Jakob Schmid, Robert Kagan, MAGA Fascist Christians, and the Threat We Still Face

For starters, a little history lesson:

Now, read this piece by Robert Kagan–no liberal he–on the clear and present danger MAGA fascism still presents to the United States as the GOP slowly and surely strangles voting rights while the Trump machine prepares to do its damnedest to overthrow democracy (as they came within an ace of doing on January 6). Here’s a chunk, but read the whole thing:

The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves. The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial. But about these things there should be no doubt:

First, Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for president in 2024. The hope and expectation that he would fade in visibility and influence have been delusional. He enjoys mammoth leads in the polls; he is building a massive campaign war chest; and at this moment the Democratic ticket looks vulnerable. Barring health problems, he is running.

Second, Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary. Trump’s charges of fraud in the 2020 election are now primarily aimed at establishing the predicate to challenge future election results that do not go his way. Some Republican candidates have already begun preparing to declare fraud in 2022, just as Larry Elder tried meekly to do in the California recall contest.

Meanwhile, the amateurish “stop the steal” efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that Trump and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020. Those recalcitrant Republican state officials who effectively saved the country from calamity by refusing to falsely declare fraud or to “find” more votes for Trump are being systematically removed or hounded from office. Republican legislatures are giving themselves greater control over the election certification process. As of this spring, Republicans have proposed or passed measures in at least 16 states that would shift certain election authorities from the purview of the governor, secretary of state or other executive-branch officers to the legislature. An Arizona bill flatly states that the legislature may “revoke the secretary of state’s issuance or certification of a presidential elector’s certificate of election” by a simple majority vote. Some state legislatures seek to impose criminal penalties on local election officials alleged to have committed “technical infractions,” including obstructing the view of poll watchers.

The stage is thus being set for chaos. Imagine weeks of competing mass protests across multiple states as lawmakers from both parties claim victory and charge the other with unconstitutional efforts to take power. Partisans on both sides are likely to be better armed and more willing to inflict harm than they were in 2020. Would governors call out the National Guard? Would President Biden nationalize the Guard and place it under his control, invoke the Insurrection Act, and send troops into Pennsylvania or Texas or Wisconsin to quell violent protests? Deploying federal power in the states would be decried as tyranny. Biden would find himself where other presidents have been — where Andrew Jackson was during the nullification crisis, or where Abraham Lincoln was after the South seceded — navigating without rules or precedents, making his own judgments about what constitutional powers he does and doesn’t have.

Today’s arguments over the filibuster will seem quaint in three years if the American political system enters a crisis for which the Constitution offers no remedy.

Most Americans — and all but a handful of politicians — have refused to take this possibility seriously enough to try to prevent it. As has so often been the case in other countries where fascist leaders arise, their would-be opponents are paralyzed in confusion and amazement at this charismatic authoritarian. They have followed the standard model of appeasement, which always begins with underestimation. The political and intellectual establishments in both parties have been underestimating Trump since he emerged on the scene in 2015. They underestimated the extent of his popularity and the strength of his hold on his followers; they underestimated his ability to take control of the Republican Party; and then they underestimated how far he was willing to go to retain power. The fact that he failed to overturn the 2020 election has reassured many that the American system remains secure, though it easily could have gone the other way — if Biden had not been safely ahead in all four states where the vote was close; if Trump had been more competent and more in control of the decision-makers in his administration, Congress and the states. As it was, Trump came close to bringing off a coup earlier this year. All that prevented it was a handful of state officials with notable courage and integrity, and the reluctance of two attorneys general and a vice president to obey orders they deemed inappropriate.

These were not the checks and balances the Framers had in mind when they designed the Constitution, of course, but Trump has exposed the inadequacy of those protections. The Founders did not foresee the Trump phenomenon, in part because they did not foresee national parties. They anticipated the threat of a demagogue, but not of a national cult of personality. They assumed that the new republic’s vast expanse and the historic divisions among the 13 fiercely independent states would pose insuperable barriers to national movements based on party or personality. “Petty” demagogues might sway their own states, where they were known and had influence, but not the whole nation with its diverse populations and divergent interests.

Such checks and balances as the Framers put in place, therefore, depended on the separation of the three branches of government, each of which, they believed, would zealously guard its own power and prerogatives. The Framers did not establish safeguards against the possibility that national-party solidarity would transcend state boundaries because they did not imagine such a thing was possible. Nor did they foresee that members of Congress, and perhaps members of the judicial branch, too, would refuse to check the power of a president from their own party.

In recent decades, however, party loyalty has superseded branch loyalty, and never more so than in the Trump era. As the two Trump impeachments showed, if members of Congress are willing to defend or ignore the president’s actions simply because he is their party leader, then conviction and removal become all but impossible. In such circumstances, the Framers left no other check against usurpation by the executive — except (small-r) republican virtue.

Critics and supporters alike have consistently failed to recognize what a unique figure Trump is in American history. Because his followers share fundamentally conservative views, many see Trump as merely the continuation, and perhaps the logical culmination, of the Reagan Revolution. This is a mistake: Although most Trump supporters are or have become Republicans, they hold a set of beliefs that were not necessarily shared by all Republicans. Some Trump supporters are former Democrats and independents. In fact, the passions that animate the Trump movement are as old as the republic and have found a home in both parties at one time or another.

