The Tea Party Movement Is Not Secular

by Jesse Galef –

I used to think that the Tea Party movement was predominantly libertarian — that they were against taxes and spending and wanted the government to get out of… well, everything. Not my political leanings, but at least it was secular, I thought. It wasn’t about religion.

But I was wrong. Whoo boy, was I ever. If you’re a political junkie like I am, you might have heard that something strange happened in the GOP Delaware primary. The fringe candidate Christine O’Donnell, backed by the tea party and Sarah Palin, went on to win party’s nomination. And people are digging up things she’s said which have made a (bigger) cynic of me.

Not only does she believe that evolution is “just a theory” but she made the brazen claim that there’s “just as much, if not more, evidence supporting” six-day creationism. She advocated teaching creationism in schools alongside evolution because otherwise it violates the Constitution by favoring “secular humanism.” She argued that condom distribution helps spread AIDS.

And, of course, there’s the whole “anti-masturbation” organization she founded and she pushed which has gotten some attention from Rachel Maddow:

I’ll leave it to Jen McCreight to *ahem* handle that one.

*Whew.* In finding all the links and reading the stories for this post, I was overcome by the familiar blend of horror, amusement, fascination, and cynicism that comes from following politics in America.  A bit of time off (and a beer) helped me press onward.

I should point out that a lot of these positions come from years ago and it’s possible she retracted some or all of this dangerous, anti-scientific, overly-religious nonsense. But I can’t find any official statements on the issues, and her website is currently blank (apart from the option to donate).

O’Donnell isn’t the only one. I’m also struck by Sharron Angle, the Tea-Party-supported candidate who won the GOP nomination in Nevada. Angle accused her opponent of — get this — violating the First Commandment by setting up government as a God.

“And these programs that you mentioned — that Obama has going with Reid and Pelosi pushing them forward — are all entitlement programs built to make government our God. And that’s really what’s happening in this country is a violation of the First Commandment. We have become a country entrenched in idolatry, and that idolatry is the dependency upon our government. We’re supposed to depend upon God for our protection and our provision and for our daily bread, not for our government.”

No, it doesn’t make any sense to me either. But then, neither did her campaign against a local school’s choice of black jerseys because black is an evil color and invokes the devil.  Yes, really.  By the way, she won that fight – the school buckled and didn’t let the team wear the “satanic” jerseys.

Or there’s the line in an interview when, talking about the campaign, she said: “I need warriors to stand beside me. You know, this is a war of ideology, a war of thoughts and of faith,” leading the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent to ask: “Is it a stretch to conclude that Angle genuinely views the Nevada Senate race as a Holy War?”

Adele Stan of AlterNet adds another piece of the puzzle:

[Covering him in 1995], Ralph Reed was the Christian Coalition’s executive director. Today, he heads the Tea Party movement’s get-out-the-vote operation through his new Faith and Freedom Coalition, which he said that God, speaking through Sean Hannity, urged him to create.

Stan finishes by asking: “So, do we still think the Tea Party movement is a secular uprising?”

No.

(Big hat tip to two of my favorite writers: Sarah Posner, whose article on Religion Dispatches inspired this post, and Steve Benen, whose post at the Washington Monthly was the source of many links.)

About Dr. Denise Cooper-Clarke

I am a graduate of medicine and theology with a Ph.D in medical ethics. I tutor in medical ethics at the University of Melbourne, am an (occasional) adjunct Lecturer in Ethics at Ridley Melbourne, and a voluntary researcher with Ethos. I am also a Fellow of ISCAST and a past chair of the Melbourne Chapter of Christians for Biblical Equality. I have special interests in professional ethics, sexual ethics and the ethics of virtue.

  • Little James

    … God, speaking through Sean Hannity, …

    (blank stare)

  • http://villageatheist.org Drew

    Tea Party = Infected with the god virus.

  • everettattebury

    You forgot to mention the racism and xenophobia.

  • Mr Ed

    NPR on morning addition had two tea party leaders on one who claimed they were libertarian and another who said they were “social conservatives.”

  • Jon

    It’s the new Dark Ages.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

    *jaw-drop*

    Seriously?

  • http://chunkymonkeymind.blogspot.com/ Palaverer

    The Tea Party IS NOT LIBERTARIAN. Yes, abolishing taxes is a libertarian ideal–some libertarian ideals overlap with both republicans and democrats. But the tea party is a bastion of the worst kind of evangelical republicans. Libertarians got nothing to do with that sh*t.

