Count on Christians to mourn the death of something that never existed in the first place. No, I’m not talking about Jesus. I’m talking about their idea of the “Christian state:” this gauzy notion of and desire for a government run by Christians that forces everybody–Christian or not–to live more or less the way that most Christians think people should live, that gives preference to Christians and Christianity, and that is by turns indifferent to and hostile toward other religions and atheism. When you hear a Christian moaning about “the good old days,” they are almost certainly talking about this nebulous time when Christians were completely dominant over others, and a big part of that notion of dominance comes from the idea that the government has a part in enforcing and propagating Christian belief.
Disclaimer: We’re talking here about a fairly small-but-stridently-vocal segment of the religion, not every Christian in the world (thank goodness!), and as always, I want to be careful to delineate that fact before we get started. I’m talking about Christians who think “the good old days” were actually good, not the sane and loving Christians who are as horrified by those days of abusive overreach and miserable oppression as the rest of us are.
Alas for Christians of all stripes, Christianity is now failing fast–faster than any of us could ever have hoped, faster than any of us could possibly have believed. The only question at this point is whether it’ll be a surprisingly quick fade, or a sudden leap to irrelevance. So we are hearing more and more upset Christians reacting to their sudden, unexpected loss of dominance and privilege.
Though fundagelical Christianists (the term means roughly “extremist Christians who would really love to usher in a new theocratic state if only the rest of us would let them”) are still very clearly in the denial phase of their grief, with some of them not even out of their initial pre-recognition panic about the numbers of young people who are turning their backs on religious affiliation, the writing is nonetheless on the wall. And as is often the case in matters religious, Europe appears to be a bit ahead of us over here on the other side of the pond, so we can take a good look at what’s going on there and get a sneak preview of what we may well be experiencing here in a couple of decades. That sneak preview shows us that Christianity’s dominance and chokehold on politics may seem terrifying right now for anybody sane, but it is the last gasp of a dying religion whose adherents are very much on the wrong side of history–and moreover that they are swiftly becoming a quaint relic of yesteryear, much as we today look at those schools down South that still can’t have racially-integrated Proms.
And it’s about time. Christian Dominionism is based upon a bunch of faulty premises: that a huge chunk of people are the same type of Christians as the Dominionists are, and so of course their governments should be Christian as well; that Christians are by their nature more moral and upright than non-believers are, so they know best how to handle everything, and so their will should override our own wills, and they have some sort of special dispensation from their god to force the rest of us to heel.
The first part of that series of premises is totally false at this point: here’s a neat article about the vast gulf between “people claiming to be Christian” and “people who actually attend church regularly.” In England, over 70% of the population claims to be Christian, but less than 2% attend church! Now, obviously, someone can be a terribly fervent Christian and not attend church very often, but you don’t see that mindset in fundagelical Christianity much; that mindset stresses outward shows of piety, and one of the outward shows of piety fundagelicals really take seriously is frequent church attendance (when I was a Pentecostal, I was in church almost every single day or night, sometimes both; the very least one could slide away with was three times a week–Sunday morning and evening, plus midweek). The Christians who are most eager to take control of our government are definitely not the “spiritual but not religious” types who see church attendance as–at most–optional. As for the second, we’ll be getting to that in a bit here, hang in there.
Now, this decline in religiosity is happening in the States too, of course; we know that most folks here do not attend church regularly if at all. I live in a hugely Christian area, and even so, there are not many churches–and of the ones there are, their parking lots are usually only half-full even on Sunday mornings. So I can see this decline even here, in an area known for its religious folks, and chances are you folks can too. Start looking at church parking lots–the big churches, those are going to be full, but the small and average-sized ones are likely going to be nowhere near crowded. And the folks you see walking into those churches, statistically, will be middle-aged and older folks, not young families or newlyweds or even college kids; without new blood, churches don’t normally survive very long.
And with those churches’ decline in population will come an inevitable decline in Christian dominance in politics. It had to happen–like any pendulum, it had to swing from one extreme to another. We had a taste of what things were like with a pack of meddling, hypocritical busybodies in charge, and now we’re going to have to clean house. And we will, because we must, because Christian dominionism was from its very inception a diseased, sick outgrowth of a hypocritical, deluded, power-mad variant of Christianity.
The concept of the Christian state was borne of political expediency. Someone–Dick Nixon, most likely–figured out that he could use Christian outrage about abortion and integration and whatnot to propel himself to victory, and suddenly conservatives began really appealing to hard-liner Christian fundagelicals. It was absolutely shameless, and it worked so marvelously that this strategy of pandering was the Republican go-to for the next fifty years or so. To get elections won, fundagelicals would even climb in bed with (SHUDDER) Catholics or (GASP!) Mormons–but what mattered most was that “Christian values”–defined here as anti-women’s rights, anti-LGBTQ rights, racism, a weird kind of Old South fetishism, and science-denialism to the exclusion of any other “value”–were being forced onto Americans for their own good whether they liked it or not.
And this conceptualization of the Perfect Christian State took over in Christians’ minds for quite a while, but it couldn’t last forever–not with the advent of the Internet and easy access to information, and not once people began to really see just what a Christianist-dominated government looked like. And we saw exactly what it looked like.
It looked like women who’d died trying to access abortion care they desperately needed.
It looked like huge numbers of teenagers pregnant and stricken with STDs because they were given incomplete or erroneous information about their bodies and told just not to have sex.
It looked like gay kids committing suicide rather than be “broken” and forced into a life of celibacy or else face the specter of eternal torture at the hands of their “loving” deity, and like LGBTQ people being demonized, arrested, imprisoned, and physically harmed just for the “crime” of loving the “wrong” person or for dressing or acting the “wrong” way.
It looked like a wave of violence the likes of which we have never seen, thanks I think in large part to a society that celebrates childishness and infantilization and refuses to teach young folks how to channel their powerful impulses and strong emotions in a safe and mature manner–and in large part thanks to a religious worldview that has deadened our moral compass with a shocking and breathtaking redefinition of hatefulness, bigotry, marginalization, abuse, oppression, and degradation into love in order to more effectively steamroll and hurt outsiders.
It looked like an increasingly polarized and judgmental bunch of religious fanatics who don’t care who they trample or dehumanize as long as they get power over others and indoctrinate everybody they get their filthy hands upon.
It looked like denial of the truth, self-serving distortions of reality, removal of basic American rights like the right to vote, and of course flat-out lies as Christianist politicians have tried to wrestle votes by any means possible from an increasingly hostile populace.
Think I’m kidding? Let’s just look at one state, and just one week. In South Carolina alone, we had the following things happen:
* On Tuesday, A guy wigged out and shot his girlfriend, her relatives, and some children–a couple of kids escaped, but he got two of them.
* On Thursday, a county employee got sentenced for embezzling an impressive amount of money. On the same day, an elementary school principal got booked for not reporting some abuse that’d occurred at his school. (Don’t you wonder what that abuse was?)
* On Friday, a 13-year-old girl had to go to the hospital with a bleeding head wound she’d gotten from her mother, a 30-year-old woman who thought it was awesome to hit her own child in the head with a fucking hair-styling iron.
* Yesterday, a morphine-addicted mother killed her newborn baby with breastmilk; she’d somehow omitted revealing that she was pregnant or nursing when getting the prescription for the drugs from her doctor, and somehow also omitted mentioning she was totally strung out on morphine to her OB/GYN.
And South Carolina is about as fundie as it comes. Apparently nobody got the memo to the good people of that state that they are supposed to be living the dream rather than destroying themselves like rats in a crowded cage–and threatening and hurting dissenters while they’re at it. Wouldn’t you guess that a state as gung-ho as this one would have wonderful Christians living in peace and harmony in a downright utopia? How could it possibly be that a state this Christianist, this invested in dominionism, this utterly dedicated to Christian ideals, could possibly be such a hellhole of poverty, crime, abuse, and violence?
My answer to that question is that the Christians dominating those areas are trying to enforce poorly-thought-out ideals without caring in the least whether or not those ideals actually work in the real world on real people. Fundagelical ideals just don’t work. We’re finally starting to realize that, the same way we slowly began to notice that “family values” politicians were usually the ones getting caught diddling gay guys and children or visiting prostitutes or whatever. But rather than adjust the ideals for reality, which fundagelicals cannot do because they are convinced they got those ideals straight from their god, they drill down all the harder on those unworkable concepts and try to find some way to shoehorn them into society even if they must lie and sneak around to do it. They celebrate the few people those ideals seem to work okay for, but ignore or denigrate the many for whole those ideals produce nothing but pain–including themselves.
If you look too far in other super-Christian states, you will see the same endless litany of misery and abuse and predation. It wearies the spirit, but I encourage you to do it. You will not see a Utopia in any of these states. You will only see the Hell Christians imagine we are bound for. To get your optimism back, though, you can look at the more secular states–which are way closer to that Utopian ideal than any Christianist state is, in pretty much every single direction. It’s the craziest thing, this idea that the harder you try to force Christianist dominance onto people the worse they do, and it seems this concept’s reverse is also true.
This dysfunction we see in the South and in other Christian-heavy areas is what happens when Christians get their hands on government, and it is not a pretty sight. But they either totally don’t see the reality through their Christian fog, or else they deny it entirely or act like it’s all just a packaging or marketing failure. For the last ten years I’ve been getting this clear impression that they’re convinced that if they just tweak the concept the right way, if they just package it better, if they just sell it correctly, if they just say the right magic words to explain it, then suddenly they’ll start winning again, but I just don’t see that happening. There just isn’t going to be some magical incantation that makes it okay to strip people of their civil liberties and human rights. There won’t be some magic way to sell the dismantling of the middle class nor the marginalization of certain groups of people.
So the concept of the Christian state is dying, and I hope it gets done dying very soon.