Suspicion of and hostility toward the federal government; racial hatred and fear; a concern that modern, secular society undermines religion and traditional morality; economic anxiety in an age of rapid technological change; class tensions, with subtle condescension on one side and resentment on the other; distrust of the broader world, especially Europe, and its insidious influence in subverting American freedom — such views and attitudes have been part of the fabric of U.S. politics since the anti-Federalists, the Whiskey Rebellion and Thomas Jefferson. The Democratic Party was the home of white supremacists until they jumped to George Wallace in 1968 and later to the Republicans. Liberals and Democrats in particular need to distinguish between their ongoing battle with Republican policies and the challenge posed by Trump and his followers. One can be fought through the processes of the constitutional system; the other is an assault on the Constitution itself.

What makes the Trump movement historically unique is not its passions and paranoias. It is the fact that for millions of Americans, Trump himself is the response to their fears and resentments. This is a stronger bond between leader and followers than anything seen before in U.S. political movements. Although the Founders feared the rise of a king or a Caesar, for two centuries Americans proved relatively immune to unwavering hero-worship of politicians. Their men on horseback — Theodore Roosevelt, Grant, even Washington — were not regarded as infallible. This was true of great populist leaders as well. William Jennings Bryan a century ago was venerated because he advanced certain ideas and policies, but he did not enjoy unquestioning loyalty from his followers. Even Reagan was criticized by conservatives for selling out conservative principles, for deficit spending, for his equivocal stance on abortion, for being “soft” on the Soviet Union.

Trump is different, which is one reason the political system has struggled to understand, much less contain, him. The American liberal worldview tends to search for material and economic explanations for everything, and no doubt a good number of Trump supporters have grounds to complain about their lot in life. But their bond with Trump has little to do with economics or other material concerns. They believe the U.S. government and society have been captured by socialists, minority groups and sexual deviants. They see the Republican Party establishment as corrupt and weak — “losers,” to use Trump’s word, unable to challenge the reigning liberal hegemony. They view Trump as strong and defiant, willing to take on the establishment, Democrats, RINOs, liberal media, antifa, the Squad, Big Tech and the “Mitch McConnell Republicans.” His charismatic leadership has given millions of Americans a feeling of purpose and empowerment, a new sense of identity. While Trump’s critics see him as too narcissistic to be any kind of leader, his supporters admire his unapologetic, militant selfishness. Unlike establishment Republicans, Trump speaks without embarrassment on behalf of an aggrieved segment of Americans, not exclusively White, who feel they have been taking it on the chin for too long. And that is all he needs to do.

There was a time when political analysts wondered what would happen when Trump failed to “deliver” for his constituents. But the most important thing Trump delivers is himself. His egomania is part of his appeal. In his professed victimization by the media and the “elites,” his followers see their own victimization. That is why attacks on Trump by the elites only strengthen his bond with his followers. That is why millions of Trump supporters have even been willing to risk death as part of their show of solidarity: When Trump’s enemies cited his mishandling of the pandemic to discredit him, their answer was to reject the pandemic. One Trump supporter didn’t go to the hospital after developing covid-19 symptoms because he didn’t want to contribute to the liberal case against Trump. “I’m not going to add to the numbers,” he told a reporter.

Because the Trump movement is less about policies than about Trump himself, it has undermined the normal role of American political parties, which is to absorb new political and ideological movements into the mainstream. Bryan never became president, but some of his populist policies were adopted by both political parties. Sen. Bernie Sanders’s supporters might not have wanted Biden for president, but having lost the nomination battle they could work on getting Biden to pursue their agenda. Liberal democracy requires acceptance of adverse electoral results, a willingness to countenance the temporary rule of those with whom we disagree. As historian Richard Hofstadter observed, it requires that people “endure error in the interest of social peace.” Part of that willingness stems from the belief that the democratic system makes it possible to work, even in opposition, to correct the ruling party’s errors and overreach. Movements based on ideas and policies can also quickly shift their allegiances. Today, the progressives’ flag-bearer might be Sanders, but tomorrow it could be Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or someone else.

For a movement built around a cult of personality, these adjustments are not possible. For Trump supporters, the “error” is that Trump was cheated out of reelection by what he has told them is an oppressive, communist, Democrat regime. While the defeat of a sitting president normally leads to a struggle to claim the party’s mantle, so far no Republican has been able to challenge Trump’s grip on Republican voters: not Sen. Josh Hawley, not Sen. Tom Cotton, not Tucker Carlson, not Gov. Ron DeSantis. It is still all about Trump. The fact that he is not in office means that the United States is “a territory controlled by enemy tribes,” writes one conservative intellectual. The government, as one Trump supporter put it, “is monopolized by a Regime that believes [Trump voters] are beneath representation, and will observe no limits to keep them [from] getting it.” If so, the intellectual posits, what choice do they have but to view the government as the enemy and to become “united and armed to take care of themselves as they think best”?

The Trump movement might not have begun as an insurrection, but it became one after its leader claimed he had been cheated out of reelection. For Trump supporters, the events of Jan. 6 were not an embarrassing debacle but a patriotic effort to save the nation, by violent action if necessary. As one 56-year-old Michigan woman explained: “We weren’t there to steal things. We weren’t there to do damage. We were just there to overthrow the government.”

