Contemporary Evangelical arguments for the mixing of Church and State usually fallaciously assume that for America’s most historically vindicated political, moral, and cultural values to be accepted as good and as true, either theoretically or in practice, or for these values to be preserved and advanced in future generations, Americans must accept and continue to perpetuate the Christian religious beliefs of many of our founding generations, going back to the Pilgrims.
This mistakenly assumes that the good values we have in America cannot be either theoretically justified or practically inculcated into future generations through any other cultural institutions or abstract philosophical frameworks than the contemporary right wing churches or their highly idiosyncratic, supernaturalistic, and intellectually outdated lenses of “traditional” Christian theology–which for most of Christian history was not exactly very egalitarian, democratic, progress-oriented, or otherwise consistent with our distinctively modern values.
They want to insist that our shared moral values are historically and logically predicated on a supernatural, law-giving God, whose full moral teaching is found in the Christian Bible and whose will alone is the source, justification, and irreplaceable guide to our best American values–even those of which Americans of all persuasions are most justifiably proud.
For this post, I will put aside the serious questions about whether or to what extent Christianity is historically to credit for actually contributing to modern American ideals, and whether or to what extent Christianity merely accommodated and learned to adapt to Enlightenment values which the whole way it has fought against. I want to focus here instead on what kinds of values self-consciously political, self-consciously literalistic and supernaturalistic, fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity actually leads to in the present and ask whether they are even consistent with truly American values–let alone their only logical support.
1. The values of science and innovation.
American prosperity cannot be separated from our rigorous empiricism, pragmatism, open-mindedness, hunger for newness, disdain for obsolete and stifling traditions, disdain for authoritarianism, and desire to transform the future into something different and better through human ingenuity. All these values are why we are a scientific and technological leader.
And none of these values would be presently waning if it were not for the influence of fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity, which explicitly and actively teaches people (1) to eschew empiricism whenever it undermines faith; (2) to fear pragmatism and prefer moral, economic, and spiritual absolutism instead; (3) to fret that open-mindedness is the path to destruction while closed-minded adherence to ancient texts and dogmas are the path to national salvation; (4) to spurn the new as heresy and denounce the ideal of a transformed future as a desire to betray a golden past; (5) to slavishly obey obsolete traditions; and (6) to celebrate and promote authoritarian domination of prisoners, the “lazy” poor, and foreigners around the globe.
2. The values of equality and human rights.
No group actively resists the full moral and political equality of women, gays, minorities, immigrants, prisoners, or the poor more than the fundamentalists. This is true worldwide and true in America. Right-wing fundamentalist Evangelical Christians really want us to think that their tradition, which still only rarely (if ever) allows women in pulpits is uniquely indispensable to women being in politics?
They really want us to think that a tradition which demonizes the poor as lazy and unworthy of a guarantee of the basic provisions of health care is uniquely indispensable to our valuing the full human rights of all people? They really expect us to believe that without their reading of the Bible, we would not believe in the full and equal treatment of vulnerable groups before the law, when they are the ones who refuse to acknowledge the full humanity of gays or to give them the full equal rights of citizenship (to marry, to serve in the military, to work without fear of being prejudicially fired, etc.)?
They expect us to believe that their values are the ones to guide us towards a greater appreciation of equality and human rights when their seething craving for vengeance leads them to support torture more than any other group in the country and to support ever tougher treatment of (unconscionably disproportionately black) prisoners when we already compete with only communist countries and Middle Eastern theocracies for the title of “most likely to incarcerate or kill its own citizens”?
3. The values of freedom in thought, expression, and religion.
Of course the religious political tradition which believes that laws should be made through considerations of what the book of Leviticus says is our only hope for deriving and preserving the value priority of protecting freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.
Of course the people who want the government to subsidize charity operations which proselytize their patrons, who insist on governmental calls for prayer, who relentlessly turn civic ceremonies into religious ones whenever permitted on stage, who talk about their God’s “dominion” over all of life including government, who try to defund public broadcasters and artists who do not share their narrow values, who demonize other faiths and try to get their houses of worship shut down, who panic with outraged offense whenever an atheist billboard announces the mere existence of, or reasons for, disbelief, etc.–these are the only people we can really trust to protect the individual’s conscience from governmental coercion in matters of private belief and the freedom of expression.
4. The values of democracy and individual autonomy.
Logically, how could we ever believe in rule only by the consent of the governed, unless we believed the whole universe was a cosmic tyranny in which an all-powerful being imposed His unstoppable will on all people without respect for their own wills and damned to eternal torment all those who dissented from His judgments and refused to love Him?
How could we believe in the rights, dignity, and autonomy of all individuals if we did not believe in a God who could punish them for thought crimes, and for not loving Him, and for pursuing their own individual conceptions of the good inconsistent with His barbaric, archaic Old (and New) Testament commandments?
How else could we either logically derive, or in the future pass on, our belief that the most just form of government is a democratic republic with a separation of powers, if we did not believe that the universe itself is actually most justly run as a theocracy?
These views are clearly of an unbreakable piece.
Fundamentalist Evangelical Christian theology, values, and political behaviors could hardly be less consistent with the distinctive American values which are most celebrated as the source of American prosperity–let alone be claimed to be their logically necessary precondition. There is little logical connection between closed-minded, fundamentalist, reactionary, authoritarian, hierarchical, superstitious, theocratic nostalgia and America’s open-minded, idealistic, progressive, liberty-loving, egalitarian, scientific, democratic optimism.
The claim that contemporary fundamentalist Evangelical Christian values are the irreplaceable logical basis for either deriving or developing America’s highest values is a total and complete lie. Even to the extent that historically Christianity in general sometimes played a positive role in the centuries-long process by which we came to have and to develop these values in the West, still the core distinctive values of reactionary fundamentalism in the present represent a counter-reaction against liberal, Western, American values–however we got them. They are not conservatives, in the true sense of the world. They do not want to conserve distinctively American values. They are restorationists who want to reimpose a theocratic order while giving disingenuous lip service to the reigning ideals of America.
More Camels With Hammers criticism of the religious right and advocacy for the strict separation of church and state: