Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The Resilience Of Republican Christianism

Mike Johnson, the latest manifestation of the fundamentalist psyche.

Mike Johnson at a press conference surrounded by House Republicans who had just elected him Speaker. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A long time ago now, toward the end of the Bush era, I wrote a book called The Conservative Soul. Reeling from big-government, neoconservative, war-mongering, torture-loving Cheneyism, I tried to sketch out the essence of an actual conservative sensibility and politics: one of skepticism, limited government and an acceptance of human imperfection.

My point was that this conservative tradition had been lost in America, in so far as it had ever been found, because it had been hijacked by religious and political fundamentalism. I saw the fundamentalist psyche — rigid, abstract, authoritarian — as integral to the GOP in the Bush years and beyond, a phenomenon that, if sustained, would render liberal democracy practically moribund. It was less about the policy details, which change over time, than an entire worldview.

And the intellectual right effectively dismissed the book. The Wall Street Journal didn’t even bother reviewing it. The New York Post said I “can’t go for long without circling back to gay issues”; John Derbyshire implied the same, even though there’s very little of that subject in the book. Jonah Goldberg mocked it as shrill piffle. I was just a gay man pissed off by the religious right, and I’d allowed that to cloud my thinking. Here is David Brooks, echoing the conservative consensus in 2006:

If I hadn’t been reviewing this book, I wouldn’t have finished it. I have a rule, which has never failed me, that when a writer uses quotations from Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and the Left Behind series to capture the religious and political currents in modern America, then I know I can put that piece of writing down because the author either doesn’t know what he is talking about or is arguing in bad faith.

As any number of historians, sociologists and pollsters can tell you, the evangelical Protestants who now exercise a major influence on the Republican Party are an infinitely diverse and contradictory group, and their relationship to these hyperpartisans is extremely ambivalent.

Well, we all get things wrong from time to time. And with the elevation of hardcore Christianist Mike Johnson to the Speakership in a Trump-dominated party, I think we can safely say that David’s dismissal of Christianism hasn’t exactly aged well. The idea that members of the religious right form an “infinitely diverse and contradictory group” and were in no way “hyperpartisan” is now clearly absurd. Christianism, in fact, turned out to be the central pillar of Trump’s success, with white evangelicals giving unprecedented and near-universal support — 84 percent — to a shameless, disgusting pagan, because and only because he swore to smite their enemies.

Trump even had a proselytizing effect on his flock:


Leave a Reply