The banal normalcy of the great majority of Trump’s supporters, including those who went to the Capitol on Jan. 6, has befuddled many observers. Although private militia groups and white supremacists played a part in the attack, 90 percent of those arrested or charged had no ties to such groups. The majority were middle-class and middle-aged; 40 percent were business owners or white-collar workers. They came mostly from purple, not red, counties.

Most Trump supporters are good parents, good neighbors and solid members of their communities. Their bigotry, for the most part, is typical white American bigotry, perhaps with an added measure of resentment and a less filtered mode of expression since Trump arrived on the scene. But these are normal people in the sense that they think and act as people have for centuries. They put their trust in family, tribe, religion and race. Although zealous in defense of their own rights and freedoms, they are less concerned about the rights and freedoms of those who are not like them. That, too, is not unusual. What is unnatural is to value the rights of others who are unlike you as much as you value your own.

As it happens, however, that is what the American experiment in republican democracy requires. It is what the Framers meant by “republican virtue,” a love of freedom not only for oneself but also as an abstract, universal good; a love of self-government as an ideal; a commitment to abide by the laws passed by legitimate democratic processes; and a healthy fear of and vigilance against tyranny of any kind. Even James Madison, who framed the Constitution on the assumption that people would always pursue their selfish interests, nevertheless argued that it was “chimerical” to believe that any form of government could “secure liberty and happiness without any virtue in the people.” Al Gore and his supporters displayed republican virtue when they abided by the Supreme Court’s judgment in 2000 despite the partisan nature of the justices’ decision. (Whether the court itself displayed republican virtue is another question.)

The events of Jan. 6, on the other hand, proved that Trump and his most die-hard supporters are prepared to defy constitutional and democratic norms, just as revolutionary movements have in the past. While it might be shocking to learn that normal, decent Americans can support a violent assault on the Capitol, it shows that Americans as a people are not as exceptional as their founding principles and institutions. Europeans who joined fascist movements in the 1920s and 1930s were also from the middle classes. No doubt many of them were good parents and neighbors, too. People do things as part of a mass movement that they would not do as individuals, especially if they are convinced that others are out to destroy their way of life.

It would be foolish to imagine that the violence of Jan. 6 was an aberration that will not be repeated. Because Trump supporters see those events as a patriotic defense of the nation, there is every reason to expect more such episodes. Trump has returned to the explosive rhetoric of that day, insisting that he won in a “landslide,” that the “radical left Democrat communist party” stole the presidency in the “most corrupt, dishonest, and unfair election in the history of our country” and that they have to give it back. He has targeted for defeat those Republicans who voted for his impeachment — or criticized him for his role in the riot. Already, there have been threats to bomb polling sites, kidnap officials and attack state capitols. “You and your family will be killed very slowly,” the wife of Georgia’s top election official was texted earlier this year. Nor can one assume that the Three Percenters and Oath Keepers would again play a subordinate role when the next riot unfolds. Veterans who assaulted the Capitol told police officers that they had fought for their country before and were fighting for it again. Looking ahead to 2022 and 2024, Trump insists “there is no way they win elections without cheating. There’s no way.” So, if the results come in showing another Democratic victory, Trump’s supporters will know what to do. Just as “generations of patriots” gave “their sweat, their blood and even their very lives” to build America, Trump tells them, so today “we have no choice. We have to fight” to restore “our American birthright.”

Where does the Republican Party stand in all this? The party gave birth to and nurtured this movement; it bears full responsibility for establishing the conditions in which Trump could capture the loyalty of 90 percent of Republican voters. Republican leaders were more than happy to ride Trump’s coattails if it meant getting paid off with hundreds of conservative court appointments, including three Supreme Court justices; tax cuts; immigration restrictions; and deep reductions in regulations on business. Yet Trump’s triumph also had elements of a hostile takeover. The movement’s passion was for Trump, not the party. GOP primary voters chose Trump over the various flavors of establishment Republicanism (Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio), and after Trump’s election they continued to regard establishment Republicans as enemies. Longtime party heroes like Paul Ryan were cast into oblivion for disparaging Trump. Even staunch supporters such as Jeff Sessions eventually became villains when they would not do as Trump demanded. Those who survived had a difficult balancing act: to use Trump’s appeal to pass the Republican agenda while also controlling Trump’s excesses, which they worried could ultimately threaten the party’s interests.

That plan seemed plausible in 2017. Unlike other insurgent leaders, Trump had not spent time in the political wilderness building a party and surrounding himself with loyalists. He had to choose from an existing pool of Republican officials, who varied in their willingness to do his bidding. The GOP establishment hoped that the presence of “adults” would restrain him, protecting their traditional agenda and, in their view, the country’s interests, from his worst instincts.

This was a miscalculation. Trump’s grip on his supporters left no room for an alternative power center in the party. One by one, the “adults” resigned or were run off. The dissent and contrary opinions that exist in every party — the Northeast moderate Republicans in Reagan’s day; the progressives in today’s Democratic Party — disappeared from Trump’s Republican Party. The only real issue was Trump himself, and on that there could be no dissent. Those who disapproved of Trump could either keep silent or leave.

