Our Lives Are Now in the Hands of Christian Nationalists March 28, 2020

Our Lives Are Now in the Hands of Christian Nationalists

The evidence is now beyond dispute that conservative evangelical Christianity is killing us and the planet — and Donald Trump has handed its leaders the reins of government.

We’re reaping the consequences of dumbing down so many schoolchildren’s science education by allowing “teaching the controversy” on evolution, then climate change. For too long, the warnings from scientists and humanists fell on deaf ears. The effects were too gradual, too subtle, too insidious.

Now the harm from science contempt is hitting us with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

Case in point: Landon Spradlin, a musical missionary from my part of semi-rural Virginia, defied infectious disease experts he considered politically motivated as “media manipulators” while believing “no germ will attach itself to me.” As I reported yesterday, he took his family and friends to New Orleans for several weeks, mingling with strangers from all over the world, “taking the Light of the gospel into the darkest regions of the earth” in order to “wash it from its Sin and debauchery.” He was unknowingly and fatally infected with COVID-19 even as he shared those words.

Having come of age in New Orleans, as did my ancestors, I love its people and culture deeply, and the insult, the hubris, wound deeply. But his disease does more than wound our pride; it kills.

And now, people with similar mindsets control our environment, energy, education, housing, foreign policy, and immigration.

They may also have authority over the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Last week, I turned to the CDC website for help in responding to perhaps the single biggest misunderstanding about the virus we’re seeing: the trivialization of COVID-19 with flu comparisons.

Since those folks frequently cite the CDC flu pages in their conspiracy write-ups, I spent an hour combing the CDC site & public statements for a clear response… and found nothing. No explanation that COVID-19 has a higher mortality rate than flu. No explanation that the exponential increase in deaths we’re trying to prevent could far exceed flu numbers. While some of this could be pieced together from their journal publications, the general public doesn’t read these.

While people like Dr. Anthony Fauci are providing the public with plenty of information, the CDC should have been in the lead. Why weren’t they?

It may have everything to do with this anti-facts administration.

Trump’s March 6 visit to the CDC was described by Heather Digby Parton in Salon as…

… one of the most astonishing appearances by this or any other president — and that’s saying something. When asked if he regretted firing the entire staff of the Office of Pandemic Preparation, Trump said, “This is something that you can never really think is going to happen.” He said that everyone who wants to be tested for this virus can get tested, which is not even close to true.

Digby, as she’s known at her blog, gave further examples of Trump’s lies and willingness to cook the numbers: “The [coronavirus] tests are all perfect… I like the numbers being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship.”

These statements, she says, quoting Wired science reporter Adam Rogers, are a “terrifying” “repudiation of good science.”

She also notes that the Coronavirus Task Force has been unprofessionally gushing over Trump. CDC director Robert Redfield said, “I want to thank you, for your decisive leadership… that’s the most important thing I want to say.” Dr. Deborah Birx, Trump’s now-favored public point person as she doesn’t contradict him like Fauci, fawned “It is clear the early work of the president over travel restrictions and the ability quarantine has bought us the time and space to have this task force be very effective. I have never worked with such incredible scientists and thoughtful policy leaders.” Birx stepped it up yesterday with praise that would make Kim Jong-un blush and casts a shadow on her honesty:

He’s been so attentive to the scientific literature and the details and the data. I think his ability to analyze and integrate data that comes out of his long history in business has really been a real benefit during these discussions about medical issues.”

“Redfield and Birx are both evangelical Christians,” reports Digby, who “have been involved with Children’s AIDS Fund International, which lobbies for abstinence-only sex education around the world.”

The honesty of trim and fit 45-year-old Surgeon General Jerome Adams became questionable when he claimed Trump was “healthier than what I am.” Adams was Mike Pence’s State Commissioner of Health in Indiana, and says of Pence’s role coordinating the response to COVID-19, “we have the right person in charge of this response.”

Digby writes:

… they seem to be part of a conservative subculture of evangelical Christians who have found a foothold in the Trump administration clustered around Mike Pence’s office. Along millions of other evangelicals, it appears they really believe in Donald Trump.

Setting ideology aside, however, what Trump wants these people to do — cover up his own ignorance and incompetence — is totally at odds with what they must know is best for the health of the American public. Is their worshipful admiration for this man blinding them to the need to communicate honestly with the American people about this crisis?

Painting the broad, grim landscape behind all this today in her New York Times opinion piece “The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals” is Katherine Stewart, author of the new book The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism.

Donald Trump rose to power with the determined assistance of a movement that denies science, bashes government and prioritized loyalty over professional expertise. In the current crisis, we are all reaping what that movement has sown.

At least since the 19th century, when the proslavery theologian Robert Lewis Dabney attacked the physical sciences as “theories of unbelief,” hostility to science has characterized the more extreme forms of religious nationalism in the United States…

Government figures causing Stewart pandemic concerns include two cabinet secretaries:

Consider the case of Alex Azar, who as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services has had a prominent role in mismanaging the crisis. It seems likely at this point that Mr. Azar’s signature achievement will have been to rebrand his department as the “Department of Life.” Or maybe he will be remembered for establishing a division of Conscience and Religious Freedom, designed to permit health care providers to deny legal and often medically indicated health care services to certain patients as a matter of religious conscience.

Mr. Azar, a “cabinet sponsor” of Capitol Ministries, the Bible study group attended by multiple members of Mr. Trump’s cabinet, brought with him to Health and Human Services an immovable conviction in the righteousness of the pharmaceutical industry (presumably formed during his five-year stint as an executive and lobbyist in the business), a willingness to speak in the most servile way about “the courage” and “openness to change” of Mr. Trump, and a commitment to anti-abortion politics, abstinence education and other causes of the religious right. What he did not bring, evidently, was any notable ability to manage a pandemic.

Ben Carson, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, is, Stewart reports, another cabinet sponsor of Capitol Ministries who on March 8 advised that there’s no reason a healthy person shouldn’t go to a Trump rally.

And, of course, Trump himself, as movement leader has, in a shocking announcement, targeted Easter as a potential end to social distancing, a timeline based not on science but on religion and his “beautiful” vision of “packed churches all over our country.”

The medically dangerous political polarization we’re now experiencing, Stewart believes, is the inevitable outcome of the Religious Right’s theology:

Religious nationalism has brought to American politics the conviction that our political differences are a battle between absolute evil and absolute good. When you’re engaged in a struggle between the “party of life” and the “party of death,” as some religious nationalists now frame our political divisions, you don’t need to worry about crafting careful policy based on expert opinion and analysis. Only a heroic leader, free from the scruples of political correctness, can save the righteous from the damned.

Now Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s Liberty University is defying the request of the governor of Virginia and mayor of Lynchburg by welcoming some 2,000 students back to campus, endangering and enraging city residents.

Denial of science isn’t the only dangerous weapon in Christian nationalism, Stewart notes. Economics as theology forms the other edge of the sword:

For decades, Christian nationalist leaders have lined up with the anti-government, anti-tax agenda not just as a matter of politics but also as a matter of theology. Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council, one of the Christian right’s major activist groups, has gone so far as to cast food stamps and other forms of government assistance for essential services as contrary to the “biblical model.” Limited government, according to this line of thinking, is “godly government.”

“When a strong centralized response is needed from the federal government,” Stewart concludes, “it doesn’t help to have an administration that has never believed in a federal government serving the public good.”

(Image via Shutterstock)

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