As I was watching my news and commentary this past week, several pieces of a puzzle snapped together in my mind. It was a puzzle that I didn't know I was working out, there in the back of my thoughts, but I did know when I got the answer.
I have wondered over the past decade or so why it is that Republican politics have rather excessive overtones of religion. The righteousness of Republican politicians and their media mouthpieces--those of them who can get away with television programs or interviews--is inexplicable, given what their beliefs are.
How are we to take seriously the ideas that women should die in childbirth rather than terminate a pregnancy, or that poor people should live on the streets, destitute along with their children? These are not morally-defensible positions, so where did they come from?
That was the question that was finally answered in my mind last week. Suddenly I saw the inevitable evolution from politics to religion in the Republicans, who set themselves up for this when they allowed the evangelical Religious Right to take over their party.
A long time ago preacher Francis Schaeffer conceived the idea that became known as the Moral Majority--a group of influential, affluent preachers who decided to sell their influence to the highest bidder. I don't know how they latched onto Republican candidates, but perhaps the Democrats had more confidence in their political agenda. At any rate, this group of preachers did what they do best: they began to preach Republican politics, and at the same time to begin re-tooling the GOP to fit their ideas. They always assumed that what they stood for would become what Republicans stood for, and they were right.
The wither and decline of evangelical un-Christianity in America is paralleling the fall of the Republican Party, and the two are entirely related in the ideas that both have resorted to in order to get votes (or parishioners). The missionary mindset has spread from store-front churches to political conventions.
The same condemnation that evangelical missionaries commonly aim at their denominational rivals is now part of the Republican practice of demonizing their opponents. One reason that President Barack Obama was re-elected was the simple fact that the Republican lies and fear-mongering about him became to intense that most Americans with a modicum of common sense could see that no one could be a fascist, a socialist and a communist at the same time. Nor could the President be a Muslim and an atheist at the same time. When all was said and done, even the pure vanilla of Mitt Romney could not present Americans with a better option than the President.
Last week this all came into focus when the Republicans admitted outright that they can no longer depend on their politics to win elections. Their party platform, for which every Republican elected official is responsible, calls for the death of pregnant women who have medically-unsafe pregnancies such as ectopic pregnancies. The unbridled hatred of the LGBT community, originated, aided and abetted by the evangelical community, is no longer viable for most Americans whether they are gay or straight.
Yet many people who call themselves Republicans have the same ferocious loyalty to the party that abused evangelical Christians have to their dysfunctional churches. They are afraid that they will somehow be lost, unpatriotic, immoral--this is the punishment for straying from the Republican corral.
But Americans are not, in fact, animals that have been herded into captivity. We are people with the capacity to think critically, even though we don't always use it. But Americans are voting with their feet in both areas, politics and religion. That explains the defeat of Republican candidates on many levels in the 2012 election.
It also explains the latest Barna Group report, which affirmed again what evangelicals already know: that their churches are emptying out and even their statistical conversion rate cannot make up for the turnover.
In one particular missionary-oriented denomination, the LDS Church, they never drop a name from their roster, whether they attend or not. They count all their converts and none of their dropouts, and with this "statistic" they tout their huge growth rate. There may be only a very few people high up in the Salt Lake City hierarchy who know the true state of the Mormon organization, and if there are any, they are not talking. But almost every denomination is in decline right now, because dogma and orthodoxy will not help in a situation in which people have their own questions and demand answers that make sense. The twin dialog of "Why?" and "Because." won't do.
When a political party turns to the Old Testament for its ideology, trouble is going to follow. In Arizona we see outright hostility to Latino-Americans that no senators from Cuba can explain away. Like Texas, Southwestern states are turning blue every election and nothing can stop it because Republicans are no longer a political party but a religious party. Their contempt for the idea of the separation of Church and State is going to do them in, and they asked for it by buying into the Moral Majority and giving the evangelical preachers deference that is usually reserved for clergy.
But there are many unscrupulous people who mistake kindness for weakness and use it to their advantage, and time is running out for the Religious Right at the same rate that it is running out for the new, unimproved Republican Party, if it has not run out already. That is the meaning of their decision, almost implemented, to begin to undermine the election laws of the United States so that it will be impossible in the near term for Democrats to win the Presidency. These people will subvert democracy itself for the sake of power, and if that doesn't get Americans into the streets, I don't know what will.