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Oct 16 2013

Is religion the real story behind the shut down?

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.

14 comments

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  1. 1
    jamessweet

    This is an interesting take. It has some resonance for me, e.g. as annoying as Rand-heads can be, they seem to at least know when they are beaten (and conversely, to be able to exploit victories in a tactically competent way). This hard core of the Tea Party seems to be more “Onward Christian Soldiers” about the whole thing — just marching forth in the absolute certainty that they will prevail, no matter how dismal their prospects may seem.

  2. 2
    colnago80

    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.

    Yet another frightening comparison to the situation in Germany in the early 1930s when the big industrialists like Krupp and Thyssen supported the Nazi party, considering it a bulwark against Bolshevism. Koch brothers anyone?

  3. 3
    colnago80

    The hard core born agains in the Rethuglican Party think that a collapse of the US economy followed by the collapse of the world economy will herald the return of Yeshua ben Yusef of Nazareth, which they believe will occur any day now. Thus they have no incentive to raise the debt limit, and in fact, have a negative incentive. It’s high time to realize that these clowns are totally deluded.

  4. 4
    raven

    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.

    I was saying that while I was still a xian. It was the fundies that started me on the road to ex-xian and anti-fundie xian.

    A lot of Oogedy Boogedy xianity is just right wing politics with a few crosses stuck on for show.

    And it is malevolent. Cults based on hate, lies, and hypocrisy that hate science, knowledge, and the USA in no particular order.

    The best that can be said it that they are destroying US xianity. The religion loses 2-3 million members a year and is projected to go below 50% in a few decades.

  5. 5
    raven

    A lot of Oogedy Boogedy xianity is just right wing politics with a few crosses stuck on for show.

    You really can’t separate the fundie death cults from the Tea Party. They are pretty much the same thing.

    And the Tea Party isn’t too popular right now. Last poll I saw, from the Wall Street Journal, Fox News on paper since Murdoch bought it, had the GOP approval rating at a record low 24%.

    They have already done some serious damage to the USA. Krugman says they have cut our economic growth by one third since they gained control of the house. If they do a lot more, always possible with a government shutdown and debt ceiling nonaction, that can go even lower.*

    I’m just guessing here but as the Tea Party rampages and takes hostages and loses popularity, it isn’t going to do their failing religion any good. What remains to be seen is whether the Tea Party/fundies destroy themselves first or the USA first and then themselves.

    *It can’t go much lower though. We are down to the Crazifaction limit, around 20%. 20% of the US population are Geocentrists who can’t diagram the solar system. That fact tells you that 20% of the US population will believe anything, no matter how stupid or false it is.

  6. 6
    raven

    The Tea Party is going to destroy the USA to keep a few poor, self employed, and preexisting condition people from getting…health insurance? It’s absurd.

    1. Ironically, the ACA isn’t that big a deal. It’s a minor tweak to our existing system that could cover 30 million people using a private insurance exchange. It will probably only cover 10 million people. That is not much in a nation of 317 million.

    2. The Tea Party rhetoric about slavery, the apocalypse, commie-ism and so on is just that, hyperbole with no basis in fact.

    3. Obamacare is based on Romneycare in Massachusetts. Last I heard, Massachusetts hasn’t fallen under the heel of the commies, satan isn’t in charge there, and Romneycare is working fine. Same for the other advanced nations which already have Universal Health Care.

    4. Ultimately, the Tea Partyists will probably be heavy users of the ACA. Already more Republicans than Democats have put their adult up to age 26 kids on their insurance policies, something permitted by Obamacare.

    It’s all just an excuse for the christofascists to throw a huge temper tantrum.

  7. 7
    coragyps

    “It is a shameful thing to be crazy on purpose.”

    ^ This week’s winner for Best Quote.

  8. 8
    Zain

    Oh the irony.

    Sometimes I wonder what the future holds for Americans and the rest of the world if we have such ignorant people holding office in a country that is supposedly the sole superpower in the world.

  9. 9
    mikey

    “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.”

    Taliban, anyone?

  10. 10
    colnago80

    As I cited above, Krupp, Thyssen for starters.

  11. 11
    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    US xianity…loses 2-3 million members a year and is projected to go below 50% in a few decades.

    but can we- the rest of the world- afford to wait that long?

  12. 12
    Leo Buzalsky

    Amanda Marcotte also wrote on this topic recently. As a sample:

    It’s no surprise, under the circumstances, that a movement controlled by fundamentalist Christians would be oblivious to the very real dangers that their actions present. Fundamentalist religion is extremely good at convincing its followers to be more afraid of imaginary threats than real ones, and to engage in downright magical thinking about the possibility that their own choices could work out very badly. When you believe that forcing the government into default in an attempt to derail Obamacare is the Lord’s work, it’s very difficult for you to see that it could have very real, negative effects.

  13. 13
    steffp

    Surprisingly, I have to chime in with that comparison. The Nazi ground troops – especially the SA – were practically disbanded soon after Machtergreifung, due to their latent right-wing anti-capitalism (the Strasser brothers). After that, industry interests were only challenged by the technical requisites of the shoah.

  14. 14
    GPriddy

    Another article theorizing about the possible strategy behind the willingness to send the U.S. into default:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deborah-caldwell/christian-dominionism-debt-default-_b_4097017.html

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