  • Evan

    The problem with the Tea Party is that it isn’t actually an organized party. It manages to find homes in many places along the spectrum of crazy. Primarily there seem to be two main groups: those aligned with Rand Paul, which would be the (more) secular and libertarian ideology you originally assumed (though not exactly); and then there are those epitomized by Palin and Beck, O’Donnell and Angle.

    The Paul group I would be willing to listen to and debate. But Palin’s ties to Dominionist culture and Beck’s increasing messianic complex make me terrified of that side.

  • yoshi

    A mistake you are making is thinking that there is a single unified “Tea Party”. There isn’t. That is like saying all christian churches are the same. Depending on the group – their stance on social issues vary widely. To their credit (and I’m using that term loosely) some Tea Party groups specifically exclude talk of any social or religious issues. In many instances this has royally ticked off wingnut groups like the AFA and WND’s Joey Farah.

  • Silent Service

    Why can’t the Rapture hurry the hell up and take all the crazy Christards away?

  • http://NoYourGod.blogspot.com NoYourGod

    Jesse, with all due respect, where have you been since that first Teabagger rally?!?

    How could you have seriously believed in a secular Tea Party when their rallies featured placards touting:
    President Obama as a muslim;
    Demands to return the country to its Ten Commandments origin; and
    Continually spewing “god bless america” (among many others).

    The Tea Party may have a small faction that is true libertarian, but a majority simply want this country “returned to them”, where “returned to them” means “I don’t want anybody not like me to have any power, or be around me, or to have any say in what I do to them.” In other words, they want “their white christian” country.

    Frak’em.

  • bonefish

    …God, speaking through Sean Hannity…

    I feel much relieved to know S.H. is also imaginary.

  • Rufus

    The good news is that Delaware is now almost a certainty for the Democrats.
    I think most reasonable/sane people would vote for fifteen weasels in a burlap sack ahead of the tea party candidate.

  • http://www.audreypodrey.com/blog Audrey

    The bit about satanic jerseys reminds me…

    When i was young, my brothers and i discovered the card game Magic: The Gathering. My fundamentalist parents were not all that sure about this game, given the title contained the word “magic”, but after reviewing the cards and the rules, decided we could play it, with one exception: we were not allowed to play with Black Magic cards.

    Sadly i think this kind of thinking is more prevalent than you would expect.

  • cathy

    Jesse, you were right that the teabaggers are primarily libertarian (even the more totalitarian strands utilize libertarian rhetoric), you are just confused because of a failure to realize that most self-identified libertarians are also right wing religious nuts. Also, noyourgod makes an excellent point about paying attention to their behavior…

    I am suspicious of anyone who identifies as a libertarian, and not just because in modern political terms it means ‘war mongering, socially conservative, unregulated capitalist’, but also because libertarians seem to have no clue. They complain about government power, yet want to give it big armies, etc. It’s not a consistent position. Just buck up and be an anarchist if you think governments shouldn’t control anything. Don’t call for the abolition of everything that makes governments useful (social programs, discrimination protections, protection from corporate abuse, etc) while still calling for a government. It’s a bizarre position, really.

  • http://mondaynightmiracles.blogspot.com Mike Powe

    And in other news… the sky is blue.

    NPR has an ineresting exerpt from a book about the roots of the tea party, back when libertarian leaning folks got together to voice their displeasure with government spending around the time of bailouts, tarp, homeowner assistance, etc.

    Sarah Palin and her crowd have since high-jacked the movement in an effort to polarize the country further into ‘us’ vs ‘them’.

    I’d love to see some secular, socially liberal tea partiers stand up and take the movement back, or at least signal that they exist. However, I will not be holding my breath.

  • WishinItWas

    the thought that there is probably no god has never bothered me in my life, the tea party scares the complete *&#% out of me though…

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    Nothing wrong with wanting smaller government or reduced taxes, but outside of that general stance, the Tea Party is pretty much a religious push, which you so nicely pointed out in this post.

    The idea that they are literally hijacking the GOP is scary enough.

  • Oliver

    Mike Powe (above) has it exactly correct:

    —————————————
    “And in other news… the sky is blue.

    NPR has an interesting excerpt from a book about the roots of the tea party, back when libertarian leaning folks got together to voice their displeasure with government spending around the time of bailouts, tarp, homeowner assistance, etc.

