Tag Archives: racism

Good News

In Christianity, the gospel is sometimes called the “Good News.” The phrase evidently heralds the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God. If you have landed on this page in hopes of a post exploring that concept, you’ve come to the wrong place. I don’t even recognize “Christianity” these days. (Granted, I’m not a Christian.)

In fact, when it comes to contemporary news, I’ve become used to seeing headlines like this one, on articles documenting the ways in which Evangelical “Christians” have become more and more indistinguishable from GOP cultists. 

A group that says its mission is “to halt and push back the forces of darkness” is holding a tactical event in southwest Missouri this weekend to train Christians in “hand-to-hand combat” and “fighting from your vehicle.”

I’m not Christian, but I really don’t think Jesus would approve…

Peter Wehner, a lifelong evangelical, recently wrote an article for the Atlantic about the internal conflicts being caused by the politicization of Christianity. I recommend it.

My “good news” is very different– an explicit rejection of that perversion of belief . There are evidently evangelical pastors who are genuinely religious–that is, concerned with concepts like brotherly love, ethical behavior and the golden rule. 

The Washington Post recently had the story.

Emotions ran high at the gathering of about 100 pastors at a church, about five miles from the University of Notre Dame. Many hugged. Some shed tears. One confessed she could not pray anymore.
 
Some had lost funding and others had been fired from their churches for adopting more liberal beliefs. All had left the evangelical tradition and had come to discuss their next steps as “post-evangelicals.”

Those  who planned the meeting–which took place in South Bend, Indiana–had expected 25 pastors. Word-of-mouth expanded it to over 100.  The appeal appears to be part of what the report calls a” larger reckoning” that has been triggered in individuals and congregations that are “grappling with their faith identity in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency and calls for racial justice following the murder of George Floyd.”

Many of the (formerly) evangelical leaders in attendance at the meeting had been deeply concerned when they learned that approximately 8 out of 10 White evangelicals had voted for Trump in both of his presidential runs–evidence, as they see it, that the evangelical movement has been co-opted by Republican politics.

As the pastors traded stories, they quickly found shared experiences. They lamented their conservative evangelical parents who watch Fox News, as well as their peers who had re-examined their beliefs so much that they lost their faith entirely. They skewed younger, many in their 30s with tattoos covering their arms.

Most of the leaders held some belief in Jesus and the idea that people gathering in churches is still a good idea. Many want their churches to be affirming, meaning that they would perform gay weddings and include LGBTQ people in leadership and membership. They preferred curiosity over certainty, inclusion over exclusion.

According to the article, all of the attendees agreed on two things: they opposed Trump and they opposed racism. (Some of us would suggest that Trumpism is racism, so maybe they only agreed on one thing…) 

One of the most positive signs of change came in a quote from Amy Mikal, who was once a pastor at the Chicago-based megachurch Willow Creek.

“The hardest part is that we were taught to take the Bible literally,” Mikal said. “We want to be a place that asks more questions than provides answers.”

I have previously shared my youngest son’s distinction between a good religion and a bad one: a good religion helps you wrestle with morally-fraught questions about life’s meaning and challenges; a bad religion gives you predetermined “correct” answers and demands that you live in unquestioning accordance with them. Mikal obviously reached a similar conclusion.

The article quoted a different participant, Brit Barron (who had worked for a megachurch in California before she began re-examining her beliefs) for a similar sentiment. Barron opined that “Our job is to create the conversation. If someone opens up and says, ‘I don’t know if any of this is real,’ then we’re doing our job.”

The participants in this meeting understood that the “job” of a pastor is to provide a safe space for questions and debates about morality and faith. That sets them apart from the mega-churches and celebrity pastors who increasingly seem to believe that their job is to program troops for the GOP while raking in lots of money.

The refusal of a growing number of pastors to participate in the con games of the Falwells and Grahams really is “good news.” 