The takeover extended beyond the level of political leadership. Modern political parties are an ecosystem of interest groups, lobby organizations, job seekers, campaign donors and intellectuals. All have a stake in the party’s viability; all ultimately depend on being roughly aligned with wherever the party is at a given moment; and so all had to make their peace with Trump, too. Conservative publications that once opposed him as unfit for the presidency had to reverse course or lose readership and funding. Pundits had to adjust to the demands of their pro-Trump audiences — and were rewarded handsomely when they did. Donors who had opposed Trump during the primaries fell into line, if only to preserve some influence on the issues that mattered to them. Advocacy organizations that had previously seen their role as holding the Republican Party to certain principles, and thus often dissented from the party leadership, either became advocates for Trump or lost clout.

It was no surprise that elected officials feared taking on the Trump movement and that Republican job seekers either kept silent about their views or made show-trial-like apologies for past criticism. Ambition is a powerful antidote to moral qualms. More revealing was the behavior of Republican elder statesmen, former secretaries of state in their 80s or 90s who had no further ambitions for high office and seemingly nothing to lose by speaking out. Despite their known abhorrence of everything Trump stood for, these old lions refused to criticize him. They were unwilling to come out against a Republican Party to which they had devoted their professional lives, even when the party was led by someone they detested. Whatever they thought about Trump, moreover, Republican elders disliked Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the Democrats more. Again, this is not so unusual. German conservatives accommodated Adolf Hitler in large part because they opposed the socialists more than they opposed the Nazis, who, after all, shared many of their basic prejudices. As for conservative intellectuals, even those who had spent years arguing that Woodrow Wilson was a tyrant because he created the Federal Reserve and supported child labor laws seemed to have no concerns about whether Trump was a would-be despot. They not only came to Trump’s defense but fashioned political doctrines to justify his rule, filling in the wide gaps of his nonexistent ideology with an appeal to “conservative nationalism” and conservative populism. Perhaps American conservatism was never comfortable with the American experiment in liberal democracy, but certainly since Trump took over their party, many conservatives have revealed a hostility to core American beliefs.

Much more here. Do be sure to read the whole thing. This is the same writer who presciently warned in 2016: “This is How Fascism Comes to America“.

There remain 30% of the electorate–millions of Jakob Schmids–who are willing to quietly kill the United States as a functioning democracy for the sake of raw fascist power and the dream “All this will I give you if you will bow down and worship me.” Small, angry white racists; gullibles who believe everything Tucker Carlson tells them about “white replacement”; vengeful, petty suckers who have abandoned the good of the intellect in order to “own the libs” by giving themselves COVID out of stupid spite; fearful dolts convinced the Pope is part of a communist plot to infiltrate the Church; vengeful incels enraged that a black woman has power and they do not; sheep for the slaughter who believe the lies of the Alpha Predator that if they will only restore him to power they can be predators just like him; bullies convinced that with enough raw power they can create heaven on earth for insecure white males and magick abortion away forever, no matter how many people they have to kill to achieve that goal.

And the backbone of that fascist movement is conservative Christians. Indeed, much of the brainpower for it, running moral interference for it and using the unborn as human shields for their Machiavellian and nihilist lust for power, is Catholic. It is the same demographic that created theological rationales for torture in defiance of the Church’s teaching a decade and a half ago. And now, men like John Eastman and Frs. Frank Pavone and James Altman and Richard Heilman and Dave Nix, along with naked liars like Steve Bannon, are prepared to defend a fascist takeover of the US under Trump in 2024. Because power is everything to them and they are servants of antichrist, not God, whatever pieties they may spout.

We are by no means out of the woods. Vote Democrat in every election–federal, state, and local–for the next ten years. The MAGA GQP is the gravest domestic threat to the United States since the Civil War and must be destroyed.


39 Responses

  1. Imo the media on all sides is stirring up people to believe the other side is fascist. I roll my eyes at Nazi references. I will not be assigned a belief by media on the left or the right. I see a lot of cognitive distortions. I won’t be an antivaxxer, I also don’t believe in taxing my fellow man into oblivion or making dirty deals with the Chinese.

    I don’t believe pope Francis is a secret agent of destruction. I believe in all the councils if the church. The way to win is not to play. I refuse to take a side and will call out wrong doing without falling down the conspiracy well.

    1. “Both Sides are the Same” falsehoods have one effect: they help the obviously more dangerous and deadly MAGA fascists bent on destroying our democracy while slandering the Normals who oppose them.

  2. “ And the backbone of that fascist movement is conservative Christians. Indeed, much of the brainpower for it, running moral interference for it and using the unborn as human shields for their Machiavellian and nihilist lust for power, is Catholic. P”

    Why is it that when I say something like this, I’m attacking the face and I hate God and Christianity and the church. When you say it, it’s just gospel truth, so to speak.


      1. “And the backbone of that fascist movement is conservative Christians.”
        Right now it’s the most important truth about the faith. If ben beats that drum a lot, this is why.

        – joel

      2. @mark

        I’m perfectly happy to admit that basically I have two topics here:

        1) The intersection of Faith and political power, or more accurately, the intersection of the church and political power. especially when certain aspects of the faith are forced by means of politics on to people who are not members of the church.

