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The Religious Right, the Republican Party and the Absence of Conscience

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-24-06 09:35 PM
Original message
The Religious Right, the Republican Party and the Absence of Conscience
Edited on Mon Jul-24-06 09:47 PM by Time for change
For as long as I can remember, one my greatest ambitions has been to understand evil. For that reason I have read dozens of books on the subject, a great many which involved Adolph Hitler and his era which I have always thought of as the very embodiment of evil. Two questions on this subject have been paramount in my mind: How did Hitler become so evil, and why did a nation follow him in pursuit of realizing his evil dreams?

In recent years my attention has shifted from Hitler to what I see as the evil engulfing my own country. And as this has happened, my ambition has shifted from trying to understand Nazi Germany to trying to understand Bush America, while at the same time noting the parallels between the two and coming to the conclusion that the same thing can happen here if we Americans dont recognize the danger and respond to it with appropriate vigilance.

A crucial key to understanding the current political equation resides in the relationship between the Bush administration and its two biggest supporters wealthy corporations and the Christian Right. It is not at all difficult to understand why wealthy corporations are tied to the hip with this administration: The whole purpose of the Bush administration is to enhance their wealth and power.

But what about the Christian Right? Christianity is supposed to be a religion of compassion, and its founder, Jesus Christ, was the ultimate liberal, as discussed by Christian evangelical minister Gary Vance. Therefore it seems to me that it is a great paradox that Christians not all of them, of course, but most of them constitute a critically important base for the administration of George W. Bush. As I conclude in my article on this subject, The myth that the Republican Party is the party of Christian values is so far from reality that a vigorous effort to combat that myth surely should have some substantial effect.

Yet, with all my ruminating on this subject I could not think of a good reason why fundamentalist Christians should be so closely allied to the Bush administration, whose actions, far from typifying Christian values, are characterized rather by a complete lack of conscience. And then I read John Deans Conservatives Without Conscience, which proposes an answer to this paradox. And while I am not ready to totally accept Deans explanation, I must say that it seems to me to be the most plausible explanation I have yet heard on the subject.


John Deans explanation for why extremely religious persons often lack consciences

Throughout his book Dean makes strong connections between right wing authoritarians / social dominators, conservatives without conscience, and todays Republican Party. Actually, strong connection is too weak of a term to describe what Dean says about this. He virtually equates those three groups.

Dean goes on to say that it might be expected that right-wing authoritarians who are extremely religious evangelicals would have strong consciences That, however, does not seem to be the case. He then explains that polling data suggest that evangelical Christians are actually less likely to have strong consciences than most other people, and then he asks (as I did) How can this paradox be explained? And then he attempts an explanation, citing the research of Bob Altemeyer.

Right-wing authoritarians employ a number of psychological tricks and defenses that enable them to act fairly beastly, all the while thinking they are the good people.

The first two explanations are: 1) Right-wing authoritarians have very little self-understanding, often failing to realize that they are more prejudiced and more hostile than most people; and 2) They tend to have compartmentalized minds, which allow them to be oblivious to their hypocrisies that are so obvious to other people.

The third explanation specifically involves the religious aspect:

Right-wing authoritarians shed their guilt very efficiently when they do something wrong. Typically they turn to God for forgiveness, and as a result feel completely forgiven afterwards. Catholics, for example, use confession. Fundamentalist Protestants use a somewhat different mechanism. Many who are born-again believe that if you confess your sins and accept Jesus as your personal savior you will go to heaven no matter what else you do afterwards. (This is called cheap grace by those within fundamentalism who hold its members to higher standards.) In brief, when a great deal of misbehavior is engaged in by born-again Christians it troubles their fundamentalist consciences very little, for after all, they are Saved. So by using their religious beliefs effectively, right wing authoritarians have high moral standards in many regards, but pretty ineffective consciences.


A disclaimer

I believe that the above description is a bit too stereotypical, and I certainly didnt mean to offend Christians or other religious people. I have a lot of respect for many religious tenets, of Christianity and of other religions. And whereas I dont care for right-wing authoritarians of any sort, its hard for me to believe that none of them have consciences.

