For almost 9 years I've been warning Huffington Post readers of the danger religious right fundamentalist activism is to our country. With the advent of the shutdown I'm tempted to say "I told you so." The shutdown is the religious right's biggest "victory" and a loss for the rest of us that threatens everything we love. But it's not all "their" fault. Some of our best and brightest dropped the ball too. Our chattering classes have been too polite about religion, in fact mostly silent.
For instance, someone I admire very much -- Paul Krugman -- and the New York Times have unintentionally sinned against their readers. They are far too tolerant of the evil of religion-gone-bad. They are being overly polite about the horrible effect religion and evangelical fundamentalist religion in particular, has had on our American "shutdown" politics. They are analyzing the shutdown but offering no solutions because they duck the truth. Until Krugman and the Times editorial board and the rest of the media, attack the religious extremist root cause of the shutdown nothing can change.
Krugman's latest brilliant column in the Times illustrates my point handily. I'll reproduce some of it here and add what he was too polite to say. Maybe I'm more attuned to what Krugman won't say -- that right wing religion has become right wing politics -- because I was once an evangelical leader with a famous evangelical father (religious right founder Francis Schaeffer). I fled. But I remember.
One other thing, I know from experience: Not all evangelicals or Roman Catholics are of the right or part of the problem. For instance my friend and Huffington Post columnist Jim Wallis, or the people running the Wild Goose Festival with their in-gathering of progressive believers are on the side of sanity and compassion. But the good guys don't run the religion show in America.
What Krugman did not say is the heart of the story of why sane America can't come to grips with what has happened to us.
The main answer, which only the most pathologically "balanced" reporting can deny, is the radicalization of the Republican Party. As Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein put it last year in their book, "It's Even Worse Than It Looks," the G.O.P. has become "an insurgent outlier -- ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."
True, but to help readers understand why this is so you'd need to tell the truth: Mann and Ornstein's description is a perfect description of the religious right evangelical and conservative Roman Catholic base that has worked for and voted in the Republican extremists. Let me rephrase. The evangelical Protestant movement ever since it became the anti-feminist, anti-science and anti-public education party has been an insurgent outlier -- ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
The only reason that the Republican Party has become resistant to facts is that it's most ardent mass of voters is blind to reality because of their religious beliefs. As I show in my new book on religious delusion American style -- And God Said, "Billy!" exploring the roots of religious delusion is the only way to understand contemporary American politics.
But there's one more important piece of the story. Conservative leaders are indeed ideologically extreme, but they're also deeply incompetent. So much so, in fact, that the Dunning-Kruger effect -- the truly incompetent can't even recognize their own incompetence -- reigns supreme.
True enough, but that level of counter intuitive incompetence can't be understood until you take into account the religious commitment to non-"worldly" values of the religious right and their radical Roman Catholic outliers. To the evangelicals incompetence is a godly virtue. Do the work "in the Lord's way." Eschew "worldly" values, like reason, and look for miracles as the route to blessing and victory.
To see what I'm talking about, consider the report in Sunday's Times about the origins of the current crisis. Early this year, it turns out, some of the usual suspects -- the Koch brothers, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation and others -- plotted strategy in the wake of Republican electoral defeat. Did they talk about rethinking ideas that voters had soundly rejected? No, they talked extortion, insisting that the threat of a shutdown would induce President Obama to abandon health reform.
True. But again, all evangelicals ever do is plot strategy to sell their myth-based theology to a world that is fact-orientated. And so do the right wing Roman Catholic intellectuals like Krugman's colleague at Princeton, professor Robert George, who (according to the Times) has been plotting strategy against president Obama now through an entire presidency in order to push for a no-contraceptive zone for Catholic institutions as a means to put the president at odds with all religious people.
Strategy to sell myths (say Roman Catholic "Natural Law" or evangelical faith in a literal 6 day creation) is the only tactic fundamentalists have. Look at their home school movement. It isn't about education. It is all a strategy to keep their children away from people who might present the facts to them about everything from global warming to evolution to birth control. It is about strategy not about truth. The Koch brothers know that their mass of right wing voters are fundamentalists (with a few Ayn Rand followers in the libertarian wing thrown in). That's all that is left.