 

 

The More Things Change…

As life in these United States has gotten steadily less civil and more hostile, I have had increasing “flash-backs” to a scene from the movie “An American President.” The scene is near the end of the film; it’s a press conference where the President (played by Michael Douglas) finally has had it with Bob Rumson, the candidate from the opposing party. The entire speech is great, but this is the dialogue that sticks with me:

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it.

The speech especially resonated with me (and undoubtedly with other members of historically marginalized populations), thanks to centuries of experience with being the scapegoats for society’s ills. Jewish history, for example, has made me an especially nervous observer of the GOP’s QAnon cult, with its uncanny echoes of  Nazi propaganda.

As someone named Hunter posted to Daily Kos,

The “QAnon” movement is not a set of new conspiracy theories, but a recasting of some of the most popular neo-Nazi, white supremacist, antisemitic themes of the last century for broader conspiracy consumption. Nazi-era antisemitic conspiracy theories declared that “Jews” were secretly controlling the world, that they were working to undermine governments and cultures, and that they drank the blood of children in secret rituals.

QAnon’s version is identical: A shadowy cabal of “globalists” is secretly controlling the world, is working to undermine governments and cultures (for example, through a “great replacement” of Americans with new nonwhite immigrants, as supposedly funded by wealthy Jewish American George Soros), and is secretly trafficking children to harvest compounds from their blood. The most bizarre of Nazi and neo-Nazi themes have found eager new homes in the brains of supposed “real” Americans who have invariably settled on the same targets and solutions as their neo-Nazi enablers: Round up the “globalists”—meaning liberals, socialists, Democrats, those who fight for LGBT rights, those who treat immigrants with decency—and jail them. “Lock them up.” Purge them.

Observers have been warning that the movement has begun exhibiting  a less-veiled antisemitism.

Recently, John Sabal, identified as an “influential QAnon promoter” recommended a notoriously neo-Nazi film to his followers–a film identifying Jews as the architects of communism, World Wars I and II, and the sabotage of Naziism. “Europa – the Last Battle” is a 10-part film that claims Jews created Communism and deliberately started both world wars as part of a plot to found Israel by provoking the innocent Nazis, who were only defending themselves. Sabal told his 70,000 followers that it was “The most important historical film of all time.” (When Vice News reported the recommendation, Sabal claimed he hadn’t actually watched the film and didn’t know it was anti-Semitic. Right.)

As Vice also reported

While this film has been shared by some of QAnon’s more fringe and extremist figures, the fact Sabal feels emboldened to share it so publicly is a testament to how antisemitic thinking has become normalized within the movement…

When one follower did attempt to criticize Sabal for posting the link, other members of the channel quickly attacked that user, claiming they were some sort of undercover agent of the “deep state.”

Others credulously claimed the user criticizing Sabal had misunderstood the film: “I’m sorry that’s what you took away from our neo-Nazi film. It’s really about how killing the Jews is necessary and good because they’re not real Jews,” one of Sabal’s followers wrote.

QAnon believers are an increasingly important part of the GOP.  When the Sabal story broke, he was preparing to host a conference featuring a significant number of Republican lawmakers, including two sitting Arizona Representatives, Wendy Rogers and Sonny Borrelli. Multiple Republican candidates were scheduled to speak, including candidates from the swing states of Michigan, Arizona, and Nevada.

This is not an isolated example. As Hunter noted in his post,

Conservatism in general is increasingly flirting with antisemitic speech and candidates: In Idaho, a Republican with a long history of antisemitic speech, one who claims “all Jews are dangerous,” is enjoying his local party’s support for joining the local school board.

Call it QAnon. Call it fascism, Nazism, racism. It’s all about fear of the “other”–all about having someone else to blame for what is wrong with one’s life. People of color, Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ folks…you know–“those people.”

After WWII, we can’t claim ignorance of where this sort of thinking leads.

I used to think it couldn’t happen here. I was wrong.