The Christians who mystify me and for whom Im likely to have little or no respect are the Republican ones, or the ones who feel that they should be able to abuse other people because Jesus will forgive them if they accept Him as their savior. Forgiveness has a very important place in our world. But when people repeatedly use it as a magic potion that allows them to act like Republicans without having to trouble their consciences, then they dont deserve to be forgiven in my opinion - because they have no remorse for what they did.

I dont know to what extent John Deans explanation as to why many fundamentalist Christians dont have consciences is correct. But it seems to me that its the most plausible explanation I have yet heard, and I certainly will give it a lot of thought.
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ima_sinnic Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-24-06 09:39 PM
Response to Original message
1. bookmarked for further study in the a.m.
--good analysis, I have been long befuddled by people with no conscience--and also by religious fundmentalists. The more I hear about Dean's book, the more I want to read it.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-24-06 11:17 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. Thank you - It's an interesting and very readable book
There seem to be a few loose ends, and I'm hoping that by the time I finish it some more things will be clarified.

Dean is a very interesting character. I was very impressed with his Watergate testimony. There was very little doubt in my mind that he was telling the truth about everything - and events later bore that out.

Interesting that in the book he says that he is a conservative, but it's hard to tell what he means by that. He later notes the characteristics of "conservatives with conscience", and I can't tell any difference between those characteristics and the characteristics that would describe any of us.
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liberalitch Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-25-06 08:59 AM
Response to Reply #2
9. Nixon and his cronies knew that he was "not like them"....
in some way.... Like animals, they could probably "smell the difference" on him.
He, as far as "the pack" was concerned, was to be sacrificed. I think that that disloyalty was painful to him. Even though he probably intended to do the right thing all along, I believe that he was goaded by the fact that the rest were content to hang him out to dry.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-25-06 01:07 PM
Response to Reply #9
13. That's not quite the way I remember it
As I recall, Dean decided to testify once he realized that what he was being asked to do was beyond the bounds of legality or morality. Before he came forward the Nixon administration appeared to be in little jeopardy, and there was no need to hang him out to dry. After he testified all hell broke loose, as more and more people were implicated and were faced with the choice of either committing perjury or doing additional damage to the Nixon administration.
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liberalitch Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-25-06 06:04 PM
Response to Reply #13
19. Remember the whole cancer on the presidency thing?
That was before he testified.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-25-06 07:07 PM
Response to Reply #19
20. Right, but I guess I don't understand your point
Dean warned Nixon in 1973 that there was a cancer growing on his Presidency. He did that because he was concerned that the actions of the Nixon Presidency were exceeding acceptable legal and moral limits, and he hoped that Nixon would change course. Nixon had no intention of changing course because he didn't much care if he was exceeding moral or legal limits. And that's when Dean decided to testify.
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Nothing Without Hope Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-25-06 12:06 AM
Response to Original message
3. "Cheap grace" - another term for avoiding accountability and getting
Edited on Tue Jul-25-06 12:42 AM by Nothing Without Hope
an open ticket to "sin." It makes a horrible kind of sense, when it's put together like this. Thank you for these insights. I have not yet read John Dean's new book - it will take a while to get my turn at the library copy.

And now we also have the craziest wing of the religious fanatics pushing for the end of the world, so the rest of us will be killed horribly and they will go to their great reward:
http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.ph...
thread title: Fundies Inside The Gates

For those collecting reviews of "Conservatives Without Conscience," here's a new one by Glenn Grenwald:
http://www.crooksandliars.com/posts/2006/07/23/john-dea...

Part of what Glenn says ties in with the religious angle:

What excites, enlivens, and drives Bush followers is the identification of the Enemy followed by swarming, rabid attacks on it. It is a movement that defines itself not by identifiable ideas but by that which it is not. Its foreign policy objectives are identifiable by one overriding goal destroy and kill the Enemy, potential or suspected enemies, and everyone nearby. And it increasingly views its domestic goals through the same lens. It is a movement in a permanent state of war, which views all matters, foreign and domestic, only in terms of this permanent war.


