Religion, politics, and abortion

A piece by “writer and consultant” Jacob Lupfer on my local paper’s “Faith & Values” page talked mainly about political independents. But this got my attention:

“For decades, scholars and practitioners agreed that religion was the causal factor that shaped political behavior. New research upends that assumption: Partisanship affects religiosity. It is a foundational social identity, driving rather than flowing from values and attitudes . . . people bring their religious beliefs in line with their party . . . Instead of assuming that Christianity is their primary loyalty, we should see evangelicals as Republicans first who toss religious values aside to accommodate their Trump support.”

I have previously written of polling research showing that political tribalism has become the salient one in shaping felt personal identity in today’s America, even more powerful than religious tribalism. But that doesn’t mean the former drives the latter. As though being a Republican Trumpeter causes you to be an evangelical Christian. I still think the causation runs the other way, even if the resulting political identity does turn out to be the more powerful.

But that’s not to say, either, that their Republicanism mirrors their religious values. That might have been more true in past times, when what the Republican party represented did align better with what Christianity supposedly stands for. However, Trump has shattered that correspondence, representing, really, the antithesis of traditional Christian values. Yet he retains their allegiance; indeed more strongly than any previous Republican leader.

Why? Because today, again, it’s the political tribal identity that rules as never before. Even superseding the actual content of the beliefs. What Trump and Trumpism actually represent do not, in the final analysis, matter that much. It transcends that sort of rationality. It’s more simply us-against-them.

So how does one get sucked into such a tribe in the first place? I increasingly think it’s more psychological than political or ideological, having a lot to do with self-image. How guys see themselves. In a word, macho. There’s a notion that Democrats are the party of weakness, Republicans the strong party. Democrats the party of snowflakes and pussies; Trump’s the party of pussy grabbing. Even some women voters are susceptible to such attitudes. This partly explains why “grab them by the pussy” didn’t destroy Trump’s candidacy. The macho factor outweighed the ewww factor.

Hillary’s gender didn’t help; it fed into the idea of Democrats as the girlie party. And the Kavanaugh drama was in part about men pushing back against what some of them see as an emasculating war upon them.

And, of course, there’s also the white tribe against the browns.

But religious affiliation does play a big role too. Fundamentalist Christians, by and large, were fundamentalist Christians before they were Republicans; and certainly before they were Trumpers. And if you are deeply embedded in a social milieu full of fellow fundamentalists, most of whom are also Republican tribalists, that will naturally be your tribe too.

In this way, the religious and political tribal identities reinforce each other. They meld together into one overall outlook upon the world. Never mind any internal contradictions (don’t ask WWJD about separating immigrant children from parents). Rationality is again dispensable. It’s the tribe uber alles.

And there is this consistency: the ability to seal oneself off from reality and inhabit instead a make-believe world. One created 6,000 years ago, ruled by a benevolent God, wherein evolution didn’t happen but Noah’s flood did (don’t ask why so many innocent people and animals were drowned), with final justice administered in Heaven and Hell. If you believe all that, it’s but a small further step into the world of Fox News, where Trump is a truth-telling champion of Christian values, making America great again in the face of a deep state conspiracy witch hunt.

Yet the political behavior of fundamentalists might seem rational in relation to one big issue: abortion. Their final line in the sand, after having irretrievably lost on a wide range of social issues, like gay marriage. And on abortion they might actually now be close to a big victory, rolling back Roe v. Wade. But what shall it profit a man if he gains the world and loses his soul?

They see abortion as a key moral issue. But it’s become such an obsession, fogging their minds, that they lose sight of the bigger picture. Even if they were right about abortion (and they do have a point, albeit carried too far) — with everything else going on in today’s huge complex fraught world — is abortion really the number one issue? Many seem more concerned for the potential human life in a fertilized egg than the lives of actual living human beings (like the 30,000+ Americans killed annually by guns). As if “right to life” is only for the unborn.

And there really is a much bigger moral issue than abortion. Is winning on abortion worth the price of damaging the Supreme Court as a pillar of our civic life, our bastion of impartial justice, sullying it with a stink of political and religious partiality (not to mention of beer and attempted rape)? Worth handing the leadership of the nation to a monster of depravity? Worth complicity in his assault upon truth, decency, and everything good and great about America? Worth blinding yourself to it all? Worth losing your soul?

(Cartoon by Matson. Pillars labeled “Gorsuch” & “Kavanaugh”

Thomas Friedman’s latest column warns that scorched earth politics is heading us toward literal civil war. He says a Rubicon was crossed when Republicans trashed norms of democratic governance by stealing a Supreme Court seat. Yet that didn’t stop their shamelessly vilifying Democrats for holding up the Kavanaugh nomination. Our tribe’s always right; the other evil.

They vaunt the “right to bear arms,” as supposed protection against tyrannical government. What will unfold in 2020 if they lose power — and believe that somehow illegitimate?

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