When the gods dance...

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Wild Hypocrisy of America's Conservative Christians

The Wild Hypocrisy of America's Conservative Christians

In Britain, the devout tend to be economic progressives. Why have American Christians embraced social Darwinism?

April 20, 2012  |  



Photo Credit: Jasmic



Here's a newspaper headline that might induce a disbelieving double take: "Christians 'More Likely to Be Leftwing' And Have Liberal Views on Immigration and Equality." Sounds too hard to believe, right? Well, it's true -- only not here in America, but in the United Kingdom.

That headline, from London's Daily Mail, summed up the two-tiered conclusion of a new report from the British think tank Demos, which found that in England 1) "religious people are more active citizens (who) volunteer more, donate more to charity and are more likely to campaign on political issues" and 2) "religious people are more likely to be politically progressive (people who) put a greater value on equality than the non-religious, are more likely to be welcoming of immigrants as neighbours (and) more likely to put themselves on the left of the political spectrum."

These findings are important to America for two reasons.

First, they tell us that, contrary to evidence in the United States, the intersection of religion and politics doesn't have to be fraught with hypocrisy. Britain is a Christian-dominated country, and the Christian Bible is filled with liberal economic sentiment. It makes perfect sense, then, that the more devoutly loyal to that Bible one is, the more progressive one would be on economics.

That highlights the second reason this data is significant: the findings underscore an obvious contradiction in our own religious politics.

Here in the United States, those who self-identify as religious tend to be exactly the opposite of their British counterparts when it comes to politics. As the Pew Research Center recently discovered, "Most people who agree with the religious right also support the Tea Party" and its ultra-conservative economic agenda. Summing up the situation, scholar Gregory Paul wrote in the Washington Post that many religious Christians in America simply ignore the Word and "proudly proclaim that the creator of the universe favors free wheeling, deregulated union busting, minimal taxes, especially for wealthy investors, and plutocrat-boosting capitalism as the ideal earthly scheme for his human creations."

The good news is that this may be starting to change. In recent years, for instance, Pew has found that younger evangelicals are less devoutly committed to the Republican Party and its Tea Party-inspired agenda than older evangelicals. Additionally, surveys show a near majority of evangelicals agree with liberals that the tax system is unfair and that the wealthy aren't paying their fair share. Meanwhile, the organization Faith in Public LIfe has highlighted new academic research showing that even in America there is growing "correlation between increased Bible reading and support for progressive views, including abolishing the death penalty, seeking economic justice, and reducing material consumption."

Of course, many Americans who cite Christianity to justify their economic conservatism may not have actually read the Bible. In that sense, religion has become more of a superficial brand rather than a distinct catechism, and brands can be easily manipulated by self-serving partisans and demagogues. To know that is to read the Sermon on the Mount and then marvel at how anyone still justifies right-wing beliefs by invoking Jesus.

No doubt, only a few generations ago, such a conflation of religion and right-wing economics would never fly in America. Whether William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" crusade or the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.'s poor people's campaign, religion and political activism used to meet squarely on the left -- where they naturally should.

Thus, the findings from Britain, a country similar to the United States, evoke our own history and potential. They remind us that such a congruent convergence of theology and political ideology is not some far-fetched fantasy -- it is still possible right here at home.


David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books Hostile Takeover and The Uprising. He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at OpenLeft.com. E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com or follow him on Twitter @davidsirota.

1 comment:

  1. "You cannot serve both God and money." Mathew 6:24. "He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty." Luke 1:50-53. There is nothing in the New Testament that supports the social Darwinism underlying our current and past approaches to social justice. On the contrary. Yet Mr. Ryan, a Catholic, and others like him wearing the cross like bloody Knights Templars, are claiming to do the work of God and the Church. Atheists and agnostics don't care: superstitious prattle. They should. Those who claim to be Christian seem not to have read much of the New Testament. At least their actions proclaim a belief that amorality should be the rule in business and government; that value creation for themselves and investors is more important than care for others and the commonweal. Quite simply the core value of the New Testament, of Jesus, is compassion. There are, therefore, few Christians in America. Why not chuck it all and, like the National Socialists, proclaim a rule of the "fittest." Even worse, Ryan claims that his social Darwin-like policies are driven by his Catholicism. His church, like the NT, has been clearly on the side of the poor, workers, and the oppressed. Consider the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (On Reconstruction of the Social Order, literally "in the fortieth year") of 1931 by Pope Pius XI, encourages a living wage, subsidiarity, and advocates that social justice is a personal virtue as well as an attribute of the social order, saying that society can be just only if individuals and institutions are just. Does Ryan require more clarity? If god has instructed him to bless the rich on the backs of the poor, he should move on to another church. I still believe that a state built on New Testament-like compassion would be a paradise. Compassion is non-denominational (to those who would cry "evil theocracy.") But this is surely no Christian state. And it seems to become less so every election. Why the Christian charade? Put on the black shirt and let us see you as you really are. Both Republicans and Democrats!!