The Tea Party As A Religion, Ctd

Tea Party Religion

Ed Kilgore responds to my take:

I think Andrew’s on the right track, but I’d add a complicating qualifier. It’s not just that these culturally threatened folk embrace their politics like it’s a religion. The actual religious outlook many of them espouse—whether they are conservative fundamentalist Protestants or neo-ultramontane Catholics—has imported secular political perspectives into their faith. They’ve managed to identify obedience to God with the restoration of pre-mid-twentieth-century culture and economics, and consequently, tend to look at themselves as the contemporary equivalents of the Old Testament prophets calling a wicked society to account before all hell literally breaks loose. So their politics reinforces their religion and vice-versa, and yes, the Republican Party, like the squishy mainline Protestant Churches and lenient do-gooder Catholic priests, are generally within crisis-distance of being viewed as objectively belonging to enemy ranks.

I’m grateful for Ed’s refinement of the thesis – and to Rod Dreher’s. My basic point is that underlying far right politics and religion is the fundamentalist psyche, which is, in modernity, a reaction to bewildering social change and economic stagnation. But the eddies here are manifold and mutually reinforcing. If your religious faith demands total assent to an inerrant set of doctrines, how likely are you to engage in conservativesoulpbc.jpgpolitical dialogue as if you don’t know all the answers and need input from others? If deviation from inerrant truth means damnation, then how easy is it to transition to a politics aimed at compromise? And by erasing the distinction between the religious sphere and the political – indeed insisting that it must never be erased – you can see how this entire syndrome reinforces itself and is very hard to counter with the usual democratic methods.

This is a complicated argument and if you want to absorb it at length, it’s the central critique of contemporary American “conservatism” in my book, The Conservative Soul. I think – but then I would, wouldn’t I? – that the book’s argument has held up almost too well in the years since it was published. But judge for yourself – it’s instantly available for your Kindle or iPad here. It both deconstructs today’s pseudo-conservatism and tries to reconstruct a conservatism of an older, deeper, wiser variety. To do that, it attempts to tackle religion as well as politics, to ponder the deep forces behind the current Republic crisis rather than the superficial ones.

Its main conclusion is that I do not believe we can have a political resolution in this country without first reforming Christianity, and distinguishing it from Christianist ideology. This is not easy, but the struggle to achieve this is winning some key reinforcements: Pope Francis and the next generation of evangelicals key among them. If some political Dishheads disdain our coverage of religion as gobbledygook – which is your right – then I hope you’ll see that the effort to reform Christianity is indirectly also a political project. It’s about saving conservatism from itself and making it humane again.

(Chart: The religious affiliations of Tea Partiers from “Religion and the Tea Party in the 2010 Election”(pdf))