One of the defining characteristics of the neoconservative movement as well as of all religious and nationalist cultists is the gross oversimplification, as well as the obvious distortion, of moral judgement. The Good is them and the Bad is everybody they want to beat down. It's very tribal, very primitive. Maybe hardwired psychologically in some people as Dean's book suggests. Consider the focussed emotive power of black-and-white thinking and instant decisions - like Bush's - compared to the more nuanced perceptions and planning that reflect reality and sanity. That oversimplification, always accompanied with absolute certainty of correctness and accompanied by religious posturing, is like heroin to those who crave it. Such people will follow leaders promising it right over the cliff and see anyone who tries to tell them the truth as weak flipflopping liars or worse. It's really easy to fire up the followers when the buzzwords are so very simple and full of such delicious hate, all made "holy" or "patriotic" or "macho" or some sickening combination.

I see similar dynamics in much of the popular mass entertainment these days. Most people take it as entertainment, but for some, it mirrors reality all too cloely. It's life in a two-dimensional comic book universe. The heroic, divinely backed "good guys" against the godless, doomed "bad guys." It's enough to make the slobbiest, most unpopular losers not only strut like winners but salivate with anticipation of the suffering dished out to all those "enemies."

We are in such big trouble. We have to take all this into account in planning, but it is not going to be easy to turn this around. The media have largely suppressed interest and concern among the many people who would otherwise be calling for different decisions.

K & R

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-25-06 02:14 AM
Response to Reply #3
5. "Permanent war" -- Yes, I think that Glenwald catches the worst of it with
that. If anything sums up the desires of George Bush, permanent war is it -- as long as he can just sit back and bark out the orders while others fight in it.

Yes, we certainly are in big trouble. And I believe you are right about the media, that with a decent news media the people would be demanding impeachment right now, and Congress would be forced to do it. Of course, with a decent news media Bush never would have been elected in the first place.
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OneBlueSky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-25-06 01:59 AM
Response to Original message
4. don't forget the consenting Democrats . . .
their culpability is self-evident and far from trivial . . .

I was just this morning thinking about how the vast majority of humanity -- and other life on Earth -- is at the mercy of a small cadre of world "leaders" who believe that war is the only way . . . and there seems to be nothing that we, the people, can do about it -- not as long as BushCo controls the US elections process . . .

I was also marveling at the complete lack of empathy or human emotion these "leaders" demonstrate with their actions . . . whether it's phosphorizing Iraqi's or phorphorizing Lebanese, those giving the orders and their superiors appear to be totally indifferent to the horrific human suffering they are causing . . . they simply don't care . . .

how can sane human beings be so unfeeling? . . . be so completely lacking in empathy (or just common human decency, for that matter)? . . .

sane human beings can't . . .

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-25-06 07:13 AM
Response to Reply #4
7. I certainly agree with you that there is a complete lack of empathy on the
part of the Bush cabal that currently rules our country. I don't believe that every world leader who declares war has a lack of empathy. FDR, as just one example. I believe that he had a great deal of empathy for other people, but he recognized that the Nazis had to be stopped.

But let's not believe that there is nothing we can do about it.

Here is one thing that we can do, and that a lot of people are working on:

http://journals.democraticunderground.com/Time%20for%20...
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NMMNG Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-25-06 02:24 AM
Response to Original message
6. That sums them up very succinctly
"With God all things are possible." To them that doesn't mean they can do great things because they have God. That means they can get away with murder because all they need to do is believe and they are forgiven and allowed into Heaven.

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-25-06 10:07 AM
Response to Reply #6
10. I hadn't heard of that before
Do you have personal knowledge of Fundies who feel that way (from your screen name, it sounds like you do)? I'm very interested in knowing the extent of that kind of attitude - as I've never seen it directly expressed.
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Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-25-06 08:27 AM
Response to Original message
8. I only have really known a couple of fundamentalists
really up close. One is my uncle. While he is not extremely religious, he is fairly limited in his overall knowledge of the world, and I think the republican party is the closest to a form of security as he can get. My mother, (his sister) took an opposite road in life, and went out to be in the world to push for change.

I think many fundamentalists are holding tight to their limited world view. I think these people have consciences, but they don't read much or discuss worldly topics or even understand what is going on with the rest of the United States. My uncle's children have branched out more and one of them adopted some Korean children. So I think there will be more change with newer generations. I am not sure what will bring us together.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-25-06 11:48 AM
Response to Reply #8
12. Dean was not saying that all Christian fundamentalists lack a conscience
He DOES seem to say that all right wing authoritarians lack consciences. I doubt that even that is true, though I don't doubt that many of these right wing authoritarians lack consciences.

