The media is talking about the shutdown in mostly secular terms. Big mistake. This is a religion story and to ignore that aspect is like trying to report on the Taliban without mentioning Islam. The media blame the Tea Party and call them crazy. But the media has missed the real story. It’s not about the Tea Party’s politics, it’s about what made the Tea Party’s politics so crazy to begin with. This is a religion story to end all religion stories.
The reason we don’t get the straight story from the media is because of undue respect for religion on the one hand and a refusal to believe that religion is still so important on the other hand. Deference waits upon scorn. And between these two attitudes the real story gets ignored.
But if you listen to what’s said, it’s all cast in terms that anyone in the evangelical world, or raised there, will recognize. When Rep Ted Yoho from Florida’s 3rd district was asked by an NPR interviewer why he was saying that a government default would be okay he answered, ” I feel in my heart this [the shutdown] is the right thing.” I wonder where I’ve heard that phrase before? Take a look at Yoho’s poster for a town meeting, the Tea Party logo, a church address mingle.
Do you know who launched the shutdown? Hint: He’s Southern, white and an ardent evangelical who serves as an elder in his fundamentalist church. His name is Mark Meadows. He wrote the letter to John Boehner signed by the congressional Tea Party radicals that launched the shutdown. The Tea Party’s no compromise hostage taking tactics weren’t born out of a vacuum. They have the air of the intransigence of doctrinal certainties about them.
You can’t understand the radical hostage-taking right in Congress today outside of the context of the evangelical battles with the very idea of compromise. (Maybe I’m especially attuned to this fact because my late father Francis Schaeffer was a religious right leader.) Sure, there are a handful of Ayn Rand/groupies and libertarians thrown in and sure the Koch brothers are following their own crazy Bircher agenda while inadvertently financing the demise of the US government, but none of these folks represent the true base of the Tea Party/Republican Party.
The shutdown is the religious right’s biggest “victory” – they finally turned US politics into church – and a loss for the rest of us that threatens everything we love. But it’s not all their fault. Some of our best and brightest in the media dropped the ball. Contrary to the religious right’s persecution complex our elite chattering classes have been far too polite about religion. They’ve given a free pass to people who say they are serving God.
The media have been analyzing the shutdown but largely ducking the truth. Until the media expose the beliefs of the religious extremist as the root cause of the shutdown nothing can change. Want to know why the Tea Party folks seem to take it on faith they’re right and the polls are wrong? They have been trained by their churches and pastors to ignore facts and trust their “hearts.” From global warming denial, to accepting Jesus as their personal savior no fact need apply, it’s all about trusting a web of myth, feeling and bigotry over anything that can be argued.
As Paul Krugman notes, the Tea Party/GOP is “ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” What Krugman failed to mention is that these attributes owe their bitter flavor entirely to fundamentalist religion.
The reason that the Republican Party has become resistant to facts is that it’s most ardent mass of voters is blind to reality because of their religious beliefs. Having accepted one set of religious myths they were conditioned to accept another set of political myths. As I show in my new book on religious delusion American style – And God Said, “Billy!” exploring the roots of religious delusion is the only way to understand contemporary American politics.
The level of counter intuitive incompetence shown by the Republicans in Congress can’t be understood– until you take into account the religious commitment to non “worldly” values of the religious right. The problem isn’t the GOP. The problem is what the base of extremist GOP voters believe. Those beliefs need to be explored and exposed by people not used to attacking anyone’s so-called personal beliefs. Problem is these “personal” beliefs are now a public threat.
Face it, church and state are no longer separated. Religion can’t be off limits anymore. It’s not just time to expose the crazy in the GOP, it’s time to expose the fact that personal belief isn’t sacrosanct. Evangelical Christianity is a curse to America. It’s time to say so. It is a shameful thing to be crazy on purpose. The shutdown is the naked face of nutty religion exposed.
Believers have been folded into one deadly destructive, economy-threatening entity by the Republicans. It’s time to stop being any less forcefully truth-telling about religion than we are about politics. They are one and the same. The shutdown is a slow motion religious extremist attack on America being carried out by those living in the netherworld of apocalyptic fantasy.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book — And God Said, “Billy!“exploring the roots of religious delusion is #1 on Amazon Kindle in the Political Humor category. On Kindle, iBook and NOOK for $3.99 and in paperback.