Not long ago, the religious right was the bugaboo of the American left. Whether it was the Moral Majority in the 1980s or the Christian Coalition in the 1990s, Democrats warned of a right-wing theocracy if churchgoing Republicans seized the levers of power.
The good news for secular types is that this once-powerful voting bloc is hard to find these days. That’s also the bad news.
You might not have liked the Christian right, but you’re really going to hate the post-Christian right.
Americans are losing their religion
Secularism continues its march. Over the last two decades, Americans belonging to a church, synagogue or mosque fell from 70% to 50%. Gallup found that adults declaring no religious affiliation has more than doubled.
Nature abhors a vacuum, not only in the physical world but also in the spiritual. If people aren’t getting meaning from their local religious community, they’ll seek it elsewhere.
Increasingly, Americans seek fulfilment in politics of all things. Count the Arizona Republican Party among its devotees.
Some are willing to die for their party
Most rolled their eyes, but the state GOP agreed that we should seek martyrdom to usher in the Kingdom of Don. “He is,” the party’s official account posted on Twitter. “Are you?”
In the early days of Christianity, believers would rather be thrown to Roman lions than reject their Savior. Now, we’re supposed to hold that same devotion so some flawed politician can have four more years in Washington, D.C.
Call me old-fashioned, but I’ll stick with the Trinity over Trump.
We’ve replaced prayer with protest
I follow this stuff for a living, but let’s be real. Politics is a grubby business in which amoral charlatans use fear and false promises to gain earthly power. They come back a few years later, blaming the other side for their lack of results.
In a republic, it’s a necessary evil. But politics is a terrible religion.
This divinization of democracy is sprouting up all over. Instead of spending Sunday at church, Republicans are flying flags in a “Trump Train.” Instead of listening to a sermon on racial tolerance, Democrats are accosting diners at sidewalk cafés. Instead of resting on the Sabbath, we waste our weekends cursing strangers on social media.
We’ve replaced prayer with protest then wonder why everyone is so angry.
Conspiracy theories rule both sides
Seeking meaning in politics is one thing, but seeking transcendence is even worse. Some have spent their lockdown immersing themselves in bizarre conspiracy theories.
Before the Kraken, there was QAnon. Once you’ve convinced yourself that a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles is plotting against Donald Trump, it’s easier to buy that Venezuelan communists hacked Dominion voting machines in Gila Bend.
Don’t be so quick to point fingers and laugh, Trump haters. “The Resistance” insisted Vladimir Putin hacked the 2016 election and that the White House was stealing mailboxes to rig this year’s. Prominent studies have shown that the far right and the far left share an equal enthusiasm for the conspiratorial.
Why this trend is likely to continue
Barring a new Great Awakening, the trend toward secularism is likely to continue. As we’ve seen, this doesn’t mean we’ll see a growing emphasis on reason and scientific materialism. It just means new religions, unmoored from tradition, humility and grace.
Perhaps political religion isn’t that new after all. The worship of power has been with us since the garden and has remained just as destructive.
So, I’m sorry, Arizona GOP, but I will not give my life for a politician. It’s not mine to give, anyway. It belongs to a much Higher Power.
Jon Gabriel, a Mesa resident, is editor-in-chief of Ricochet.com and a contributor to The Republic and azcentral.com. On Twitter: @exjon.