So it is the morning of the 16th day of the shut down and the stalemate over that and the debt ceiling continues. As is almost universally accepted, this is entirely due to the efforts of a minority of members within the Republican party who seem to be driven by a fervor that has seized on the Affordable Care Act as some kind of demon possessing the body politic that must be exorcised or the nation will plunge over the cliff like the pigs in the Bible. They say they will not accept anything less than a major undermining of the ACA.
While religious metaphors like the one above have been invoked to describe the thinking and actions of this group, in response to my earlier post on the Republican crack up, reader Bob S posted a comment linking to a piece by Frank Schaeffer where he argues that it is not a metaphor, and that the true story of this shut down is that religion is driving it.
The Tea Party’s no compromise hostage taking tactics weren’t born out of a vacuum. They have the air of the intransigence of doctrinal certainties about them.
You can’t understand the radical hostage-taking right in Congress today outside of the context of the evangelical battles with the very idea of compromise. (Maybe I’m especially attuned to this fact because my late father Francis Schaeffer was a religious right leader.) Sure, there are a handful of Ayn Rand/groupies and libertarians thrown in and sure the Koch brothers are following their own crazy Bircher agenda while inadvertently financing the demise of the US government, but none of these folks represent the true base of the Tea Party/Republican Party.
Schaeffer’s father Francis had an interesting history that I read about a long time ago. Starting out as someone who was religious and fairly liberal both in politics and theology, he was transformed by the abortion issue, particularly after the 1973 Roe v, Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized it. Opposing abortion became his passion and it is he who is sometimes credited with bringing the various religious denominations and evangelical groups under the single identifying label of ‘Christian’ and making them into a powerful political force, laying the foundations for people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. His son Frank grew up in that environment of right wing evangelical Christian politics and so has an insider’s view of it. He is a writer and filmmaker and was a key lieutenant in his father’s army waging war on abortion rights, making films about it, but late in life became disillusioned and left the movement, converting to the Greek Orthodox church. He remains a Christian and still calls himself pro-life.
He says in his piece that he thinks the media is shying away from this religious angle because of the ‘respect for religion’ trope that dominates coverage in the US. He says that this must change.
Religion can’t be off limits anymore. It’s not just time to expose the crazy in the GOP, it’s time to expose the fact that personal belief isn’t sacrosanct. Evangelical Christianity is a curse to America. It’s time to say so. It is a shameful thing to be crazy on purpose. The shutdown is the naked face of nutty religion exposed.
Believers have been folded into one deadly destructive, economy-threatening entity by the Republicans. It’s time to stop being any less forcefully truth-telling about religion than we are about politics. They are one and the same. The shutdown is a slow motion religious extremist attack on America being carried out by those living in the netherworld of apocalyptic fantasy.
I think that Schaeffer is right that religion is playing a role, maybe even a major one, but that would only explain the intransigence of the block of the 50 or so members of the House Republican caucus that has stymied any attempt at a resolution. It would not explain why they have the strong support of groups like the Heritage Foundation, FreedomWorks, and Heritage Action which have seized on overthrowing the ACA as a key issue and are threatening to fund a primary challenge to anyone who does not vote to undermine it.
These groups are not overtly religious but have emerged as a major players in the shutdown and now seem to be the ones that are issuing orders on how those members should vote.
The most recent attempt last night by speaker John Boehner to draft a bill to open the government and raise the debt ceiling collapsed when Heritage Action let it be known that they did not like the fact that it let the ACA off lightly and ‘urged’ Republicans to vote no, though the urging was really a threat.
The Heritage Foundation, Heritage Action, and FreedomWorks are primarily homes for wealthy right wing interests. These groups have lots of money but are themselves not large numerically. They need ground troops as well to carry out their agenda and they may well be using the religious nutters to further their own interests, even if they do not fully share in their evangelical fervor.
But history is littered with the debris that resulted when too-clever-by-half powerful people tried to co-opt extreme religious groups to serve their ends, thinking that they could manipulate them, only to find those groups becoming uncontrollable and wreaking havoc. The Republican party leadership has already realized this with the conservative religious groups that it nurtured and considered its base now turning on it as not being true believers. These other groups may well come to rue the day that they decided to promote and support the religious crazies.