Suckers for Jesus
August 19, 2004
By Ernest Partridge, The
Republican party, once the home of liberals, conservationists, internationalists,
and moderate Christians, is now dominated by an improbable alliance
of libertarians, free market absolutists, greedy plutocrats, and
The first three, "the secular right," clearly gain a great deal
from their alliance. But how have the Christians, "the religious
right," been persuaded to cast their lot with the Republican party?
How does one convince millions of devout Christians to accept
a secular political-economic philosophy developed and articulated,
in large part, by atheists?
How does one, in addition, enable this same multitude of Christians
to disregard how their political allies are taking cash out of their
pockets and redistributing it upward from the middle class and the
poor to the already wealthy, at the cost, in addition, of impoverishing
essential social services, aid to the poor, and placing a crushing
debt upon future generations?
Finally, how are these Christians persuaded that the moral teachings
of Jesus of Nazareth are somehow consistent with aggressive foreign
wars, the increased enrichment of the wealthy, the denial of relief
to the poor, comfort to the afflicted, education for the young,
and employment for the jobless?
No small accomplishment. But the political geniuses of the radical
right who have captured the Republican party have brought it off.
They had to. For without the inclusion of the religious right in
their coalition, they would lack the foot soldiers - the votes -
that are essential to their political power.
Here are the players:
The libertarians are champions of "limited government,"
believing that the only legitimate functions of government are the
protection of life, liberty and property - by means of the military
(defense against foreign enemies), the police (defense against domestic
enemies), and the courts (protection of property). Taxes in support
of anything else - schools, the arts, environmental protection -
are regarded by the libertarians as unwarranted seizures of private
property, in a word, theft. (For more about libertarian doctrine,
see my "With
Liberty for Some" and "Environmental
Justice and ‘Shared Fate'").
The free market absolutists - the phrase is from George
Soros - embrace and promote the economic program of the libertarians.
The FMAs believe that all social problems and government functions
can best be dealt with if all national assets are privatized, and
if the free market exchange of goods, services and investment assets
is allowed to proceed without impediment. In other words, the FMAs
believe that the optimum social order is obtained, "as if by an
invisible hand" (Adam Smith), through the summation of individual
self-enhancing "capitalist acts between consenting adults." (Robert
Nozick). (See my "The
The plutocrats' governing ideology can be distilled down
to a single word: More! Like George Bush, they "don't do nuance."
Plutocrats hate governments because governments impose taxes and
because they regulate the plutocrats' enterprises. Plutocrats recognize
no "public interest." As Commodore Vanderbilt famously proclaimed,
"the public be damned - I work for my stockholders." Plutocrats
defend and promote free enterprise and competition - among their
rivals. For themselves, they much prefer monopolies. Despite their
proclaimed enmity toward government, they seek control of government
as an instrument of their personal wealth-enhancement.
(There are still other components of the Radical Right alliance,
such as the neo-conservative imperialists and the "paranoid right"
of militias and skin-heads. But for the sake of simplicity, we will
leave them aside).
Together these factions plus the religious right constitute a
formidable political force. The plutocrats supply the money, the
libertarians and free marketeers articulate the political dogma,
and the fundamentalists provide the votes. (Kevin
Phillips writes that "according to national polls in 2000, evangelicals
and fundamentalists cast fully 40 percent of Bush's vote, and his
84 percent support among committed evangelicals was higher than
any previous Republican nominee.) Without those votes, the political
clout of the right-wing regressives would collapse, and the right
would be appropriately relegated the fringes of the body politic.
This is a very agreeable arrangement for "the secular right" -
the libertarians, the free-marketeers, and the plutocrats, who have
little to dispute amongst themselves. But the alliance of the secular
right with the religious right is a marriage of convenience - convenient
for the secular right, which prefers to keep its pious partners
barefoot, ignorant and pregnant. "Barefoot" in the sense of being
impoverished and ignorant of how they are being exploited, and "pregnant"
in the sense of being vote-producers.
For close inspection reveals that the secular and religious right
have little in common, and because this is so the secularists are
anxious that the religious right refrain from such close inspection.
Consider the contrasts:
Many of the most prominent promoters of libertarianism during
the past forty years have been avowed atheists; among them Ayn Rand,
Nathaniel Brandon, John Hospers and Robert Nozick. Yet this appears
not to bother the evangelicals.
