical care that affirms or recognizes the gender identity of the person receiving the care, and which can include giving puberty or hormone blockers to minors under close monitoring from a doctor — as “adults inflicting harm on helpless children to affirm their world view.”

Health-care professionals, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, disagree, but Johnson and his ilk dismiss expertise of all kinds in favor of listening to the God they have created in their own image…

So here we are, fellow Americans.

I’d rate the likelihood that Congress will now begin attending to business somewhere between zero and minus-one on a ten-point scale; at best, we will be treated to a more regularized performance of hari-kari.

If the extreme public meltdown of one of the nation’s political parties was taking place at a less-fraught time, I might actually find watching it enjoyable. But with two wars raging and a government shutdown looming, it’s agonizing to watch ideologues and intellectually-vacuous incompetents take the helm of the ship of state.

Johnson is a good fit for a political party that has been reduced to trading on ignorance, hate and fear. He’s a disaster-in-the-making for a country that needs to return to its constitutional and philosophical roots.


Heaven And The GOP

The Pew Research Center is often referred to as the “gold standard” in research methodology, and their results frequently shed light into corners of society that are otherwise dim. One recent study illuminated a rarely-noted distinction between Republicans and Democrats that may (or may not) explain some behavioral differences.

According to Pew, Republicans are considerably more likely to believe in heaven–and to believe that only their religious beliefs will get folks there. As the report on the study noted, not only are there big differences between Republicans and Democrats on matters here on earth, there are similarly large differences in the specific beliefs they hold about life after death and who is entitled to it.

A majority of Americans believe in both heaven and hell, including 74% of Republicans and 50% of Democrats. But about a third (35%) of Democrats say that they do not believe in either heaven or hell, compared with just 14% of Republicans who say this.

In fact, when given the option to express belief in some sort of afterlife aside from either heaven or hell, a quarter of all Democrats say that they do not believe in any afterlife at all, which is much higher than the share of Republicans who express the same view (9%).

Of course, as the report acknowledges, much of the difference can be attributed to the religious composition of today’s parties. A large majority of Republicans are Christians, a much higher share than Democrats. Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to be religiously unaffiliated –to  describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular.”

 Large majorities of Christians in both parties believe in heaven, hell or both, including 95% of Republican and GOP-leaning Christians and 90% of Democratic Christians. And in addition to being more numerous in the Democratic Party, religious “nones” who are Democrats are far more inclined than religiously unaffiliated Republicans to say they believe in neither heaven nor hell (68% vs. 47%).

But even among those who believe in heaven, Democrats and Republicans also differ on who deserves to get in. In general, Republicans who believe in heaven are more likely to offer an exclusive vision of it – as a place limited to those who are Christian or at least believe in God – while Democrats tend to say they believe that heaven is open to many people regardless of their sectarian identities or beliefs about God.

Among the people in Pew’s study who claim a belief in heaven, an “overwhelming” share says that people in heaven will be free from suffering and will be reunited with loved ones who died previously. They expect to meet God and have perfectly healthy bodies. People who believe in hell say it’s a place where people experience physical and psychological suffering and become aware of the suffering they created in the world. (Given the emphasis on bodily health, you might expect these folks to be more active proponents of universal health care here on Earth, but consistency doesn’t seem to factor in…)

Ordinarily, I’d take these results with a pretty large teaspoon of salt. I think it was George Gallop who observed that Americans routinely lie to pollsters about three things: sex, drug use and religious belief and observance. As good as Pew is, I have trouble believing that they’ve found a way to ascertain the degree to which these responses are truthful.

Or the degree to which they are accurate representations of respondents’ religious identities.

I have Christian friends who feel strongly, for example, that many of the purportedly pious folks who self-identify as “Christian” are really Christian Nationalists, a rather different thing. And with respect to belief in heaven and hell,  I often think back to my mother’s “belief” in heaven and hell–according to her (somewhat idiosyncratic) theological lights, heaven and hell are what humans create and experience here on earth, during our lifetimes, which is why Jews have a duty to heed biblical and talmudic exhortations about doing mercy and pursuing justice.

Accurate or not, the Pew study is admittedly consistent with what we see around us: a Republican Party obsessed with protecting  (White) “Christian” privilege, and a Democratic Party trying to improve lives in the here-and-now.

Evidently, Republicans believe their eventual ticket to heaven depends entirely upon their success in creating a society that imposes their religious views on the rest of us–it sure doesn’t seem to require correcting hellish situations here on planet Earth.


Real Americans

Each day–or so it seems–we are treated to news of yet another set of attitudes or beliefs that divide American citizens. Some of those divisions are beginning to seem insurmountable.

Case in point: According to a recent Pew poll, thirty-two percent of Americans believe that you have to be Christian to be a “real” American. (It would do no good to point members of that 32% to contrary writings by the nation’s Founders–like the occasional commenters who come to this blog to cite Fox News as authority for their evidence-free assertions, these are people for whom history inconsistent with their preferred beliefs is irrelevant. Or “fake.”)

According to Pew,

In 2014, Christians accounted for 70.6% of the U.S. population. Non-Christians and those unaffiliated with any religion totaled 28.7%.

