Over the last few days, I watched The Family on Netflix, a five part series on this shadow cabal of fanatical Christians bent on shaping the American government. It’s horrifying. But then, I read the book, also horrifying.
It’s a kind of understated horror, though — it’s not sensationalist at all, and that might be a flaw in the documentary. These people march through the halls of power, and all they do is say Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. They say nice things about the power of Christ, but they don’t push the Bible or fundamentalism, but only constantly invoke the name of Jesus to authorize their use of power…for anything. There are these interviews and recordings of smug, confident people asserting with unshakeable certainty that Jesus wants them to do the things that they do, and the evidence that they are exercising Jesus’ will is that they have power. Power itself is proof that God wants them to use that power.
There are little hiccups in their philosophy, like John Ensign, the former Senator who thought his title meant he could cheat on his wife and use his position for a coverup, or Mark Sanford, the South Carolina governor who made “hiking the Appalachian trail” a synonym for having an affair. It’s funny how the personal peccadillos get them in trouble, but they apply the same attitude to everything, including acts of corruption and sedition. The laws don’t apply to them, because Jesus.
It’s a documentary that is also rather frustrating as an atheist, because it never engages with the lie at the heart of the Family. They don’t know Jesus. Jesus is not talking to them. Jesus is dead, and the godly prophet they imagine is a fiction. In a few places it tries to rebut the Holy Certainty of the Family by arguing that Jesus wasn’t that bad guy, that he also wanted to help the poor, for instance, but that kindly Jesus is also only in your imagination and is also another example of Holy Certainty.
You can use Jesus to argue for whatever you want, he’s never going to speak up and tell you you’re wrong. The only way to win that debate is to never engage in it — every time Jesus is your backup, it’s just your id and predispositions speaking, and don’t allow them to pretend otherwise.
The Jesus thing is also never ending. I hope our next president is someone who can say “no” to the National Prayer Breakfast, a creation of the Family, but I doubt that even the candidates I like will be willing to do that.