He also says that many fundamentalist Christians are right wing authoritarians. That is undoubtedly true, I believe. How many fundamentalist Christians lack consciences is hard to say. I believe that Dean is correct that they are more likely to lack consciences (for the reasons given in the OP) than most people, but certainly not all of them lack consciences.

I have some fundamentalist relatives, as you do, and they don't seem to lack consciences, even though they vote for Bush. It really burns me up that they do that. As you say about your relatives, I think that for the most part they simply don't understand what is going on. And that is very unfortunate.
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The Cleaner Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-25-06 10:33 AM
Response to Original message
11. THE ENDS JUSTIFY THE MEANS.
Plain and simple.

This attitude crept into the church in the 1990s particularly. It doesn't matter how mean you are, or how rude, or how domineering, or how authoritarian. God is on YOUR side. You are doing right by cleaning up the huge mess of liberalism. The church must take a stand on all political/moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality - and must stand correctly in God's sight.

Now with Republicanism virtually married with Christianity, it's the same thing on a larger scale, in the political arena. I've seen way too much of it. It disgusts me.

Tom Delay was an excellent example of this kind of authoritarianism.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-25-06 02:29 PM
Response to Reply #11
15. I agree that that is what we are facing here
The main question in my mind is: Is there anything inherant in Christianity that causes this kind of thinking; OR, are these examples of thugs taking over a decent religion and criminally using it to suit their own purposes?
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Squeech Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-25-06 01:25 PM
Response to Original message
14. My guess
is that radical-right Christianity is all about suppressing what Jesus actually said and did.

This idea is in part based on Mel Gibson's snuff movie. Jesus is not presented as a philosopher or teacher, or any sort of activist. Instead, he's simply the divine scapegoat. (If passive is the opposite of active, what does that imply about Passion?)

The other bit of evidence I like to cite is all the bumper stickers that read John 3:16, which reads "For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son." Again, Jesus is just there to be sacrificed, and all his preaching and good works gets swept under the rug. I've never seen a bumper sticker that says, or references, "In my Father's house are many rooms," or "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven," or "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone," or my own favorite, Matthew 25:40.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-25-06 03:59 PM
Response to Reply #14
17. Yes, I thik that's exactly right
And it's very similar to what I said in my above noted post, I think:

Yes, Republicans not only have Christian values, but they never let you forget it either. The problem with Republicans as Christians, however, is that they are VERY selective about the Christian values that they embrace. Here are the favorite Christian values of the Republican Party:
 Gay people should not marry each other
 The abortion of a fetus is a crime
 Embryonic stem cells should be thrown away rather than used for research
 No effort should be spared to salvage the life of the brain dead
 Creationism should be taught in public schools
 Christian prayers should be said in public schools

Do you notice any big differences between the set of Christian values that Republicans have contempt for and the other set of Christian values that Republicans base their political campaigns on? Ill offer two huge differences: 1) The first set of Christian values are the ones that Jesus based his ministry on, whereas Jesus never talked about the second set at all as far as I know; and 2) The first set of Christian values are expensive and therefore would cut into the profit margins of the wealthy contributors to the Republican Party, whereas the second set cost nothing at all.

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KittyWampus Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-25-06 02:45 PM
Response to Original message
16. Look, Fundamentalist Lack FAITH. They are trying to fill their Inner Void
Edited on Tue Jul-25-06 02:46 PM by cryingshame
with External Words and Deeds to try and distract themselves from their utter deficit of Faith and Spiritual Strength.

And of course, relying on External actions and proclamations to give them Faith and fill their Inner Void never, EVER works....

So they go on to ever more extreme actions and diatribes, trying desperately to fill their Spiritual Void. Hoping desperately they will finally feel Faith.

All their protests at women's health clinics, railings against gay marriage and attempts to put prayer in school and post Ten Commandments hither and yon are all ways of trying escape their own lack of Faith.

They busy themselves with others and condemn their fellow citizens' lives because they are afraid to face themselves.

And the GOP knows how to exploit this. They know that these spiritually destitute "Christians" will listen to whatever crap they're told if it helps them avoid facing their lack of Faith.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-25-06 05:25 PM
Response to Reply #16
18. Interesting ideas - How did you come to those conclusions?
And do you think that they're all like that, or just most of them?
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