In addition, libertarians share with many liberals a determined
opposition to government interference in the private lives of individuals.
Accordingly, the libertarians endorse the legalization of marijuana,
pornography and prostitution, and they oppose anti-drug laws, restrictions
on abortion and discrimination against homosexuals. Strange, isn't
it, that the fundamentalists appear not to notice this agenda of
their libertarian allies?
Furthermore, the secularists are, of course, generally well-educated
and scientifically sophisticated, and thus they accept evolution
and reject biblical literalism. They may, however, occasionally
pretend otherwise in order to mollify the fundamentalists.
Next, there is the issue of economic justice. It is a safe bet
that the socio-economic-educational status of the average fundamentalist
is markedly below that of average American citizens. This means
that many fundamentalist families are one paycheck or one serious
family illness away from financial disaster. Can they not appreciate
that their wealthy allies on the right are not "their brothers'
Under the right-wing economic policies, the rich get richer while
the middle class and the poor hold their ground - if they are lucky
- and lose ground if they are not. And there is the ever-growing
threat of unemployment. For the vast majority of our fellow citizens,
the pittance of Bush's federal tax refunds are more than offset
by the necessary increases in state and local taxes and in the loss
of government services - fire and police protection, health care,
public schooling, financial aid for higher education.
We all know the sorry economic conditions brought on by right-wing
policies. Why then do the victims, who happen to adhere to "old-time
religion," meekly support their oppressors? And why does Jesus'
admonition to the rich man - "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell
that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure
in heaven: and come and follow me." (Matt. 19:21) - not apply to
their political leaders, or, for that matter, their "spiritual leaders"?
The most jarring disconnect, however, is between the morality
of secular-right policies and behavior on the one hand, and the
clear message of the ethics of Jesus on the other hand. For those
who need reminding, read once more The Beatitudes from the Sermon
on the Mount: (Matt. 5)
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for
they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.
Fundamentalists like to ask: "What would Jesus do?" Good question!
So let's ask them:
- Would Jesus launch a war of choice against a non-threatening
- Would Jesus cut back on school lunches for poor children?
- Would Jesus decline to comfort those who mourn as the soldiers'
caskets arrive at Dover Air Force Base?
- Would Jesus sign 155 death warrants, giving the clemency appeals
only a cursory glance?
George Bush wants to tell the world that he's been "born again."
But "born again" to what? To pacifism, humility, compassion, mercy,
forgiveness, frugality? The Bible teaches that "By their fruits
shall ye know them." (Matt: 7:20) It seems that Mr. Bush has not
learned very much from his favorite political philosopher. (See
Would Jesus Do?").
Why, then, do religious fundamentalists follow, and vote for,
wealthy and powerful individuals who openly violate the basic moral
teachings of their Lord and Savior? True, there are bloody and brutal
chapters in the Bible, and the millennial ("rapture") fundamentalists
often preach as if the Book of Revelation were the only book in
the Bible. But the fundamentalists also believe that the recorded
words of Jesus in the Gospels are the words of God Himself. And
the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount that contains it, are
the central foundation of Christian ethics.
What fundamentalist Christian would deny that Jesus said, and meant,
"Blessed are the Peacemakers?" If they believe this, then if they
would "do what Jesus would do," they must come to terms with its
Given these clear and unyielding foundations of Christian morality,
how has the secular right managed to seduce the fundamentalists
so completely? Surely this must stand as one of the most amazing
accomplishments in the history of marketing!
The tacticians of the right began, as all good salesmen begin,
by identifying the "hot buttons" of the "mark" (customer),
and proceeded to push those buttons.
Fundamentalists crave strong and charismatic leadership. So such
leaders were sought out, and then lavishly funded, enabling them
to establish colleges, publishing houses and broadcasting networks.
Hence the spectacular growth of such subsidiaries of Jesus, Inc.
as Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, Pat Robertson's Regent University
- and, before they were busted - Jim and Tammy Bakker's "PTL Club"
("Pass the Loot").
Fundamentalists are most comfortable with a Manichean world view
- a concept of the world as a battleground between unalloyed good
(us) and evil (them). ("You are either with us or against us." -
GWB). For several decades, Communism fit the bill supremely well.
