Religion Dispatches

Here's why conservatives really oppose federal aid for the 'undeserving'

There is a singular and profound question that tugs at the sleeve of even the most sober analyst pondering the federal response to coronavirus. To wit, what the hell is it with these people? Although he's since backed off the proposal Michael Gerson couldn't figure out why Trump would decide to re-open the nation on Easter:

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‘Restart the Economy’ is a prayer to a conservative God who demands human sacrifice

According to classic interpretations of the Jewish and Christian Bibles, a Canaanite deity named Moloch demanded the sacrifice of children. There is a long history of writing about this bloodthirsty god spanning the ancient world to John Milton’s Paradise Lost to Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” to modern social commentators. One recurring point is that the depravity of Moloch was reflected in his insatiable lust for innocent flesh. 

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Here's the data that shows Americans who rage against political correctness are the most xenophobic — and most likely to vote Trump

Admittedly, Trump’s initial references to “the Chinese Virus” earlier in March seemed rather ad-hoc. Though clearly xenophobic in context and implication, it seemed that Trump was casually parroting the language of other far-Right commentators like Charlie Kirk. Within the past week, however, Trump has ramped up his labeling campaign, often going out of his way to refer to COVID-19 as “the Chinese Virus” in Twitter storms and White House press briefings.

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From licking floors to praying for an inept government: America's churches react to the coronavirus

It's particularly important for churches that continue to meet during the COVID-19 pandemic to follow the guidelines laid out by health experts given that worship services are among the largest regular gatherings in modern society, among the most physically intimate, and likely include the greatest number of vulnerable people. Even single members of large congregations can have a dramatic effect on how coronavirus spreads or doesn't, as South Korea found out the hard way.

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Does 'criss-cross apple sauce' make yoga secular? Opponents of yoga in public schools have a point

Alabama is the latest state to reconsider its stance on yoga, as reported by The New York Times earlier this week (an article for which I was interviewed). The 1993 Alabama State Department of Education Administrative Code prohibits public school personnel from using “any techniques that involve the induction of hypnotic states, guided imagery, meditation or yoga,” and defines yoga as “a Hindu philosophy and method of religious training in which eastern meditation and contemplation are joined with physical exercises, allegedly to facilitate the development of body-mind-spirit.” 

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How the coronavirus has exposed the religious right’s racism

On March 10, President Trump retweeted a post from conservative political activist Charlie Kirk, who referred to the coronavirus (COVID-19) as the “China Virus.“ Kirk also exclaimed in his tweet, “Now, more than ever, we need the wall…the US stands a chance if we can get control of our borders.” Trump retweeted this and added the comment, “Going up fast. We need the wall more than ever!”

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What’s so scary about the inclusion of ‘God’ in the Russian constitution?

Last Friday, the House’s Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights heard testimony that Russia’s human rights record, including its record on religious freedom, is worsening. There were few surprises in Elizabeth Cassidy’s testimony—particularly for those who’ve been paying even the most passing attention to the Putin regime’s power grab both at home and abroad. Cassidy, the director of research and policy at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, told the Congressional commission, “The Russian government maintains, frequently updates and enforces an array of laws that restrict religious freedom…These violations are escalating, spreading through the country and even across its borders.”

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William Barr promotes Christian tyranny in latest speech

I’ve said it before, and if you’re reading this, you’ve very likely heard the same thing darkly muttered among liberals and progressives if you haven’t said it yourself: I never thought anything could possibly make me miss Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. And yet, with his willingness to throw away our norms, checks, and balances, to politicize the Justice Department, to sacrifice the rule of law itself on the altar of Trump—current Attorney General William Barr has done it. As authoritarian as he was, invoking Romans 13 to defend the Trump administration’s indefensibly inhumane policy of caging children separated from their asylum-seeking parents, Sessions had at least enough genuine concern for the rule of law to recuse himself from the Mueller investigation, against the tweeter-in-chief’s explicit wishes.

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How the religious vote in 2020 could tip 6 swing states

Let's look at the bad news from this Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) tracking survey first: despite remarkably lousy-but-stable favorability numbers (41% approve, 55% disapprove), Pres. Trump has a strong chance of being re-elected in November, unless the situation changes significantly between now and then.