 

 

Truly Terrifying Data…

Earlier this month, Thomas Edsall investigated the phenomenon that has most reasonable, rational citizens incredulous: the significant number of Americans who believe what has been dubbed “the Big Lie.

Just who believes the claim that Donald Trump won in 2020 and that the election was stolen from him? Who are these tens of millions of Americans, and what draws them into this web of delusion?

Three sources provided The Times with survey data: the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Poll, P.R.R.I. (the Public Religion Research Institute) and Reuters-Ipsos. With minor exceptions, the data from all three polls is similar.

Edsall quotes a political science professor from the University of Massachusetts for a summary of the data:

About 35 percent of Americans believed in April that Biden’s victory was illegitimate, with another 6 percent saying they are not sure. What can we say about the Americans who do not think Biden’s victory was legitimate? Compared to the overall voting-age population, they are disproportionately white, Republican, older, less educated, more conservative and more religious (particularly more Protestant and more likely to describe themselves as born again).

Once again, the evidence connects Trumpism, and the alternate reality inhabited by Trumpets, with racism and fear of the “other.” P.R.R.I. tested for agreement or disagreement with so-called “replacement theory” —the belief that  “Immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background” — and found that 60 percent of Republicans agreed, as do 55 percent of conservatives.

Edsall also probed the connection between authoritarianism and opposition to immigration, quoting from a recent academic paper:

Right-wing authoritarianism played a significant role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In subsequent years, there have been numerous “alt-right” demonstrations in the U.S., including the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville that culminated in a fatal car attack, and the 2021 Capitol Insurrection. In the U.S., between 2016 and 2017 the number of attacks by right-wing organizations quadrupled, outnumbering attacks by Islamic extremist groups, constituting 66 percent of all attacks and plots in the U.S. in 2019 and over 90 percent in 2020.

As he explained, the term “social dominance orientation” refers to the belief that society should be structured by group-based hierarchies–that certain groups should be dominant over others. There are actually two inter-related components to the orientation: group-based dominance and anti-egalitarianism. People with a social dominance orientation prefer hierarchies and–importantly–approve of the use of force/aggression to maintain them. Anti-egalitarianism manifests itself as a preference to maintain these hierarchies through means other than violence, through systems, legislation, and social structures.

Studies of the 2016 primaries found that Trump voters were unique compared to supporters of other Republicans in the strength of their “group-based dominance.”

The column quotes from a scholarly paper, “The Existential Function of Right-Wing Authoritarianism,” to answer the question that most baffles the rest of us: why do people embrace authoritarianism?

It may seem ironic that authoritarianism, a belief system that entails sacrifice of personal freedom to a strong leader, would influence the experience of meaning in life through its promotion of feelings of personal significance. Yet right-wing authoritarianism does provide a person with a place in the world, as a loyal follower of a strong leader. In addition, compared to purpose and coherence, knowing with great certainty that one’s life has mattered in a lasting way may be challenging. Handing this challenge over to a strong leader and investment in societal conventions might allow a person to gain a sense of symbolic or vicarious significance.

Furthermore,

perceptions of insignificance may lead individuals to endorse relatively extreme beliefs, such as authoritarianism, and to follow authoritarian leaders as a way to gain a sense that their lives and their contributions matter.

In other words, right-wing authoritarianism, serves an existential meaning function–it provides reassurance “that one’s life matters.”

Political psychologists tell us that individuals who are “cognitively inflexible and intolerant of ambiguity” are more likely to become “captive audiences for ideological, political or religious extremists whose simplistic world-views gloss over nuance.”

It’s worth reminding ourselves that–while today’s threats are mostly from the Right, Leftwing zealots are cut from the same cloth. Fanatics are fanatics.