        2) the frequent failure of the church to live up to its press kit, especially while proclaiming itself as justified in #1.

        I rarely touch on purely theological matters unless they touch on these two issues.As i just pointed out, when you do it, it’s fine. When I’m doing it, how dare I? As I have said many times, and on these very pages, I don’t really care what religious people believe, but about what they DO with it. John Eastman is the perfect example.

        But here’s the thing, Mark. People may disagree with me on issues; that’s why were all here. I may have been mistaken on occasion, and I’ve apologized for it when it has been pointed out to me. But I have never lied. I’ve never misrepresented the truth and so far as I understood it. I don’t live in a state of despite.

        The last time this whole brouhaha came up, I pointed this out to you. I said that if I had said anything untrue, you were welcome to edit my comment, delete it, or ban me from your website. I have said this to you a number of times over the last year or two, and you’ve never edited my comment, deleted it, or banned me from your website. Why is that? You’ve Certainly done it to other people, But they are usually boiling cauldrons of despite and MAGAtry.

        You may not like what I have to say, but I have never lied. You’re concerned where your church is going, and so am I. but your concern is about faith, my concern is about more victims. I’m going to guess you haven’t banned me because you know I’m not out to cause harm, i’m not lying, and you know I am speaking the truth, however much you don’t like where it comes from.

        Right now, as Joel says, that is the most important thing about the faith, and that is why i keep beating that drum. I was beating the same drum when St. Ronnie made his devilish pact with the talibornagain 40 years ago, which is why our country is now infested with MAGAtry, and why your church appears to be in crisis. I haven‘t changed on that.

        So, again: I do it, I’m a bad person, even when I channel you. You say the same thing, and it’s different.

        Why is that?

      3. I don’t think you are a bad person. I just think that *only* focusing on the flaws of the Church is unjust. And occasionally I note that.

      4. @ Mark, Ben

        Ben’s repetitive criticism of the Church and the faith are at best … annoying, but he’s entitled to his own opinions and obsessions. What I find unacceptable is his insisting upon silencing people of faith in the public and political arena by means of all sorts of contrived reasoning. If this is the face of liberalism, It is perfectly logical to prefer Trump. Heck, it’ perfectly normal to prefer most anything over that, this side of the Aliens in Independence Day.

        Now, I have no idea how widespread ideas like Ben’s are in the USA, but it might explain a lot.

      5. @ arteveLde

        I’m hardly a liberal, and it has nothing to do with liberalism, but everything to do with church and state separation. As I told you very long ago, forcing religious beliefs upon people who don’t share them can easily turn on the people who wish to do that. Purely theological concerns simply have no place in the laws of a secular democracy. That protects you and me both. You have several hundred years of religious wars in Europe, and arguably, the Holocaust, that would argue that point clearly. And the rise of Trumpism in this country comes precisely from evangelicals and radtrads trying to force their particular interpretations of the bible and Christianity on everyone else.

        Nothing that I could or would propose constitute any sort of danger to Christianity. As I’ve said many times, I don’t care what you believe, I care about what you do with it. I have said many, many times as well, keep your religion in your own heart, your own family, and your own church.

        I have absolutely no argument with that.

  3. About two weeks ago, I bought (on Kindle) Wildland: The Making of America’s Fury, by Evan Osnos. I have found reading it as enlightening and as hair-raising as the above Washington Post article. I heartily recommend it.

  4. @Ben

    Purely theological concerns simply have no place in the laws of a secular democracy.

    True. There is, however, a meta-problem: who decides what constitute ‘purely theological concerns’?

  5. Not too difficult…

    It’s a sin, therefore we have to…

    God says that…therefore…

    The Bible says that…

    I’ll tell any lie about you to justify the above

    It’s none of my business, but I will make it my business…

    You’re going to burn in hell if you…

    I can’t prove anyone is harmed by X, but it offends god…

    For example, we can all agree that murder is a bad thing. There isn’t a Society on the planet that says murder is a good thing, although they might disagree about what constitutes murder. Therefore, if you add “the Bible says that murder is bad“ it has absolutely nothing to the discussion.

    Just about the only arguments I’ve ever heard against my right to live my life as a gay man freely, authentically as I am made, and enjoying full participation in society, obligrations and rights and benefits, have boiled down to “god doesn’t like it.”

    We used to have blue laws in this country which forbade the sale of alcohol on sunday. There was no justification for this apart from religion. There still isn’t.

    Until 1961, birth control could be banned in this country. It took us supreme court decision to take it out of the hands of the state, where it did not belong, and put it into the hands of the people who didn’t want to make more children. The only people claiming an interest in the decisions of other people were religious.

    The church has exempted itself from reporting child molesting criminals to the police. The Baptists are going through the same thing right now. Why?

    That will do for a start

    1. @Ben – taking this as a response to my question, you haven’t answered it. Offering examples of things we don’t disagree about doesn’t help decide who says things we do disagree about are – or are not – theological questions.

      1. @ jj

        Precisely my point. Thank you. We DON’T agree about these things, and why? You have theology, a God, and a religion. I don’t. you have a set of beliefs upon a number of topics that impact my life, usually To my detriment, otherwise, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I don’t share those beliefs, and in your own country, the majority obviously don’t share those beliefs either.