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The 'nurtured insanity' of a fundamentalist upbringing

There is a great exodus taking place in Christian circles. Can it be called a loss of faith? I don’t think so. It is rather a loss of confidence in everything at once. Christianity has always been about “the Word,” but these days, words don’t seem to matter. They’ve lost their power to describe and convince in the face of horrible deeds, from climate-change denial to the persecution of trans people to the wholesale abandonment of Christ’s teachings in favor of abusive meanness. The hard-right white evangelical voter gave us Trump. The church sat silent as industrial oligarchs ruined the earth.

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The 'pro-life swing voter' some moderate Democrats chase is a myth

A thing that I do not understand is why journalists assume that Democratic presidential candidates absolutely must respond to pro-life activists, or deal with The Abortion Problem. I sometimes think it's because they teach you in journalism school that every four years Swing Voters sprout from the earth like cicadas demanding propitiation. And if the Swing Voters are not sufficiently placated, all manner of hell will break loose, like Swing Voters clinging to God & guns or refusing to speak to responsible centrist journalists in Midwestern diners so the poor scribblers can't expense their rice pudding. Things happen!

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Pete Buttigieg: Citing ‘Matthew 25’ isn’t a viable Democratic faith outreach strategy

John Stoehr, who has been one of my favorite political commentators for a while now, went ding-an-sich in yesterday’s column, discussing the difference between politics itself and the way we talk about politics. “It’s good to step back and talk about how we talk about politics,” Stoehr says, “especially given that how we talk about politics is often as real as Santa Claus and unicorns.”

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New research may explain the weakness of centrism and the religious left

A new profile of the wonderfully foul-mouthed political scientist and rising election prognisticator Rachel Bitecofer describes her theories about voting as “unsettling,” and there’s no question that they’ve been received that way by many. They certainly have caused a stir.

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Trump admin grant to Christian supporters ignites Twitter firestorm over taxpayer funded religious coercion

Reuters’ Sarah N. Lynch broke a big story on Monday morning highlighting one of the more outrageous examples of the Trump administration’s penchant for rewarding supporters and punishing opponents:

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Amy Klobuchar feeds trolls with pro-life ‘big tent’ talk

Of course some Democrat took the bait from the Dems-for-Life types, because of course they did, and of course it was Amy Klobuchar, because… of course:

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Here's how Trump's State of the Union address was a white Christian nationalist dog whistle

Amid the ripping paper and misbegotten medals, Trump’s State of the Union address promised nationalism with a distinctly Christian bent.

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Trump’s reality-TV gimmicks and xenophobic rhetoric in his SOTU speech appeals to evangelicals — here’s why

Since late December, 2019, when retiring editor-in-chief of Christianity Today Mark Galli published his infamous “Trump Should Be Removed from Office” editorial, there’s been a great deal of buzz in the pundit class over whether Trump, after a highly publicized impeachment trial, needs to be concerned with possible defections in his white evangelical base. From an analytical standpoint, the buzz is mere noise, horse race politics nonsense from people who don’t understand that most white evangelicals have long since come to regard CT as “too liberal.” As John Stoehr observed on RD back in December, “It’s not going to change much.”

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Nihilism-on-meth: This is the surprising key to understanding Trump and his Christian enablers

Last night President Trump gave his State of the Union address, the night before his expected acquittal in a sham impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate. To paraphrase Dylan, you gotta belong to somebody, and I at least would like it to be someone better than a walking avatar of nihilism.

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Electability of Biden is more 'conventional' -- and less 'wisdom'

As Democratic voters prepare to go to the polls, you’d be forgiven for having a feeling of déjà vu. Just as in 2016, Donald Trump is running as the Republican nominee. Just as in 2016, Bernie Sanders is mounting a surprisingly strong bid to win on the Democratic side. And, just as in 2016, much of the mainstream media and Democratic powers-that-be are putting their faith in a longtime establishment “moderate” as the more “electable” choice for the party. Four years on from Trump’s election, both everything and seemingly nothing has changed.

