American Conservative Christians, Performative Piety, and the Smothering of History

May 1968: Hugely popular Christian author Tim LaHaye launches an Inquisition against Wheaton College for the grave sin of mourning the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is why the MAGA Cult is now fighting tooth and nail to prevent your kids from knowing what they did a few short years ago. Because they haven’t repented and they don’t want you or your children to know who they are and what they still want to do.

[T]he bill also includes deliberate attempts to censor teachers and reshape the facts of U.S. history to flatter white men—the sorts of provisions Republican lawmakers have been advancing in state legislatures across the country in a manufactured panic over the supposed teaching of critical race theory. (In November, Virginia ousted its Democratic governor in favor of Republican Glenn Youngkin, who made the issue a pillar of his campaign.)

The Virginia bill would prohibit instructors from teaching that the U.S. is “systemically racist or sexist” or that “the ideology of equity of outcomes is superior to the ideology of equality…of opportunities.” It would also ban school boards from hiring anyone “with the job title of equity director or diversity director or a substantially similar title.”

Williams cribbed most of his bill, including the part that refers to “the first Lincoln-Douglas debate,” from a law that passed in Texas last fall. Both bills include a provision even more disturbing than the swapping of Steven Douglas for Frederick Douglass: one that prohibits school boards from requiring teachers to cover any current event or “controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.” Teachers that choose to do so must represent multiple competing viewpoints on the issue, “without giving deference to any one perspective.

That’s perhaps not so worrying in theory. But for a vision of how this law might be applied in practice, look to Texas, where a school administrator said it required that students have access to “opposing” perspectives on the Holocaust. In a hearing over a similar bill in Indiana that would prevent teachers from attempting to reveal or affect a student’s “attitudes, habits, traits, opinions, beliefs, or feelings,” a Republican state senator said that educators should be “impartial” when teaching about Nazism and fascism.

When criticized for their statements, both the Texas school district and the Indiana legislator apologized. But their alarming directives were fair interpretations of the state laws as written. If a teacher must take an impartial “both sides” stance on every current event or controversy, she will be forced to give credence to some truly ghastly viewpoints. How will she teach about the mass detention of Uighurs in China? The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville? The Jan. 6, 2021 assault on Congress?

A decade ago, we might have assumed that a violent invasion of the U.S. Capitol to overturn the results of the presidential election would not be a controversial issue with two politically mainstream sides to unpack. We would have been wrong. Williams, the author of the Virginia bill, set aside his law practice for two months in 2020 to help Donald Trump challenge the vote count in Wisconsin. Who knows what current seemingly-universally-despised ideology will be up for debate a few years down the road?

Catholics are not immune to this filth. Although there is certainly a significant portion of the US Church who are themselves people of color, as well as whites who strongly affirm the actually Catholic doctrine that in Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, black nor white, etc., there is still a loud, well-funded, and powerful MAGA sect in the Church bent on protecting racism even as it indulges in some of the phoniest performative piety imaginable.

The tension can be clearly seen, for instance, in the wretched treatment meted out to fine African-American Catholics such as Gloria Purvis who was first canned by Guadalupe Radio Network on the charge of having a “spirit of contention” (translation: “being uppity’) for daring to speak about racism in the US, and then purged by EWTN a few months later for the crime of displeasing their donor base of aging MAGA racists. Gloria remains the same wonderful evangelist for the Catholic faith she has been and she has the actual teaching of the Church on her side, just not the MAGA money and power.

Relatedly, Guadalupe Radio Network, having learned nothing at all, likewise stooped down to pat a Black Jesuit on the head and whitesplain to him:

The standard way to put a fig leaf on all this is pretend to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for a few minutes once a year in some cheap act of performative piety. But the effort this takes for the MAGA Cult is often so exhausting that mistakes are made. So, for instance, this past Monday, FOX sycophant and enemy of Pope Francis, Raymond Arroyo, googled around for two seconds and cut-and-pasted this transparently fake piece of Hallmark saccharineness:

It is utterly characteristic of this sycophant of FOX racists that he would slap up a quote that MLK never said, because he can’t be bothered to know anything about him while trying to fake decency for a day.

It is also utterly characteristic of the fake MAGA gospel he preaches that he then dirty deleted the tweet when he got busted for it, offered nothing to replace it (because you know he knows nothing of King except for the “content of our character” line) and then rushed over to FOX studios to join fellow MAGA Catholic Laura Ingraham in attacking voting rights (in another mysteriously deleted tweet) and mocking the sick with trademark MAGA cruelty and spite, all to help spread disease and death:

In another 20 years, all this disgusting garbage will have aged as well as LaHaye’s letter. Will EWTN and Guadalupe Radio Network then explain “That was then and that’s all in the past–a past you must not be allowed to know about any more than you should be allowed to know about what King actually said and did”?:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.” (Mt 23:29–32). (2006).


3 Responses

  1. It feels like I should comment something about MLK or racism, after all, what do you call an expert on USA? “A European online” (replace “online” as appropriate, such as “with access to twitter” or “redditor”, etc.). I’ll leave you to it.

    I just want to point out that useful idiocy is still a thing, and is still present on both sides* of the debate. Did ideological Marxists attach themselves to BLM protests to forward their agenda? You bet they did. Are they taking advantage of critical race theory? You betcha. The problem with weeding them out is that it’s difficult to sort the wheat from weed (darnel or tare/vetch) now, and it might be impossible to sort them after the harvest, so it’s hard to just follow Jesus’s recommendation to let them both grow and to recognize them by their fruits.
    It’s kinda easier to see from across the pond where the matters of slavery in America are not a hot topic as it is in USA.

    *) To be fair, the right has tons of useful idiots who protect discredited notions like trickle-down economics.

    I really want to comment on the “positively boosted”. I can’t comprehend why those people were possibly the first in line to get the shot and then booster shots, but are now advising against the vaccine. I could understand it if they were consistent, didn’t get vaccinated and are now telling people to not get vaccinated. We have the same problem in Poland, and getting through to people is extremely difficult. The result is that a vaccine mandate is impossible today and simply allowing employers access to vaccine records (to allow them to know how to plan shifts and how to manage risk) is itself a controversial topic.

    Still, there is some hope that you can get through to some people to explain some of the crazy stuff (unlike faith matters, diseases and vaccines are a topic that can and should be discussed rather than witnessed).

    I can’t find the source now, I only saw a comment on twitter which quoted another tweet:
    “Both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated can catch Covid.”
    A doctor reacted with this:
    “Both Serena Williams and I can play tennis.”

    It’s an immensely pithy and useful remark. I’ve used it (a culturally translated version) to great success when discussing whether getting vaccinated makes sense.

    1. “I just want to point out that useful idiocy is still a thing, and is still present on both sides* of the debate. Did ideological Marxists attach themselves to BLM protests to forward their agenda? You bet they did. Are they taking advantage of critical race theory? You betcha.”

      If your point in saying that is to prove Marxists are morally superior to MAGAts then I heartily agree.

      – Joel

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