Daily Archives: June 6, 2011

Quote of the Day: Christianity and Fundamentalist Americanism

Coinciding with our own exploration of conservative Christianity and capitalism, here’s Andrew Sullivan today on Christianity and a noxious brand of American Exceptionalism:

The relationship between religion and politics is, to my mind, the central question of our time. As the false totalisms of the twentieth century – communism, fascism, Nazism – have been revealed as oppressive, murderous lies, insecure and inadequate human beings in need of totalist solutions to the human dilemma have returned to religion. But more accurately, they have returned to fundamentalism, because only fundamentalism, with its absolute certainty and literal precision and binding, unquestionable authority, can assuage the anxieties of a world dislocated from tradition, up-ended by capitalism, globalized to the point of cultural panic.

What we are seeing on the Republican right at the moment, it seems to me, is an extension of this response to anxiety. The new orthodoxy is fundamentalist Americanism. This is not regular American exceptionalism of the kind that the president adheres to: a belief that this miraculous new world has opened up vistas of democratic opportunity to the rest of the planet, that its inspired constitution has enabled stability and freedom in equal measure, that it played an indispensable role in keeping freedom alive during some dark, dark times, and that its core idea – government by, for and of the people – is universalist in nature. No, the Americanism now heard on the right is that America was uniquely founded on Christianity, that America is therefore a chosen instrument of divine Providence, and that this moral superiority is so profound that indicting America on any prudential, moral or political grounds is un-American or, if it comes from abroad, evil.


All of this is routine for authoritarian nationalist movements. What distinguishes this one is a co-optation of Christianity. But, of course, Christianity cannot be co-opted by nationalism. It is opposed to all such distinctions:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Yes, the Messiah came from a Chosen People, but in Christianity, Jesus’s death and resurrection made the whole world that chosen people. At the Feast of the Ascension yesterday, we Catholics heard at Mass the words of Jesus from Matthew:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

And so the notion of America as a unique nation in the eyes of God is a Christian heresy. And the rest of the current Republican agenda is also, extremely hard to square with Christian orthodoxy.

(Graphic from The Button Pushing Monkey)

Capitalism and Christian Values

Over the last week we’ve been citing Frye on religious fundamentalism and false literalism. This week we’re turning our attention to the affinity of the Christian right and laissez faire capitalism.

That affinity is confirmed by a Religious News Service poll published in April. According to the poll, 36 percent of Christians say capitalism and the free market are consistent with Christian values; 44 percent say the two are at odds.

However, party affiliation significantly influences this view. Among Democrats, only 26 percent say Christian values and capitalism are compatible, while a majority, 53 percent, say they are at odds. Among Republicans, on the other hand, a full 46 percent say the two are compatible, while only 37 percent say they are at odds. (Not surprisingly, among Tea Partiers a solid majority, 56 percent, say they are compatible.) Finally, 44 percent of white evangelicals say that fully unregulated businesses would act ethically.

Add to all of this massive tax-exempt funding of conservative megachurches, as well as the deeply entrenched influence of conservative think tanks, corporate sponsorship, talk radio, the increasingly rightward slant of the mainstream news media, as well as the nonstop agitprop of Fox News, and that’s a heavy thumb on the scales in favor of Christian/conservative/laissez faire values.

We’ll see what Frye has to say about this shortly.