    Sarah Palin and her crowd have since high-jacked the movement in an effort to polarize the country further into ‘us’ vs ‘them’.

    I’d love to see some secular, socially liberal tea partiers stand up and take the movement back, or at least signal that they exist. However, I will not be holding my breath.”
    —————————————

    It started as a (mostly) secular, socially liberal, libertarian grassroots movement but got taken over by a lot of the worst of the republicans. Really disappointing. Sarah Palin was the death knell.

  • Anonymous

    Allow me to also remind that Sharron Angle is unapologetic for her support of a completely quackadoodle Scientology program for prisoners.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Chance_Program
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharron_Angle#Scientology_issue

    Highly religious people are very low on critical thinking skills.

  • jose

    What I want to know is if Sharron Angle is going to show up in the Senate with an UZI and start secondamendmentremedying stuff.

  • Hitch

    Never underestimate the power of populist anti-intellectualism.

    I still remember people saying that George W. had no chance against Gore. I wouldn’t put it past likelihood that some extreme right-wing anti-intellectual religious dimwit like O’Donnell wins the race.

    As for the tea-party it’s an anti-historical anti-intellectual religiously tinged popular movement that runs primarily on a knee-jerk anti-government sentiment.

    It’s not seriously libertarian, it’s not seriously conservative, it’s not even a serious religious movement. It’s shallow populism that works.

  • http://everydayatheist.wordpress.com Everyday Atheist

    If the Tea Party diehards ever offered real proposals for how to deal with real problems, other than just spouting anti-government pablum, I might be surprised at the religious infiltration. But unserious thinkers do love to collect together. Hitch nailed it:

    It’s not seriously libertarian, it’s not seriously conservative, it’s not even a serious religious movement. It’s shallow populism that works.

  • Bob

    @Hitch:

    If there were ever something that proved evolution, it’d have to be this growing trend towards anti-intellectualism. Perhaps it’s just a vocal minority, but they’re embracing stagnant, anti-change politics and trusting to their imaginary friend on high.

    They don’t even see how they’re being exploited by the likes of Hannity, Beck, Palin, and others.

    Once upon a time, I would have said these nimrods stood little chance of getting into office, but they have, and their ranks are swelling to include empty-headed bits of fluff like O’Donnell.

    America is in serious trouble.

  • Miko

    I used to think that the Tea Party movement was predominantly libertarian — that they were against taxes and spending and wanted the government to get out of… well, everything.

    The Tea Party is not at all libertarian, and they don’t want the government out of much of anything. For the most part, they want the government to build an incredibly expensive wall along the southern border, expand the “War on Terror” into a whole lot of surrounding countries, keep conducting torture against detainees “suspected of terrorism,” beef up anti-immigration laws, etc., etc. And they aren’t against the spending on stuff that they like. In short, they’re horrible. A good slogan for their movement is “liberty for me, but not for thee.” The only way in which real libertarians are associated with them is that we show up to protest their events every now and then.

    Noam Chomsky once said that we shouldn’t be too hard on the people who participate in the Tea Parties because right now the Tea Parties are basically the only game in town that is acknowledging that something is wrong. When the “Left” responds to soaring unemployment by defending the Bush/Obama stimulus ever more strenuously instead of just admitting that they made a colossal mistake, people will turn to anyone who’s offering answers, no matter how pathetic those answers are. I think he’s basically correct: the Tea Partiers aren’t bent on supporting right-wing politics; they just don’t have a cogent alternative. The only way to deal with the Tea Parties is to build a serious left-wing anti-establishment movement and, sadly, no one can figure out how to do that right now.

  • Hitch

    @Bob, Miko: Interestingly enough I think what you say kind of has a common thread through Chomsky.

    I would actually disagree with Chomsky on the tea party. I think he grossly underestimates the damage that this movement can do. But on the other hand, in terms of explaining how such anti-intellectualism is possible, he actually gave a very good historic trace back to Edward Bernays and Walter Lippmann.

    Propaganda has gone all out. Just check what rallies Glenn Beck is staging and what (mis)information is being amplified. It’s quite easy to see what is going on here. The radio was powerful but TV is even more so. In terms of content, shallow fear mongering is enough. Not much more is actually going on.