        Why should your religion hold sway over any life but you’re own? It’s not freedom of religion if you get rewarded for your religious beliefs, and I get punished.

        I anticipated this response, and therefore did not answer all of your question. So, let’s talk about the things we do agree on. Since you have embraced the one true faith, let us say that you want to be able to make it a law that protestants and offbrand christians can only hold services on any day but Sunday, because Sunday belongs to the one true church — yours. That’s what your theology says. Paul said in Galatians (?) that if anybody preaches a gospel other than his, they were to be accursed. Well, the Mormons say that they had the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and they are the one true church. Just like you, they have an ancient book that proves it. Or, if you don’t want to be that sectarian, why don’t all the Christians just band together and then ban all of the false religions like Mormonism, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and worst of them all, Islam.

        Sure that you and I agreed that that wouldn’t be a good idea

        All of that too radical? How can it be? You (a generic you, not you personally) have been telling yourself forever that you speak for God And know exactly what he wants on any given subject. You’re just doing what god must want. But if you only want to do it to, say, gay people, and their families and allies, who reject only a tiny part of your sincere religious belief, but not to the other religions that reject the entirety of it, then you are giving away the game as to what this is really about.

        That’s what I would call a purely theological concern, or more accurately, what’s hiding behind it.

        I know! Let’s make some laws which affect only atheists. After all, it says in the Bible that the only sin that cannot be forgiven is to sin against the Holy Spirit. Atheists are denying the whole thing. Surely, that must make it OK to interfere in their lives and make them difficult, unpleasant, expensive, and dangerous.

        I cannot think of a single law or social issue that has the slightest requirement for any religious input whatsoever, with the possible- POSSIBLE— exception of abortion. But even there, as Mark has pointed out, and his criticized me for pointing out, it’s very easy to twist that into unholy channels.

        We can agree about. murder, theft, Perjury, traffic signals, finance law, labor law, orderly elections, insurrection, governance, hunger, homelessness, plagues, vaccine mandates, asbestos, legal regulation of stair step height and building materials from now until the end of next year without ever needing to bring up religion,

  6. “The most important thing about the Faith is and always will be Jesus Christ and him crucified and risen.”


    Or as I say to my sassy Catholic offspring when they mix up the Faith with the (un)Faithful: “Hey. Don’t blame__________on Jesus.

    1. OK, how about this:

      The most important thing about the Faith AS REGARDS CURRENT EVENTS is that a huge swath of the church is actively supporting fascism.

      – joel

  7. @Ben – Understood. Those things we agree about are not theologically determined. You do understand, of course, that we Christians believe that some things you would label as theological are, in fact, natural facts about human beings. I don’t bring up specific examples as this meta problem cannot, in its nature, be settled by discussing examples.

    1. @jj

      “ that we Christians believe that some things you would label as theological are, in fact, natural facts about human beings.” And there it is: “WE CHRISTIANS BELIEVE.” There is your purely theological concern. Lots of Catholics, lots of Christians, every bit as Christian as you are, don’t believe those things. It is always, ALWAYS the mark of a purely theological concern.

      As you then admit with this: “I don’t bring up specific examples as this meta problem cannot, in its nature, be settled by discussing examples.” If it cannot be resolved by discussing examples, then you are simply asserting the “truth” of your religion, and denying the truth of other people’s.

      1. Understood. The answer to my question “Who decides what counts as theological” is, at least in this case, “Ben decides.” The Christian believes murder is wrong, and the Christian believes that God teaches it is wrong because too many people think it’s ok in this or that case. But the Christian doesn’t think it’s wrong because God says so; he thinks God says it is wrong because it is wrong. In this case, Ben doesn’t think laws against murder are based on theology because Ben thinks murder is wrong.

        The question is answered: “Ben decides”.

      2. @ jj

        No, not the answer at all. As I pointed out, You were answering that question without any input from me at all. I’m not the one using the words God, christian, the church, I believe.

      3. By the way, there is a certain equivocation here. You say ‘We Christians believe’ makes it theological. The verb ‘to believe’ is not theological. I believe the sun will rise tomorrow. It is true that ‘Faith’ requires belief – but not all belief is a matter of faith.

      4. @Ben:

        I’m not the one using the words God, christian, the church, I believe.

        No – but you are the one saying that anyone using those words in regards of what they think, not because God says so, but because they think it true independently of God that means anything said in conjunction with those words is theological. And the only question I started with was, “Who decides what counts as theological.” Ben decides that if what a person thinks is true means that he also thinks that God things the same, then – according to Ben – those things are theological.

        Ben decides what counts as theological.

    2. BTW, so that it might ensure you do not fear my theocratic impulses, I do not propose any things as laws, either in New Zealand or the United States, that I think you might object to – precisely because I think that laws must reflect a consensus. The United States learnt this from its 1920s idea of Prohibition. On the subjects I think you would be concerned about, there is surely no consensus in either country – unless it be, indeed, for the things you are concerned about. It is very clear how the world turns. It is foolish to attempt to pass laws that will not be respected. You must change minds first.

