That Christianity is a major influence on Tea Party conservatives is a truth so obvious it almost goes without saying, but if we’re to figure out the best approach for dealing with these people it might be worth a closer examination of religion’s role in their worldview.
Before I list some of the ways in which Christianity feeds and reinforces Tea Party ideology, I have to get two objections out of the way. First—not all Tea Partiers are Christian. Many of them are Ayn Rand objectivists, an atheist ideology that in many ways is much worse than Christianity. But at least the objectivists don’t have to answer charges of hypocrisy, as whereas selfishness is their core virtue it stands in stark contrast to the teachings of Jesus, and the Christian Tea Partiers who scoff at ideas of social justice and adopt an every-man-for-himself attitude are completely ignoring those teachings. At any rate, atheists in the Tea Party are by far the minority.
The second objection is the inverse—not all Christians are Tea-Partiers. Very true. Many Christians actually live by what Jesus actually said in the Bible as opposed to what their preacher tells them Jesus really meant. As I used to be such a Christian I can tell you that they hate having their Lord hijacked by ignorant bigots and used to justify vile racism and hatred. Unfortunately, while the moral teachings of Jesus are certainly anathema to Tea Party ‘values’, much of the core theology of Christianity is fundamentally detrimental to human moral progress, and the harmfulness of these doctrines shines through very clearly in Tea Party protests. Here are a few of these doctrines:
1- Faith without evidence
No matter what kind of Christian you are, it’s absolutely fundamental to your religion that you accept certain propositions without any kind of empirical or rational justification whatsoever. There is no scientific evidence or logical proof of God’s existence, but you simply must believe it. You can have all the doubt you want, but at the end of the day you have to accept it as true and act accordingly. Sit in your church, partake in communion, recite the Nicene creed—you may not be sure that any of this means anything, but you keep doing it, and this is celebrated as a virtue.
Tea Partiers subscribe to certain political propositions with the same level of religious zeal as they subscribe to propositions about God and Jesus. Big Government is the enemy, the Constitution is sacrosanct, Socialism is pure evil, and so on. These ideas are accepted as basic—just as basic as the idea of an omnipotent God—and any challenge to them is met with sheer indignation. If you ask them, “Why shouldn’t it be the government’s responsibility to provide certain goods that can only be done collectively rather than individually?” they won’t even stop to consider what you’re saying. It’s like some internal alarm bells go off in their mind ringing “Heresy! Socialism! Fascism!” and the idea is never given any actual consideration.
Christians, especially fundamentalists, are taught these mental techniques for suppressing doubt from their early childhood, as doubt is seen as the biggest threat to salvation. They won’t even listen to anyone who argues that religion is all made up and God doesn’t exist, as they’ve been taught that such ideas are evil and anyone spreading them is evil for doing so. These same mental techniques are applied to political propositions, and anyone who challenges the conservative beliefs they were taught in childhood must be evil and should be ignored. Even so much as considering that the other side may have a point is frowned upon in Christianity. You just have to accept certain things as fundamental Truths, and that the fact that you have no evidence for these beliefs is actually seen as endowing them with greater value than beliefs based on evidence.
The virtue of unjustified faith is one of the most detrimental aspects of religion and it is absolutely pervasive in the Tea Party. It’s the biggest reason that trying to change their minds is so hopeless. They are taught to trust their gut before they trust their brains, and their gut tells them they’re right. And that’s all there is to it. Amen.
2- Divine favoritism
According to the Old Testament, the Hebrews are described as God’s “chosen people”, an idea which, when closely examined, is actually far more terrifying than it is at first glance. This means that the creator of the entire universe, of the world and all the people in it, actually prefers certain ethnic groups over others. This provides these groups with the justification to do anything short of defying God. They are free to ransack villages, conquer and occupy, pillage and plunder, and murder every man, woman, and child of any other tribe because they are of lesser value to God. And this is indeed what the Hebrews of the Old Testament did.
Today, you’ll hear Jews try to excuse the ‘chosen people’ idea by saying this doesn’t mean God favors the Jews—He simply ‘chose’ them to be the ones to keep the sacred covenant. Just as He ‘chose’ the Egyptians for their purposes and ‘chose’ the Greeks for theirs, He ‘chose’ the Jews for the purpose of…having the one true religion. This is indeed a lame excuse. “He doesn’t favor us, it’s just that we’re the only ones who worship Him correctly.”
You’ll hear the same kind of lame excuses from Tea Partiers to deny charges of racism. “I have nothing against black people. It’s just that they’re inferior.” I’m sure not all Tea Partiers are racist, but given all the racial and ethnic slurs you see written on their signs and hear them shouting out, it’s a safe best that a great deal of them are. And I’m sure most of them share the sentiment that they are the ‘real Americans’ and their country is being taken from them. Such sentiments are directly related to the idea found in Scripture that God favors certain groups over others and therefore some people are inherently more valuable than others. Namely, whites are more valuable than blacks, Hispanics, and Arabs. After all, Jesus was white…wasn’t he?
