There’s the old joke that, when a tourist in Northern Ireland is confronted by an armed masked man demanding to know his religion, the terrified tourist replies, “I’m an atheist.” The masked man replies, “Sure, but are ye a protestant or a Catholic atheist?”
It’s progress of a sort that the question of whether or not an American presidential candidate is Catholic has become largely irrelevant. Prior to John F. Kennedy, only Al Smith in 1928, had ever been a serious Catholic contender. Kennedy won his race by a narrow margin, distinctly hampered by his “Papist ways.” Unlike Kennedy, Joe Biden, a Catholic, seems to have been largely unharmed by his religious affiliation. As I say, that’s progress — of a sort.
There’s no question, of course, that our current President is a sincere, practicing Catholic, and not an atheist. But is that necessarily a good thing? The Catholic position on abortion is well known, and that may have been good enough for the Religious Right. Good enough, anyway, for them to oppose Biden mostly on political and not religious grounds.
All of which is to say there’s going to be trouble ahead from the evangelical Religious Right when they find out just how Pro-Choice Biden is. Whether or not they admit it, even to themselves, the evangelicals are intent on establishing a theocracy in the United States, and opposition to abortion is their ostensible reason.
But their real reason is money and power. At the top, where it counts, the evangelicals in charge of their movement are largely theists of the Protestant persuasion. Their all-powerful God needs money and political power because, let’s face it, money and power is their all-powerful God.
As a former evangelical now agnostic, I have some insight into their game. I’m aware of how those at the very top manipulate their gullible flock, most of whom are sincere but stupid. After all, it takes generous amounts of willing stupidity not to see through their mansion-owning, private jet-flying, Rolex-wearing big-haired ways, let alone to contribute money to them.
But I don’t want to be too facile here. Do not place too much importance on the innocence of the sheep at the bottom, either. Part of the problem rests with the underlying assumptions of Christianity itself. The idea that Heaven is ruled by an omnipotent, superintending absolute dictator renders the philosophical leap to earthly fascism a short one. It was a leap those innocent sheep made by the millions, and they are prepared to make that leap again. It is a mistake to expect them to be reasonable.
So the idea that those who followed the disgraced ex-president were somehow not “real Christians” is also a mistake. When you have a book that is as vague and inconsistent as the Bible as your guide, the few who bothered to read it were easily able to find verses to support their appalling politics. Like the Qur’an, the Bible is full of advocacy for violence, despotism and blind fealty. An argument can be made that many Christians who were followers of the one-term, twice-impeached loser recently whipped from office really were being faithful to the tenets of the Old Testament, and even some of the New.
Millions of Americans now believe two things. First, that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen. Second, that the prospect of the destruction of the earth is a good thing, because that means that the Lord is coming back to raise them up into righteousness and take vengeance on the wicked. That is a constituency gone mad. Do not expect to reason with such a constituency any time soon.
This is what we are up against. This is why hypervigilance must be our watchword. The next midterm election in 2022 could see Republicans retake the House and the Senate. We must not rest between now and then. We have enjoyed a recent victory. Let’s now labour tirelessly to keep it. Our most dangerous opponent, the Religious Right, is still alive and well. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.