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False God
January 10, 2004
By Andrew Sarchus

Since the early years of the Reagan Administration, members of the "religious Right" have performed as the shock troops of the Republican party’s conservative base. They turn out the vote from hundreds of church congregations, particularly in the South and West. So-called "evangelicals" constitute the fastest-growing segment of the Christian faith, and people identifying themselves as evangelicals vote overwhelmingly for Republican candidates and GOP-backed voter initiatives. While most American mainline churches opposed the Bush Administration’s rush to war in Iraq, the religious Right lined up solidly behind the hardliners. Christian conservative rank-and-file members clog talk radio and letters to the editor with denunciations of "Godless" liberal plans concerning the environment, education, taxes, and the Middle East.

While religious Conservatives enjoy thinking it is they who control the destiny of the Republican Party, the truth is that GOP leaders are using the religious Right as electoral cannon-fodder. The GOP power structure will pander endlessly for votes of middle-class Conservative Christians even as its policies rob them of their economic and social future. In truth, the religious Right worships a false God, a God created by Republican leaders to extract votes in return for…a mess of pottage.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer coined the term "cheap grace" to describe a condition where personal sacrifice is not required in order for one to follow Christ’s teachings. The Republican leaders have spun this idea for the religious Right so that the personal sacrifice shall always be from someone else. Republican "cheap grace" manifests itself in the Congressional vote against "Partial Birth" Abortion, ardently supported by Conservative Christians. In effect, criminalizing this procedure poses no financial or moral burden on the religious Right—the burden falls on the poor women who lose their right to privacy and the sanctity of their own bodies. Likewise, the Florida Legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush invoked "cheap grace" in their recent unseemly rush to "protect" the life of a woman with no cognitive functions. The woman’s family, not the politicians or their voter base, must bear the continuing burden of keeping her alive in a persistent vegetative state.

After three years of ruinous deficits, the damage done to the economy by GW Bush and his ideological team is obvious to everyone. Most members of the religious Right have failed to benefit (along with the majority of middle and lower-class Americans) from any tax cuts or "economic recovery". Many religious conservatives are numbered among the nearly three million unemployed Americans. Yet Conservative Christians cling to false beliefs such as Bush being "appointed by God" to lead the USA in a time of great crises. Pat Robertson declaimed on his 700 Club that God has told him George Bush will win re-election in a "blowout", and the shock troops lapped it up. Why is this so? Perhaps the acceptance of such ludicrous eschatology has its roots in the religious Right’s long- running battle against scientific facts that conflict with the "literal" Bible account of Creation. As countless debates about Evolution vs. Creationism have demonstrated, when historical evidence refutes the creationist argument, Creationists declare that the evidence itself is suspect, that God deliberately deceives us about nature. The recent flap over creationist books sold in the Grand Canyon National Park Bookstore is indicative of the deep antiscientific bias of Christian fundamentalists. Debates of this sort hark back to the Inquisition, if not the Dark Ages.

The political ambitions of the Christian Right have been obvious since Ronald Reagan began courting its constituents in the early 1970’s. One key objective of the movement seems to be to define Christianity’s central figure in terms that can be satisfied only by GOP stalwarts. Cal Thomas, a loyal pundit and armor-bearer for the Christian Right, recently penned a column dealing with the Democratic Presidential Candidates (chiefly Howard Dean) and their attempts to cope with the perceived "God gap" vis-à-vis the GOP. Gov. Dean was interviewed by The Boston Globe concerning his religious beliefs and said he was "a committed believer" in Jesus Christ. Dean then explained that Jesus sought out those people who were "left behind" and "fought against the self-righteousness of people who had everything." Gov. Dean’s comments about Christ are well-supported by each of the four Gospels. In summing up his beliefs, Dean said that Jesus "set an extraordinary example that has lasted 2,000 years…"

Cal Thomas pounces on this last statement like Torquemada on a suspected heretic. Sooo, Thomas poses to his readers, the good Governor apparently regards Christ as a mere "example" of a great teacher, but not (perhaps) as the Savior and the Son of God! Having previously noted that Dean’s wife is Jewish and her faith takes "a distinctly different view of Jesus", Thomas steps away and leaves his reader to infer that Gov. Dean is, at best, a "political opportunist" out to "bamboozle" the religious who may have the temerity to consider voting Democratic.

I believe we may expect many more attacks of this sort by the Christian Right on the religious sincerity of Democratic candidates. When confronted with the solid Biblical example of Christ’s ministry, the arrogant, rich, and self-righteous persons who now control the Republican Party must inwardly cringe. Thus the litmus test suggested by Cal Thomas: what counts is whether the politician publicly says Jesus is Divine—not whether the politician believes in following what Jesus said, did, or taught. GOPers from Bush to Sen. Frist to John Ashcroft are quick to proclaim their belief in Christ’s Divinity. However, today’s Republican leaders ignore the words of the Apostle Paul and Thomas a Kempis, who wrote at great length about Christians living their lives in imitation of Christ—in humility, honesty, truthfulness, and compassion--all traits conspicuously missing from GOP leaders. In the canon of Republican Leadership, publicly stating that one believes in God and Christ trumps any efforts by "others" to follow Christ’s teachings. This ploy works with the shock troops of Christian fundamentalists, even when GOP policies work against their social, environmental, and economic interests.

As a devout Christian and a United Methodist, I conclude this essay with a paraphrase of The Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines: I am ashamed that George W. Bush is a member of my denomination. The current leaders of the GOP are little more than modern-day money changers in the temple of our Republic. The Christian Right, blind to the hypocrisies of these leaders, will no doubt continue to support the GOP and its false God. Will the rest of us—the majority of those of all faiths—be able to join together and drive the Republicans from power in November?

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