Edsall quotes other academics who confirm the connection between authoritarianism and racism, and he explores what the research tells us about intellectualism versus anti-intellectualism, the conflicts between individuals with different moral commitments, and the elements that may lead to radicalization–especially the willingness to use violence in furtherance of one’s moral commitments. What, in other words, distinguishes those who hold extreme views from those who violently act on them?

I encourage you to click through and read the entire essay, which explains a lot. What it doesn’t explain, unfortunately, is what we can do to salvage the American Experiment.

 

 

So What Can We Do?

There was a favorite example I used in my classroom when we were discussing the challenges posed by living in a country whose citizens increasingly occupy wildly different realities: if I say this particular piece of furniture is a table, and you insist it’s a chair, how do we have a productive exchange about its use?

Americans are continually having that maddening–and worthless– conversation. But it has taken a long time for the people who live in the reality-based community to recognize the basis of the problem.

In the wake of the 2016 election, well-meaning observers grasped for rational, evidence-based reasons to explain votes for a man who exemplified everything those voters claimed to detest. It was economic distress. It was an effort to “blow up” a system that wasn’t working for them. It was an inability to cross party lines.

Some of us suspected what has since become too obvious to ignore: Trump’s racism resonated with Americans whose chosen reality was being threatened by the increasing intrusion of “uppity” women and people of color. In Trump voters’ reality, White Christians enjoyed an obvious entitlement to cultural dominance, and that dominance–the position of “real” Americans– was being eroded.

Most of my friends are liberals (although many of them would have been classified as conservatives before the political spectrum lurched so far to the right that sanity is now a “liberal” marker…), and many of them are simply too nice to believe what the data so clearly confirms: America is split between those who live in a world where people are people, no matter their gender, skin color or religion, and those whose worldview assigns worth solely on the basis of those categories.

The data is unambiguous. Just look at this recent report by Alan Abramowitz from Sabato’s Crystal Ball. The article was about the prospects of Democrats winning back White voters without college degrees, and Abramowitz concluded that appealing to the economic interests of White non-college voters wouldn’t be enough for Democrats to win back their support, because the realignment among those White voters isn’t being driven by economics.

If the increasingly obvious argument is correct– that “economic discontent has little to do with the flight of white working class voters from Democrats”– economic policies aren’t going to prompt their return. As Abramowitz notes, the research strongly suggests that the “main factor behind the shifting party allegiance of these voters is the success of Republican leaders like Donald Trump in appealing to the racial resentments and grievances of non-college white voters.”

In this article, I use evidence from the 2020 American National Election Study to examine the effects of various political attitudes on the candidate preferences of college and non-college white voters in the 2020 presidential election. In line with the arguments of racial resentment theorists, I find that economic insecurity had very little impact on white voter decision-making in 2020. However, I find that the rejection of the Democratic Party by white working class voters goes beyond racial resentment alone. Instead, I find that support for Donald Trump among white working class voters reflected conservative views across a wide range of policy issues including social welfare issues, cultural issues, racial justice issues, gun control, immigration, and climate change. In other words, the rejection of the Democratic Party by white working class voters is fundamentally ideological. This fact makes it very unlikely that Democrats will be able to win back large numbers of white working class voters by appealing to their economic self-interest.

Those “conservative views,” of course, are also driven by racial bias. Sociological research has demonstrated, for example, that negative views on social welfare are connected to the belief that (“lazy”) Black Americans will primarily benefit. In the body of his analysis, Abramowitz notes that non-college whites “leaned to the right in every issue area but especially on social welfare, racial justice, and immigration issues.”

Abramowitz applied a regression analysis to the data, and found that

Racial resentment and party identification are by far the strongest predictors of conservative ideology. Evangelical identification has a significant impact as well, but its effect is not nearly as strong as the effects of racial resentment and party ID. Family income has almost no effect on ideology and economic insecurity has a negative effect.