3- Demonization of abortion
Jesus never once said anything about unborn fetuses, yet Christians know with absolute certainty that Jesus would have found abortion to be the most evil thing imaginable and condemned anyone to Hell who would justify or make it easier for such a thing to happen. To be fair, I’m sure Jesus wouldn’t be too thrilled with the idea—but neither are most liberals. Not too many people really love abortion and think it’s a great idea and everyone should do it—but hearing the Tea Partiers go on about it you’d think they’re fighting an army of blood-thirsty sadists hell-bent on killing as many babies as possible.
It’s a perfectly legitimate political opinion to be opposed to abortion, but when you add Christian zeal to it, it becomes dangerous and harmful. Doctors who perform abortions are murdered and their killers are celebrated as heroes. Any lawmaker who might even make it slightly less difficult for a woman to have an abortion is treated with just as much contempt and disdain as Hitler or Stalin. Thus any chance we have of actually having a rational, productive debate over policy—of asking whether or not the government should have the power to prevent women from ending unwanted pregnancies—is hopeless. Even an argument you’d think might work on such anti-government zealots: “Abortion may be the wrong choice but shouldn’t a woman be free to make the wrong choice and let God judge her?” is met with closed ears because to them it would just be downright evil to reflect on and modify their beliefs in any way.
4- Demonization of homosexuals
I can point to Leviticus 18:22 as the exact Bible verse at which I gave up on the Bible altogether. My faith was already wavering when I tried to reinforce it by actually reading the Bible cover-to-cover, but I couldn’t make it past the third chapter. I couldn’t believe the kind of vile nastiness coming from the mouth of the supposed benevolent creator of the universe. I’m not gay but I have lots of sympathy for gays—as I’ve always had for any oppressed minority—and when I came to the verse in which God declares it an abomination for a man to lie with another man, I knew in my heart that this was not the word of God at all, but words written by men just as ignorant and prejudiced as those who are around today.
As with abortion, there is just no room for compromise on the anti-homosexual stance among the Tea Partiers. If God hates gays, they are perfectly justified in hating gays and standing in the way of their right to get married or to serve in the military. Some even go so far as to repeal legislation that protects homosexuals from discrimination (it is now legal in the state of Virginia to fire someone just for being gay) and they’ll oppose hate crimes legislation that specifically protects gay people—not because they’re opposed to hate crimes laws in general—but because they see gays as legitimate targets for violent crime. If God specifically said that He hates them, it’s fair game.
To be fair, these last two points are not fundamental aspects of Christian theology, and I think the majority of Christians are probably quite rational when it comes to issues of abortion and homosexuality, but it is within the fundamental nature of religion to see certain things as pure evil, and as such to destroy any hope of genuine reflection and examination of such things.
5- End of the world
Again, not all Christians take the Book of Revelations literally, but you can bet that most Tea Partiers do. This world, they believe, is a temporary one. As such, any attempt on the part of lawmakers to protect the environment is seen as pointless at best, or an encroachment on Freedom at worst.
It’s all going down anyway, so why bitch about global warming or the extinction of species? You want to regulate carbon emissions or prevent off-shore oil drilling? How dare you! Humans need that oil—and if God really gave a damn about the whales He would have sent them a Whale Jesus to save them like He saved us. And who cares how much carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere? So there are a few droughts here and there which kill a bunch of starving people in the third world. They were going to die anyway, and this way they at least get spared the horror of the post-apocalyptic nightmare that awaits all those unlucky souls not pure enough to raptured away like these good Christians know they will be.
Belief in an Armageddon is probably the single most destructive belief in all of Christianity, and it stands to reason that the more people in power who actually believe it, the less hope there is of humanity surviving through the next millennium, or even the next century. If the Tea Party had its way and filled the U.S. government with only like-minded individuals, they’d absolutely do their best to see to it those prophecies are fulfilled. And that would probably mean a few mushroom clouds in the Middle East. There are Christians who salivate at the very idea of a nuclear world war, as they expect it would mean the Second Coming is at hand.
Finally, seeing as how a recent poll showed that one of every four republicans think Obama may be the Anti-Christ, you can be sure that they’ll accept absolutely no compromise with him among their own leaders. I don’t care how many jobs he wants to create, how many sick children he wants to cure, or how many peace treaties he wants to ratify—you just don’t make deals with the Devil.
And that’s where things stand right now. Obama and the democrats find it nearly impossible to accomplish anything because they can get no cooperation from republicans. The republicans are held hostage by their Tea Party base, which is hostage to the Christian theology so deeply ingrained in their minds. Not only does it bring with it destructive beliefs such as end times prophecies, radical demonization of certain groups and actions, and justified racism and bigotry, but the core principle of religion itself—faith without evidence—prevents them from re-examining any of these ideas.
As of now, Obama and the democrats still have large majorities and they’re capable of getting things done without any cooperation from republicans, but this Tea Party movement could very easily reduce those majorities. At that point, the entire government could become just as incapable of doing anything without Tea Party support as the Republican Party is now. We have to recognize and understand this Tea-ology, and push back against it as hard as we can.