  8. And I might add: Christians don’t believe things like murder, abortion, etc are wrong because the Bible, or the Church, teaches. We believe the Bible and the Church teach them because they are wrong, and that because people are … well, a tad messed up … that the Bible and the Church try to help out by teaching them.

    And so on for a lot of things you would consider theological – and theological only. And that question – what is only theological – cannot be settled simply by counting heads.

    1. @ JJ

      If you’ll allow me to interject, JJ, I will try to explain why I so vehemently oppose Ben’s position.

      1. I agree that the question of what is purely theological cannot be easily settled. The danger therefore is that we’ll end up with a Goebbelsian ”I decide who is a Jew”.

      2. The idea that a Christian should not be allowed to to have or express (polictical) ideas that are grounded in or justified by faith is not only anathema to the Christian faith itself, it has no precedent in any democracy.

      3. If this is purely about the semantic issue of not *mentioning* God or the Bible in a proposed law, I think the issue is of an almost childish semantic level: one can easily replace ”God want gays dead” with ”gays must die”.

      4. All this is not to say that I find this an easy subject. Ben is not wrong when he mentions for instance the wars of religion of the 16th and 17th century, and the resulting wave of tolerance and liberal thought in the following centuries. For me the question is not so much about how we can ban religion from the public sphere, but how we can avoid mob rule of any kind without using an inordinate amount of judicial restraint on a sovereign people *prior* to their casting their votes. What Ben suggests, in my opnion, makes the political opinions of a certain group of people – if they’re even allowed to have one – nearly useless.

      1. “The idea that a Christian should not be allowed to to have or express (polictical) ideas that are grounded in or justified by faith”

        I don’t know anyone who says that, and I certainly don’t believe it. Express your faith-based ideas all you want – just don’t expect non-believers to take those ideas seriously, and sure as hell don’t try to codify those faith-based ideas in law.

        The best example I can give for what I mean here is gay marriage: I was still a Christian when, after a VERY GREAT deal of thought, I finally decided I supported gay marriage. I made this decision because it was clear to me that there aren’t any rational arguments against gay marriage. There are only religious arguments against it. Therefore, applying anti-gay-marriage laws to non-believers was unjust. Churches could (and should, I thought at the time) ban gay marriage in their own practices, but laws that apply to everyone are a different matter.

        This is different from, say, laws against theft, because theft is not just prohibited in religion but also in every common-sense secular philosophy. Non-believers agree that theft should be illegal – that’s why such laws are just.

        – joel

      2. @ arteveLde

        I would have to disagree, but you know that. Again, I don’t care what you believe for yourself. I care about how what you believe impacts my life and the life of millions of people like me. As Joel says, “ Express your faith-based ideas all you want – just don’t expect non-believers to take those ideas seriously, and sure as hell don’t try to codify those faith-based ideas in law.”

        You said, “ I think the issue is of an almost childish semantic level: one can easily replace ”God want gays dead” with ”gays must die”. and there you have it. We call the latter fascism- the nazis murdered 250,000 gay people in the camps, according to the Lutheran church in Vienna. They were just as dead if the nazis had actually cited their religious beliefs, as so many do in the present day. But we don’t call that fascism. We call it religion. I have yet to hear one single reason against my full participation in society, authentically as I am made, that doesn’t boil down to “I hate queers”, or “my religion says its ok to hate queers”, or “i am afraid I might be queer.”

        I can only answer your number 4 with what Joel already said: “ Express your faith-based ideas all you want – just don’t expect non-believers to take those ideas seriously, and sure as hell don’t try to codify those faith-based ideas in law.”

        To which I’m going to add my own response to your number four. There is an unpleasant and inplicit assumption that somehow, I want to harm you, harm your faith, hate you, or hate your faith. I find that fairly insulting. This is what I can assure you of, completely without fear of any contradiction: I don’t want to harm you or your faith. I don’t want to silence you or your faith. I certainly neither want nor intended do use the law to accomplish that. As I’ve said to you before, if someone were to try to restrict your freedom of religion, this gay atheist would be standing right next to you to defend your right to believe whatever you wish.

        What I want is for you to silence yourself, to understand that just because you believe something, doesn’t mean that I have to, or that your belief should govern my life, usually to my detriment. The perfect example is gay marriage. If you don’t think gay marriage is right, according to your religion, then don’t get gay married, and your problem is solved. Don’t go to your daughters marriage to another woman, and you’ll prove your point. But when you tell me that my life, my freedom, my family, my children, my love, my faith, and my assets are simply undeserving of what you expect for yourself, don’t expect me to agree with you.

        That’s not faith, that’s something hiding behind faith. And it’s also religious privilege, always self assigned.

      3. @Joel

        When I say ”express”, I am not simply referring to the freedom of speech, but to the polical power of the citizen and the sovereign people.

      1. Of course it is. Your original claim was that what you called theologically based ideas shouldn’t be codified in law. We all know how things are decided. That doesn’t tell me how one knows which are theologically based. In your post above, you refer to what I presume you think are ‘theologically based.’ How do you know that decision was theologically based? Christians – at least philosophically-aware Christians – believe that marriage is between men and women, knowable by natural law. That the believe the Bible, or the Church, say this is not that they think this view of marriage is so because God says so. They believe it is so because of the way the world is by nature. Obviously you don’t think so – but those Christians claim that their position is not theologically based. The think that their religion is telling them that because, they think, people need to be reminded of what they can know by nature.