    The whole notion that critiquing establishment is what we need at a time of crisis is not something I fully agree with. It would counter the populism, but the problem is that this part of the populism is also counter-productive. But demagoguery means focusing away from problem-solution and towards emotionally charged topics.

  • VXbinaca

    @Hitch

    The whole notion that critiquing establishment is what we need at a time of crisis is not something I fully agree with.

    Establishment always needs to be critiqued. All the time, non-stop.

  • MV

    I disagree with those that think that the tea party has hijacked the GOP. They represent main stream GOP policy and thinking that has existed for decades. The message is merely less polished and controlled. Are the current candidates really any more extreme than current members such as Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul? Or are people just starting to actually pay attention to what they actually believe and want to do and not what they say?

    The Republican party is actually getting smaller. The liberals and moderates that used to exist in the party are leaving. What people interpret as growing extremism is in large part the shedding of these groups. It’s hard to pretend you are a broad based party when the groups that provided that cover are gone.

    Christine O’Donnell is hardly a fringe candidate. She has run for senate three times in the last five years. She was the Republican opponent of Joe Biden when he last held this particular senate seat and was fully supported by the Republican party. If he had not been chosen as Vice President they probably would have been happy to run her again.

  • http://gaytheistagenda.lavenderliberal.com/ Buffy

    The Tea party wanted people to think it was secular and diverse (i.e., not a bunch of racist, homophobic white folk). They kept insisting they were all about protesting high taxes, government spending and interference in private life (where were they during GWB’s reign of terror?). Some saw through the smokescreen, and now their more rabid members (who are getting nominated for political office) are proving exactly what we already knew. They’re the RRRW under a different banner, nothing more.

  • Staceyjw

    jesse, I can’t believe you ever thought they were secular. have you been living under a rock? they are xtian wing nuts in the extreme and are a danger to the nation. it sickens me just thinking about their insane views.

  • Richard Wade

    Re: Sharron Angle:

    But then, neither did her campaign against a local school’s choice of black jerseys because black is an evil color and invokes the devil.

    I wonder if she includes skin color in that assessment.

    I sure hope that she will tell us which colors are okay with her regime for us to use. Yellow? Pink? Oh yeah, of course, white. I’ll have to toss out my satanic black tuxedo. Since white on white is hard to read, I guess all books will have to be printed with some other color ink… red perhaps. Can’t use green, too much association with them evil environmentalists.

    Angle accused her opponent of — get this — violating the First Commandment by setting up government as a God.

    Yeah. Instead, she wants to set up God as the government.

  • NeuroLover

    I’d love to see some secular, socially liberal tea partiers stand up and take the movement back, or at least signal that they exist.

    I’m an atheist (and of course secularist), socially liberal (and fiscally conservative) tea partier. So are my mom, my dad, my brother, my boyfriend, and (if you just include secularist rather than atheist) many other members of the tea party group I’m actively involved in. And we’re all sick and tired of being woefully misclassified as one and the same with the insane religious right. Enough.

  • Secular Stu

    The Tea Party is Reform Party 2: Electoral Boogaloo.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ChristopherTK ChristopherTK

    I voted Libertarian in the last election.

    I initially supported some of the ideas the “tea party” offered. I stood on the trading floor with Rick Santelli when he gave his accurate commentary concerning government interference.

    I live in Chicago, so I knew Obama never delivered politically before running for president. I had no expectation that he would change after.

    The Republicans obviously were disengaged with reality, though barely worse than the Democrats.

    Those of us calling for positive action as a reaction to bad government have seen an excellent opportunity taken over by crazies.

  • Hitch

    Rick Santelli is a joke. It was OK to give billions to rescue wall-street and banks, but it was not OK to rescue the housing market.

    But only people who got screwed in the housing market are losers, not big banks, or big business. He talks about not wanting to encourage bad behavior 4 months after his own branch got a massive anti-libertarian rescue. And noone on CNBC, not even the supposed early teapartiers would say anything.

    Government intervention is only deplorable when it helps sectors other than ones own.

    But helping a housing market that wall-street had helped inflated, and failed to properly predict the risk management is not OK, but helping those who actually did the main damage. That is A-OK. And suddenly noone talks about moral hazard anymore… strange.

    I’m sorry the tea party never was seriously libertarian, and Rick Santelli never was seriously libertarian either. He’s a shill at best.

  • Richard P.

    From article:

    we need people to really stand for faith and trust, not hope and change.

    How bat shit crazy does a person have to be to make a statement like that.

