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In America, Jesus Christ suffers from DID, dissociative identity disorder. It’s defined in the official literature as “the presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states that recurrently take control of behavior.” When DID is portrayed in movies or on TV, it’s usually called multiple personality disorder.
There is, for example, the Jesus I used to hear about when I was young—the “Prince of Peace,” who loved the poor and was into humility, love, and compassion. He went on to march with Martin Luther King Jr. and is still very active in the black community.
Then there’s the Jesus who loves capitalism at its most rapacious, figures poverty is the result of sloth and sin, gets hysterical around homos and upset if anyone has sex just for fun, “supports the troops” (a euphemism for being pro-war), is virulently patriotic, and hates illegal aliens.
In 1979, “three Catholics and a Jew” decided to recruit Jesus and use him to awaken religious conservatives from their electoral slumber. Such people, they hoped, would vote on cultural issues—sex and God and whatever euphemisms for racism were going around at the moment—instead of, and even against, their own economic self-interest. Republicans could, therefore, woo them, without compromising their core mission: re establishing wealth inequality.
The three Catholics were Paul Weyrich, who founded the Heritage Foundation with beer mogul Joseph Coors’s money; Richard Viguerie, the king of direct mail fund-raising; and Terry Dolan, the closeted gay leader of NCPAC, the National Conservative Political Action Committee. Dolan, who died of complications from AIDS in 1986, helped turn homophobia into a political tool. To an outsider, this seems as strange as a Jewish political consultant in the Weimar Republic advising the Nazi Party to use anti-Semitism to “get out the vote.” But homosexual Republicans and conservatives frequently align themselves with homophobes, so they apparently aren’t troubled about encouraging others to drench them with slurs and deprive them of equal rights.
The fourth was Howard Phillips, a failed politician and a successful pundit, usually two steps further to the right than the regular Right. He was born a Jew but had converted to evangelical Christianity by then.
They selected Jerry Falwell to head up the new movement. They even gave the movement its name, the Moral Majority. Falwell was the minister of a large church, host of the TV show “The Old Time Gospel Hour,” and founder of his own university. Traditionally, Baptists were nonpolitical on principle, but Falwell was already moving to change that. He was strongly opposed to gay rights and, at least through the '50s and '60s, was regularly associated with, and supported, mainstream segregationists.
It is impossible to know how sincere any of these players were. Did they truly believe that the decline and fall of the American Empire was at hand due to lewdness, licentiousness, integration, and taking prayer out of public schools? Were these cynical machinations? Or some combination of the two? In any case, it was wildly successful.
Because of vague and shifting definitions, they’re a difficult group to turn into a statistic. However, by 1994, something more than 25 percent of actual voters identified themselves in exit polls as “white evangelical Christians.” It’s stayed there, plus or minus a few points ever since.
Usually, two-thirds of them vote Republican. That’s a significant voting bloc. It represents 16 percent of actual voters who support Republicans. They overlap with other groups, interests, and demographics. Still, it is fair to say that in any election that is actually contested, that Republicans go onto win, “white evangelicals” provide the margin of victory.
The Religious Right and the Republican Party, are, at the very least, co-dependents.
While they might represent 16 percent of the electorate in a general election, in this most recent round of primaries, they probably have accounted for 50 percent of the vote. Any Republican candidate in a contested primary has to have them. Naturally, the candidates compete for them, moving further and further to the right each time they open their mouths.
If you’ve watched the debates, you’ve seen that it’s the voters—as represented by the audiences—who are pushing the candidates to the right, not the candidates conning the voters. Any sign of sanity or humanity provokes instant opprobrium. Mitt Romney created the best state health system in the country. He has been disavowing it through the whole campaign. Rick Perry got half crucified because Texas let illegal aliens living in Texas pay in-state tuition rates for college. But he redeemed himself to cheers when he took pride in the record-setting number of executions in his home state. If someone failed to buy insurance and then gets into an accident, should we just let him die? This audience cried out “Yes!” at a recent debate. They also booed an active-duty gay soldier serving in Iraq.
We’ve seen the party morph in a matter of months. Opposition to abortion has become opposition to birth control. Planned Parenthood has become a new enemy that needs to be destroyed along with socialists, terrorists, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Public education is under attack. Teachers are the enemy. Going to college is “elitist”—unless you’re rich and pay for it out of pocket. Living proof that evolution can go backward as well as forward.
The tail, dare I say it, appears to be wagging the dog. The rabid rabble that hate and fear modernity, unleashed for the purpose of splitting the Democratic coalition, is now pounding wedges into the Republican Party while it drags their platform back to the 17th century. Their best-funded and best-looking candidate is a Mormon. At some point they may wake up and notice that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are Catholics. To those of us who are none of the above, these may seem to be distinctions without a difference. But it will require a definite leap of faith for evangelical Protestants to consider either Mormons or Catholics to be actual Christians.
A few months ago it seemed that Obama was the most vulnerable president since Jimmy Carter. Now it looks like the Republicans are going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The realist might say, “That’s what happens when you take faith over facts.” The rationalist might think, “It never made any sense anyway, and it’s about time that became clear.” The ironist will rub his hands with glee and chuckle to himself. The comedians—even if they are atheists—will thank God for large favors.
But even if they lose, they’ve changed the dialogue. If loony extremists can get mainstream politicians to echo their ideas, the media will repeat them as a credible part of the national dialogue. Abortion, contraception, public education, the separation of church and state—issues of national import thought settled years ago—are all back on the table now.