About a third (32%) of Americans say it is very important for a person to be a Christian in order to be considered truly American. Roughly three-in-ten (31%) contend that one’s religion is not at all important.

Presumably, people who identify “American” with “Christian” do so because they believe that the values of Christianity are central to America’s values. (Of course, they ignore that pesky fact that there are some 34,000 different Christian denominations, and a lot of them appear to prioritize rather different sets of values…)

Adam Gopnik addressed the centrality of religious pluralism to our system of government in the most recent New Yorker.

America is not only a nation but also an idea, cleanly if not tightly defined. Pluralism is not a secondary or a decorative aspect of that idea. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51, the guarantee of religious liberty lies in having many kinds of faiths, and the guarantee of civil liberty lies in having many kinds of people—in establishing a “multiplicity of interests” to go along with a “multiplicity of sects.

When I saw the Pew poll, I thought about a column I wrote not long after the 2004 election, which was widely seen as a “values” election. I’m reproducing it, because it is a list of what I consider to be “real” American values. It needs updating–the targets of American resentments have changed somewhat–but it remains uncomfortably relevant.

Let me be quite explicit about my values, which are shared by millions of others—values that infuse the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, values that are absolutely central to what it means to be American.

Americans believe in justice and civil liberties—in equal treatment and fair play for all citizens, whether or not we agree with them or like them or approve of their life choices.

We believe that no one is above the law—and that includes those who run our government.

We believe that dissent can be the highest form of patriotism. Those who care about America enough to speak out against policies they believe to be wrong or corrupt are not only exercising their rights as citizens, they are discharging their civic responsibilities.

We believe that playing to the worst of our fears and prejudices, using “wedge issues” to marginalize gays, or blacks, or “east coast liberals” (a time-honored code word for Jews) in the pursuit of political advantage is un-American and immoral.

We believe, as Garry Wills recently wrote, in “critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences.”

We believe, to use the language of the nation’s Founders, in “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind” (even non-American mankind).

We believe in the true heartland of this country, which is anywhere where people struggle to provide for their families, dig deep into their pockets to help the less fortunate, and understand their religions to require goodwill and loving kindness.

We believe that self-righteousness is the enemy of righteousness.

We really do believe that the way you play the game is more important, in the end, than whether you win or lose. We really do believe that the ends don’t justify the means.

In our America, borrowing from our grandchildren so that we can pay for a costly war without taxing the President’s buddies and campaign contributors is not moral. Dividing the nation into red and blue, gay and straight, moral and immoral, welcome and unwelcome, is not moral. Excusing our own sins by pointing to the sins of others—torturing people, or engaging in “holy war” because “they” do it too, is not moral. Lying—about sex or Weapons of Mass Destruction or an opponent’s war record—is not moral.

On Election Day, claimants of the “ Christian values” label came to the precinct where my youngest son was working and said they were there to “vote against the queers.” In my precinct, when I handed a Democratic slate to a voter, he accused me of being a “friend of Osama.” A friend’s son registering voters for Baron Hill in a church was called a “fag lover.”

The people who live in my America need to reclaim the vocabulary of patriotism and values from those who have hijacked the language in service of something very different.

Unfortunately, that column remains pertinent.


Theology and Human Nature

This morning’s New York Times has an article about Paula Deen  and the black church’s tradition of forgiveness. (Hate the racism, love the racist.)

The article itself is less than newsworthy–it uses the current flap over Deen’s cluelessness as a “hook” for a general discussion of the black church and the theology of forgiveness–but it reminded me of an important difference between Christian and Jewish teachings that I have often pondered. Christians are told to love their neighbors; Jews are taught to “do justice.” In other words, we don’t have to love anyone, but we must treat everyone as we would want to be treated.

No offense to my Christian friends, but doing justice has always seemed a lot easier.

It’s sort of like the First Amendment. I don’t have to like what you have to say, but I do have to let you say it. I don’t have to agree with your ideas, but I do have to agree that you have as much right to express them as I have to express mine. If current behaviors are any indication, it’s hard enough to get people to respect each others’ rights. Love seems to be pushing it.

I mean, let’s be honest. There is no way I’m going to love Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann, and if they knew me, they’d be equally hard-pressed to love me. I realize that, unlike politics, theology isn’t “the art of the possible,” but I’m glad my tradition only requires me to be fair and just. Loving these people is probably beyond me.

I wonder how Christians manage it.


Thus Spake the Profits

We do seem to live in the Age of Hypocrisy.

A Facebook friend posted a comment about Hobby Lobby, the craft store chain headquartered in Oklahoma. Like Chik-fil-A, the chain makes much of its Christian values, closing on Sundays and, most recently, suing the Obama Administration over the mandate to include contraceptive coverage as part of the health insurance offered to employees.

“Next time you hear someone defend Hobby Lobby’s extremist stance on birth control and health insurance law, try this little thought exercise. Go to a Hobby Lobby and make a small inventory of every item they sell that’s made in China. Yes, the same China that has MANDATORY FORCED ABORTIONS. Then ask a salesperson why Hobby Lobby’s commitment to Christianity extends to how their employees live their lives but not to where they get their inventory from.”

Seems like a reasonable question to me.