Religion has so gutted the GOP that the sole remaining strategy is always the same: to be the party of extreme religion but to try and not look that way. Krugman and the Times and the media in general only help the GOP perpetuate the lie that they are a normal political party by ignoring the religion at the heart of the GOP mess.
Even more remarkable, in its way, was the response of House Republican leaders, who didn't tell the activists they were being foolish.
Yes, but the traditional moderate GOP leaders have learned to bite their tongues for years now. Their prime voters, their activists and their foot soldiers are the same people who believe what they see in the Creation Museum. What else can the GOP leadership do but get into the practice of never saying what's true?
Many people seem perplexed by the transformation of the G.O.P. into the political equivalent of the Keystone Kops -- the Boehner Bunglers? Republican elders, many of whom have been in denial about their party's radicalization, seem especially startled. But all of this was predictable.
It has been obvious for years that the modern Republican Party is no longer capable of thinking seriously about policy. Whether the issue is climate change or inflation, party members believe what they want to believe, and any contrary evidence is dismissed as a hoax, the product of vast liberal conspiracies.
For a while the party was able to compartmentalize, to remain savvy and realistic about politics even as it rejected objectivity everywhere else. But this wasn't sustainable. Sooner or later, the party's attitude toward policy -- we listen only to people who tell us what we want to hear, and attack the bearers of uncomfortable news -- was bound to infect political strategy, too.
Yes, but it's also inexplicable without naming names. The evangelicals like Billy Graham and the magazine he founded (Christianity Today) made magical thinking respectable in modern 20th century America. Then the religious right took things to another level.
Billy -- who I grew up knowing and who visited our home -- avoided politics after getting burned by his close association with Nixon. But in a sort of allegory of what befell all evangelicals, as the Washington Post noted, his son Franklin became one of the most extreme of the new breed of far right activists. (As I mentioned in another article here in HuffPo, I met Franklin several times while we were both coming of age as the sons of religious leaders.)
In writing "Whether the issue is climate change or inflation, party members believe what they want to believe, and any contrary evidence is dismissed as a hoax, the product of vast liberal conspiracies" Krugman described the evangelical movement as taken over by the likes of Franklin Graham with his gay-bashing, pro-Sarah Palin crusades. Not attacking the delusional thinking at the heart of this political fiasco is like trying to describe what led to World War Two without mentioning fascism. It is a dereliction of journalistic duty.
Unfortunately for all of us, even the shock of electoral defeat wasn't enough to burst the G.O.P. bubble; it's still a party dominated by wishful thinking, and all but impervious to inconvenient facts.
And just why is the GOP "all but impervious to inconvenient facts"? What does Krugman think that people are like who are indoctrinated from their mother's knee forward with a literal view of the Bible? Did you expect people who believe Noah carted all the dinosaurs onto the ark to also be able to think out policy issues or elect people who can think clearly? It's time to be rude and to ask where these folks go to church and attack what they hear there, rather than give a pass to dumb religion. Dumb religion is seriously threatening this country.
Meanwhile, the government is shut, and a debt crisis looms. Incompetence can be a terrible thing.
True, but there's another kind of incompetence. It comes from the squeamish niceties of smart educated secular people like Krugman who are too polite to do us much good. Religion gone badly is dangerous. Our elite media folks need to tell the truth.
As Krugman said, "the government is shut, and a debt crisis looms." Man up Krugman, NYT editors et al and tell us plainly why this is so. The problem isn't the GOP. The problem is what the mass of extremist GOP voters believe.
Church and state are no longer separated. They have been folded into one deadly destructive, economy-threatening entity by the Republicans. It's time to stop being any less forcefully truth-telling about religion than we are about politics. The shutdown is a slow motion religious extremist attack on America no less deadly that a suicide vest attack. It's time to call these people out on their own terms for what they believe before they take us all down with them.