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The 'choice' lie: The school voucher SCOTUS case isn't about giving students options. It's about coerced support for religion

Before walking over to the Senate to preside over Donald Trump’s impeachment, this morning Chief Justice John Roberts presided over one of the most significant cases before the Supreme Court, Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue. Some argue that this is a case about religious discrimination or school choice. It’s not. It’s about religious liberty. True religious liberty.

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Mormon statement on feminism is relevant and timely -- but only by coincidence

“What is the Church’s stance on feminism?” This is the question addressed in a brief anonymous statement (four paragraphs, thirteen sentences, 224 words) published in January’s issue of the New Era, a magazine for youth published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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Christian nationalists aim to dismantle this core freedom

As Frederick Clarkson noted on RD earlier this week, every January 16 we celebrate Religious Freedom Day. On this day 234 years ago, the Virginia Assembly passed the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, setting in motion what, according to Clarkson, “may be the most revolutionary and liberatory idea in the history of civilization.”

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Don't let bigoted campaigns sour you to the revolutionary idea of religious freedom

On January 16 we celebrate Religious Freedom Day to commemorate what may be the most revolutionary and liberatory idea in the history of civilization. It was the reason many joined the American Revolution. It’s the first freedom in the First Amendment. But despite all this, we as a society have forgotten or taken its power for granted.

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The evangelism of TED Talks has an eerie resemblance to this 19th century religious tradition

The top ten most watched TED talks are, in order, about:

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Hank Azaria's Offer to Stop Voicing Apu on 'The Simpsons' Came Way Too Late

This week, Emmy Award-winning actor Hank Azaria finally offered to stop doing the voice of Apu, the Indian caricature on The Simpsons.

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Why America's Handmaid's Tale Doesn't Look Like Hulu's

The following was originally published on June 15, 2017. 

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Trump May Be the End of the World As We Know -- But For Some Evangelicals That's Just Fine

In the flurry of coverage surrounding the evangelical Christian voting bloc that overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump, I’ve seen many images of happy people holding “Thank God for Trump” signs and commentary about conservative Christians who are deliriously happy about new protections for Christian liberty and proposed “pro-life” legislation.

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Is It Time to Admit the 'Grotesque Caricature' of White Evangelicals Is the Reality?

This week dozens of prominent evangelical leaders gathered at conservative Wheaton College, in Wheaton, IL, to address the “grotesque caricature” of their faith in the Trump era. The organizer of the gathering, Doug Birdsall, told the Washington Post that under Trump’s leadership, the term “evangelical” has taken on too many negative associations, especially when it comes to racism and nationalism. The goal of the gathering, then, was to address these concerns while returning the word “evangelical” to its core meaning. Rather than a political pariah, an “evangelical” is simply “a person who believes in the authority of the Bible, salvation through Jesus’ work on the cross, personal conversion and the need for evangelism.”

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When You Argue With a Fundamentalist You Don't Know What You're Asking For

One of the biggest questions I received after writing about Trump, evangelicals, and the end of the world for RD was this: how do we talk to people who see the world as collateral damage in the pursuit of the Heavenly Kingdom? Is it even worth trying to nudge people out of that worldview? 

My post-evangelical advice? Be very, very gentle—you don’t know what you’re asking.

Here’s an exhibit. When I was twenty-one years old, someone finally knocked it through my thick head that the earth was old. I was halfway through Geology 100 when, on one otherwise dull afternoon, the professor said something—I don’t even remember what—and a puzzle piece snapped into place. I sat up straight. The earth was old. Not six thousand years old. Billions of years. What did that mean?

I’d grown up evangelical Christian. We weren’t as conservative as some—and, to the outside eye, we probably looked pretty normal—but like so many others, we were fully immersed in the evangelical worldview. While you wouldn’t find us picketing abortion clinics, all the core ideas were there under the surface: we were Biblical literalists and against same-sex marriage. We believed America was God’s country, voted Republican and pro-life, and expected the rapture at any minute. We were also six-day creationists, with science textbooks that warned us to beware of any statement that contradicted the Bible.

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