        My only point is that saying something is theologically based is to beg the question – to assume the truth of what you believe so, not to demonstrate it.

      2. @ jj

        “ Christians – at least philosophically-aware Christians – believe that marriage is between men and women, knowable by natural law. That the believe the Bible, or the Church, say this is not that they think this view of marriage is so because God says so. They believe it is so because of the way the world is by nature.

        and there it is again. Your asumption that your purely theological concern is somehow anything but a purely theological concern. That’s all it is, and that’s why it has no place in the secular law that governs all of us

        “Christians – at least philosophically-aware Christians”. lots of Christians, every bit as Christian as you are, disagree with you. That’s what makes it theology, and not reality. Five years ago, in Catholic Ireland, there was a referendum on gay marriage, created by the conservaitve catholics, forced on the populace by the government, who did not want to offend conservative Catholics. It was resoundingly defeated in this most Catholic of countries. Same thing happened in Australia.

        “ believe that marriage is between men and women, knowable by natural law.” There are two kinds of natural law: E equals MC squared kind of natural law, and the religious concept of natural law, which always boils down to “that’s what I believe“. One of them is really natural law, and one of them is simply a theological concern.

        “That the believe the Bible, or the Church, say this is not that they think this view of marriage is so because God says so.” You’re just stating one more time that it is a purely theological concern. So why should your religious beliefs have supremacy in the life of people who don’t share it?

        “They believe it is so because of the way the world is by nature.” But that’s precisely the point: THEY BELIEVE. it’s theology, not nature. Here’s what is natural. Gay people exist and have always existed, everywhere and everywhen. We have formed our relationships and our families, everywhere and everywhen, despite the efforts of the religious to eradicate us, jail us, degrade our natural instincts, erase us, pretend we don’t exist, or cure us of a religiously defined disease…

        …or kill us.

        But every effort by the Catholic Church, and indeed, not just Catholics, has been an effort to deny what is obviously natural: gay people exist, we have lives, and deliberate efforts to deny that reality harm us and ultimately everyone, with no benefit to anyone except the homo-hating homo’s that infest conservative religion. And not even them. right Ted Haggard? right Archbishop Nienstedt? right Cardinal O’Brien?

        As I said in my original response, if you want the right to impose your theological concerns on people who don’t care of them, don’t be surprised if that’s what happens to you. That is why I, a gay atheist, support your freedom of religion absolutely, but disagree that your freedom of religion includes forcing your religion on me.

  9. >>2. The idea that a Christian should not be allowed to to have or express (polictical) ideas that are grounded in or justified by faith is not only anathema to the Christian faith itself, it has no precedent in any democracy.

    The problem is not with “a Christian should not be allowed to to have or express ideas”. The problem is with “ONLY a Christian should be allowed to to have or express ideas and NONE else”.

    Claims about natural law are just that – a claim, based on belief. It does not make it a law of nature.

    Natural law is just a fig-leaf for selling conservatism as “natural”. Or “the powerful can do as they will”. Natural law is packaged as motherhood and apple pie. But its proponents lie about its true intention, which is to create a philosophical justification for power.

    Conservatism in every time in history founded on deception, as it has only one core belief – society should be ruled by a aristocracy by birth. So the defenders of aristocracy portray it as the natural state of humanity. In reality it is the most artificial thing on earth, and needs constant lying to justify. People of goodwill think that natural law is about innate human goodness and support it, never realizing that it’s a tool for justifying the hierarchy of power.

    Conservatives care zilch about human goodness, but the preaching of natural law is the perfect vehicle for them to undermine democracy. Or in other words, conservatives love the means, and care nothing about the ends. Their only goal in life is to pass on their positions of privilege to their children.This is the only “natural” part of this whole enterprise. [But it never works – wars, technical progress, civil strife, debauchery, etc pull down the children eventually]

    You can see this truth leech out among the serious writers in conservative/catholic thought — the justification of an elite, the trashing of the Enlightenment, the worship of hierarchy. For them Voltaire, Hume, Locke, Rousseau, Turgot, and Kant are all quacks who are responsible for the misery of the human condition, for placing human reason above divine revelation.

    Most of the misery in this world today arises from a handful of plutocrats and their pretensions at philosopher kings. In the West, these geriatrics lust at the completion of the Counter Reformation. They are willing to fund all kinds of people to get there – true believers, unsuspecting fools, tools, clergy, bishops, bigots. The best the money can buy, and the best bigots for free. The Church is all in with it. Whether it is papal knighthood for Murdoch, the knights of Malta membership for aristocrats, the Church yearn’s for its past when it was the power behind the throne. It is scheming and waiting for its time.

    God willing, the church gets what it wants and then the Dissolution has a rerun. And maybe that is what will fix the church and society.

    1. @ Burgomeister

      Odd. I could have sworn that in the course of this discussion two people defended the ”Christian ideas should not become law” and noone defended the ”only Christians” idea.

      Let’s agree on this: if someone here starts actually defending the latter idea, I’ll oppose it. For now though, I’d like to avoid the massive gaslighting. I know perfectly well what the conditions of a small Christian minority in the Western world are.

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