It seems to me what American Christian evangelicals are really scared of is not unfettered abortion, normalized same-sex marriage, transgender acceptance or teaching of biological evolution in schools.
No, those are just proxy worries for something far more fundamental.
In my view, evangelicals are most apprehensive that their core supernatural beliefs are relentlessly being rejected and ignored by Americans who, as the society grows ever more secular and nonreligious, increasingly accept the cultural trends noted above. Roughly a third of the population is now religiously unaffiliated (aka, “nones”), and that segment is rapidly expanding, according to an article in Religion in Public.
These cultural shifts, of course, are not viewed by Christians as a natural evolution of society but as existential threats to “inerrant” biblical dogma.
That the young are leading the exodus from faith and toward greater cultural tolerance is a particularly worrisome concern for the faithful, because it almost certainly bodes ill for the future of American Christianity.
This slow-motion but inexorable flight from religion clearly signals to evangelicals the inevitable erosion in the not-to-far-distant future of U.S. Christian privilege and cultural dominance the faith has enjoyed for centuries. Perhaps it’s only subconscious at the moment, but true believers must know what this irresistible trendline implies: that increasingly better educated and evidence-informed Americans are viewing Christianity’s supernatural dogma as existentially false, and, worse, that they may be right.
So, understandably, devout believers are loathe to entertain the idea that they may be wrong about everything.
And what believing Christians fear second most is an potential erosion of parents’ ability to enhance the constant at-home religious indoctrination of their children by also widely inserting their Christian nationalist messages (“In God We Trust,” “One Nation, Under God,” etc.) in secular public schools, as well as in on-campus Bible clubs and elsewhere in the public square.
This ominous foreboding may be one of the reasons Trumpian Republicans — largely evangelical Christians — have blithely jettisoned the prioritizing of bedrock GOP values, such as small government, personal self-sufficiency and fiscal responsibility, to focus almost entirely on “culture war” issues, such as school and civic prayer, illegal immigrants and same-sex marriage.
These are the visceral rather than objectively necessary issues the powerful Trump base of under-educated, over-spiritualized Americans truly care about — and are most motivated by. And since they vote as a numerically powerful bloc (tens of millions of them in the 2020 election), candidates let them pick the platforms they run on.
“It’s the culture, stupid,” to flip a quip famously coined by former President Bill Clinton’s campaign manager James Carville (“It’s the economy, stupid.”)
These bedeviling cultural worries of devout Christian parents were spotlighted in a post this week from the evangelical Cranach: The Blog of [Gene] Veith, titled “The Government Will Raise Your Children For You.”
Veith’s primary concern is framed in his lead paragraph:
“President Biden wants to add to his tab another $1.8 trillion for his ‘American Families Plan.’ That sounds good. Who would dare be opposed to helping American families? The question, though, is whether this measure would help families or replace them with the federal government. Especially when it comes to raising children.”
The plan element that concerns him most is President Biden’s proposed extension of public pre-school education to three-year-olds and government-subsidized day care. He poo-poos the argument that the plan will “help children, especially poor children, do better in school,” because he claims American education is already “doing such a poor job now.” He contends that Biden’s proposal is simply public baby-sitting, a means to allow mothers to work outside the home instead of raising their children at home full time.
Of course, mothers being at home full time is ideally a good thing — and studies show most mothers would prefer that — but practical reality is very different. A U.S. government Bureau of Labor Statistics document issued this month reported,
“In 2018, 80 percent of employed mothers with children ages 6 to 17 worked full time, compared with 75 percent of mothers with children under age 6. Employed fathers with younger and older children were about equally likely to work full time.”
The reason so many mothers choose to work is need. Roughly a quarter of U.S. mothers were single moms raising their kids alone (compared to 7 percent of dads) in 2019, and even in most two-parent families both spouses worked full- or part-time, according to a Pew Research Center report.
Veith contends the Biden plan promises to lead America into a dark place analogous to the cradle-to-grave raising of children to adulthood by government in Aldous Huxley’s novel of dystopian utopia, Brave New World. In that book, he says, the government “breeds, reproduces (via in vitro (hatcheries”), and indoctrinates children in massive “nurseries.”
Evangelicals today, although they don’t have kid hatcheries, do indoctrinate children in a massive, interconnected “nursery” — the giant ecosystem of Christian homes, churches and schools, which are accommodated and privileged by the wider once-majority Christian culture (although, as evangelical fears grow, that is eroding).
In a May 3 New York Times column, economist and Nobel Prize laureate Paul Krugman noted that regarding Biden’s plan “Republicans seem really upset about proposals to spend more on child care and education” rather than on physical infrastructure projects.
This echoes what I’m saying (or vice versa).
Krugman asserts that there’s more data showing benefits for government assistance to people and education than for roads-and-bridges types of infrastructure.
“For example, researchers have looked into the long-term effects of the food stamp program, which was rolled out gradually across the country in the 1960s and 1970s,” Krugman wrote. “Children who had early access to food stamps, the Washington Center for Equitable Growth concluded, ‘grew up to be better educated and have healthier, longer and more productive lives.’ Researchers have found similar effects for children whose families received access to the earned-income tax credit and Medicaid.”
But to Veith and other evangelists, such government aid dilutes personal vitality and steals the ability of parents to make sure their children are taught only what they see fit (including unsubstantiated fantasies taught as truth).
The GOP “stridently opposes aid to families,” Krug points out. Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee issued a statement decrying “Democrats’ top-down socialist agenda.” During Biden’s address to Congress last week, conservative GOP Sen. Marsha Blackburn likened the president’s day care proposal to “universal day care” in the former Soviet Union.
He said the GOP position on serving American families is paradoxical.
“The logic seems to be that providing child care is bad because it’s a liberal plot to force mothers to leave home and take jobs, but giving families unconditional aid is also bad because it would allow mothers to stay home rather than getting a job.”
The Republican ethos is unwavering: People are fully responsible for themselves, not government.
No matter how poor, underprivileged, disadvantaged, discriminated against or not White they may be.
Ironically, the inalienable rights of that segment of society may ultimately sink the GOP.