Art, Politics, and Religion: McNaughton's Agenda
The fact that McNaughton believes he can sum up a historical figure's meaning to his paintings with one or two sentences or a single quote—which he does with his online description tools—reveals a lot about his approach to history. For McNaughton, history is not something that contains complex messages or dilemmas that cause introspection; rather, it is a quiver full of arrows to use in his battle against progressivism and socialism. Historical figures are not so much dynamic people as they are supportive props for his overall message.
But if McNaughton's paintings are designed to present a message, it is a fragmented message. Even in his most political paintings, a deep narrative never comes into view beyond the superficial and generic "righteous versus evil," "capitalism versus communism," or "Christianity versus the world." However, this is where religion proves useful, for religion provides a sweeping framework in which this fractured approach can find a larger narrative. Correlating battles over the budget, immigration reform, and healthcare with the cosmic scope of Christianity and religion gives this particular worldview a powerful narrative of epic proportions.
But here, again, it appears that religion is relegated to merely a supporting and subordinate role to politics. In One Nation Under God, McNaughton's Christ is not the triumphant and merciful Savior come to earth to cleanse the world from sin and usher in a period of love and charity during which all will proclaim "Jesus is Lord." Instead, Christ is the final chess piece—the checkmate-enforcing rather than sin-cleansing "King"—whose appearance decides once and for all whose political party is correct. Christ has come to sacralize constitutional fundamentalism, not humankind.
This merging of religion and politics—or, perhaps more accurately, this subordination of religion to politics—is a constant theme in both McNaughton's popular works as well as in their derivative culture. His art also make the boundaries between the previously separated realms of human expression increasingly blurry, as politics now take the center stage in the eternal play between good and evil.
Benjamin E. Park has a bachelor's degree in history and literature from Brigham Young University, a master's degree in historical theology from the University of Edinburgh, and is currently a graduate student in political thought and intellectual history at Cambridge University. He blogs on Mormon history at Juvenile Instructor.