So–back to that argument over whether the furniture is a table or chair. How do we talk to (never mind debate) people who occupy a wildly different reality–not just the looney-tunes who take horse de-wormers and/or accept QAnon fantasies, but the seemingly normal Americans who harbor stubborn hatreds and resentments untethered to fact or evidence (or for that matter, the Christianity they proclaim)?

I’m stumped.

 

 

When The Issue Isn’t Really The Issue

Thanks to the effort by Texas to totally ban abortion, the issue of reproductive choice has once again taken center stage in America’s interminable culture war.  But as Thomas Edsall has recently pointed out, a purported issue isn’t always, or necessarily, the real issue.

I always read Edsall’s essays in the New York Times, because he draws on both the history of whatever issue he is exploring and on a wide range of scholarly research in order to craft his conclusions. This particular piece is no different. As he tells us,

As recently as 1984, abortion was not a deeply partisan issue.

“The difference in support for the pro-choice position was a mere six percentage points,” Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University, told me by email. “40 percent of Democratic identifiers were pro-life, while 39 percent were pro-choice. Among Republican identifiers, 33 percent were pro-choice, 45 percent were pro-life and 22 percent were in the middle.”

By 2020, of course, that situation had changed, with 73 percent of Democrats taking the pro-choice position (only 17 percent were “pro-life”–the other 10 percent were in the middle). That year, 60 percent of Republicans claimed to be pro-life; 25 percent were pro-choice, and 15 percent were in the middle.

If Edsall was commenting only on the growth of the partisan divide, that would be interesting but hardly surprising. What was surprising was the association between opposition to abortion and–wait for it–racial attitudes.

Whites who score high on measures of racial resentment and racial grievance are far more likely to support strict limits on abortion than whites who score low on these measures. This is part of a larger picture in which racial attitudes are increasingly linked with opinions on a wide range of disparate issues including social welfare issues, gun control, immigration and even climate change. The fact that opinions on all of these issues are now closely interconnected and connected with racial attitudes is a key factor in the deep polarization within the electorate that contributes to high levels of straight ticket voting and a declining proportion of swing voters.

I have previously posted about the origins of the anti-choice movement. Historians of religion have located those origins in conservative rage over the denial of tax benefits to the Whites-only academies that had been established to avoid integration. They had politicized abortion in order to motivate Christian conservative activism while dodging the less-palatable race issue.

There are other, less surprising associations: according to one scholar cited by Edsall, people who are active in the “pro life” movement are more likely to be committed to a patriarchal worldview in which control of reproduction, and female sexuality in particular, is important to the maintenance of  the gender hierarchy they support.

Women have noticed…

Edsall offers historical evidence that the issue of abortion has “evolved”–lending credibility to the claim that it is a proxy for a worldview that encompasses far more than religious convictions about reproductive choice.

Fifty years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in St. Louis approved what by the standards of 1971 was a decisively liberal resolution on abortion:

Be it further resolved, that we call upon 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.

Edsall cites historian Randall Balmer for an observation often made by people critical of the anti-abortion movement: “the beauty of defending a fetus is that the fetus demands nothing in return — housing, health care, education — so it’s a fairly low-risk advocacy.” As pro-choice folks frequently point out, what is called a “pro-life position” is often merely “pro-birth,” since so many of the people espousing it are uninterested in feeding, clothing and educating the child once it emerges from the womb.

And of course, there’s the recent spectacle of anti-choice folks claiming “my body my choice”as justification for refusing vaccination. (Not only is that hypocritical inconsistency infuriating,  a woman exercising reproductive choice isn’t infecting her neighbors…a distinction that clearly eludes them…)

Edsall’s essay explains what, for many pro-choice advocates, has been a conundrum: why are opponents of abortion not seeking wide accessibility to birth control? Surely they should want to avoid  the unplanned, unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortion, so why are some of the most fervent “pro-lifers” actually opposed to birth control?

Edsall and the scholars he cites have provided support for the answer many of us have suspected. For far too many of these “warriors for life,” the issue isn’t really the issue.