But with the fall of communism, new evils had to be identified,
and so they were: Islam abroad, and liberalism at home.
The demonization of liberalism is a text-book example of "branding"
- piling emotions and attitudes onto a label. Until recently, "liberalism"
was a honorific term, as indicated by its dictionary definition:
"favoring reform or progress ... specifically favoring political
reform tending toward democracy and personal freedom for the individual."
(Websters Unabridged, 2nd ed.) And, in fact, when a cross-section
of the American public is asked about such liberal advancements
as the minimum wage, social security, Medicare, racial integration,
environmental protection, etc., a large majority approves.
But the word "liberal" itself has been so besmirched by the right
that in self-identification polls, "liberal" generally comes in
a poor third to "conservative" and "moderate."
The right has, in effect, established a separate and distinct
definition of "liberal," so that it is effectively equated with
"libertinism" - sex, drugs and rock 'n roll. In addition, the right's
use of "liberal" connotes the stifling of religion, welfare cheating,
profligate government spending (as in "tax-and-spend-liberals")
and even, in the hands of such uninhibited ranters as Ann Coulter,
In short, this redefined "liberalism" serves well as
an embodiment of evil to the religious right. And when this sense
of "liberalism" is associated, through constant repetitions,
with the Democratic party - well, you know the rest.
Finally, the tacticians of the right have learned that fundamentalists
are typically much more sensitive to personal immorality (sin) than
they are to social immorality (injustice). Thus when, for example,
George Bush speaks to the religious right, his themes are "right
to life" (anti-abortion) and opposition to gay marriage, but rarely
economic injustice, ethnic discrimination or civil liberties. Recall
that on the contrary, secular libertarians are very tolerant about
private personal conduct, provided that it is "victimless." But
the libertarians also take care not to make a point of this in the
company of their allies of the religious right.
It follows from the preceding account that if the Democrats are
looking for a wedge that might disable the political clout of the
regressives, then here it is. The fundamentalist Christians have
been "had" - suckered - by the libertarians and oligarchs. Thus
the fundamentalists have worked diligently and faithfully toward
their own disadvantage and undoing.
If the rank and file of fundamentalist Christians in the religious
right can somehow be shown that they are being used to further the
interests not of themselves but of their oppressors, and that by
so doing they are violating the central moral precepts of their
Lord and Savior, then the political power of the radical right will
collapse. (Assuming that our public offices continue to be founded
on the consent of the governed, through free and open elections.
If not, then all bets are off.)
Accordingly, Christian conservatives should be prime recruitment
targets of progressive political movements, including the Democratic
wing of the Democratic Party.
How might the fundamentalists, the foot soldiers of the radical
right, be persuaded to abandon their service in behalf of their
exploiters on the Right?
First of all, moderate and liberal religious leaders must shed
their reluctance to involve themselves in politics. Normally, such
reluctance is justified, for it is responsive to our tradition of
the separation of church and state. But these are not normal times,
for there is no such reluctance on the part of the religious right
to throw themselves into the midst of our politics. Thus, when the
field of political contention and debate is abandoned by one side,
the other side prevails, and much of the public comes to believe
that the fundamentalists must be right because no religious leaders
see fit to disagree.
And so, it is past time for liberal and progressive religious
leaders to speak out - and to act out, by participation in peace
protests, by personal involvement with and assistance to the poor,
and with active support of progressive candidates and participation
in the political process. In particular, liberal evangelicals should,
like Jimmy Carter, take the lead in preaching and demonstrating
by example the Christian virtues of compassion, charity, humility
The hypocrisy and venality of prominent leaders of the religious
right must be exposed. The fall of Jimmy Swaggert and the Bakkers
threw cold water on the over-heated fanaticism of their followers.
It is past time to expose Pat Robertson's investments in African
diamond mines and his dealings with African despots like Liberia's
Finally, constant attention and exposure must be given to the
un-Christian behavior of the plutocrats, and the un-Christian implications
of their policies. Cruelty, callousness, greed and aggressive warfare
are not Christian virtues.
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in
the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He publishes
the website, The
Online Gadfly and co-edits the progressive website, The