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GOP Insider: How Religion Destroyed My Party

In the new book, "The Party Is Over," veteran Republican Mike Lofgren writes about the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism and how the GOP devolved into anti-intellectual nuts.

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The religious right’s professed insistence upon “family values” might appear at first blush to be at odds with the anything but saintly personal behavior of many of its leading proponents. Some of this may be due to the general inability of human beings to reflect on conflicting information: I have never ceased to be amazed at how facts manage to bounce off people’s consciousness like pebbles off armor plate. But there is another, uniquely religious aspect that also comes into play: the predilection of fundamentalist denominations to believe in practice, even if not entirely in theory, in the doctrine of “cheap grace,” a derisive term coined by the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. By that he meant the inclination of some religious adherents to believe that once they had been “saved,” not only would all past sins be wiped away, but future ones, too—so one could pretty much behave as before. Cheap grace is a divine get- out-of-jail-free card. Hence the tendency of the religious base of the Republican Party to cut some slack for the peccadilloes of candidates who claim to have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and reborn to a new and more Christian life. The religious right is willing to overlook a politician’s individual foibles, no matter how poor an example he or she may make, if they publicly identify with fundamentalist values. In 2011 the Family Research Council, the fundamentalist lobbying organization, gave Representative Joe Walsh of Illinois an award for “unwavering support of the family.” Representative Walsh’s ex-wife might beg to differ, as she claims he owes her over one hundred thousand dollars in unpaid child support, a charge he denies.

Of course, the proper rituals must be observed before an erring politician can obtain absolution. In November 2011, at a forum sponsored by religious conservatives in Iowa, all of the GOP presidential candidates struck the expected notes of contrition and humility as they laid bare their souls before the assembled congregation (the event was held in a church). Most of them, including Cain, who was then still riding high, choked up when discussing some bleak midnight of their lives (he chose not to address the fresh sexual harassment charges against him, which surely would have qualified as a trying personal experience preying on his mind). Even the old reprobate Gingrich misted up over some contrived misdeed intended to distract attention from his well-known adventures in serial matrimony.

All of these gloomy obsequies of repentance having been observed, Gingrich gave a stirring example of why he is hands-down the best extemporaneous demagogue in contemporary America. Having purged his soul of all guilty transgressions, he turned his attention to the far graver sins bedeviling the American nation.

If we look at history from the mid-1960s, we’ve gone from a request for toleration to an imposition of intolerance. We’ve gone from a request to understand others to a determination to close down those who hold traditional values. I think that we need to be very aggressive and very direct. The degree to which the left is prepared to impose intolerance and to drive out of existence traditional religion is a mortal threat to our civilization and deserves to be taken head-on and described as what it is, which is the use of government to repress the American people against their own values.

That is as good an example as any of cheap grace as practiced by seasoned statesmen like Gingrich—a bid for redemption turned on its head to provide a forum for one of the Republican Party’s favorite pastimes: taking opportunistic swipes at the dreaded liberal bogeyman. How quickly one forgets one’s own moral lapses when one can consider the manifold harms inflicted on our nation by godless leftists!

 
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