By now you may have heard that later this month, two climate science denying senators will most likely become the chairs of two different Senate science subcommittees. Marc Rubio, who claims that scientists are wrong about the human role in global warming, is the ranking member of the committee that oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Ted Cruz, who insists that global temperatures aren’t significantly changing at all, is the ranking member of the committee which sets the budget for NASA. Now that the GOP controls both the House and the Senate, they are better positioned to advance their conservative agenda without the encumbrance of a Democratic majority in either house. But what is that agenda, and where does it come from? How did men who openly deny scientific consensus get to be in charge of government oversight over that field? Why do they oppose the consensus and why did the people who voted for them do so? And who is Jesus Galt?
The answer is complex, and the causes are many; but I see two main culprits working in concert, and I’m going to try to explain who controls whom, how they do it, and what part I think religion plays in this whole scenario.
The Evolution of a New Hero
Like many critical thinkers, I went through a phase that lasted maybe a few minutes in which I thought Ayn Rand was a cutting edge revolutionary, come to save us from our own collectivist doom. It didn’t take long for me to realize how impractical and unrealistic her “objectivist” idealism really was. But that hasn’t stopped an entire generation of people from embracing her ideology. See, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Sometimes you get people who are just smart enough to absorb her countercultural philosophy but not quite smart enough to see what’s wrong with it. Or perhaps even worse still, they know exactly what’s wrong with it but they just don’t care because in the end they still come out on top. I’m not sure which of those two maladies afflict our current crop of political leaders, probably some combination of both. All I know for sure is that we seem to be witnessing a meticulously organized attempt at a slow-motion dismantling of FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society.
It’s not hard to figure out who would benefit the most from this endeavor. The wealthiest bracket of our country has been itching to roll back these changes for decades, and they’re finally beginning to see their hard work and planning pay off. Chief among “the one percent” are the famous Koch brothers, who together lay claim to more than $80 billion in financial assets. The younger Koch once ran for Vice President of the United States on the Libertarian Party ticket. His goal then as it appears to be now was nothing short of completely eliminating Medicare, Medicaid, the minimum wage, Social Security, the Post Office, the Federal Reserve, the EPA, the Department of Energy, the Department of Transportation, compulsory education, the SEC, the FAA, the FDA, OSHA, welfare, corporate taxation, and capital gains taxes, even supporting “the eventual repeal of all taxation.” In other words, he wanted a government small enough to drown in Grover Norquist’s proverbial bathtub.
That was a hard sell in the 70’s and 80’s, but their ilk has been diligently working since then to court a voting base which consistently votes against its own best interests, targeting especially residents of those very states which depend on these government services the most. Little by little they appear to be seeing the firstfruits of their labors. The deregulation of the finance industry freed them up to create money out of nothing, putting banks into the risk business and making derivatives markets a staple of the global economy. The deregulation of campaign finance via Citizens United and later McCutcheon has likewise opened the door for a much greater flow of unaccountable money into the coffers of, well, both major political parties. But these are merely accelerators of a move that was set into motion years ago. The most important move the super wealthy made was when they realized that they needed to find Jesus, and they needed to make him a gun-totin’ country music lovin’ conservative. I’m talking about the Southern Strategy.
I won’t go into great detail here because I’ve already written about this before (here and here), but the genius of these power players in American politics was to take the Bible Belt and claim it as their own in order to have a steady voting base for the next half-century. This required some reinvention, but they worked quickly and appealed to the white Southerner’s disdain for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and used it to weave a coalition of states still reeling from what they felt was an unacceptable loss of civic privilege. In the process, the Grand Old Party adopted the ideology of the white evangelical church so completely that it has today become impossible to tell them apart. Republican politics and evangelical Christianity have blended into an impenetrable epistemic enclosure which Allen Clifton calls “Republicanity.”
Jesus Galt is the offspring of the unholy union between two diametrically opposed ideologies: one which favors the resourceful and affluent, and one which champions helping the poor and the helpless. He is the blending of Ayn Rand’s iconic hero John Galt, who refused to help anyone who would not give him something in return, and Christendom’s Man of Sorrows, who once told a man to give away everything he owned with no thought for his own well-being. These two personages should have been impossible to mix, but somehow a generation of evangelical Christians have grown utterly convinced that the party of the wealthy represents God’s Own Party in modern American political life. They are the party of biblical values, which evidently has nothing to do with helping the poor and has everything to do with telling people when and how and with whom they can have sex.