    I think if any of these people get voted in, some one might need to come up with a “second amendment remedy” for them. I can’t believe they can say stuff like that. Isn’t that inciting a civil war? Don’t you guys still have laws on the books that say you can string people up for that? We did it to Louis Riel. We can lend you the platform.

    Watching the U.S. function is a lot like watching TV, sometimes you have to sit there shaking your head, wondering how do people come up with that shit? It’s scary being your neighbour, it feels like living next door to a crazy person and wishing they didn’t own a gun.

  • muggle

    Richard P, very well put. I’m in NY so the Canadian border that my grandmother crossed to meet my grandfather often seems tantalizing near, especially when listening to these idiots spout off. I feel like I’m trapped in the house with the gun-toting loons and the inmates are running the asylum.

  • Nigel Patel

    I wouldn’t be so confident that the Dr.s Paul are at all secular.

    “The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers. On the contrary, our Founders’ political views were strongly informed by their religious beliefs. Certainly the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both replete with references to God, would be aghast at the federal government’s hostility to religion. The establishment clause of the First Amendment was simply intended to forbid the creation of an official state church like the Church of England, not to drive religion out of public life. The Founding Fathers envisioned a robustly Christian yet religiously tolerant America, with churches serving as vital institutions that would eclipse the state in importance. Throughout our nation’s history, churches have done what no government can ever do, namely teach morality and civility. Moral and civil individuals are largely governed by their own sense of right and wrong, and hence have little need for external government. This is the real reason the collectivist Left hates religion: Churches as institutions compete with the state for the people’s allegiance, and many devout people put their faith in God before putting their faith in the state. Knowing this, the secularists wage an ongoing war against religion, chipping away bit by bit at our nation’s Christian heritage. Christmas itself may soon be a casualty of that war.”

    Ron Paul 2003
    The Dr.s Paul are as Libertarian as the John Birch Society is and as Christianist as the John Birch Society is.
    Both Ron and Rand Paul are opposed to abortion under any circumstance. If that’s Libertarian then the term is meaningless.

  • Brian C Posey

    My favorite part is the “why am I in the picture” comment at the end. Ironically, it implies that the only reason two people would become a couple is for the sex.

  • edwords

    Karl Rove calls her ideas

    “nutty” and later backtracks sfter

    a right-wing fusillade.

    (For a few hours, he was a moderate.)

  • edwords

    Richard P in Canada- – -

    Look behind you, Richard, the fundies are now

    active in Canada. It’s a cancer.

  • JB Tait

    When I was taken to task for wearing all black by someone who thought it was devil worship, I pointed out that a lot of police forces wear black, as do nuns, ministers and priests. I could add that the Navy dress blues have the appearance of being black.

    What surprised me most was that in light of that observation, the woman actually changed her opinion.

  • jose

    Richard P.,
    “it feels like living next door to a crazy person and wishing they didn’t own a gun.”

    Well Richard, actually your crazy neighbor has got a huge arsenal full of atomic bombs. Sweet dreams.

  • Richard P.

    yes edwords, I am fully aware of that god rational people forgive me I was one once….
    I make a point of running off the thumpers every chance I get. However I live deep in the country and am 75% self sustained. The jw’s avoid our road now so my impact is minimal.

    @jose
    Yeah thanks for that, I really need not be reminded.

  • Happy Misanthrope

    Thinking about all the hot chicks in that video repressing any possible sexual outlet for their urges for years, and how starving for sex they must be as a result, really helped me get off :)

    If master-basting is wrong because it has no reproductive value, then chewing gum or drinking Diet Coke must be wrong because it has no nutritional value.

  • SeekerLancer

    Give Americans a slight taste of discomfort and they’ll follow any psychopath who claims to be their savior apparently.

  • Brian Macker

    Hitch,

    “Rick Santelli is a joke. It was OK to give billions to rescue wall-street and banks, but it was not OK to rescue the housing market.”

    Rick Santelli was against the bank bailouts. You need to get back in touch with reality.

    This entire article is ridiculous. Democrats have had candidates that are openly Christian, Communist, etc. That doesn’t mean the Democrat party isn’t secular, or is Communist, etc.

    Many of the rest of you need to get in touch with reality also. I don’t have the time to correct you all. Please think before you put fingers to keyboard.

  • cd

    Through god, all things are possible. Including genocide, rascism, child murder, and greed.


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