Are you wondering when it began to die?
The concept of the Christian state failed when Christians decided that two people wanting to love each other forever in a formal union was more upsetting than millions of people without health insurance. It failed when Christians decided that they cared more about fetuses than they do about the reality of struggling women. It failed when the rest of us learned that Christians can look straight past poverty and find a hundred and one reasons to justify owning SUVs and sprawling McMansions in the suburbs, but get their panties in a total bind at the idea of a person having consensual sex outside of marriage.
The concept of the Christian state failed when Christians decided that they knew better than all the rest of us how we ought to live our lives in every single minute detail, and when they decided that anybody who stepped outside those bounds–especially as touching sex–needed to be punished.
I use the terminology “the concept of the Christian state” here very deliberately, though, because I don’t think there ever really was one of those, at least in the US. It was not founded as one, no matter what delusional nutbar revisionist Christianists want to believe, and over and over again, we have affirmed that there is a distinct separation between church and state–a freedom of and from religion (not just for Christians, as–again–delusional nutbar revisionist Christianists want to believe). There was only the idea of the Christian state, one that lawmakers struggled to make happen or fought against seeing happen, one that voters got manipulated into supporting or else fought at the polls to deny. Christian dominance was a very ill-fitting dress forced and tied onto a mannequin–the Constitution–that simply did not fit the dress, and I think we’re finally seeing that now.
Oh, there’ll be some pushback as we climb out of the pit of religious dogma. Already in England some jerkwad has already insisted that England is Christian, and atheists should “get over it.” (Note the poll on that page, though: the majority of respondents disagree!) I wonder if he’s talking to himself or to us? And in the same way, that earlier link I gave you to Christian Post has the author insisting that after all, the church isn’t going anywhere because Jesus is in charge of it, so don’t worry at all and stick your heads back in the sand, my little lovely ostrich chicks… It’ll be interesting to see what those two folks say in another decade, won’t it?
But we may not need to wait that long.
You might like this piece, written by a Christian leader over in the UK, about how gay marriage indicates the end of the “Christian state” as Christians like to imagine it. It’s an interesting piece, as much for its tunnel vision as for its air of sullen resignation. For example, the author writes that he’s got a sad that equal marriage has somehow become the main “defining issue” of churches:
It is a pity that same-sex marriage has become the defining issue, as opposed to say the authority of the Bible or the atonement, but in God’s providence the introduction of gay marriage will force a choice between obedience to the Word of God, which clearly prohibits sexual intimacy between people of the same gender, and accepting how the state defines marriage.
And then, two sentences later, he uses same-sex marriage as the defining mark of a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ church and one that’s doing Christianity totally wrong.
I encourage you to read the piece, no matter what religious persuasion you might have. It’s an amazing bit of defeatism, one that tries to rescue some good from the fire, but it’s got a lot of good points to it: namely, that Christians have long been used to the comfort and security of cultural dominance and hegemony, but their religion shouldn’t depend on it, and they need to quit acting like whinybutt victims and bleating about their delusions of false, nonexistent persecution and start getting on with all that stuff Jesus actually told them to do.
Running governments is not what Jesus told Christians to do. Running other people’s lives is not what he told them to do either. Tittering at sex like prurient teenagers and making sex the most important thing in the whole Christian faith is especially not what he told them to do. Taking care of poor people and ministering to the sick is what he told them to do. If you don’t know that the Great Commission was actually a much later addition to the Gospels, then you might add “spread the Good News” to that list.
But if Christians could actually manage those tasks, then we wouldn’t be in the pickle we are now, would we?
None of that should involve “forcing people to live in a way that makes Christians feel cozy and comfortably dominant.” After all, if we are not Christian, then it hardly matters if we have sex or not–so why be so adamant about punishing us for having it? If we are not Christian, then why does it matter if we drink or do not drink, if we shop on Sundays or not, if we are straight or gay or polyamorous or whatever else, as long as we are not causing physical harm or loss to anybody else? Virgins go to Hell too, don’t they? Are Christians tacitly admitting here that works can lead someone to salvation? Or are they afraid that their god isn’t actually “convicting” anybody at all and without their dominance, nobody’d live the way they want people to live?
Yeah, it’s going to be really interesting to see what happens as Christianity becomes less and less well-regarded and as its more extremist elements’ politics becomes more and more abhorrent to voters. I’m glad to be alive to see it all happen.
We’re going to talk next about another college anecdote of mine, one I mentioned briefly but want to expand upon: this time I had to talk to a very antagonistic professor of mine. See, sometimes–rarely, but it happens–a professor really is kind of antagonistic toward Christianity, and I’d like to share what happened when I ran into one. I hope you will join me on that journey.
* A Handy Guide to Christian Outrage, because I can already guess that someone reading this piece will need it.
* Another day, another Republican sexual scandal. But this one involves a man and woman, not two men or a child or anything, so don’t worry, he won’t be losing his job or nothin’.