Jesus Galt loves to hunt, and he’s a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association. Jesus Galt loves freedom, and he supports invading any country that doesn’t have enough of it (especially if they have large reserves of oil). He’s also a wee bit racist. He thinks gays are yucky, and he wants boys to be boys and girls to be girls. He endorses only one specific model of family and everything else is illegitimate. He also believes that hard work should see a person through, and anyone who doesn’t succeed must not have worked hard enough. He won’t countenance government benevolence because it promotes laziness and learned helplessness. People should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, because Jesus Galt only helps those who help themselves. This is the man Republicanity wants us to worship. He is a champion of small government, of big business, and of loud, demonstrative faith. He’s truly an ideal American deity.
What Part Does Religion Really Play in All This?
I don’t think the evangelical church made this happen. The truth is that they really never had much political power themselves until the people with really deep pockets figured out how easily this voting bloc could be led. Pastors were certainly flattered to be given a place at the grown-ups’ table of American politics, and they eagerly accommodated its less savory elements so that they could enjoy their promoted place of importance. Sitting right there, ripe for the picking, was a massive throng of well-organized, dutiful citizens with a penchant for conformist thinking and an eagerness to please those whom they felt God had put over them for their own good. They were perfect, frankly, and the wealthy snatched them right up. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. I am convinced that the trusting nature of this subculture built around faith played a huge role in the winning of the white evangelical world to the cause of conservative politics.
Growing up in church I was taught that I am a deeply flawed person, and that therefore I cannot trust my own judgment. I am a “fallen” person, prone to wander and susceptible to the nefarious purposes of an invisible bogeyman. Someone as helpless and wicked as me naturally needs an authority figure to come along and tell me how to think and how to live. Even my own critical thinking skills, which could otherwise evaluate the instructions that I receive, can’t be completely trusted because “the heart is deceitful above all things.” If we can’t trust our own reasoning skills, then what can we do? We can trust the people who are in authority over us to tell us how to think correctly, how to live correctly, and yes, how to vote correctly when Election Day rolls around.
I have written before that the Bible is a fundamentally anti-intellectual book, and while highly intelligent people have studied it and have used it in their own lives, they have done so despite its content rather than because of it. The tenor of the whole book teaches that we should distrust our own reasoning and accept its authoritative proclamations about every area of life. Science denialism comes naturally to the biblically minded, and those who want to equally embrace faith and reason must compartmentalize in order to avoid the pitfalls of too much biblical fidelity.
This distrust of reason, of education, and of science ranks among the most deleterious effects of evangelical and fundamentalist culture, and it’s among the characteristics which distinguish what I would call the harmful expressions of religion from the benign. I’ll write more in my next post about which kinds of religion I see as harmful, but today I just wanted to focus on this one trait. To whatever extent your religious tradition discourages critical thinking and scientific curiosity, I think your religion is harmful to the human race. A healthy human race questions things, and for that reason it won’t be so easily led by opportunistic oligarchs who play church to pander to their electorate.
I place a major portion of the blame for the gullibility of white Southern and Midwestern voters on their deeply religious naiveté. I think they’ve had it drilled into them that they must look up to their pastors as authoritative advisors in all matters of life, and it makes them easy prey for enterprising politicians and their kingmakers to snatch up for their own self-serving ends. Consequently, I see calling out the weaknesses of their religious tradition as an act of patriotism. It hurts us in the end that such a large chunk of the American population could be so completely taken in by this hybrid hero, Jesus Galt. He’s a contradiction in terms, and it’s astounding that they don’t see it. They’ve become so accustomed to living with contradictions and “mystery” that it never occurs to them that the traits of this figure are mutually exclusive.
I don’t think I can reasonably fight the super wealthy because I lack the resources; but I can try to convince my religious friends that critical thinking skills aren’t weapons of the devil. On the contrary, they may very well be what saves them from the false messiahs that have been pushed upon them by their culture.
Who is Jesus Galt?
He is a lie, that’s what he is. Don’t fall for it.